Why is it so difficult to live your own life?

This 2015 Princeton/German study of fish schooling behavior reminded me of one of the difficulties an individual has in living a life of their own choosing. The study showed that the way social animals have evolved makes the individual likely to do what the group does.

Before looking at some details of the study, I’ll point out a natural pro and con of an individual going along with the crowd. A major survival advantage is that a predator won’t find it as easy to single out an individual from the group.

A major survival disadvantage is that a group is easily manipulated into a fate that each individual wouldn’t experience on their own. Here’s one instance of such an event:

Click to enlarge

The difference in this study as compared with other literature on the subject was that there were a lot of equations presented:

“We demonstrate that we can predict complex cascades of behavioral change at their moment of initiation, before they actually occur.

Establishing the hidden communication networks in large self-organized groups facilitates a quantitative understanding of behavioral contagion.”

Does this sound like it could apply to humans?

“We define susceptibility as the likelihood of a fish responding given that it observes the initiator.

An individual will be more likely to respond (is more susceptible) if it is strongly connected to the initiator (short path length), and if it has neighbors which are strongly connected to each other..shortest paths represent most probable paths.”

This passage definitely applied to humans:

“Such waves of evasion can spread extensively or may rapidly die out, resulting in a broad distribution of cascade magnitudes (number of responding individuals), a property shared with other spreading processes [e.g., neural activity, human communication].

In contrast to analyses of social contagion for online social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, individuals’ proximity to the core of the network is not predictive of social influence.”


The main point I took away from this study was that although behaviors such as schooling and herding were largely no longer needed for humans to survive in today’s world, their remnants could be seen all day every day if one cared to observe.

Why are such leftover behaviors still around? They are certainly misplaced from their original contexts.

The places and times in which these actions and reactions were relevant to survival have passed. They don’t make sense in other contexts in the present.

To lead to answers, I encourage readers to purchase Dr. Arthur Janov’s 2011 book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” and read the passages listed in the index under the “survival” term. I’ll quote the beginning of a paragraph from page 52, even though it doesn’t quite give the importance of what followed in that paragraph:

“What’s happening here is that the body, in the interest of survival, is continually reacting to imprinted memory..”


An individual may find it difficult to live a life of their own choosing due to external influences such as those presented in this study. But there are also difficulties in living your own life that have internal origins, as delineated by principles of Primal Therapy.

http://www.pnas.org/content/112/15/4690.full “Revealing the hidden networks of interaction in mobile animal groups allows prediction of complex behavioral contagion”

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One thought on “Why is it so difficult to live your own life?

  1. sure, we can survive as individuals and do our own thing, but the best feelings a human can experience eg sex and love, are only available in a group situation. I would hardly call sex and love leftover behaviours. Our species is self destructing because we don’t understand the power of love. The human focus is too much on the intellect.

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