Sunday, April 15, 2012

Free Thinking

Long ago, when our species was less evolved, it improved our chances of survival if we stuck in tight-knit tribes. As individuals, we'd quickly starve or get eaten by wild animals etc. It makes sense that DNA would wire us to blindly follow a leader, so we'd all stick together in the tribe, and we'd have a fighting chance to keep nature at bay, long enough to procreate and all.

Evolution is brilliant that way, but it moves very very slowly. After all, natural selection has no tools except trial-and-error. We generate a bunch of offspring, and the ones best designed for survival last long enough to pass on DNA codes to future beings. Amazingly effective adaptions arise, but only over the course of many many generations.

Then we got these incredible new tools. Rational thinking allows us to run "what-if" scenarios, and conclude what's best for our survival so much more quickly than the brute force of trial and error. The development of language and the printed word allow us to accumulate knowledge across populations, and pass it on to the future. What to speak of the internet.

Rationality, technology, scientific method bring us to our current condition, in which individuality and independent thinking are a far more effective survival mechanism than they were in our caveman days. When I need food, I pop something into the microwave. Satisfying my needs apart from any tribal allegiance has become a lot easier, compared to when I'd have to live off of dinosaur meat (joking, joking).

The new tools of rationality etc allow at least part of the population to live as free-thinkers. But for many generations to come, this advancement towards personal freedom and independent thinking will be bumping up against the hard-wired drive to adhere to a tribal authority, that drive being a hold-over of a strategy that was more appropriate millions of years ago.

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