Quora – Personal evolution

Do humans change personal evolution by changing their way of thinking?

Short answer yes.

Long answer is much more complex.

It seems very probable that the direct impact of thought on genetic structure is a close approximation to zero.

The indirect impact of how we think (in so far as our thoughts impact our actions in reality) can be significant. Taking too long to think before attempting to get out of the way of an oncoming truck can have an impact on gene frequencies in a population.

And genetics are not the most interesting aspect of personal evolution (important as they are in our being, and in that of our species).
In chapter 11 of his 1976 classic “The Selfish Gene” Richard Dawkins brought the word and the concept of “meme” into public discourse. Nothing has quite been the same since.

It seems very probable that most of our personal evolution happens on the mimetic front.

What we think seems to be partly influenced by our genetics (via their influence on structures within our brains, nervous systems, and sensory systems in particular), mostly the result of patterns we learn (both explicitly and implicitly from others), partly the result of many different sorts of chance or randomness, partly the result of our experiences and partly the result of our own efforts.

We may have only one body, with one mouth, but in psychological terms we are much more like a complex community than we are singular entities.

There is a saying in neuroscience – One neuron is physiology, 2 neurons is psychology. It is an over-exaggeration, and it does give a feel for just how rapidly the complexity of neuronal interaction increases as the number of neurons increases. We each have more neurons in our heads than there are people on the planet (by a factor of about 10). That is a lot of room for individuality and communities on many different scales.

As Walt Whitman once famously said “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

We are all like Walt. The more we become aware of the multitudes within us, the more effectively we can manage and lead them. And like in all communities, some are more easily influenced than others (and that goes deep).

So yes certainly.


Try out new ways of thinking, and being. Suspend judgement for a bit, and see what it is like to actually try something new.

And do so with your eyes open – there are very real risks and dangers. Most of the social prohibitions against certain ways of acting and thinking are there for very powerful reasons, that might have nothing at all to do with the common understanding of why they are there. Evolution is often like that, it embodies things long before those things are accurately conceptualised.

And the Buddhist story of the four cups of instruction is a good one. When trying something new, work at achieving beginners mind, like a clean, upright, intact and empty cup, ready to receive the “tea” of experience. Dirty cups cloud the experience, holes let it drain away too soon, upside down cups hold nothing, full cups cannot hold anything new.

So certainly, how you approach understanding yourself, and others, and the world in which we are contained; is crucial to how we evolve as individuals (think here a planet wide ecosystem of personalities and other complex but not fully conscious entities – all contained within us).

Personal evolution happens.

We don’t have to influence, and we can if we work diligently at it.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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