The Red Queen, Matt Ridley

On this journey of greater understanding, don’t expect to completely disregard science. It also has a role in understanding reality.

Understanding the actual scientific theories is all fine and dandy, but go a bit deeper: what is science’s explanation of reality? On what grounds is this explanation based?

Anyway, The Red Queen is a book about sex. No, not explaining how it works (well, actually it does at a genetic level). But it explains sex from an evolutionary standpoint, and provides explanations for humans’ behaviors based on sex’s role in evolution.

Have you ever wondered why humans and other animals have sex? It makes more sense from an evolutionary standpoint to simply reproduce asexually. After lengthy debunking of all the other evolutionary reasons, Matt Ridley comes to the Red Queen theory.

The Red Queen theory is named after the Red Queen from Alice and Wonderland. The Queen runs and runs, but reality stays still.

This is like evolution. Species evolve, but so do all the others, ultimately cancelling out all positive changes that species made.

And who is the number 1 enemy of most animals? Hint: it’s not other animals.

It’s disease.

Bacteria, germs, viruses, the list goes on. They evolve as fast as we can find cures for them.

Sex was evolution’s primary tool in this eternal race. And that, says Ridley, is the explanation for why sex is even a thing.

The author goes on to discuss how sex has influenced culture and human nature.

From a purely evolutionary standpoint, he explains why men are naturally polygamous, but often settle for monogamy. He also explains why women are monogamous, but often commit adultery.

Most people would explain this away by human nature, but there are some really compelling arguments in here.

Something interesting for many followers of personal development would be evolution’s explanation for sexual attraction. What makes men attractive is status. For women, it’s youth and beauty.

Also, what about our intelligence compared to other species? It makes little sense from a classic survival of the fittest point of view to have a big brain because it uses a lot of energy and also having a big brain would reduce the level of maturity when one comes out of the womb, leaving the infant more dependent for a longer period of time.

Ridley argues that the reason we developed big brains was “for no other reason than that wit, virtuosity, inventiveness, and individuality turn other people on.” We developed big brains in order to read people, manipulate them, and communicate more effectively.

The author concludes that despite all that we have done as a species, we are still an ape. A very highly developed ape in terms of cognitive abilities, “but still an ape.”

Ok, enough with the scientific content. Ridley also tries to reconcile the “nature vs nurture” debate, stating that they  work in tandem. He says “to the extent that we are products of the environment, it is an environment that our designed brains chose to learn from.” Our brains have certain predispositions to learning things, such as language, but the language we learn is obviously the one of our culture.

It nevertheless led me to reflect on whether science is justification for culture… To be studied further.

I won’t lie, the beginning of this book is very science-heavy, which I found draining, but after that it got interesting. The whole book I found to be quite well-researched and well-written.

Finally, I appreciate the open-mindedness of the author at the end of this book. He says that no doubt the Red Queen theory will just be another wrong theory in the quest of humanity in understanding ourselves. But all theories, nonetheless, lead to understanding.

The Verdict:

Very well-written book, super in-depth, great for understanding evolutionary view of human nature.

Favorite quote:

“Mankind is a self-domesticated animal.”

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5 Best Personal Development Habits

This post is destined for beginners who might just be getting into personal development. These are the 5 most important habits you can install in your life, and will form the foundation of your growth.

They’re not difficult habits to install, but do them, and the results will compound over time.

Here’s the list:

  1. Meditation

Oh, man.

Meditation has gotten a ton of press in the last few years with spirituality becoming a bigger pert of society and people realizing the benefits of it.

You don’t have to be a spiritual person to get the benefits of it. There’s plenty of scientific evidence to back up how important a tool it can be. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress and cravings, and increase happiness and productivity.

I’ll do another post with all the benefits and implications of meditation, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. This is just an introduction.

As you probably know, there are hundreds of ways to mediate, thousands of guided meditations, and seemingly conflicting techniques.

Don’t worry. There’s nothing to worry about.

The best definition of meditation I’ve found is simply: what is.

I can highly recommend actualized.org‘s guided meditation, consisting of letting go. It’s the one I use every day.

As for how often to meditate? You can go the hardcore 8 hours a day, but just start with 20 minutes. 20 minutes sitting down meditating, if that’s all you can do, is great to start out with. After a while, increase it.

Warning! Meditation is NOT all sunshine and rainbows. You’re dealing with the inner workings of your mind. It gets messy. You’ll get stressed out, then worry about not meditating right, you might fall asleep a few times… Not super relaxing when you first start out.

But essential.

2.   Journal

The next habit to add is a journal.

This isn’t a fixed habit like meditation or exercise are. I just like having a place to right down things that come to mind, or venting, or trying to solve problems on my own.

There are tons of ways to journal, none of them wrong, just go with what works for you. Make it personal, creative.

I also recommend having a gratitude section in your journal.

A journal is great for solving your own problems, as it allows you to get a third-person perspective on your life.

It’s probably the easiest habit to install. Think of it as installing a second brain.

3. Health

This is more of a lifestyle switch than a habit.

Much like meditation, people are starting to wake up and see the many benefits of living a healthy lifestyle.

Most people realize the surface level benefits: more energy, longer life span, clearer mind, happier…

What most people don’t realize is that moving your body also impacts your growth on a psychological level.

How do you access your intuition? Access your body. Intuition comes or through the body, not the head. Treat your body like an instrument that you fine-tune.

This healthy lifestyle is made up of 3 aspects: exercise (working out, sports, movement), nutrition (eating a balanced diet), and rest (getting enough sleep, keeping stress levels low). All three are important for a healthy lifestyle.

Again, this is a more personalized topic than meditation. Do what works for you in each aspect: exercise, nutrition, and rest. Go with what feels right and make you feel physical good.

4. Reading

In the spirit of cultivating deeper understanding, which is one of the ultimate goals of all this (click here for that post), we need to read. A lot.

For beginners, try reading 1 self-help book per month. Once you get some areas of your life handled, expand your range of material, mostly into the spiritual realm. Develop a big-picture understanding of what’s going on here.

For examples of good, basic PD books to read, well, you’re on the right site 😉

Reading and learning is a good way to develop yourself, but there are traps associated with it. Beware becoming the armchair philosopher. I know I fell into this trap, and still do. Knowing is only half the battle, doing is the part that counts.

5. Being / Reflecting

The last habit that I want you to install is one of being / reflecting. Our lives are mostly run by doing doing doing, more more more. Take time out of your day to slow down.

As you develop yourself further, you’ll see that the truest thing you can do is simply be. Just sit and do nothing. If you’re not used to it, it can be harder than it sounds.

At some point, being and doing nothing can become the most fulfilling activity of your life.

Another aspect of this is reflecting. Reflect on life, on how little we know, on how lucky we are, on your death, on how you want to feel on your deathbed…

Contemplate the big questions, and the little nagging stuff falls away. It simply doesn’t bother you.

So hopefully this short post gave you some ideas about how to build a foundation for personal development.