Evolutionary Riff on “Judgment”

Based on my readings of literature in sociology, biology and evolutionary anthropology (for one, Dunbar’s Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language), I appreciate that humans’ brains consume 20% of our total energy although the brain is only 2% of our body weight. Think about that stat a minute. Our brains are our bodies’ equivalent to mainframes. Very scarce and expensive equipment. Costly to operate.

Therefore, it is very energy-intensive to think. The more thoughts we have, maybe like threads in a CPU, the more energy consumed.

From this perspective, it makes sense to “decide” something, so we can “close that thought” to save energy. I imagine that is why decisions, when I feel happy with the information I have with which to make the decision, often feel satisfying. As grooming releases endorphins (see Dunbar), I imagine that decisions do, too, for a similar reason: there’s an evolutionary and biological rationale.

This brings us to judgment. There are many associations for this word, but I’ll posit that the core is “deciding,” closing the decision making process, the information gathering. The religious references with which I’m familiar seem to be grounded in fear (i.e. “Judge not lest ye be judged”), but I want to emphasize something different. Since humans have free will, they can change and transform. Even though most don’t because change requires rewiring behavior, thoughts and actions, all of which require consideration and thought. It is perceived to be difficult, hence “resistance to change.” But people can change. In this context, it’s also easy to see why organizations have a hard time with “change.”

That means that all the data isn’t in on a person, so judgment may feel good, but it’s lazy.

For example, perhaps I think that someone is frivolous, so I call him that, think of him that way. If I am somewhat observant, my judgment is based on behavior and “data.” This approach is lazy. “He” is not one thing or another, he is acting in a way that seems frivolous to me.

So I am training my brain to consume more energy. I am grounded in the fact that I don’t “know” enough about any person or situation to judge or decide. Instead, I hypothesize, which carries the explicit principle of the unknown as well as the action of testing it, usually by observation.

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