The Cambrian Explosion

From Wikipedia:

The Cambrian explosion was the seemingly rapid appearance of most major groups of complex animals around 530 million years ago, as evidenced by the fossil record. This was accompanied by a major diversification of other organisms. Before about 580 million years ago, most organisms were simple, composed of individual cells occasionally organised into colonies. In the following 70 million to 80 million years, the rate of evolution accelerated by an order of magnitude, and the diversity of life began to resemble today’s.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Michael (mx5tx)

A half billion years ago, the only living things on Earth were, generally, pond scum. Life had been around for billions of years in the form of very simple living things, but evolution had ground to a halt. Nothing changed for a long, long, long, long time.

Then suddenly, some sort of event occured that scientists call “The Cambrian Explosion.” In the next 70 million years – an exceptionally short period of time, in terms of the history of the Earth – the number of species exploded. You had little critters, not just algae. You had trees, bushes, insects, all kinds of animals. And we have no idea why the jump occurred from single-celled pond scum to scurrying critters. None. Darwin said this event was the big, big, BIG hole in this theory. Some freak event happened and everything that’s come since originated from that funky timeframe.

Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is taken as fact by most people. I do; to me, even if you believe in God Darwin makes sense. God’s complex enough to design evolution, I think. But even Darwin said the Cambrian Explosion cast some doubt against his theory of evolution. Life had dribbled along for eons without any change, then BOOM! Big change happened in a short period of time. Mutation must have exploded beyond any reasonable or possible level to make the Cambrian explosion occur.

Here’s my question: do most of us have a moment of Cambrian explosion in our lives? In my case, it happened when I read (completely by accident) Rich Dad, Poor Dad. It’s not that I was stupid about money – I had plenty of savings, I was making a lot of money and I was living relatively frugally (albeit with the almost obligatory-excessive Manhattan lifestyle in regards to social life). But I suddenly had a flash of inspiration: the goal was not to maximize my income from my job so I could maximize my spending, the goal was to maximize my LIFE by making my income sufficient to cover my expenses for the forseeable future.

That’s no small achievement, and to this day I would thank Kiyosaki for that insight. But that insight was driven by an external force, and I never would have found it without reading that book. Dumb story: why did I buy Rich Dad, Poor Dad? Because I had a child on the way and I searched on amazon for “finance for dads.” All I wanted was tips on 529s and similar things. I didn’t ever consider that the greatest gift I could provide my son was a mom and a dad who were financially independent and no burden on their kids, even though that’s probably the greatest gifts MY parents have given my brother and me.

Most of us do have a Cambrian explosion in us; a moment when some dumb chance (or divine intervention if you’re so inclined) strikes us and causes a staggering change in state. Make sure you’re open to it, ready for it and willing to accept it – even if things were working before and you don’t see the need for the change.

9 comments

  • I completely agree!! However, there may be potential for several Cambrian explosions in different areas of our lives. For instance, whatever it was that clicked in your mind that caused you to lose a lot of weight could also be considered a Cambrian explosion (I certainly hope it is in my case, because I’m trying to do very much the same thing!).

    Another interesting thing about Cambrian explosions is that you don’t necessarily realize they’re happening when they happen, but with the benefit of time, you see that something clearly changed a behavior or mindset or way of thinking to create the result. It is especially gratifying if the result is something you’d been working towards to begin with! Quite often, then, the progression goes something like this:
    Try — Fail — Try — Fail — Try — Succeed Part Way — Fail — Try — Aahhh!

  • Funny how that book caused so many people to have their “explosion.” I call it my “financial awakening” and I have to thank Kiyosaki for it as well. It was the first of many steps I took that eventually got me to where I am now: someone who invests, saves, budgets, and tries to continually expand his alternative income.

  • Interesting. Getting married is a “Cambrian explosion” in a way – lots of changes in a short period of time, and in my case, after a longer than typical period of bachelorhood.

    However, I can speak of two other events. First, there was a period in my 20s where I was stuck in an uninteresting and dead-end job, and couldn’t buy an interview, let alone a new job. I eventually fell into a startup computer magazine, of all things. While my hours were so long that I had no life until the company eventually failed, I established a reputation and network of contacts that continues serving me to this day. In fact, I was just hired at a substantial pay raise by someone that I last worked with ten years ago, who sought me out on LinkedIn.

    The second was the realization that there are substantial differences in salary for the same work at different companies; in particular, large companies tend to pay much more than small ones. After working at small organizations for the first 15 years of my career, I lucked into a larger company, where my salary increased by $35K in four years. Knowing the wide range in salaries is information you need to keep you at the upper end of your earning ability.

  • A Cambrian explosion is pretty extreme, and I don’t know if I’ll ever experience something that dramatic. But I think we’re supposed to have a number of smaller yet hugely significant shifts, which I call quantum leaps. Things like RDPD, getting married, major career changes, etc. fall into this category for me.

  • I like this idea. It goes well with how I describe my skill in fictional writing.

    I often tell my friends that it is like a dam set on a slope holding back all these grains of sand. With each new skill or ability comes a new grain of sand. Eventually all the sand crushes through the dam cause it weighs so heavy, and it burts forth in one cataclysmic rush of revelation.

    To me, that’s how I seem to improve. I absorb all this information and nothing really happens, and then, BAM. It all hits. It all makes sense. The world is clear and I move on how I can delve deeper into literature or whatever task is at hand.

    Speaking of this Cambrian explosion… I should look it up. Sounds interesting.

    -Greg the Writer

  • Definitely!

    This year I “discovered” that:
    * convenience food isn’t convenient
    * ‘just’ buying something usually takes more time than fixing or making something myself
    * there are plenty of free ways to entertain myself without going shopping
    * simple living is remarkably simple
    * being frugal can be really fun, especially when I feel clever
    * keeping track of account balances each week is also surprisingly fun
    * I can help save the planet while spending less
    * fresh food tastes way better than stuff with lots of preservatives
    * and going to the gym isn’t nearly as fun as gardening and going for walks with my husband and other friends.

    Meanwhile, my husband discovered that it takes less time to stay organized than it does to find what he needs when he isn’t organized — or go out and buy something because he can’t find it.

  • Chad @ Sentient Money

    At least that snakeoil salesman, Kiyosaki, did one good thing…turning you onto finance.

    My explosion was’t about personal finance, it was what I really want to do with my life…write. Of course, my explosion would be a little bigger and faster if I didn’t have to maintain a regular job while I work towards my bigger goal.

  • I guess Kiyosaki turned on a lot of people on finance and alternative income generation despite the fact that his main source of income is book/course sales ( some refer to that as the perfect passive income stream).
    It’s the simplicity of buying assets for income that’s so appealing versus the save all you can all your life so that you can retire, which doesn’t sound seksy at all!

  • For me personally, the Cambrian Explosion was about natural and organic foods when I read a book “Natural Cures…..” by Kevin Trudeau… He is like Kiyosaki, doesn’t say anything specific, but sure some stuff he said in the book made me thinking and do more research on my own.