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8.1. An Evolutionary Background


How To Invent (Almost) Anything > 8. The Motivating Fire > 8.1. An Evolutionary Background

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A general theme of this book is that to gain a good understanding of how things work and hence how to make them work for you, it is very helpful to go back to first principles. Much of what drives us can be understood by taking the view from the evolutionary corner.

The basic thesis of evolutionary science, as Darwin described in his ‘Origin of the Species,’ is survival of the species. Quite simply, those species that are unable to survive the changing climates and competition for food will die out. More recently, Richard Dawkins elaborated upon this idea in ‘The Selfish Gene’ where he shows us to be little more than ‘gene machines,’ driven by their need for reproduction.

In evolutionary terms, the human species has not been around for very long at all. At four million years, we have still a long way to go to outlast the dinosaurs, who managed to survive around 135 million years. Although we may consider ourselves to be highly evolved, we may yet prove to be one of nature’s less successful experiments.

The deceptive brain

For most of our evolutionary history, our brains were relatively small, with a cortex that was much smaller than our current sizeable piece of grey matter. The reason for the fairly sudden growth of this complex and higher part of the brain where our conscious thoughts happen has been an area of debate for evolutionary scientists for some time.

One intriguing theory for this enlarged thinking brain is that a pre-historic human with a larger brain was more capable of tricking other humans and consequently gaining better access to food and mates. This successful principle was then continued, leading to people who could perceive the deception and create traps of their own. This spiral of deception and counter-deception is believed to be what led to us to develop our current massive brains.

Deceiving someone means thinking differently, being creative. It means finding new ideas that fall outside the repetitive pattern of habitual thoughts. This implies that our brains developed solely to enhance our creative potential, a principle that is certainly evidenced in the diversity and complexity of our spread across the planet.

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