Humanity stands on the lip of a catastrophe curve.

We have rushed headlong from wandering troops of balding apes on the plains of Africa to hurling ourselves and our machines into the gulf between worlds and returning safely. We have made the change so quickly, so vigorously, that we have outstripped evolution. We developed biological imperatives that gave us a survival edge on the savannah; to breed as soon as, and whenever possible, to gorge on fat and sugar when it is available, to react to alarming occurences with agitation, noise and violence. Alongside these, we developed the curious trick of thinking rationally, and that was our blessing, and has become our curse. Our blessing because it has lead the way in the development of our greatest achievements, our curse because it has lead us to the childish belief that every decision we make in our lives is rational, when in fact we are still prisoners of the primitive drives most people consider consigned to prehistory.

The human mid-brain has evolved a battery of methods to convince the callow, inexperienced, rational fore-brain to believe it is making the decision, while, in fact, most decisions are made by the hoary old lizard of the hind-brain; a knee-jerk instinctive response to a stimulus dressed up as a rational decision, like a grizzled old Sergeant pulling the strings of a Lieutenant fresh out of Sandhurst…

Remember when you went out for a meal, and spent ten minutes thoughtfully perusing the menu before finally deciding on steak? Your hind-brain had decided on steak, before you looked at the menu, before you entered the restaurant, then it let the fore-brain act like it had anything at all to do with the choice. And you believed it.

It is possible to force the fore-brain to override the hind-brain, but it tends not to be pleasant…perhaps you are not exactly flush just now, and reluctantly choose the fish, which is half the price of the steak. But you still want the steak, and you know it. It’s at moments like this that we are most aware of the dissonance between instinct and rationality, and they are a microcosm of the challenge facing humanity. The hind-brain wants the pleasure-reward of the steak now, and cares not for theoretical concepts like bank accounts. The fore-brain must find the courage to exercise it’s authority to force the hind-brain to forego pleasure now in order to avoid pain in the future, like Lieutenant Dale finally issuing direct orders to Sergeant Breslaw.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that vast swathes of the population (in the ‘civilised world’ at least) can go for depressingly long periods of time without ever exercising that rational discretion over responding to an instinctual desire for gratification now, and thus we have over population, obesity, panic and war.

The challenge facing humanity now is to make, as a species, the rational decision to take control of our own instincts and emotions, to listen to their advice and requests without handing them a casting vote, to choose the fish instead of the steak.

Except, now the fish is sharing resources and opportunities equally, accepting that many of the things we want we do not even slightly need and doing without them, the fish represents giving more to society than we take, giving up the destructive habits that damage our home, and the bank account we keep in the black is our grandchildren’s security and future and the advancement of humanity beyond it’s fragile cradle, and that satisfies the most fundamental biological drive of them all…survival of the species.

The curve, on the lip of which we teeter, offers destruction and degradation, possibly extinction, against the chance of the brightest of possible futures. Which way we slip depends heavily on our behaviour in this century. Oblivion or immortality.