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We’ve all heard this phrase during pre-flight safety demonstration numerous times, but it resonated with me differently days ago. Made me think. I guess it is pretty clear why ICAO thought this is imperative to emphasize. Securing yourself over your child heavily defies our instincts, crafted over 50 million years of mammalian evolution. 

Protect the cubs.

But why do hormones influence our mammalian parental behavior in such way that we always protect our cubs over ourselves in life threatening situations? So, in accord with ICAO’s safety demonstration – why exactly isn’t logical to secure ourselves first in every situation. Not just in the unlikely event of cabin depressurization.

The whole world knows about Scarlett, a Brooklyn cat, who saved her five kittens from the fire back in 1996 – fetching one by one until all five were safe and sound. Then she collapsed unconscious (sic!), severely burned with her eyes were blistered shut, her ears and paws burned, and her coat highly singed.

She was inches from dying. If she had died, her kittens would have died as well – either from hunger or other predators. Why didn’t her instinct tell her “shit… fire… have to make new kittens…”. Love’s got nothing to do with this. Specific hormonal changes triggered certain instincts in that cat – just like with all of us, which made her sacrifice herself to save her off-springs.

Bear with me for a second, just imagine I’m a Vulcan.

If something happens to me – my baby won’t be able to take care of itself anyhow, right? But if I save myself – I can make a new baby.

I know, I know – just even reading this (especially if you’re a parent), makes your hair stand on end. As brutal as it sounds, on entirely rational level the behavioral endocrinology of mammals simply doesn’t make any sense at all. Secure yourself first. Then secure others, including your children.

So why on earth am I ready to sacrifice my life in a blink of an eye to protect my little one?

If I close my eyes and try to envision such (unlikely) event in which my baby boy’s life would be jeopardized by someone or something, I get a very strong feedback from my nervous and endocrine system. My stomach aches, tears burst into my eyes and adrenaline immediately starts pumping up. Clearly, evolution created such endocrine system for excellent reason.

Evolution doesn’t make mistakes

If you were an engineer, would you ever design a fully operational unit in a way that it would go all the way to destruct itself in order to protect a unit that is incapable of operating on its on, which in turn would be destroyed anyhow in case of fully-operational unit’s destruction?

No, of course you wouldn’t.

But you see, even while I’m writing this, I have a very strong feeling that what I’m saying is wrong.

My neocortex is not aligned with my limbic system on this one.

While cold, ruthless logic of phylogenetically youngest frontal lobe says “yep, I should definitely save myself first”, millions of years of evolution inside my endocrine and emotional system yell “helooo there, are you a f*cking moron?!?”

I fully understand that during 50 million years of mammalian evolutionary past, our survival depended heavily upon our behavioral endocrinology. So it must be designed right.

Mammals protect their babies more than other animals.

Any animal that had offspring of a type that needed care, and who didn’t, wouldn’t exist. The only way an offspring gets the chance to reproduce is that his parent cares about him until he’s grown enough to reproduce on his own. Animals that nurture their offspring until they’re able to look after themselves do it because hormonal changes trigger certain nurturing instincts that if the animal didn’t posses, would mean the rapid extinction of that species.


This fact brings me to the only conclusion my feeble mind can think of that can justify such “design flaw”. From perspective of behavioral endocrinology it is impossible to distinguish nurturing from self-preservation. We cannot deeply care about something, unless we’re ready to sacrifice ourselves over it. There isn’t a threshold level that controls offspring nurturing.

We just go all the way to the end. Perhaps that’s the only way it can work.

Very mind boggling. Thoughts?