Every living organism strives to maintain the balance of its life processes. The disturbance of these processes, the loss of homeostasis, is immediately compensated by taking specific actions aimed at restoring the state of equilibrium. In fact, life comes down to a very long series of moments of losing and regaining that balance. From this perspective, death is a moment of irreversible loss of balance.
Factors that cause the disturbance of homeostasis (stressors) can appear both in the physical environment of an organism, in its social environment, or inside the very organism itself. These threats may be physical or mental.
In the course of its evolutionary development, organisms have developed an ability to estimate the probability of a specific stressor to occur. At the same time they developed another ability – to plan actions allowing them to avoid the potential harm caused by the stressor. The common name for both these skills is “thinking”.
One of the main differences between different species (apart from the number of legs and their facial expressions) is the degree to which they are able to create virtual models of the reality around them.
Most likely, relatively simple organisms do not create a model of the reality in which they are located, but instantaneously react to a direct stimulus. In the case of more complex creatures, the situation seems to be more complicated. A bird that is choosing its path of flight through the forest, a fox that is chasing a rabbit, or a homo sapiens that is preparing its scrambled eggs in a kitchen, all these organisms need to perform a great deal of calculations on the potential effects of selecting specific series of actions before these actions are actually taken.
The bird, the fox and the human, all generate in their minds virtual projections of the worlds they are in. As part of these projections, they simulate various scenarios of actions, the aim of which is to avoid danger (e.g. oversalting eggs), and on the other hand, to take advantage of the potential opportunities (e.g. swallowing an escaping fly).
Thinking is a form of virtual world which, unlike the real world, does not exist in a physical sense, but is only a projection of the organism’s mind. By means of a thought process, the mind creates virtual variants of future events and, based on previously gained experience, assesses the probability of their occurrence. This enables it to predict the consequences of actions that it is going to undertake in the present.
The ability to remember events and simulate possible variants of the future situations was of colossal importance for the survival of the human species. Thinking has become an amazing tool that has enabled us to eliminate a significant number of stressors from our environment.
However, for having such a highly developed thought process, we have to pay a huge price – an increased stress level.
Why is it so? After all, the main advantage of the thought process was the elimination of threats from the environment of an organism. And so it happened, but the role of stressors for modern man has been taken over by mental processes, and more precisely by virtual projections of potential threatening situations. To understand why this happened, let’s examine the relationship between thought and emotions.