Legacy delusions may manifest through at least three distinct ventures for human flourishing, self-referentiality, larger-than-self-identity, after-life transcendence, and/or symbolic immortality: religion, parenthood, and accomplishment. The latter has overshadowed the other two within the cultural evolution of modern times, with historically increasing opportunities — particularly in more developed countries (and especially for women) — for
Importantly, feeling a sense of meaning/purpose though Legacy Drive is always just a delusion. Consider that today, for every deceased human that has ever existed (save for a miniscule micro-fraction), it is as though s(he) never did. Only genes have legacy (Dawkins 1989), but Legacy Drive has a powerful hold on human nature nonetheless, potentially, it is argued, because of its evolutionary roots in an ancestral attraction to ‘memetic legacy’ through feeling a sense that one can create a lasting ‘carbon-copy’ of self by shaping the minds — the ideas, values, beliefs, ego, self-
Several recent experimental studies of mortality priming have shown that the perception of parenthood can be an effective death-anxiety buffer (Wisman & Goldenberg 2005; Fritsche et al. 2007; Mathews & Sear 2008; Zhou et al. 2008, 2009, Yaakobi et al. 2014). On one level this might be interpreted as a consequence of traditional life history theory, applied broadly to more than just humans; i.e. “…fertility behaviour is likely to be particularly sensitive to mortality levels and patterns, given the key importance of mortality in determining the payoffs to life history decisions such as when to stop growing and reproducing, how to allocate investment between quantity and quality of children, etc. … High and unpredictable mortality regimes are likely to favour an early start to reproduction and high fertility, whereas low and stable mortality is predicted to lead to later and lower fertility” (Mathews & Sear 2008, p. 156).
Alternatively (or in addition), as interpreted here, perceptions of offspring and parenthood provide deep-seated symbolism for immortality. Gene transmission per se of course is not a cognitive human goal (or at least never was prior to Gregor Mendel, less than two centuries ago). But pride in offspring (and also adopted children), forethought/planning for having them, and eager anticipation of their birth (or adoption) and family membership are all (we can reasonably assume) universal and uniquely human emotions and intentions. And they represent obvious manifestations of attraction to legacy, bolstering a delusional confidence in being able to leave extensions of ‘self’ (or at least the self that one aspires to, or at one time did) that might transcend death. As Schaller et al. (2010) recognize, an “…affective reward comes as we make progress toward the underlying evolutionary objective — when
In a future post, I will consider how Legacy Drive and Leisure Drive are likely to be deployed often in a blended fashion, triggered by developmental and environmental cues, and integrated with other goal systems, all shaped in part by genes inherited from ancestors — genes informing a framework that ensured their own copying and transmission success to future generations: a ‘pyramid of human needs’.
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