Chief scientist, Dr.scient, Dr.philos
Division of Mental Health
Norwegian Institute of Public Health
If the Aim of the Community is Happiness, Then …
February 10, 2014
Academic Building A G008, 5:00 PM
The capacity for positive and negative feelings, and thus the prospect of happiness, is an attribute installed in the human brain by the process of evolution. If we can understand the evolutionary trajectory leading to this attribute, we stand a better chance at making the most of the situation. Briefly, the primary purpose of nervous systems is to direct an animal toward behavior conducive to survival and procreation, and as a rule of thumb this implies either approach or avoidance. In the early nervous systems behavior was based on reflexes, but at some point evolution introduced feelings or affect, in the form of rewards and punishment, as a more advanced system for evaluating various behavioral options. Recent studies suggest that all types of feelings converge on shared neural circuits involved in generating reward and punishment. Happiness can be construed as the net output of this activity in the brain. The next question is then how to “train” the brain, either by ensuring a suitable environment, or by specific brain exercises, to deliver positive feelings. The evolutionary perspective suggests some environmental factors, and together with DS Wilson I shall look at intentional communities to see if their way of life offers further suggestions.
Bjørn Grinde received his education in natural sciences, psychology, and anthropology from the University of Oslo, ending with a Dr.scient and Dr.philos in biology. He is presently employed as Chief Scientist at the Division of Mental Health, Norwegian Institute of Public Health. He has previously served as scientist and professor at top universities in Norway, United States and Japan. A lasting focus has been to understand the process of evolution, particularly how it has formed the human brain and our capacity to enjoy life. He has written several books, including “Darwinian Happiness” – a book that suggests how the biological perspective can be used for guidance in living.
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