Two years ago I started to learn (as self-education) evolution theory and neurobiology for to understand - who we are and where we came from? Now I see clearly that we are our brains, which are the result of RNA & DNA selection and replication.

Many of the issues now resolved for me: about love and intuition, origin of religion and art etc.

But one question remains "a mystery": why are there so many wishes, desires, urges?
What is the neurobiology base for a monstrous amount of consumer goods, objects of art etc.?

The most primitive idea is "complexity of brain -> intricacy of processes -> lots of desires".
Another naive answer has to do with so called "play-explore-investigation instinct", which plays an important role when two basic instincts are "still".

But to me, human wishes and urges look like more of a Akkerman function than just "a lot of".

I belive that (sooner or later) evolution and neuroscience will give answers to all questions about our mind and behavior.
So glad to hear something about this one!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hadn't heard of Ackermann functions before...interesting concept. I'd love an answer to this too, but I'm a little pessimistic about seeing one without a narrower focus and more concrete definition of the question. $\endgroup$ Jun 5, 2014 at 5:45
  • $\begingroup$ Do you mean "Why does a group of people have a lot of varying desires?" or "Why does every individual has a lot of desires?" $\endgroup$
    – SBel
    Jun 13, 2014 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ @SBel, in fact, I'm interested in both questions. $\endgroup$
    – lesobrod
    Jun 14, 2014 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ But social diversity (desires, forms of behavior etc.) is subject of ethology (as the base) and social science. It seems to me that complexity and branching of individual wishes could be explained with neuroscience. $\endgroup$
    – lesobrod
    Jun 14, 2014 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ @lesobrod, for an individual, how many desires do you consider to be too many? For example, for me, I don't think that I have too many desires. They are sex, food, and currently I'd like to learn about personality psychology. $\endgroup$
    – SBel
    Jun 14, 2014 at 16:16

2 Answers 2


In the context of evolution, desires and dreams (beyond the lower tier of Maslow's Hierarchy) could be seen as, not an adaptation, but a spandrel of the adaptation of consciousness.

Consciousness allows us higher cognitive skills, particularly the ability to reflect on events and predict events through modelling, which allows us to modify our behavior in a succesful way. But this extra predictive power also gives us an imagination with which we can imagine ourselves in a better position to exploit our dopamine centers (seek pleasurable activities that don't propagate the species).


Firstly, we need to draw the difference between a need and a belief.

Needs are what everybody really wants, and beliefs are the vehicles which people meet those needs. For example, everybody has a need to feel significant or unique, but the way that person goes about doing that is based on their beliefs. To some people, robbing a bank in their mind will make them significant, to others helping people will make them signifcant.

The reason this distinction is essential is because it allows you to see that humans really only have a few true desires. The basic human needs for survival: certainty, variety, connection, significance, etc. All the different desires humans have stem from the drive to meet these needs. The reason we have so many desires is because we have various needs, many of which are in conflict.


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