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Psyche and Evolution

Evolution and psyche are two concepts that may be perceived as quite distant from each other.  Evolution deals with the concrete and physical development of all creatures, while the theory of the psyche (psychology and psychiatry) deals with a rather abstract construct. Though psyche affects every aspect of our life, there is no physical evidence of its existence. The psyche is an integral part of the brain, yet the science of the brain (neurology) is categorically separate from the science of the psyche. This is why the theory of evolution has trouble analyzing psyche evolution and certainly there is no study that deals with the impact of psyche on evolution.

The study of evolution and DNA has accumulated remarkable achievements and is considered a proven and well established science. Nevertheless, the subject of life formation still remains a scientific mystery, not yet deciphered. While the study of the physical aspects of evolution is in advanced stages, the research of psyche evolution is still in its infancy. There is no knowledge regarding the manner and the beginning of the psyche formation.

Evolution has four fundamentals: natural selection, mutations, gene flow and genetic drift. According to this theory, microorganisms do not change when there is no change in their physical environment. On the other hand, under conditions of stress, the cell increases its rate of mutation sometimes by 100 million in order to rapidly adapt to the environmental pressures. Beyond these four fundamentals, often called "the driving forces of evolution", although they are not forces at all, no true force is known for evolution. It's absolutely evident that if science finds proof to an existence of a thrusting force behind the development of organisms, it will accept it as part of this theory, just as scientists, prior to the discovery of the "Big Bang", believed that the universe was static, and afterward realized that the force motivating the entire universe, both on the micro and macro level, is derived from the Big Bang. Even Albert Einstein believed, then, that the universe was static, even though it did not correspond with his theories.

In order to try to understand the current stage of the study of evolution and of life formation, let's imagine how a senior scientist in the 16th century would explain the behavior of water in a large lake. He would probably explain how water has a natural tendency to penetrate every crack and hole in the bottom of the lake without advancing downwards to blocked areas. The scientist would then explain, in a completely scientific and correct manner, that the deeper the water, the stronger its ability to penetrate. If he were to be asked what "force" underlies this natural tendency, he would probably answer that there is no such known power. Gravitation was discovered by Isaac Newton only in the 17th century and in the 20th century Albert Einstein discovered what causes it.


The Primal Roots of the Psyche

The subconscious urges and instincts in living creatures appeared long before the development of awareness and consciousness. i.e. the conscious layer of the psyche appeared after the non-conscious or subconscious one. The question is at what stage of the evolution the primal urges  and instincts, which constitute psyche-like elements, showed up and what is the beginning of the psyche as it is known nowadays.

In order to search for these elements, we will drill down and begin with the first presupposed primal organism from which all living creatures evolved, a microorganism whose formation and characteristics are unclear. Although we might underestimate the value of such an inferior and primitive being, we should not forget that it is the source of all life on earth.

The theory of evolution does not offer, nor does it presume to offer, an explanation to how life was formed and which exact features those first creatures possessed.  What is certainly clear is that evolution did not start from a void and that creatures possessing some qualities appeared, before the appearance of natural selection, without being subject to natural selection. If we observe more closely those primal creatures, we could find out that in order for them to survive, multiply and develop, and at the same time cope with the environmental conditions, these "first soldiers" who started the natural selection war, must have been equipped, from the outset, with three basic and primal attributes, which are taken for granted but should not be. These attributes are:


  • The survival and self –protection instinct
  • The drive to multiply and develop
  • The readiness to concede their space to their offspring who may become more advanced

If we take the most advanced robot nowadays and try to impart it with a pseudo-life, we will first have to implant in it these three features, which it could never develop by itself.

Since we do not know a thing about the way life was formed and about the beginning of evolution, we might think that such drives also evolved during evolution in the process of natural selection. However, if we assume so, we will not be able to explain how the first beings multiplied without having the multiplying instinct and how they existed without the survival instinct. The conclusion is that these three instincts, or basic drives, were formed concurrently with life formation.

The Three Basic Instincts

These three basic instincts, which actually made evolution possible, appeared in tandem with the emergence of life and preceded the natural selection process. These instincts are the foundation stones of our existence to date. The life instinct propels us to exist, protect ourselves and survive. The death instinct, in its broadest sense, eventually leads us to end our role on earth. It intensifies when we encounter situations that are very difficult or impossible to overcome. A third instinct which urges us to multiply, care for our offspring, develop and improve, is the self realization instinct in its broader sense.

In addition to life and death instincts, psychiatry recognizes the existence of a powerful psychic force. According to Sigmund Freud the libido is the driving force behind all human behavior. Carl Jung used the term "libido" as a comprehensive concept of the mental energy that motivates behavior. According to Kurt Goldstein, there is a psychic motif in every individual, which propels him toward  self realization and comprises  the generating force of living organisms. Carl Rogers sees in the self fulfillment instinct an innate biological power that underlies human behavior. According to Abraham Maslow, the natural tendency of the individual is towards self realization.

If we define happiness, in general, as the satisfaction of needs, urges, desires and feelings, we will find out that the urge to achieve happiness matches the self realization (or the self fulfillment) instinct, and that it is a universal driving force, which is not unique to human beings.  Achieving happiness does not always correspond with the urge to exist. Sometimes, in order to achieve happiness, an individual is willing to sacrifice himself and animals may lose or endanger their lives for their offspring.

The most primal expression of self realization is procreation, bearing and rearing offspring. In places where people have difficulty fulfilling themselves in different manner, there is a high birthrate.  Where there is free enterprise of the individual the self realization instinct brings about development and prosperity at the expense of procreation.

When we succeed in any activity that results in self realization we derive happiness and conversely, when we fail we get depressed. Thus the self realization instinct becomes an urging and driving force that propels us by the carrot and stick method.


Evolution of body and psyche

There is tension among these three primal instincts. The life instinct and death instinct are opposed one to another, but they complement and highlight each other like white and black in a painting. The self realization instinct is opposed to the death instinct; however under certain conditions and for a particular purpose, the self realization instinct might correspond with the death instinct and thus contradict the life instinct.

These three primeval instincts and the tension among them, created, over time and in parallel with the physical evolution, the evolution of the psyche, leading to development of urges, emotions, feelings, passions and desires. A feeling like love, for example, is derived from the self realization instinct.  When, throughout evolution, multiplying became a sexual activity between male and female, what attracted them was the innate procreation instinct. It was much later that sexual attraction developed and much further down the road did love develop. Love for the offspring is also derived from this same innate instinct, which is responsible, for the most part, for the caring of parents for their offspring after their birth. All other urges and emotions, either positive or negative, originate from these three instincts. It is fair to say that the source of the psyche, including the conscious and the mysterious subconscious, is derived from these innate instincts.

Since these three instincts, which have mental like features, did not evolve with time but existed from the outset, it is possible to determine that the body and psyche were formed simultaneously and developed in parallel, while the driving force for evolution is the "psyche".

Remnants of microorganisms which did not develop over billions of years, as there was no change in their physical environment, were found deep in the ocean. These are the most ancient creatures existing today. It might sound absurd to say that they carry, aside from DNA and developmental potential, also mental like features and it is impossible to prove that by any instrument. However, is there any instrument that might prove the physical existence of psyche in humans even though it is much more developed?

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