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Snippets about: Evolution

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Natural Selection - The Blind Watchmaker

Living things often appear exquisitely designed for their environments and functions. For centuries, this was taken as evidence of a transcendent Creator.

But Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection provided an alternative explanation. Through random mutation and differential reproduction, life evolves adaptations over time that give the appearance of design. Given enough time and variation, this blind process can yield "organs of extreme perfection" like the eye.

Natural selection also applies to behavior. So our brains have been shaped by relentless evolutionary pressures to seek pleasure, avoid pain, pursue status, reproduce, and so on.

While wondrously complex, the productions of natural selection are not perfect or designed. They are kludges optimized for genetic propagation, not truth or wellbeing. When humans apply their naturally selected minds to physics or philosophy or the contemplative path, interesting distortions and biases can result.

Section: 1, Chapter: 15

Book: Why Buddhism Is True

Author: Robert Wright

REM Sleep Emerged Later In Mammalian Evolution

While all animals experience NREM sleep, only mammals and birds engage in REM sleep. Reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects show no signs of REM sleep. This suggests REM sleep emerged later in evolutionary history as a specialized form of sleep. Scientists believe REM sleep evolved to support brain functions that NREM alone could not achieve, such as emotional processing and creativity. REM sleep likely emerged independently in both mammalian and avian lines, suggesting it conveyed significant evolutionary advantages.

Section: 1, Chapter: 4

Book: Why We Sleep

Author: Matthew Walker

The Evolutionary Origins Of Suffering

"Natural selection built animal brains, including human brains, to foster Darwinian fitness, not to see the world clearly. And it built brains that, when we're not actively engaged in some task, revert to a default mode of scanning the environment for opportunities and threats. So it's only natural that, when left to their own devices, our brains construct narratives about our lives and about the world 'out there.' It's only natural that these narratives feature lots of illusions about the power and persistence of the 'I' who is doing the constructing."

Section: 1, Chapter: 15

Book: Why Buddhism Is True

Author: Robert Wright

Emotions As Evolution's Way To Control Us

From an evolutionary perspective, emotions evolved as a way to motivate animals, including humans, to approach things that helped them survive and reproduce (food, mates) and avoid things that threatened survival (predators, toxins). Good and bad feelings are nature's carrot and stick to control behavior.

However, in modern environments, these once-adaptive emotional propensities can lead us astray. For example:

  • Our natural desire for sugar and fat, adaptive in ancestral environments, now leads to obesity and health issues
  • Anger, useful for deterring rivals and cheaters in small hunter-gatherer bands, is counterproductive in modern anonymous societies
  • Anxiety, which helped keep us alert to threats, now often arises in situations where it serves no productive purpose

Buddhism argues that mindfulness can help us step back from unhelpful, conditioned emotional patterns and see them with more clarity and choice in whether to act on them.

Section: 1, Chapter: 3

Book: Why Buddhism Is True

Author: Robert Wright

Evolution Has Programmed Us to Be Dependent on a Romantic Partner

From an evolutionary perspective, we are wired to be dependent on a romantic partner. In prehistoric times, close attachments provided safety and survival advantages. When we become attached to someone, our brain's attachment system gets activated, causing us to seek their proximity and use them as a "secure base" from which to explore the world. Accepting rather than denying these innate needs is essential to a happy relationship.

Section: 0, Chapter: 2

Book: Attached

Author: Amir Levine, Rachel Heller

Books about Evolution

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