evolution as a mental model

Sofia Sanchez
4 min readDec 13, 2021

Beyond apes, evolution explains the history of the universe, our 21st century world, and how we behave in it

Mental models

A mental model is a way of thinking, a way our brain arranges information, a way of “seeing” the world. Some examples of mental models are:

  • Inversion: be the smartest person in the room — > be the least stupid
  • First principles: asking “why?” until getting to the root cause of something
  • Second-order thinking: what is the consequence of this consequence?
  • Feedback loops: A influences B and C which influence A too
  • The scientific method: observe, question, hypothesize, experiment, analyze, conclude

The point of mental models is they’re transferable across different fields and applicable in our daily, common lives. First principles thinking is more commonly used in engineering but it’s also helped me with problem identification in my personal life.

Just evolution

According to Ray Kurzweil, order is information that fits a purpose. It’s not necessarily the opposite of disorder. Evolution increases order, which may or may not increase complexity (but it usually does).

I see evolution as purposeful change. Matter has arranged itself to go from atoms, to molecules, to life to conscious life, to computers.

Natural selection explains how evolution occurs in living things. It’s a feedback loop where only the best genes for survival get passed on to the next generation and individuals with the best genes have the best chance of reproducing and passing on their genes.

Richard Dawkins argues that the common phrase “survival of the fittest” can get confusing in the context of cooperation vs selfishness among humans. If evolution involves competition, why do we cooperate? Is evolution survival of the fittest individuals, species… groups?

Evolution and habits

Ray Dalio’s Principles was my primer. Saying that evolution is the most powerful force in the universe is still an opinion. The how we all can evolve every single day is a fact.

Natural selection means identifying the problem, finding its root causes, creating a plan that addresses them, and executing the plan.

Reproduction occurs through repetition of changes day after day. I think each change can make the next ones easier to make.

Realize that evolution is actually a collection of mental models:

  • Natural selection is the scientific method: you need observations to identify the problem, the question will almost always be how to solve it, you will come up with a hypothesis which is the plan that you will experiment with. Analysis is the self-feedback you need to continue evolving
  • Problem identification is inversion: you’re not starting with “how can I do this?”. You’re starting with the problem
  • Finding the root cause is first principles thinking: you’re asking why that problem exists
  • Executing the plan is breaking inertia (borrowed from physics): you’re not in the same state anymore. You’re now changing
  • Reproduction is compounding (borrowed from economics): even when small, different changes can compound over time and make your life easier

Evolution explains the 21st century

I understand people who don’t want to have a big impact in the world. I don’t understand why those who could do good to the world do the opposite.

In the last century we’ve seen the rise of billion-dollar companies that have made the world a worst place. I’m talking about cigarette, fast food, sugar, and social media companies. They don’t affect me. They affect us. Here’s why:

  • If corruption doesn’t get in the way, a portion of people’s taxes is allocated to solve problems that these industries create, mainly disease
  • Disease causes human suffering so I wonder how can corporations like Coca Cola even dare to portray their products as happiness
  • I think that consciousness is one of the most precious things in the universe and a sense of purpose in life makes justice to its existence. What is the sense of purpose of executives at those companies?
  • Could I exaggerate and say that Coca Cola employees are 21st century slaves? Their job allows them to survive and they don’t have a word

If we agree that these types of companies are bad for our world, why do they exist? I believe that it’s a lack of higher order thinking. In other words, not thinking about the long term consequences.

Using first principles on this statement itself, why don’t people think in the long term? I think the root cause is evolution.

“Evolution is blind to the future” — Richard Dawkins

Although cynical, many say that our genes only optimize for reproduction, for passing to the next generation. Therefore, even survival is just a means to that end. We are designed to survive just enough, not for the long term. The fact that we do live longer has been thanks to our ingenuity, I think.

Still, our ingenuity made us advance faster than natural selection, which means that our biology isn’t adapted for the 21st century world of Facebook and its fellow dark empires.

  • Instagram over-feeds our social need
  • Coca Cola over-feeds our energy need
  • News over-feed our amygdala (part of the brain that keeps us alert to danger)

On the founder’s side, I think they start those companies because of a lack of perspective. They may not be seeing the whole picture of our existence as humankind.

Thank you

So without going deep into biology, that’s how I see evolution as of December of 2021. I am starting to think that it’s the most powerful force in the universe.

In any case, I’ll keep you posted as my opinion continues to evolve ;)

Hey! I’m S🧠FIA, an ambitious teenager researching and building innovative projects with 🧬Synthetic Biology and (occasionally) AI.
Just for growth, I also innovate at TKS🦄, create content, play the piano, read, and 🌎 connect with new people on a weekly basis (hit me up!).