He opened the visor and grabbed on to his newly acquired “Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins. Written in 1977. From that day his life changed. He was introduced to the principles of evolutionary biology. The mind, our thoughts have the tendency to create a logical structure to what we understand, to explain it. The problem is that many times we fall victim to this need and produce erroneous models. For example, the first impression we have of a man obviously plays a pivotal role. This is an attempt from the brain to save its finite resources because of the need for countless other findings in a complex social environment such as the human. This, like many other brain processes, not necessarily perceives our logic, at least not in their entirety for reasons explained below. And not that we can not resist to it. Having this in mind he was trying to be pretentious to the ideas he intended to accept and on which to shape his behaviour.
For the first time he felt excessively covered. Apparently neither had he discovered the Higgs Boson nor had he solved all existential speculations within a few months. But he had found a fairly constant defined “corridor” for answers to countless “whies” that slowly through knowledge and implementation would lead to new answers. Frequently he was observing and he was observing as if the observation was accompanied by a small tag that was the explanation. A label that in the past was too often lacking. Or possibly he was seeing situations he would not perceive. That’s just because he was taught where to focus. He had started creating a path.
The evolutionary theory starts from a seemingly simple basis. The characteristics of how a new organization will be “launched”, how it will be, are determined by the so-called genes. Genes also determine the production of some proteins. Each gene confers a particular attribute. There exist genes for blue eyes, genes for cunning, genes for long legs et c. The ultimate purpose of each gene is to continue to exist. To achieve this it simply needs the organism to reproduce and leave fertile offspring. The more often a gene occurs in a population, the better for it. In short, everything called alive by humans is biologically a reproductive machine.
The important thing in this whole affair is that in order for a feature to continue to exist it must confer those traits able to favour the organism to reproduce and apparently to exist. If not, then over time the feature will certainly disappear and will dominate the population the features that are most appropriate for the organisms to manage to reproduce. That’s simply because the owners will have better features so the genes will proliferate faster when the other will be decreasing. All these processes take place over tens of thousands of generations.
Suppose that one day mankind invents basketball. Initially players with all different features will participate. They would be tall, short, with long arms, short arms, with a slow thinking, quick thinking, et c. After some time the managers of the teams discover that taller players are obviously more productive than the short ones. The teams, therefore, start recruiting tall players and dismiss the shorter ones. So the percentage of tall players rises relative to that of the shorter ones. Then the authorities find that taller players with quick thinking are more productive than the tall players with slow thinking. So they begin to choose players with the first of these characteristics over the latter. As a consequence, the tall players with quick thinking are increasing compared to the tall ones with slow thinking. Then the authorities find that taller players with quick thinking and good shots are more productive than tall players with quick thinking and bad shots. So likewise there is a tendency displayed towards the players with the first features and the players with the second features will tend to extinguish. So we would gradually end up with players with specific characteristics appropriate for the current data of basketball. Note that in evolution, if there is no reason there will not be any change in the characteristics. There are fish in Antarctica that have not shown changes in their genetic characteristics for over one million years. At the same time, evolutionary theory should not be confused with evolution, as lay thinking. Evolutionary theory is the change over time tending to the more adaptive, not towards the better or towards the worse. In evolution the last two concepts do not exist.
The evolutionary theory, then, may seem understandable in the beginning, but this analysis and its applications play a significant role in our daily lives and in history, psychology, nutrition and in every aspect you can imagine. Basically I do not think that there is any scientific sector that must first of all not be called evolutionary.
To apply it to people we have to take into account a basic principle. By studying our past as a species over the last million years and the conditions under which we have evolved, we can see what features we have inherited from our ancestors. So what features should our ancestors have possessed in order to manage to reproduce successfully in those conditions. Everyone ought to be proud that we carry the genes of an uncut chain of million ancestors who managed under conditions more difficult than ours to survive and reproduce. That was the first lesson. The possibilities are demonstrably more, much more than we can imagine. Just no one ever explained this to us. The reasons why are not for the moment.
The interesting thing about the human race is that it operates in an environment unsuitable for its characteristics. It’s almost as if you enforce to a frog not to dive in the water. This is called Evolutionary Mismatch. As we know, people began to live in cities, not more than 12000 years ago in Mesopotamia. Until then, since about 4 million years ago, that we know that the first biped, Lucy had appeared, people were living in nomadic hunter gatherer societies in the jungle. As mentioned above, an evolutionary change takes place at a depth of tens of thousands of generations, so the time we have been living in cities is a dot if our evolutionary history could be paralleled with a line. So in order to recognize the tendencies we have as organisms we need to look back at the palaeontological findings and investigate the needs our ancestors had so as to survive and reproduce in the jungle and consequently which characteristics were favoured in that environment.
What first of all Evolution means to us
Evolution could be seen as a philosophy for him. He understood how important it is to be able to adapt to the circumstances. About 99% of the species that have been identified on earth has been extinct. Only the exceptions managed to survive. The reason is obvious: They were more adaptable. Anyone who does not follow the signs of the times will pay.
The most adaptable species is humans. This species has never had much power or speed or lots of other weapons of any kind. But he had developed something important. He had massive brain shape relative to his body. And this issue should be better specified. Whilst part of the brain that has to do with analytical thinking and logic (what is measured by IQ and since recently was thought to be the only criterion for the intelligence of a human being) may be very large and very useful, for example for invention of weapons, the “key point”, however, was another.
Mankind knew how to cooperate amazingly and create complex social networks. The increase of the size of the brain seems to be going in proportion to the increase in the number of members in an average tribe and is not related to the invention of more complex weapons. The social interconnectedness seems to have been the reason why the species survived. The action of an evolutionarily successful team results in higher outcomes for each individual than if the individual was acting alone.
Slowly he started to understand the power of collaboration. Of the pack. It belongs to our most primitive nature. Just simple as that.
Importance of Emotions
Evolution also says something important. That we are primates, such as bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and baboons. The findings show that we share 97% -99% of the same genes, and we have a very old and common evolutionary past. It has been only 4 million years as we diversified as species, at least from bonobos and chimpanzees. This also comes in conjunction with the neuroscientific discoveries of later decades showing that we are beings with not as strong and as flawless logic as we’ve been told. Through studying he learned that our decisions have been taken much earlier than the logical part of the brain had recognised the situation. From the part related to emotions and we could in extremely simple words call it subconscious. In fact we live our life hypnotized by acting on the basis of characteristics that we have from birth, but also habituary behaviours. Every time we make a decision the mind makes a fast “scan” in the memory searching for previous similar experiences and in relation with the emotions we feel at that moment we behave. This process is done subconsciously, our logic does not interfere. There fits the: “Why I behaved like this there, I was wrong, how hadn’t I thought to behave somehow else!”. We just had not developed that character that we would like to have. We were not what we thought we were.
However, this is not necessarily negative. This mechanism is very fast because the time the it takes for the stimulus to arrive at the logical part of the brain is estimated to 0.5 seconds. Think that we perceive the world half a second later than the reality! In a critical situation in the jungle, as I said, this time can be fatal for survival. So when the decision is taken by the part of the brain that responds to about 5/100 of a second, which is the area affected by the emotions, the subconscious, the data are clearly more favourable. And even stronger function is the reptilian brain, which deals with basic needs for respiration, reproduction, homeostasis, thirst, safety et c. reacting on 3-9 ms. Imagine at the same time how dangerous is the hunt for mammoths.
Some Misconceptions due to Absence of Evolutionary Knowledge
After that he made further combinations. And he thought, look, economists have built decades’ theories based on “Efficient Market Hypothesis”. They have taken for granted that all members of a market have an absolute knowledge of the economy, of all the market information and decide with “cold” logic. Under these conditions it is assumed that cannot happen a crisis and the economy will be “auto-balanced”. History has proved the effectiveness of these models. The thing was that the knowledge of human nature rejects the hypothesis. It considers people perfectly reasonable, sensible was to be misplaced. And it can be generalized on what finally democracy is with beings so easily emotionally affected by their environment …
Acquiring of Skills – Neuroplasticity
What he also understood, is that in order to turn your personality towards a specific direction you have to put yourself in the appropriate circumstances. Essentially you build your mind by your own mind. This is the greatness of the human spirit, only it can do it. This will develop a brain subconsciously-automated operating in accordance with these data. There will precede nor words, thought and decision nor the familiar “tightness” in situations where we feel we have no control because we do not know well. How natural seems the running of a marathon runner? Or the behaviour of someone that we say is good with women? They just have a brain designed or adapted to these circumstances.
Also he recognised the very distinct difference between theory and practice. Reading and learning are indispensable but inefficient if not accompanied by excessive acts. He was ruminating on the words of the great positive psychologist of Harvard University, Tal Ben-Shahar: «Knowledge = Information, Wisdom = Transformation”.
And this opened another important pursuit. The one that concerned the way in which people can form their brain which means acquire new skills. He read that all knowledge is a set of neural pathways in the brain. The more well known the knowledge is, the thicker the pathways are. At the same time as the knowledge develops the pathways thicken and when it is decreasing (knowledge being forgotten) the pathways become thinner and are replaced by new pathways of a new knowledge. An example of creating neural pathways is driving. When you first learn you can not even grasp the wheel. At that time there are no pathways for driving. Then while driving ability increases the neural pathways become thicker. After a while we drive normally on the road and we have a considerable number of neural pathways until we end up talking on mobile and smoking a cigarette while we drive and the neural pathways reminiscent a thick rope! Recently we learned that this process is capable to take place throughout all our lives. What does this mean? The common excuse “I was never good at this sector so I should not even bother trying to master it” was debunked. Now we know that we can do it any time Clearly the neural pathways that are created till 21 years old are stronger than the others created in later years. This was crucial for his mentality from now on.
-That I can deal with whatever I want with the confidence that I will reach at least a tolerable level and who knows how high?
-Yes, definitely, as long as you come from good intentions, the reply came. Watch out though! Only if you are constantly getting out of your comfort zone. Doing every time something more, even just a bit, but consistently. Like going into the night once every few meters away from where it has light and it scares you.
-And why did society tell me that the good ones with women were the ones that were good at chatting??
-They told you wrong once again, buddy. The answer came from his frontal lobe before even finishing his “sentence”.
The reason is simply that it is a more socially intelligent method. More rapid and effective. It is no coincidence that only socially intelligent people possess it. The benefits of these features in a jungle environment are indisputable.
Man, therefore, is born “wired” to certain behaviours as there are not only the appearance features that are transferred but personality, too. For example, a newborn baby is afraid of snakes. Or men are attracted to women with hips to waist ratio the closest possible to 1.618. Everyone knows the typical eye movement of men when a beautiful woman passes next to them… They instantly recognised that she is close to that ratio! Men are very capable to identify characteristics that advertise fertility. One of them is the above hips to waist ratio. Also, our smile predisposes positively another human being. These “hardwirings” are genes that provide with the characteristics that favoured our ancestors to survive and reproduce successfully. Not in a city environment but in the jungle.
As a result, both sexes have developed many different features. Furthermore, although the level of neuroscience is at an embryonic stage in accordance with known neuroscientists, FMRI technology enables us to observe many levels of brain function and to reach to concrete conclusions regarding the research hypotheses. We have clear evidence, therefore, that the male brain is different in size than the female one but also differs in functionality. That is, there are areas where the woman is better and areas where the man predominates. For example, the man has a greater potential in spatial perception while women in social intelligence. Men are better in parking while women sub communicate incredibly between them with their eyes, to the point that many men do not notice this at all.
So the first time he felt that there is no better or worse in sexes but only different basic features. From this point beyond it has to do with the social level where there are positive and negative characters in both sexes. And indeed many due to ignorance and selfishness blame the opposite sex for features that simply are different from their own without taking into account their genetic diversity compared with those who accuse. If people understood that to accept the diversity of genders in evolutionary level is not sexism, I think, would be a good step towards at least not increasing the divorces.
Changes Evolutionary Knowledge brings to Science
In the field of psychology we can now reach to concrete observations on the functioning of neurotransmitters. Then it seemed to him that we are at a different level than the era of Jung, Freud, Adler, et c These huge psychologists although they had advanced psychology and humanity far ahead, did not, however, acquire the appropriate technology, and the evolutionary theory of Darwin was somewhere buried at that time. So they have been disproved on many issues over the last years even though a huge part of today’s psychologists cannot accept it. But at least he could imagine why. We, the primates who call ourselves humans, the more we commit to something, the harder it is to be able to see clearly any case it had been a wrong choice. It’s because of our commitment to it.
The mind has among others a defence mechanism. This is called backwards rationalization. It is the attempt of a logical explanation for an emotional decision. That is, a girl who goes on a date with a guy she likes will find gentle the guy to lift the chair for her to sit. If she goes out with a guy who does not like she will find the same motion silly. She made an emotional choice, according to whom she likes and she justified it according to the movement of the chair which is logic but not the truth. This is not a dig at women. Many men likewise tend to report the negative aspects of their past relationship as a cause of separation only after they have found a new partner. At that time they find it reasonable.
And he thought, “Why do I wonder, then, if people many times act differently from their words? Once too often we are deceived by our minds that go all the time against our development.”
The answer he got was: “This is something you have to accept. The excuses are over. You have to build neural pathways! ”
He, however, felt embarrassed for all those times he hadn’t been able to notice his errors and for all those who was expecting not to understand them again. He, also, felt very sad for all these things and many others who wished he had known since he was younger… But all these emotions were smashed by the joy of beginning to know what to do.
(I first published this article in the Greek language in the social network of mental production Bookaroo.gr)