Sunday, January 17, 2010

Is competition the only spark for evolution?

The theory of fight or flight was first advanced by Walter Cannon, a famous psychologist in the 1920s. It was also called the "acute stress response". It basically puts words to the automatic human response to a stressful situation. This has been our history. This is who we are, how we react to stress, how we survive advance as a species. This is a very animal-like response to situations that we are forced to take action in.

As human we are animals, however, we have also been given the opportunity to use logic. The history of logic can be traced back to the great Ancient Civilizations of the past; Greece and Egypt. Logic relates to the mathematical concept of geometry, which has its origins in Ancient Egypt approximately 2,700 B.C. or roughly 5,000 years ago. When a numerical problem is presented and can be solved, it is done so with logic.

If we look at the grand scheme of things, we see that humans in their current state have been around for 6 million years. The logic was always there. It did not surface until around 5,000 years ago. That means that as humans, we've employed the use of logic, consciously, for 1/1200 of our recorded existence. By looking at it this way, we are still relatively new to the concept.

Why is logic important? It offers an alternative to the concept of this "acute stress response" symptom that has been embedded in our DNA through evolution. Instead of a fight or flight response, maybe there is an alternative. Maybe there is a way to logically think through stressful situations together, rather then possibly having a harmful, painful result. This, however, is not to discount the importance and value in the evolutionary survival technique of the fight or flight concept. Obviously, this evolutionary miracle has caused humans to survive and thrive throughout history.

So why use this strategy of logic in today's world? Simply because there is no need for fight or flight in certain situations when it used to be needed. For most of our existence as humans there was a grand need to survive, and only survive. Now (as I've posted previously) we have the ability as humans to do more than just survive; we've transitioned from the "need" to the "want." Of course, I'm writing from the perspective of the Western, non-poverty point of view. However, this relates because we have the resources, knowledge, and ability to help every society in the world do more than have the ability to survive.

Survival is based on "need." Need for water, food, shelter, and the competition for these things. Most of these "needs" are met without an unusual amount of effort in the Western world. Need to survive, in the past, often involved a competition for these things. Competition involves the fight or flight mechanism. Is the "need" great enough to have to fight for it? Or can it wait for another day/opportunity?

With the common competition for the "need" satisfied we've shifted this competition to the "want." The "want" of a better car, house, phone, or other luxury; things that are unneeded, except for that of shelter, however, in this case it is presumed that the person already has a shelter and just wants an upgrade. Do these "wants" have to be associated with the "acute stress response" mechanism that we needed in order to survive? No. We have, however, made no distinction.

Bear with me on my long and winding road here. The "wants" can included broad things like world peace, absolving hunger and poverty, seeking alternatives to conflicts that have in the past included violence, and narrow things like drug, alcohol, and substance abuse, gambling, stealing, or cheating on a spouse. This short list makes the picture clear.

Our "needs" were solved with being programmed with the "acute stress response". I also think that our "wants" have been programmed with the use of logic. All of the issues in the previous paragraph can and should be solved with logic, or at least logical thinking. We all know how to solve issues, so why haven't we? Because we're using the wrong schema. So how do we shift our response to these issues from the "acute stress response" to logic? By being conscious and reflective in the present when these situations arise.

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