“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.” ~ Charles Darwin, British naturalist
To understand the next stage of evolution for human beings, we must first look back on those aspects of our development that have brought us this far. Joseph Henrich, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, has done a great deal of research to understand what separates human evolution from animal evolution. While humans live in just as many different climates and surroundings as our animal kin, we show very few signs of the environmentally inspired genetic evolution that is so prevalent in the animal kingdom.
Instead, the human-animal developed cultural adaptations. These learned skills of regional solutioning and survival techniques were handed down and refined by each generation. No longer did we need to change our physicality, like our animal and plant brethren, to survive. Rather creating culturally inherited solutions, evolution through social learning. These cultural adaptations are what led to more sophisticated tools, group safety, and the ability to create food security for even the weakest members of our tribes.
This type of cultural evolution also resulted in less stress and more safety, allowing our ancestors to focus their energy on understanding the universe and their relationship to it. Without the constant threat of death looming over us, we were now free to use our inborn creativity to create stories, art, and physical expressions of our emotions, such as music and dance.
The larger the population, the more ideas we could produce through our “collective brains” as Henrich calls it. By building these communal learning machines we create the physiological capacities for survival solutioning, which leads to cultural evolution. Although this sounds like something we did on a conscious level, there is a great deal of evidence that a large part of this evolution comes from another place, outside of our awareness.
In their 1999 BioScience article, “Darwinian Gastronomy: Why We Use Spices: Spices taste good because they are good for us” Jennifer Billing and Paul Sherman, a student and professor team at Cornell University, found that the most commonly used spices just so happen to also be the most effective at killing bacteria. Comparing the average temperature of the locales where human populations are found, along with the prevalence of these types of pathogen-killing spices, they found a distinct correlation between hotter temps and increased application of these types of spices in the local cuisine. Especially in the cooking of meat. There are a wide range of studies outlined in Heinrich’s book The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter, which shows a myriad of adaptations that directly increase our likelihood for survival without our conscious knowledge, providing considerable proof that this phenomenon is far from coincidental.
There is also a great deal of evidence that indicates our steps toward social morality were evolutionarily driven as well. Prior to the dominance of the Roman-Catholic church, most human cultural groups were clan-based. We lived, worked, and died with our extended families. Our activities and motivations framed by these kinship systems.
It was with the introduction of the Western Church’s rigorous rules on family life, such as the introduction of incest taboos, when we see these types of communities start to die out. Subsequently creating the catalyst for the emergence of new forms of social groupings. Towns and villages were now vying to increase their citizenship by offering greater occupational choice, along with opportunities for diversified commerce. This type of competition between voluntary associations led to even greater advances in our shared psychology. No longer shackled to the responsibilities we once held to our families; human beings were free to finally pursue their desires and discover their personal motivations.
However, with this evolution in human trade, a new issue of trust arose. Previously while working within our familial systems, trust was inherent. Although with the introduction of impersonal commerce came a vulnerability to the dishonesty of man. The possibility of being conned or stolen from increased dramatically and the necessity for a shared moral construct arose. In the Mediterranean, traders set up altars where they would swear to their deity that their exchanges were made in good faith to facilitate this type of commerce.
With this imaginary third-party judge of an omniscient deity, which had increasing power to either reward or punish us – in this life as well as for our contingent after-life, our moral framework becomes further defined. While the promise of Heaven seems to be the nicer option it has been shown that a belief in Hell has a much larger impact on our day-to-day actions.
This fear of damnation can even produce an increase in prosperity for economies over those who don’t hold these types of beliefs. Our communal brain has continued to focus on the negative aspect of our emotional spectrum even into today’s practice of human psychology. With a much greater emphasis placed on the study of negative aspects of our human experience over the more positive ones. Studies on emotions like awe and admiration are rare.
The psychologist and founder of “Positive Psychology” Martin Seligman, pointed out that the practitioners of modern psychology are far too focused on negative emotions and are creating an unbalanced focus in the field of study. Seligman posits that this inherent lean toward disease-centered care has resulted in psychologists losing focus on the healthier aspects of the human experience.
Researchers like Johnathan Haidt, a social psychologist and professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University Stern School of Business, took up this calling and dove headfirst into the study of human emotions in the positive realm. Without animal models to study, as it’s hard to tell if a rat feels awe at the site of a particularly breath-taking wedge of cheese, this line of inquiry would essentially need to be stood up from scratch.
Researchers in positive psychology have found time and time again that those positive emotions we feel like confidence, appreciation, gratitude, love, and courage all open us up to a wider world view while reducing stress and offering a myriad of other health benefits. On the flip side, emotions like anger, hatred, frustration, anxiety, worry, and irritation all result in impaired mental performance and a decline in our physical health.
Barb Frederickson, in her Broaden and Build theory, has taken this concept even further to show that a consistent practice of focused positive emotional responses can result in a natural widening of an individual’s perspective. Along with marked improvements in curiosity, mindfulness, emotional resilience, and even our capacity for trust.
Dr. Rollin McCraty, the director of research at HeartMath Institute Research Center, has been able to show in countless studies that our emotions have a direct relationship to even our heartbeat variability. So, if we know for a fact that positive emotions create a more elevated state, both mentally and emotionally, and negative emotions have the opposite effect, then what comes next?
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche coined the term “Super Man” for the next evolution of human beings. He hypothesized that man was not yet done evolving. Theorizing that there were more advancements to come for the human race, again not in physiology, but rather psychology. He performed a thought experiment to understand what this future human would look like. He went about this by thinking of those individuals with whom he found himself particularly impressed. Those whom, he felt, had the best approach to life.
He then narrowed down those qualities that made this person who they were. He determined that these “Super Men” shared some of the same characteristic values:
- Are very independently minded & carve their own path.
- Strategically selfish in determining their actions. They ensure they are working through their own will and not the will of others.
- Accepting their darkness as well as their strengths, they command respect.
- They are never jealous of the accomplishments of others.
- They accept the necessity for suffering in the pursuit of good things.
- They understand that they are difficult to connect with and will often be lonely.
- They are gentle with the weak out of conscientiousness of their own strength.
- They will not be humble, but rather delight in their abilities.
- They will be interested in the practical application of culture to raise the mentality of society.
Although this list is a mishmash of characteristics that skew absurdly toward toxic masculinity, (Nietzsche was famously dismissive of women, after all) it does hold some merit. Mainly in the concept that the next evolution of humanity would result in people who were more focused on the salvation of mankind through cultural evolution.
A noble intent, for sure. However, the question remained on how to arrive at such an evolved state. “Amor Fati” was another term coined by Nietzsche, to describe the necessary state of “self-love” required to reach a true understanding of one’s self.
In his book “Ecce Homo” he writes, “My formula for greatness in a human being is Amor Fati.” A Latin phrase that can be translated as “love of fate.” It is used to describe an attitude in which one sees everything that happens in one’s life, including suffering and loss, as good or, at the very least, necessary. If the meaning of life on Earth is to evolve, then we do so by learning to love ourselves, our human experience, and each other unconditionally.
~ Jennifer Schroeder, M.A.Ed.
The above article is an excerpt from the book How to Get the Most Out of Your Next Nervous Breakdown