When there is danger, reactions such as pain or anxiety are helpful.
People tend to seek relief from symptoms, not disease. Pain, fever, malaise, cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea are the body’s defenses.
Exactly the same defenses are anxiety, jealousy, anger, and discouragement. They turn on when something bad happens. They are useful, albeit unpleasant. If you get pneumonia, hope that your cough reflex is okay, or you are more likely to die. Also hope that your doctor understands the benefits of coughing and does not overdo it with drugs that block it.
Meanwhile, doctors regularly prescribe drugs that block normal defense reactions. And that’s great! A person who is relieved of unnecessary pain, nausea, coughing, fever becomes much easier. But there is a mystery here. If defense reactions are a useful mechanism developed by natural selection, it is logical to assume that blocking them, on the contrary, will worsen the patient’s condition. Why aren’t people dying en masse by taking drugs that block the normal defense response?
I pondered this question for several years until I found a solution, which I called the “principle of fire alarm”. Most of the reactions that make a person suffer, in some cases are not particularly useful, and yet they are absolutely normal, since they protect against huge hypothetical damage with a little blood. It’s like a false fire alarm. It is better to let it howl once more when you accidentally burn toast, but you can sleep peacefully, knowing that in the event of a real fire, it will work right away.
It is better to let it vomit once more or hurt a little, but it will be clear that the body will be able to signal tissue damage or poisoning. Therefore, you can usually block nausea or pain with medication without any fear.
If you have a synthetic mindset, you’ve probably already noticed that the above six reasons for our vulnerability can be summarized in three. Inconsistency with the environment and the “arms race” between the organism and pathogens are due to the fact that the organism in its evolutionary development does not keep pace with the changes in the environment.
The next two reasons indicate the limits of selection: it has limitations, and no improvement comes without cost. The last two explanations are not so much the causes of vulnerability as misconceptions about exactly what natural selection is aimed at. It maximizes reproduction, not health; and the discomfort from defensive reactions such as pain, cough, and anxiety are inseparable from their benefits.