Sébastien Bohler was born on 15 November 1970 in Strasbourg (Bas-Rhin). After graduating from the Ecole Polytechnique, he obtained a DEA in molecular pharmacology and defended a thesis in molecular neurology. In 2002, he collaborated in the creation of the journal Cerveau & Psycho and became its editor-in-chief. He is a French journalist, columnist, speaker and writer.
“Why, when we are equipped with extremely precise tools that clearly inform us of the turn events will take in a few decades, do we remain impassive? Why, in the face of catastrophe, do we continue to act as we have in the past? What is it about us that is so dysfunctional?”
Tired of this question, Sébastien Bohler decided to study it through the prism of the brain. He presents his findings in a book entitled The Human Bug. For his book “The Human Bug“, Sébastien Bohler was awarded the Grand Prix 2020 for the book on the brain by the French Society of Neurology.
What is “the human bug” about ?
Our brain, our enemy
The thesis he develops is summarised at the end of the introduction: “What I discovered chilled me. This brain […] is in reality an organ of largely faulty behaviour, bent on destruction and domination, pursuing only its own interest and unable to see beyond a few decades. We are caught up in a headlong rush of overconsumption, overproduction, overexploitation, overeating, over indebtedness and overheating, because part of our brain is automatically pushing us in this direction, and we have no means of stopping it.”
The human bug depicts a journey into the inner working of our rather primitive brain and how it is causing the collapse of the environment and our societies. Indeed, despite warnings from climate experts and international bodies, humanity continues to emit greenhouse gases at levels that are incompatible with the sustainable life of future generations. The collapse of biodiversity has not been halted in any way, and it is as if humanity is digging its own grave, unable to respond adequately to the enormity of the global threats to its future. Economic growth remains the number one rule, even though we now know that we are exploiting the Earth’s resources far beyond what it can produce.
Why is this so?
Therefore, the concept of the Human Bug is an analysis of a flaw in the brain of Homo sapiens, which leads him to persevere in suicidal behaviour despite being aware of the consequences. Our brain has a cortex capable of intelligence, but deeper, ancestral areas that dictate most of our desires and motivations. These desires and motivations, largely driven by the striatum, drive us again and again to consume, to produce absurd amounts of industrial food, to surf the Internet at high speed for no real purpose, to chase luxury items for social status, or to surround ourselves with gadgets designed to relieve us of more and more of our efforts, thereby exposing us to the harmful effects of a sedentary lifestyle on our health. In a nutshell, our unconscious is “dominated by deeper, archaic processes that we do not control”.
One way out
Yet, how can we escape the grip of the striatum and the pleasure molecule it gives us in exchange for these absurd behaviours? By developing other paths of gratification involving consciousness, altruism and knowledge. These paths are not favoured by what we have become : a homo numericus as well as the dominant materialistic economy and by the rise of the new technologies such as deepfake, AI, metaverse, etc. On the contrary, those are powerful stimulants to our brains and make our dopaminergic neurons even more happier. This needs to be taken into account for the years to come. Our ways of thinking and consuming need to change. The human bug helps a lot to understand humanity’s often contradictory, absurd and self-destructive behavior, and gives some clues to scape our current social dylemas.
Hence, one solution is offered at the end of the book. The only way out now is to bring our level of consciousness to a level comparable with our level of intelligence will undoubtedly be a major challenge for the future of our species. We need to muscle the cortex and condition the striatum to produce dopamine in a different way. Taking pleasure in being aware of what you eat and the positive impact of being vegetarian. Taking pleasure in personal development, in sport not experienced as a competition, in contemplative activities. Taking pleasure in sharing knowledges, in enriching exchanges, where dialogue is not a pretext for measuring oneself against others. To take pleasure in the acquisition of knowledge and in the gift of self. And to push all this to the point of making it a compass to the political level and a pillar of children’s education. Leading Sebastien Bohler to tell us that we need to evolve into a society of conscience.
Thus, the human bug answers the question of why. Why is it that while there is collective awareness, activist action, more and more climate walks…nothing is changing, or rather everything continues to increase (annual fossil fuel consumption, global meat consumption, global carbon emissions, etc.).
In short: an interesting book, quite accessible for someone who doesn’t know anything about it and who is looking for something simple but thorough. The author’s tone is sometimes quite relaxed, accessible to the non-specialist, peppered with humorous notes and supported by an extensive bibliography. It’s not an essential reading, but very useful to understand the real issues of the current environmental crisis and to learn more about our brain, its 5 motivations and the striatriums. It also helps a lot to understand humanity’s often contradictory, absurd and self-destructive behavior, and gives some clues to scape our current social dilemmas. Yet, I have a few critics, mostly on the substance of the subject. The book is a hard-hitting piece of writing, which ends up being so negative that it’s counterproductive. It’s also quite simplistic and utopian. Of course, there is some truth in it, a lot of veracity, but personally I was drowned by the flood of negative information.
The human bug, Sebastien Bohlen, 2018 (french edition, Robert Laffont)