When the writers and producers of the hit TV comedy The Big Bang Theory first envisioned the character of Sheldon Cooper, I’m sure their main goal was to craft a truly funny show.  I’m sure they couldn’t have known their blend of spot-on writing and Jim Parson’s brilliant acting would end up creating an iconic portrait of the human brain’s Darwinian Circuitry.  But just as the writers of The Big Bang Theory are always referencing some of my favourite series — series such as Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Star Wars — I’m going to reference their Sheldon Cooper character as a way to speak accurately about the realities of the human brain.

Wind Turbines (c) Jamie MacDonald 2009.  Used with permission of the artist.

Wind Turbines (c) Jamie MacDonald 2009. Used with permission of the artist. Every time I see a wind turbine, it reminds me of the ruthless logic of the brain’s Darwinian circuitry.

Jim Parson’s portrayal of theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper is hilarious because it’s 100% accurate in scientific terms.  The humour works because the science works.  In this case, the science they’re showing (albeit unwittingly) is the science of a brain that’s operating entirely on its 3D Darwinian Circuitry without benefit of the soul’s gifts of empathy, heart, and dignity.

I know it sounds really hard to believe that a person can function at all without using every part of the brain.  We assume a person can function with only one kidney or one leg, but it never occurs to us to ask whether the same analogy applies to the brain.  We tend to think of the brain as a single organ — either a whole brain that functions wholly and properly or no brain at all — so we give people the benefit of the doubt with regard to their internal thinking processes.   We assume that if they can do all the basics — go to school, get a job, make everyday decisions — then their brains must be operating the way they’re supposed to.

But there’s a problem with this assumption: the basic tasks of going to school, getting a job, and making everyday decisions require the brain to use only one “software suite,” whereas it actually has two.  Basic tasks require the brain to use only its Darwinian Circuitry, a “suite” of software devoted solely to 3D biological survival.  The brain’s Darwinian Circuitry carries the programming for all things related to your body’s biological needs — food, water, clean air, sleep, protection from the elements, protection from predators, procreation (which is more optional than most people think), and relief from pain.  In our culture, school and jobs and money and status are regarded by the Darwinian Circuitry of the brain as essential tools for survival.  So anything to do with money and status are given extremely high priority by the Darwinian Circuitry, even it means pursuing a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, as our character Sheldon Cooper has done.

So efficient is the Darwinian Circuitry that it can carry out important survival tasks without any input at all from the brain’s Soul Circuitry.   Of course, without input from the soul, survival tasks won’t be carried out with empathy.  Or with trust.  Or humbleness.  Or gratitude.  Or humour.  Or anything resembling conscience.  But they’ll be done, by god, and they’ll be done with the viciousness and cold logic of an S.S. death camp commander.

These are the kinds of selfish, conscience-free behaviours that idiot atheists such as Richard Dawkins have promoted as the “truth” about human nature. I see a lot of similarities between Richard Dawkins, philosopher Thomas Hobbes, and the Christian Apostle Paul.

Dawkins has coined the phrase “the selfish gene,” and at a certain level the label is accurate.  There are stretches of genetic material in our DNA that are meant to boost our awareness of our individual survival needs.  Otherwise how would we instinctively know how to run away from danger?!  But these are not the only kinds of coding we have in our DNA.  We also have coding for unselfish traits.  We also have coding for traits such as empathy, trust, humbleness, gratitude, humour, and conscience.

In the language of personality theorists (a branch of psychology), we have to be able to account for the five universally observed dimensions of personality — Neuroticism, Agreeableness, Extraversion, Openness, and Conscientiousness — and we have to be able to account for all five of these dimensions in the face of aggressive arguments from behavioural psychologists and evolutionary biologists that human beings are nothing more than a collection of selfish genes seeking to reproduce themselves in the most efficient way possible.

So here’s how it actually works.  The Darwinian Circuitry of your brain is responsible for expressing traits that fall within two of the five dimensions: Neuroticism and Agreeableness.  The Soul Circuitry of your brain is responsible for expressing the other three dimensions: Extraversion, Openness, and Conscientiousness.

Yeah.  It really is that simple.

Sheldon Cooper is an absolutely perfect representation of what happens to a human being’s behaviour and relationships when he falls into the trap of relying exclusively on choices that score very high on the Neuroticism and Agreeableness scales, and very low on the Extraversion, Openness, and Conscientiousness scales.  He becomes, well, he becomes a Sheldon.

This package of traits is distinctive and highly recognizable.  You get a person who’s highly controlling; perfectionistic; tense around other people; resistant to sudden change; inflexible; always “right”; quick to anger; thorough but lacking in imagination; socially compliant but lacking in genuine empathy; obsessive or obsessive-compulsive; politically conservative or right-wing; and rigidly obedient to the Law (dogmatic).  The latter trait — rigid obedience to the Law — is especially important to understand in its proper context as a Darwinian trait because it’s often wrongly confused by researchers with traits from the Conscientiousness dimension.

The Darwinian Circuitry of the brain is very good at what it does (when it’s in balance with the Soul Circuitry) but on its own it’s very “black and white” in its thinking.  It looks for simplistic “Cause and Effect” patterns.  It looks for rigid “laws” that can be applied quickly and easily in all situations.  The Darwinian parts of the brain “recognize” Materialist philosophy and codified religious texts and scientism (that is, treatment of scientific thought as an infallible religion).  There’s NO capacity in these parts of the brain for processing complex emotions such as empathy, humbleness, courage, and forgiveness.  On the other hand, logic and law are elevated to the status of the divine.  You can see these patterns plain as day in Sheldon Cooper’s self-absorbed devotion to pure logic.

If you’re familiar with the Big Five personality theory, you’re probably saying to yourself that I’ve got the Agreeableness dimension all backwards and I obviously haven’t read the material carefully.  I’ve read the material, and I think the scale for Agreeableness has been written backwards.  High scorers on the Agreeableness dimension are harder to sort out in research studies because status addiction affects this dimension more than it does the other four.  For instance, generosity and altruism may be genuine (in which case they’re coming from the Soul Circuitry and belong on the Extraversion dimension).  On the other hand, generosity and altruism may be nothing more than status-addiction-in-sheep’s-clothing (which means they’re coming from the clever tactical centres of the Darwinian Circuit, and should stay right where they are on the Agreeableness dimension, since Agreeableness  is focussed on social strategies that enhance 3D biological health).

A philanthropist who can’t donate money to a worthy cause without seeing his/her name emblazoned in big letters on the outside of a new research centre is suffering from a severe case of status-addiction-in-sheep’s-clothing.  This behaviour deserves a high score on the “I’m-doing-it-to-survive-on-the-social-ladder” scale.

Giving, of course, is good.  If you’re giving from your heart and soul, you’ll have no trouble giving anonymously and forgoing any credit for your generosity.  It should be fairly obvious, though, that giving to others so you can earn yourself lots of status points is not so good from the soul’s point of view.

Poor Sheldon Cooper.  He can follow the rules of social conventions by rote, but he doesn’t understand them.  He doesn’t understand why he’s not supposed to call his twin sister “inferior genetic material.”  He doesn’t understand why Leonard wants to be with Penny in emotional, intimate, heartfelt ways.  He laughs when it’s socially appropriate, not because he gets the joke, but because he knows at a Darwinian level that he’s supposed to.  He’s a classic Platonic Philosopher-King who believes in his own superiority and not much else.

He’s busted from top to bottom.  But this doesn’t stop him from bossing other people around and using pure logic to abuse the people around him.

Not that Sheldon thinks he’s an abuser.  In his own eyes, he’s a really nice guy.

This is why he reminds me so much of the Apostle Paul.


Further Reading:

“The surprising downsides of being clever” by David Robson, BBC Future, April 14, 2015

“Will religion ever disappear” by Rachel Nuwer, BBC Future, December 19, 2014

“Teaching the children: Sharp ideological differences, some common ground,” Pew Research Center, September 18, 2014