For my entire life I have been deeply intrigued by the human species, and why not? We are brilliantly pragmatic, finding ways and means to conquer every ecology the planet has to offer. We are constantly improving technology to become even more efficient in overcoming the challenges proposed by nature. At the same time, we are mystifyingly quirky, and not all that rational—I think everyone can think of ways in which they, their loved ones, or their co-workers feel completely justified in doing something that, upon further investigation, is really quite silly. And yet, each of these behaviors, no matter how ridiculous, is part of a system that has evolved in response to natural selection. Each one is trying to fulfill some function or issue that it evolved to address (whether it’s doing so or not is another question altogether, but I digress). In this way, humans provide an unending stream of examples that illustrate the relevance of evolutionary theory. Conversely, evolutionary theory supplies us with a powerful tool for understanding ourselves.
Now there is no sound argument that our species is a better example of evolutionary theory than any other. Indeed, every life form on the planet has undergone its own process of natural selection. That aside, I do admit to having a soft spot for Homo sapiens and can’t help but be drawn to its peculiarities. Look at our exceptional intelligence and clever problem solving! Look at our simultaneous capacity for the deepest of empathies and the cruelest of intents! Look at the complex institutions that arise spontaneously from healthy communities! And each and every one of these things is just a tiny piece of a bigger puzzle, one that illustrates the process of evolution that has brought us here.
What I find most enjoyable about our species are our mundane behaviors: the way we seamlessly navigate our daily environs; the way we routinely modify the world around us. Thus, this is not to be a blog about how things are evolving every day (which in itself would be quite a bit of fun). It is instead going to be an exploration of the myriad everyday events that embody the products of eons of evolutionary history.
To kick the blog off, I’m going to spend this week summarizing what a behavioral system is, both in terms of its outputs and its biological underpinnings. This bookkeeping will be vital to me explaining myself in future posts. In order to dodge the risk of this first week being a purely academic affair, the stories about us will start immediately, and, with all luck, they will effectively bear out the ideas that have inspired this blog.