According to Charles Darwin, humanity was not created by some higher outer force, but evolved from lower species. Also, his theory presumes that evolution is an ongoing process; therefore, not only animals and plants continue to evolve, but so does humanity. And while human bodies do not seem to transform visibly, the human mind and the way of thinking changes significantly from generation to generation, boosted by developing technologies, the constantly accelerating pace of life, and the knowledge left from our predecessors.
The choices people make every day define how their lives change. By experience, people learn to distinguish “right” and “wrong” choices based on the consequences of the decisions they made. This is how thinking evolves. Anne E. Russon and David R. Begun, in their book The Evolution of Thought, say that apes are shown to be the closest relatives to the human species specifically due to a phenomenon they call a symbolic cognitive process. It “operates on the basis of mental images rather than direct sensory-motor phenomena” (Begun, para. 1). This means the brain thinks, considers, and decides based on visual memory, not on instinctive reaction. People constantly acquire information, altering the choices they make in a given situation based on what they have seen and learned. Due to this mechanism, in a case of an emergency, people can respond and act consciously and reasonably using not only their natural instincts like “fight or flight” or a previous experience, but also borrowed knowledge and achieved skills, thus increasing one’s chances to survive. For example, if one sees a car crash, they will call an ambulance not because nature encumbered them with such a type of reaction to external events, and not because one had already faced a similar situation, but due to obtained knowledge.
Survival is the main and possibly only reason for evolution of any kind. Survival determines the necessity of existence of any instinct, as well as any knowledge obtained. Birds know when to fly south or else they would freeze to death. People as well learn to avoid danger or cooperate in extreme situations in order to survive. Due to the Black Plague in Medieval times, the importance of hygiene was learned by humanity, and once a method of maintaining hygiene in the streets was established, the plague diminished. Scientists developed a way to fight tuberculosis, and today doctors vaccinate people, making them immune to this disease. This way, the human body is constantly evolving as well to better protect itself. Therefore, not only the way of thinking and acting is important for survival, but also the physical condition of a human body.
To pass all collected knowledge onto future generations and thus help them survive, people make records of the knowledge they obtained. The paintings on the walls of the Lascaux cave, scrolls containing records about the movement of stars, medical books describing how to cut open the human body—what the human race has learned and discovered is recorded and passed on, so that anyone can pick out a book and find what they need. Even now, people are constantly striving for knowledge of the unknown, such as extraterrestrial life or the world below the sea (Howard, 234). The evolution of thoughts runs much faster than the evolution of the body, since the lust for new knowledge can be explained by a need to prepare for what may come in the future, to feel more confident in front of the unknown, and thus guarantee survival.
The aspiration to survive is a powerful factor in the evolution of human species. People pass on their knowledge and experiences to further generations to help them avoid repeating certain mistakes; stated succinctly, each generation prepares a starting ground for future ones. While human bodies do not seem to change significantly, and its functions remain relatively the same, the mind is constantly exposed to various influences and challenges. Transformation and adaptation are required to face these obstacles. The more developed and advanced the human race becomes, the more challenges people face, therefore the faster evolutionary processes go.
Begun, David R. & Russon, Anne E. The Evolution of Thought: Evolutionary Origins of Great Ape Intelligence. Retrieved from Cambridge University Press Web Site: http://www.cambridge.org/servlet/file/store6/item5725681/version1/9780521783354_excerpt.htm.
Howard, James. Extraterrestrial Lives. Owl Press: Chicago. Print, 2014.
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