Genetically, we are all different. None of us have the same genetic sequence, not even identical twins. The reason: mutations. Mutations are changes in the genetic material of an organism, changes that cause alterations in the protein(s) that this gene codes for. This change can either be of advantage, or of disadvantage to this organism. But they are necessary. Let’s look at an example from bacteria. The fungus Penicillium, widespread across the world, produces a chemical that is lethal to almost all bacteria. This special chemical, penicillin, was the first antibiotic to be discovered. In the 1940s, penicillin was used as a mass-produced drug to combat wound infections, and was celebrated as a miracle compound! However, not long after, infections resistant to penicillin started becoming common. Some bacteria were able to grow in the presence of penicillin. Logically, other drugs were used instead of penicillin, and they seemed to work, for that time. As soon as a new drug was introduced, resistant strains were reported in due time.
What was going on? These resistant bacteria were shown to have a special enzyme, called ß-lactamase, that showed resistance to the antibiotic. Once in a while, a random mutation in an individual bacterium would cause the alteration of the gene that coded for the ß-lactamase, changing its structure by an imperceptible amount. Such changes were happening in a few secluded bacteria randomly, but constantly. Whenever a new antibiotic was introduced, most of the individual units of the bacteria were sensitive to the compound and died. But a few, which had the right mutation, were not sensitive to the antibiotic and continued to proliferate and spread. Then came a new set of mutations, enabling resistance to a new set of antibiotics. Every time a new problem presented itself, a repertoire of bacterial individuals were tested, to see which ones survived. Even today, the same cycle continues. Mutation has enabled the bacteria to overcome being poisoned. The lack of mutation would have meant annihilation. Similarly, based on the accumulation of these small differences, one species evolved from another, and spread out, to find it’s own place within the planet’s ecosystem. Only through mutation has life conquered land, water and air, even the most toxic habitats on the planet. Life has survived solely based on the power of mutation. Without mutation, there would be no evolution.
An interesting consequence of mutation is the way our brain circuits come to exist. During development, most neurons know which other neurons they should connect to, and the paths they take are well defined and documented. But there is a small proportion of randomness that is programmed into this process. This makes some of the neurons change the importance (synaptic weights) they give to certain connections from other neurons, introducing a subtle but sure difference in the entire connectivity of the brain. This ensures that during birth, everybody’s brain is slightly different. This bias affects the most basic processes, even perception. We all perceive the exact same stimulus slightly differently.
And therein lies the comparison to mutation. Since all of us perceive the same thing slightly differently, it causes a slight difference in everyone’s interpretation and analysis of information. Just as mutation is necessary for biological evolution, this difference in perception and interpretation is necessary for ideological evolution. Having only one interpretation and one opinion would never lead to the questioning of the status quo. If we would all agree, no established ideology would ever be questioned or changed. Albert Einstein was able to unravel the mysteries of space and time because he saw the world differently, just as his predecessor, Isaac Newton did before him. To enable the perpetual evolution of human thought and reason, there is a fundamental need for differences in opinion. The differences in opinion become the substrate for rational arguments. Debate and discussion based on rational arguments are the only tool by which to test an idea for logical and factual consistency. Every independent opinion is tested against the problem to see how it holds. The opinions that shatter are rejected and the ones that survive are selected. Only after passing it through this test, can facts be realised, or optimal solutions reached. Differences in opinion are the crux of the evolution of human thought.