Evolution is a tricky thing. Something that should be so obvious to so many is frequently distorted and misrepresented by those who do not or do not want to understand the scientific process.
Part of the problem science has is explaining Natural Selection. For an endeavour which relies on hard data and testable hypotheses the presentation of Natural Selection has been somewhat flaky. From just one definition:
The process in nature by which, according to Darwin's theory of evolution, only the organisms best adapted to their environment tend to survive and transmit their genetic characters in increasing numbers to succeeding generations while those less adapted tend to be eliminated.
So in summary, it could be said: The best adapted organisms breed more than the other organisms. That's kinda like saying, "it's better for you" without contributing hard fact on how and why something is "better for you". This vague definition is one reason why some people deny evolution.
We need to refine our understanding of evolution and natural selection.
We need to step back and start defining the outcomes of evolution versus justifying evolution and spending too much focus on the minutiae of the processes involved. By also looking at the results of evolution we can provide a greater comprehension of evolution and it's processes.
By examining the outcomes of evolution we can provide a clearer explanation of natural selection.
It could be argued that the term Natural Selection does not convey the full meaning of the concept involved. Maybe the term Successful Adaptation should be added to our lexicon.
Perhaps the term Natural was used to distinguish this idea from the supernatural theories that abound. Regardless it is not a term that describes the results of evolution or even the method of evolution but where evolution occurs: in nature.
Because there is so much invested in the idea of Natural Selection within both it's narrow (in nature) and oblique (above paragraph) meanings, we must use first deal with this whole idea and show how it relates to successful adaptation and ultimately the human mind.
There is a clear line from understanding the results of evolution to understanding the origins of human consciousness.
1. The ability
to better sense the environment.
2. The ability to better manipulate the environment.
If any one of these two conditions are met, an organism can be said to have Successfully Adapted or evolved through natural selection. With these criteria we can start to provide a better understanding of evolution. It may also be possible that we will be better able to predict future evolutions or directly observe successful adaptations in-progress.
Let's take a quick look at a couple of examples of the above criteria.
Bird BeaksDarwin's classic exposition on the theory of evolution relied in part on the beaks of finches. To sum up, finches had different types of beaks in different environments. Some had longer beaks, while others had shorter beaks. Regardless of the beak size, each different finch population had beaks that were appropriate in extracting food from their immediate environment. This is a classic example of having a better ability to manipulate the environment.
A shorter harder beak is great for cracking nuts, while more slender beaks are more than adequate for plants and insects. The different beaks allow for different manipulations of the environment. Each difference is a strength in evolutionary terms and clearly are based upon the ability to manipulate the environment. It's not necessary for the different finches to have different senses, say better hearing, because the ability to crack nuts or dig into wood for grubs is enough to make an individual superiour within its' own population.
Night VisionNow let's look at a sensory advantage, night vision. If you are small mammal who can see both during the day and during the night, you have doubled your ability to hunt prey and/or evade predators. You do not need to have an extra arm, stronger claws or faster legs to be superiour to others of your species, just the ability to sense the environment better makes you superiour and more likely to succeed and breed.
By refining our understanding of the evolutionary process of natural selection, we are better able to explain evolutionary success, differences between the species and how a particular trait means an organism is better evolved than it's peers.
We will start drawing a line from understanding the outcomes of evolution to human consciousness by going back to the beginning of life on Earth but let's first ask ourselves, just what is the Environment?