In going through the backlog of Sam Harris’s Waking Up podcast, I put on this not-too-recent episode with Bret Weinstein, evolutionary biologist, free thinker, and polymath that I’ve heard in a number of other interviews before. This one in particular was fascinating since it went fairly deep on his area of expertise in biology, evolution, adaptation, and genetics.
Weinstein talks about human advancement through the lens of what is and isn’t a biological adaptation. I love the idea that the reason humans have progressed to such an advanced state is the shift in adaptation from the physiological realm (where change is slow over thousands of generations) to the cultural one (where enormous change in behavior can happen within a single generation). The metaphor is the movement from hardware to software:
“Human beings are, by far, the most nurture-based creature that has ever existed on planet earth. We have been pushed in the last phase in our evolution very far in the direction of nurture, and away from the direction of nature, and that is not an accident. That occurred because it provided a distinct evolutionary advantage. If you think of a human being as a physiological creature, that’s the robot. It’s got a brain, and that’s the computer. And then it’s got a mind and that’s the software. Human beings are effective at doing what we do because so much of what we are has been offloaded to the software layer.
“Things have been shifted over into a software layer that can be written and rewritten as circumstances change.”