155 years ago today Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life was published. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection has been called the biggest idea ever. I agree -- it is the biggest idea ever. But the biggest part of Darwin’s big idea is often over-looked. It is the part about evolutionary psychology.
On this anniversary, it is a good day to ask, does evolution explain you? Do you believe that evolution is true about human psychology – about your mind? Do you believe evolution is really true about you?
Darwin predicted in 1859 that psychology would be based on a new evolutionary foundation -- that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation. “Each mental power and capacity” includes every topic in every psychology textbook and it includes many things we think of as uniquely human. We acquired each power and each capacity, bit by bit, over a very long time, through variation and natural selection.
Darwin’s theory of evolution is a big idea and it hinges ultimately, not on fossils or geology or on genes and sub cellular complexity, but on its ability to explain the wonders of the human mind.
You see, Darwinian evolution requires a psychological continuity -- an unbroken line of mental powers and capacities that extends backwards to our ancient evolutionary ancestors in the Pleistocene Epoch (about 200,000 years ago). It presumes that the brain consists of “packs of neurons” that evolved to solve the problems of living faced by our ancestors back. It has not evolved much since. We have, what has been described as, a stone-aged mind in the modern world.