Why do we evolve?

Since this is quite an ambitious question, let’s try to narrow it down. Firstly, the ”why” in the question here implies a reason, a backward-looking analysis of what made it possible to reach the point we’re at. And what it would take to move on. (For the record, I don’t believe in any purpose, predestined goal or omega point in the future that we are heading to, other than to die. Sorry.)

Let’s also leave out bigger aspects such as Why big bang? Why matter? Why life? Why intelligence? as in How did it all happen?

I would also like to leave out the biological evolution, which is a pretty well researched area, and focus on the psychological evolution and further aim at the individual that we study in the field of adult development. Let’s thus disregard from any form of cultural support and scaffold and consider it an individual endevour. Then we can formulate the question as follows: What makes a person move from one stage to the next? And making a stage transition is what we regard as vertical development, evolving in the horizontal direction is development that takes place without a stage change.

Before we continue it’s useful to further illustratate the difference. Imagine your own development in a best-case scenario, where everything goes your way, you get the optimal challenges in life, optimal support and no unpleasent surprises. Where would you be in say one, three or five years? What would you do? Who would you be?

What you’re imagining right now is your horizontal development. You take your current experienced trajectory and extrapolate it forward. It’s simply more of the same.

Your own vertical development you can’t imagine. You cannot possibly imagine what it will be like at the next stage of development. It will be a complely new ballgame, a new qualitatively different dimension and it will per definition blow your mind. Now, think back on all the narrowing down of the question to the single stage transition of the individual and expand it to include the understanding of all aspects of the evolution and of our role in it. Now peoples minds tend to blow even more. That’s one reason that some people are hyping vertical development nowadays and saying evolution is da shit.

However, we do know some things and we can see some patterns. One is this: That which is your current meaning-making, your current developmental trajectory, your current worldview and life’s purpose, will be one of several parts of the puzzle at your new stage. But it will no longer be a holy unquestionable truth that is taken for granted. It will be negotiable and it will be an object that you no longer are attached to, a pawn that you can sacrifice for a better position.

With this in mind we can turn back to the Why-question. Why do we move from one stage to the next? What makes this shift happen? Well, we can draw some conclusions from the pattern described in the above.

As Einstein supposedly said, ”No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” and leave the creation part out for a few seconds. One trigger to vertical development is the realization that my current way of thinking just doesn’t suffice to adress the problems that I’m experiencing. Not even in a best case scenario will my current plan work. It might solve a small part of it, but no more than scratch the surface of the real issue. I might find that the game is rigged and that there is no point in playing, or not being satisfied with playing what I just discovered was a zero-sum game. With a completely new and more complex understanding of the problem and corresponding abilities it might be solved, perhaps creating new problems as a consequence. And we’re off to the next stage…

Or I could find that my problem is already being adressed by others that do it better than I do. I could discover that the frontline doesn’t collaps should I leave the trench to get a new perspective on things.

Another possibility, perhaps more positively stated, is that I with practice and experience get so good at what I do that I now can do with my left hand what used to require my full attention and soul, such as playing the piano and now also being able to sing at the same time. That could be triggered by curiosity or why not boredom: Done it, been there, seen it…let’s take it to the next level!

Finally, and there are most certainly more worth mentioning, I think another important reason is the discovery of new domains of perception, the ability to make new distinctions and failing to fit these into the current worldview. Look, abstract variables. Let’s do something with them!

As previously stated, this is under the assumption that we are sole heroes on our journeys. And sometimes we are. But our psychological development is most often due to a cultural support. Every human doesn’t need to invent the wheel on our own. We take advantage of each other’s inventions and other’s thoughts and we use ropes and maps that others have left behind on their journey upwards. And we give each other pushes and encouragements on the way up. We also find ourselves embedded in a society that places on us a curriculum of a certain complexity which puts us under some pressure to evolve.

While it is important to keep in mind that stage transitions hardly ever come without pain, there are lot’s of reasons to why we evolve.

And sometimes, shit just happens.

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