An eminent psychologist and the author of relational frame theory, Steven Hayes, writes that ‘evolution begins with processes of blind variation and selective retention, but it does not stay there for the simple reason that evolvability itself evolves. The phrase “survival of the most evolvable” is far truer to the whole of evolutionary data than the hoary phrase “survival of the fittest.”’ The prime example of this is human personal development – evolution within a single organism. We suggest that, akin to biological evolution, personal development is affected by four factors: genetic material, the environment (particularly social environment in early years), choices one makes, and evolutionary intent, which is (as already mentioned) expressed on individual level as an innate drive to learn, master skills and grow:
Behavioral variation and selection within the lifetime of individuals is not merely an expression of genes and cultural practices. Learning is a legitimate evolutionary dimension that impacts on other evolutionary dimensions at other levels and time frames. (Hayes, 2019)
We have seen that associative learning had a huge role in evolution. But humans are also capable of another kind of learning that is relational, rather than associative. Symbolic-relational learning is about creating mental representations of relations between various stimuli or their properties which allows a much more diverse utilisation of what is learned and it marks a transition in the evolution of consciousness. In their article, Darwin’s mistake: Explaining the discontinuity between human and nonhuman minds, Penn and his colleagues argue that the leap between human and nonhuman minds is due to this mental ability that ‘pervades nearly every domain of cognition and runs much deeper than even the spectacular scaffolding provided by language or culture alone can explain.’
Hayes suggests that relational learning is in the central core of human language and cognition, and evolved as an extension of cooperation. Understanding (discussed in the part Learning) can be taken as its most advanced form. This capacity enables not only greater awareness, but also greater intentional behaviour. Humans are far more capable of exercising choice (or response variability). This all accelerates the evolutionary process so much that it can take place at the ontogenic level, within an individual, in the form of personal development. We can, in fact, distinguish two types of personal development that broadly correspond to an increase of diversity and complexity, respectively: quantitative and qualitative development.
Personal Development Chapters
Quantitative Personal Development
Quantitative development refers to an increase or improvement of our capacities and competences. This is an equivalent of the diversity increase in biological evolution. As species diversify and improve (adapt) through evolution, we diversify and improve our competences through this kind of development.
Qualitative Personal Development
We don’t only develop competences and capacities, but we also go through the qualitatively distinct stages of development. This is an equivalent of the ‘jumps’ in complexity that suggest that biological evolution also goes through a set of stages.
We argued previously that humans (and other life forms) have material and non-material aspects that interact. But what happens when the former is not capable of that interaction anymore? This is what we will address here.
Interaction With Others
The importance of social connections is well known and well documented. Here, we will examine this topic specifically in relation to personal development and the life’s purpose.
 The first two factors have been examined thoroughly in psychology, while the other two have been largely ignored. However, the studies on identical twins, who have also shared the same environment, show that their traits correlate only to about 50%. Evidently, the genes and environment do not account for everything.
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