Darwin Be Damned: The New Rules of Evolution

by David King on September 16, 2012

20120916-163838.jpg The search for meaning is a big one. And it’s the only one that matters in the end.

I believe that everything can be reduced to meaning. I’ve always felt this way about life, not based on some book I read or on some theory I learned in school, but rather on my experiences. We are meaning-seeking creatures, every one of us, no matter our race, creed, or intellect. Meaning is our primary motivation, even if we don’t know it (and in fact, I believe most of us don’t).

Darwin’s theory of evolution and its underpinning mechanism, survival of the fittest, offer sound explanations for a number of life-related phenomena, including human intelligence. But survival of the fittest only explains the lowest 3 to 4 needs on Maslow’s hierarchy. It says nothing of the search for meaning, which would be appropriately situated amongst the self-actualizing needs. These are the ones that speak of existential motivations.

The universe is a deceiving place, full of stuff that’s hard and with mass, full of stuff that we can touch. It’s easy to ignore the stuff that meaning is made of. It’s easy to ignore meaning itself.

But regardless of its lack of physical or structural constitution, the motivation for meaning is always there, hiding in the background, driving us to make sense of our selves and our world. We think we work to make a living, but what we really want is a purpose. We think we buy clothes to support our sense of identity, but what we really want is to be seen by others, to be noticed. We think we form relationships for support, but all we really want is the meaning gained therein, the sense of belonging. It’s all about meaning, whether or not we are wiser to the fact.

It’s an interesting state of affairs. After all, without survival of the fittest, we never would have conquered and surmounted our most basic needs (and while I recognize that many of us still fight daily to meet those basic needs, we have nevertheless evolved with the potential to overcome them). But there is a new survival of the fittest at play, one which defines true evolutionary success as the ability to endow all of life with meaning and purpose. The fight is for meaning, and the fittest are those who can grasp it with the tightest grip. The fittest are those whose spirits can survive the pain – after their bodies and minds have recovered.

What’s to be survived is life itself.

To think within this framework is part of the game – it’s a precursor to existential and spiritual survival. It’s not always easy, but if you can grasp the role that meaning plays in your own life, you will be better for it – and better equipped to make sense of everything, good or bad, that comes your way. You will have created your own shade of finch on the volcanic rock that is your life. And you will have proven the principles of Darwinian evolution mere artifacts of primitive development, of a time when survival operated within physical boundaries alone.

Self-actualize or die meaningless, some would say. Find purpose or die trying.

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