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不快乐是人类进化的需要吗?

2013-08-27    来源:WSJ    【      美国外教 在线口语培训

Does Evolution Want Us To Be Unhappy?

Samuel Johnson called it the vanity of human wishes, and Buddhists talk about the endless cycle of desire. Social psychologists say we get trapped on a hedonic treadmill. What they all mean is that we wish, plan and work for things that we think will make us happy, but when we finally get them, we aren't nearly as happy as we thought we'd be.
塞缪尔•约翰逊(Samuel Johnson)称之为人生希望的空幻,佛教徒在谈论欲望的轮回,社会心理学家则说,我们被困在一架“快乐水车”上。他们的意思都是说,我们认为自己会因获得某些东西而快乐,于是我们憧憬这些东西,并为之筹划和努力,但当我们最终得到这些东西时,却远不如当初想象的那么快乐。

Summer makes this particularly vivid. All through the busy winter I longed and planned and saved for my current vacation. I daydreamed about peaceful summer days in this beautiful village by the Thames with nothing to do but write. Sure enough, the first walk down the towpath was sheer ecstasy -- but by the fifth, it was just another walk. The long English evenings hang heavy, and the damned book I'm writing comes along no more easily than it did in December.
对我来说,这一点在今年夏季得到十分生动的印证。在整个繁忙的冬季,我一直期待这个假期,并且在做计划和存钱。我幻想在宁静的夏日待在泰晤士河(Thames)沿岸这座美丽的村庄里,除了写作什么也不做。当然了,第一次沿着河边纤道漫步时绝对有种欣喜若狂的感觉──但到了第五次,就变成稀松平常的散步了。英国漫长的夜晚无聊透顶,而我手头这本该死的书写起来并不比去年12月的时候简单。

This looks like yet another example of human irrationality. But the economist Arthur Robson has an interesting evolutionary explanation. Evolution faces what economists call a principal-agent problem. Evolution is the principal, trying to get organisms (its agents) to increase their fitness. But how can it get those dumb animals to act in accordance with this plan? (This anthropomorphic language is just a metaphor, of course -- a way of saying that the fitter organisms are more likely to survive and reproduce. Evolution doesn't have intentions.)
这看起来像是说明人类非理性的又一例证。但经济学家阿瑟•罗布森(Arthur Robson)给出了一种有趣的进化论解释:进化面对的是一个被经济学家称为“委托-代理问题”的困局,进化是委托人,它试图增强生物体(其代理人)的适应性。但它怎样才能让那些愚蠢的动物按照这一计划行事呢?(当然,这种拟人化的语言只是个隐喻──借此说明适应性较强的生物体更易生存和繁衍。进化本身是没有意志的。)

For simple organisms like slugs, evolution can build in exactly the right motivations (move toward food and away from light). But it is harder with a complicated, cognitive organism like us. We act by imagining many alternative futures and deciding among them. Our motivational system has to be designed so that we do this in a way that tends to improve our fitness.
对蛞蝓这种简单的生物体来说,进化可以为他们置入精确的动机(向食物移动,并远离光线),但对于我们人类这样复杂的、有认知能力的生物体来说则比较难。我们会设想许多种未来的选择方案,从中做出选择,继而采取行动。我们的动机系统必须经过设计,使我们能以倾向于增强适应性的方式行动。

Suppose I am facing a decision between two alternative futures. I can stay where I am or go on to the next valley where the river is a bit purer, the meadows a bit greener and the food a bit better. My motivational system ensures that when I imagine the objectively better future it looks really great, far better than all the other options -- I'll be so happy! So I pack up and move. From evolution's perspective that is all to the good: My fitness has increased.
假设我要在未来两种选择中做出一项选择。我可以停留在原地,也可以继续前往下一个河水更清一点儿、草坪更绿一点儿、食物更美味一点儿的山谷。我的动机系统确保当我想象客观上更好的未来时,会感觉这种选择很棒,比其他所有选择都要棒得多──我会非常快乐!于是我收拾起行囊向前走。从进化的角度来看,这一切都是向好的:我的适应性增强了。

But now suppose that I have actually already made the decision. I am in the next valley. It does me no additional good to continue admiring the river, savoring the green of the meadow and the taste of the fruit. I acted, I have gotten the benefit, and feeling happy now is, from evolution's perspective, just a superfluous luxury.
但现在假设我实际上已经做出了决定。我已经到了下一个山谷。继续观赏河水、欣赏绿草、品尝水果并不能让我获得更多益处。我已经采取了行动并从中获益,现在从进化角度来说,感觉快乐只是多余的奢侈。

Wanting to be happy and imagining the happy future made me act in a way that really did make me better off; feeling happy now doesn't help. To keep increasing my fitness, I should now imagine the next potential source of happiness that will help me to make the next decision. (Doesn't that tree just over the next hill have even better fruit?)
希望获得快乐以及想象快乐的未来让我采取了确实能让我境遇改善的行动;而现在感觉快乐则无助于改善境遇。要继续增强适应性,我现在应该想象能帮助我做出下一个决定的新的潜在快乐源泉。(下一座山的树上是不是有更好吃的水果?)

It is as if every time we make a decision that actually makes us better off, evolution resets our happiness meter to zero. That prods us to decide to take the next action, which will make us even better off -- but no happier.
似乎我们每次做出一个真正能改善处境的决定时,进化就会把我们的快乐计量仪归零。这会促使我们决定采取下一次行动,会进一步改善我们的境遇──但不会让我们更快乐。

Of course, I care about what I want, not what evolution wants. But what do I want? Should I try to be better off objectively even if I don't feel any happier? After all, the Thames really is beautiful, the meadows are green, the food -- well, it's better in England than it used to be. And the book really is getting done.
当然,我在乎的是我要什么,而不是进化要什么。但我想要什么呢?我是否应该努力改善自己的客观处境,即便我并不会感到更快乐?毕竟,泰晤士河真的很美,草坪很绿,吃的嘛──英国菜比以前好吃了。我的书也写得差不多了。

Or would it be better to defy evolution, step off the treadmill of desire and ambition and just rest serenely at home in Buddhist contentment? At least we humans can derive a bit of happiness, however fleeting, from asking these questions, perhaps because the answers always seem to be just over the next hill.
或者,如果我们反抗进化,跳下欲望和雄心的水车,只是带着佛家知足的心境,在家中静静地休息会不会更好呢?至少,我们人类能够从提出这些问题中获得一点快乐(不管这快乐是多么短暂),也许是因为答案似乎永远在下一座山上。(WSJ)



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