Oh evolution, you silly thing

2019-12-22

If an article about self-improvement mentions evolution, nine times out of ten it’s to point out how badly the process has screwed modern humans. It equipped us with stone-aged emotions and instincts, pattern recognition so indiscriminate that it’s usually wrong yet so compelling that it’s impossible to ignore, and built-in cognitive and social biases that we’re constantly fighting against.

These of course are completely incompatible with a world of automation, globalization, high technology and rapid change. Evolution really dropped the ball with our ridiculous brains, alternately under- and over-powered in all the ways that we’d rather they be over- and under-powered.

This is such an easy point to make that I’m confident without even looking that I’ve made it myself. People will read it and accept it at face value, having a sensible little self-deprecating chuckle at the well-intentioned but ultimately silly evolutionary process, bumbling around like one of the Three Stooges. I mean, come on, in terms of our fitness for modern problems, we’re looking at platypus levels of evolutionary ridiculousness.

But what if that’s not true? What if evolution did us a solid? What if we have exactly what we need to deal with this world we’re creating, and all its complexities?

Maybe it gave us everything we need. Maybe that creeping feeling of being overwhelmed or slow or inadequate is actually crucially important.

Is there a way to turn the things we see as weaknesses into strengths, or make them insignificant?

Have we already done it?