Evolution of Suffering

Evolution of Suffering


(c) Copyright 2012

By Nomos Foundation

Written By Jonathan W. Burch

All rights reserved

Humans suffer.  Humans suffer from pain, from loss, from hopelessness and meaninglessness.

What is the source of human suffering?  Human suffering comes from two sources, nature and humans.  Neither source is good or bad, it just is, and we have to cope with it as we go through life.  Part of human life is overcoming and learning from suffering, and working through the suffering to find and cherish the joy of life.

Nature, the crunching along of the universe, sometimes cause human suffering.  The tree falls and breaks the shepherd’s leg, the day before his wedding.  Things happen to hurt humans, over which humans have no control.  This is natural-caused suffering.

Humans do things that hurt other humans.  “Man’s inhumanity to man” is apparently limitless.  What ever one human can do to another to harm him or her, some human has thought of and done.  Yet humans think of themselves as good.  How is this possible?

It is possible, because that is how humans have evolved – to suffer and to overcome, to live joyful, fulfilled lives as a whole person, as they evolved to live.  The products of successful evolution are not evil.  They are good.  They have survived in the environment to live, survive, flourish and reproduce as a successful species in the era of biological evolution.  They are good, evolved results of the progress of the rise of existence in the universe.

The key to understanding human-caused suffering and how it is overcome with joy filled life, is the rich group of human responses humans have evolved to survive and flourish in many different types of circumstances, and the inadequate decision ability of limited humans to choose the right response for each circumstance.    It is human limitation, inadequately deciding among abundant adaptive responses, that leads to humans caused suffering.

An example is the evolved solution to an adaptive challenge in the long tribal period before humans lived in cities.  Humans often lived in tribes and clans of from ten to two hundred individuals.  Sometimes one group would attack another group for food or other reasons.  The adaptive challenge for any small group, was how to defend itself against a large group.  The adaptive response that evolved was the alliance between two or more small groups to make one big fighting group for common defense.

How would these alliances be formed and remain strong?  The a system that evolved was to buy the loyalty of the other group by gifts of food and craft goods.  When a group was able to pay the price of the alliance, this did two things to cement the alliance.  First the ally now had food and weapons and craft goods to make itself stronger and to be a stronger member of the alliance.  This made the new ally more secure.  Second the group paying the price showed off an abundance of food and craft goods demonstrating that it was a vibrant, highly motivated, productive, well-organized group, who would make an effective ally.

Who in the group was going to grow all this food and make all these weapons and crafts?  Certainly not the humans in the group.  It takes the Australian Bushman about 15 hours of work a week to provide for him self and his family.  Why work any longer?  Let someone else do it, while I enjoy life.  Besides, who said it would work anyway?

He had no motivation to work beyond self-sufficiency.  This lack of motivation to do what had to be done to survive, was the adaptive challenge that had to be solved by changing the humans.  The humans had to evolve a new response system that would motivate them to work beyond self-sufficiency to survive in this competitive, tribal environment.


A new system evolved in humans slowly over many generations, that got better and better, with a wide variety of variations, that motivated them to work beyond self-sufficiency.  This new system is called the Motivators.

The basic human decision system personality at the cognitive level operates by making a constantly-updated, mental picture of the current reality around the individual, and then doing all decision operations on this mental picture.  It looks into the worldview to see problems, obstacles and opportunities, of the individual’s survival and flourishing.

The new Motivator system began as a slight variation of this basic decision system.  It too looked into the worldview, but instead of looking for problems, it looked for wrongs.  These perceived wrongs would naturally evoke emotions which could be used to motivate the individual to action.  If the response could be delayed or played out over a long time, the individual could be motivated to action over a long time.

If someone else did a wrong to the individual, it would naturally evoke anger, which could be molded into the spirit and desire for revenge.  The sex drive could be used to motivate the individual to actions outside the normal social bounds.  Similarly with greed, envy, gluttony and jealousy, all forms of control over things and people.  Finally there was the best and strongest of all, pride.

In tribal times these new motivators were very adaptive.  A lustful young man from one clan would capture a young woman from another clan to have for himself. She was the daughter, sister and perhaps wife of other men in hie clan.  Her clansmen captured a woman from his clan.  In this process some men in both clans were killed.  These episodes, motivated by lust, guaranteed war between the two clans.  Now the need for alliances arose.  In each clan, tribe various rituals began involving planting crops and raising pigs, the food for the alliance.  The Motivators of anger, revenge and pride motivated many members of the clan to work long hours beyond self sufficiency to grow the crops and raise the pigs.  They and their allies were going to avenge the capture of their women and the killing of their men.  After about twelve years of this preparation, the time came for war.  In preparation the clan killed the pigs, pulled up the crops and had a many day feast with the allied clans.  After the feast, hey had the war.

Not too many people were killed, but it was established that one clan was the loser.  This clan lost the right to its land.  The members of the clan had to move in with members of other clans.  Their land was declared to be haunted by the spirits of he dead ancestors, and was off limits to all humans until the next war, which would be about twelve years away.

All of these clans belonged to one tribe, which held the tribal story of what life was about and taught all clans members how this feast and war system worked.  The result of this system was that the whole tribe could live in this environment indefinitely, in spite of the fact that the environment did nit have the carrying capacity to feed the whole tribe indefinitely.   By letting a major part of the land recover by lying fallow for twelve years or so, and randomly moving around which plot of land would lie fallow, the tribe was able to life on the renewed land indefinitely.

This is an example of how humans develop adaptive stories that work over many generations and live by them, even through most individuals in the tribe do not understand how they work or why they are doing what they are doing to live out the details of the tribal story.

The valuable adaptive motivators in tribal times, became natural parts of the humans genetic makeup.  However, when humans moved into crowded cities of 25,000 people, packed closely together, rubbing each other in close society, when they had discovered agriculture and irrigation, the adaptive Motivators became the Seven Deadly Sins.  What had been adaptive, in a different environment, became maladaptive, but humans still had them.  The Motivators were now in the human DNA.  All humans had these powerful Motivators.  Sometimes, in some circumstances, they were still highly adaptive motivators to adaptive responses in those situations.  Often, however, they evolved the wrong response for the city situation.

What is the adaptive response to this new sometimes right and sometimes wrong  situation.  The answer is an adaptive decision system which always chooses the right response for the situation, regardless of the strength of the motivators involved.


This is righteous living, doing the right thing at all times no matter what the circumstances.  It is hard to do.  It is so hard to do that humans typically fail at it.  This produces much human caused suffering.

If we could quickly and accurately decide among all the possible responses, regardless of their motivators, we could live a righteous, successful life as a fulfilled whole person as we evolved to live.  This is the natural good life we evolved to live in our circumstances


If we could, we would, but we can’t.  We cannot because of human limitation.  We simply do not have anywhere near the mental capacity to make so many decisions so quickly.  We cannot do it.  Therefore human suffering is caused by human limitation.

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