Why Life Can Feel Difficult — Supernormal Stimulus and Society

Mikko Revonniemi
5 min readSep 30, 2020
Supernormal stimulus and extremism

When we look at almost any human-created complex systems, we can see that extremism is slowly creeping in. In these cases, extremism can be thought of as a development away from homeostasis, the natural balance.

Our economic system has created unprecedented inequality between rich and poor. This approach has indeed created plenty of progress. But it is unknown whether another more balanced system could have brought even more improvement with fewer downsides.

Our political system has managed to keep our collective ship afloat so far, but it has also divided people on the spectrum’s opposite extremes.

No doubt, our healthcare system and the pharmaceutical industry have saved millions of people, but they’re also a significant contributor to premature deaths in developed countries. (Source, Source, Source (counter argument))

Our global food system produces more food than ever before, but it leaves billions of people malnourished, depletes the soil of nutrients, and pollutes air and water. Today, lifestyle (read. foodstyle) diseases are the #1 reason for premature deaths in developing countries. (Source)

Although extremism seems to be common for human societies, it’s relatively uncommon for the planet. Travel fifty miles outside of a large city, and we can find birds chirping and animals minding their own business. It is worth mentioning that “nature” is not all roses and sunshine; it has its harsh side too. The difference is that nature maintains homeostasis, which is the very reason why life has continued and will continue evolving for billions of years. But our issues are on the verge of escalating so rapidly that they are becoming the entire planet’s problems too.

It’s easy to blame the system (or systems), but those systems are there only because we created them. How they came about is not that vital question. Why they came about is much more revealing.

Once we understand the underlying reasons, then we can take the right corrective actions.

Supernormal Stimuli

The first step we need to take is acknowledging that it’s not our fault — it’s our success. More accurately, we have succeeded in certain aspects so well that we fail in the larger scheme of things. We have outperformed evolution with science and technology, and our biology hasn’t been able to keep up with the ever-increasing novelty and new stimuli. This has left us struggling to stay sane in the insane world of the supernormal stimuli.

For a better understanding of supernormal stimuli, check out THIS short comic.

Below is a list of some normal and a few more uncommon meta-level supernormal stimuli. The list is not exhaustive, but it gives an idea on some aspects that may affect our lives without our knowledge.

Junk Food

Junk food is not a real wholesome food but a supernormal stimulus of it. For hundreds of thousands of years, humans managed to live with micronutrient abundance and macronutrient scarcity. Because calorie-rich foods were mostly absent, we evolved to crave fats, proteins, and simple sugars.

The food industry uses this evolutionary trait to design nutrient-poor, profit-rich, chemical-filled products that stimulate the very biology used to keep us alive. Now, the same evolutionary trait is slowly killing us with diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and other similar “chronic” illnesses. (Source)


Porn is a supernormal stimulus of sex. It stimulates our neurochemistry and restructures the brain. Although there are undoubtedly destructive aspects of the porn industry, porn in itself is not necessarily bad. It’s simply too strong of a stimulus for what our brains have evolved to cope with.

Since sex has a strong evolutionary base for species survival, porn is like a super drug overstimulating that need. It is in its very nature highly addictive and makes real-life sex feel less desirable. (Source)

Social Media

Social media isn’t real social connecting but a supernormal stimulus to human connections. People tend to be social creatures looking for a group to belong to. This also has a strong evolutionary basis. A single human being wouldn’t survive very long on the African savanna, but band a few people together and give them some thousands of years and they will become the apex of the animal kingdom, travel to space, and begin enquiring about the nature of existence.

The social media industry has used our evolutionary need to connect to their advantage and replaced a real connection with likes and hearts, swipes, and matches. But a ‘like’ is a poor substitute for a hug. This pixelated pseudo connection has created a pandemic of depression and loneliness. (Source, Source)

These three examples are closely tied to the current economic system.

  • The food industry’s job is to generate profit, and ultra-processed food-like substances are the commodity.
  • The porn industry’s job is to generate profit, and porn is the commodity.
  • The social media industry’s job is to generate profit, and our attention is the commodity.

The Economic System

The economic system itself is a supernormal stimulus to the hunter-gatherer social structure humans have evolved to follow. It is normal to gather some extra resources to endure difficult times like winter, poor harvest, natural disasters, etc.

When we combine our evolutionary tendency to secure the unknown tomorrow with industrial and technological advancements of the last two centuries, the outcome is a brutal economic machine aiming to extract all available resources for no real purpose (except money and power).


Money is a supernormal stimulus for security. At one time, security meant food and water, extended family, shelter, and warmth. Today, due to our interconnected and hyper-specialized global society, food, water, shelter, and warmth are not up to us anymore.

Those pillars of security are commoditized — you can buy them with money. Therefore, money has become the single source of security that you can use to buy commodities such as housing, food, and even sex.


Power (over thousands, millions, and even billions of people) is a supernormal stimulus for tribal decision-making. Traditionally, as far as we know, dealings with the structure, organization, and administration of a tribe were handled as and when needed by the people of the tribe, for the tribe.

Sometimes a leader was chosen or self-proclaimed, and sometimes there was group decision making.

What united all of these different models was the size of those groups. Essentially, it was less than a few hundred people deciding for their own lives. If you didn’t like the leader, you could challenge him or her.

From the evolutionary perspective, it is abnormal to have a situation where one can have power over thousands, let alone millions or billions. Today’s interconnected world has created systems where it is possible to gain control over vast populations. This seems to draw psychopaths towards leadership positions in business and politics. (Source, Source)


We are not designed for the overstimulating society we have created. Our biology can’t handle everything that is going on. It is not our fault, yet each of us must take personal responsibility. The only way to do this is to understand why the given issues exist.

Is supernormal stimuli the solution to everything? No way. Life is far more complex than one concept or article.

However, supernormal stimuli play an essential part in the ensemble. And the better we understand it and our animalistic traits, the better chance we have to transcend beyond being reactive marionettes and become proactive sovereign beings.