Could Maslow’s Hierarchy of “Needs” be viewed as a theory of evolution?


Abraham Harold Maslow, An American psychologist (Apr 1, 1908-June 8 1970) who was best known for creating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization.

Early on, Maslow studied such things as primate behavior and sexuality.  Are we not descendants of primates? What is sexuality other than a basic human drive to pro-create. Animals do not have sex out of desire, they engage in sex to create life. 1+1=2, 2+2=4, it is evolution. The difference between what some call our “monkey brain” and the human brain is that the human brain has found beauty and desire in pro-creation. We find pleasure in it because it is pleasurable to unite with another. It feels good. But, the basic human need to procreate is what drives it.

Later, he studied psychology and began to question previous assumptions made by psychologists. Driven to prove that not all human behavior was motivated my negativity. He began to question their conclusions but had his own ideas on how to study the human mind. Unlike some of his predecessors, he studied successful people. He studies with anthropologist Ruth Benedict and psychologist Max Wertheimer and regarded them both highly for their successes in both their personal and professional lives. He began to study their behaviors. This began his lifelong research and thinking about mental health and human potential

He studied and expounded on others ideas. He wrote extensively on a few concepts he developed; hierarchy of needs his best known. He considered himself a psychological pioneer. Many agree, as evidenced by how often we hear and see the hierarchy of needs presented to explain human behavior. His work continues to be the basis of many other theories, including my own.

In 1943, Maslow proposed in his theory in a paper entitled “A Theory of Human Motivation”  in Psychological Review. A closer look at his theory of motivation could hold a key to the theory of evolution.

Maslow studied what he called exemplary people. Rather than focus on mentally ill or neurotic people, writing “the study of crippled, stunted immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy. He focused on those who “self-actualized.” He believed that every person has a strong desire to realize his or her full potential.

He wanted to prove that humans are not blindly reacting to situations but trying to accomplish something greater. Is that not what self actualization is? Do we all not have the drive to be more, do more, create more? His theory of self actualization talks of a coherent personality syndrome, which represents optimal health and functioning. Is this similar to the union of body-mind-spirit? When we are congruent and our body is aligned with our mind and we follow our heart or intuition or spirit, we become self actualized.

When society becomes congruent, perhaps we actualize through evolution. Do we put our thoughts and energy into destruction and war or peace and love? Are mental diseases a sign of incongruence? Does that prevent us from striving for greater things, one of our basic human drives?

As we humans, we evolved to use only two legs, we evolved to express our human spirit through art. We evolved through our constant curiosity and questions and imagination. We create through engineering and physics and science. We study the world around us and we make it better. We study the body and the human condition and we create medicine, extending our lives and our ability to evolve. When we limit ourselves, on the other hand, we become stagnant. When we believed in our ability to get to the moon, we made it happen. When someone has a vision and makes it a reality, they are actualizing that vision. Do we not do the same when we focus on the negative? Negative emotions like greed, hatred, lust (attachment) limit us. They keep us stuck to the ball and chain and we lose our ability to be visionaries. We limit our thinking and thus limit our actions.

We evolved through the first biological needs for food and air and shelter, through sexuality we expressed our need to procreate. We created safety for ourselves in our homes. When we secure resources that provide for our basic needs. We create walls around things we wish to preserve and protect. When those basic human needs were met, we longed for communities and we banded together in tribes and cities. We have an instinctual need for community because the life we have evolved into cannot exist in a vacuum. We need other people. We need someone to farm the soil, to tend the crops, to harvest them. We need someone to study the body and teach us how to heal so that we can endure, live longer, evolve. We need someone to study the mind so that we can learn to control our thoughts, and master our minds in an effort to evolve. We cannot do all of this alone, as we evolve and we fulfill the needs in our hierarchy, there is more to be done. Necessity is the mother of invention after all. We needed to communicate with each other, so we created art and language. Now we begin to share the lessons with each other, we can all learn from one another, in order to evolve.

The next rung on the hierarchy or evolutionary step ladder is esteem. Esteem by definition means respect and admiration. Just as a self-actualized person has a healthy dose of self respect and self esteem, perhaps this indicates our need to have a healthy dose of esteem or respect for one another in order to evolve.

Our need for belonging is evidenced by the groups we create. We choose our friends, we choose our colleagues, we choose the people we spend time with. We explore our mutual interests, we push each other to be better. Again, it seems to express a need to evolve. But in order to do so, perhaps we need each other. Only when we exclude through judgment, greed, hatred do we stop ourselves from evolving. When we have periods of peace, we grow in technological pursuits and advancements. We label periods of our history based on the evolutionary advancements. Could this mean we need more tolerance. Is it possible that we can all co-exist without judgments without exclusion? Can we find a way to co-exist with compassion? Could this be the key to evolution? We learn to be tolerant through education. Education is nothing more than stretching the limitations of the mind to do more, be more accomplish more. When we begin to stretch the mind to be tolerant, we grow. We abolish slavery, we detest injustice. We create law and order meant to demand we follow a certain standard we hold ourselves to and we imprison or otherwise punish those that do not adhere. Ironically, many of those same standards we set for ourselves come through religion or the belief in something better. Perhaps organized religion is not a bad thing, it is the belief in something, a shared moral code. Only when we judge those with different beliefs to we stunt our growth. We war with one another, we essentially create our own hell on earth. Only those that are tolerant progress. When we esteem all human life we will have fulfilled the next evolutionary step.

The future of evolution could lie in how long it takes us to find that esteem for one another. As a society, until we respect all thoughts, and all beliefs we cannot evolve. Or perhaps only those that refuse to revolve remain stuck in their wars and their hatred and their hell on earth.

Our founding fathers believed in equality. In fighting evil and injustice. We welcomed everyone regardless of religion. There is good and bad, heaven and hell, we choose our paths. We stopped tolerating slavery and we evolved. We wanted every single person to have a voice. When we granted that voice to everyone, we evolved.

It’s just a theory of course, but it makes sense to me. Maybe I am crazy. Maybe I am a visionary. I will stick to saying I am just me, trying to find my purpose. Rather than label my thoughts and ideas as good or bad, I choose to express them. Rather than judge them, I just mull them over. I like to write them down, see them on paper, type them on a screen, see how they feel when I try them on…. Just an idea I had… of course, ideas are also a spark of evolution. one person’s crazy thought becomes another’s invention.

I like Maslow’s hierarchy, I have found ways that it resonates in my life, in my mind. I can see how sometimes my actions express a need. When I am hungry, I eat. If I ignore my hunger, my ability to function slows down, I can’t move as fast, I can think as clearly. After I eat, I am then clear headed and able to focus on my next need. If I feel physically, emotionally and spiritually safe, I can then focus on relationships, finding my place in the world, finding my people. When I start to feel like I belong and I feel safe in that community of people, I become more creative. When I create, I write or I work or I teach, or I dream. These seeds plant my future. It is not until I let go of attachments to my ideas that I can become most creative. The ideas just begin to flow. I don’t judge them as good or bad, right or wrong, I just allow them to flow. When we as a society allow the ideas to flow, the possibilities become infinite. Evolution is the history of infinity. Each of us started as a cell and one cell became two. It is evolution. When we stop judging ideas as good or bad, right or wrong, when we allow ourselves to dream, we create our futures, we also create our futures when we hate, when we are greedy, when we judge, when we exclude.

Could Maslow have been on to the secret to evolution in his study of the mind. I like to think there is something there. Maybe not, but I choose to believe. In my personal evolutionary journey, that makes it so.


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