Specialization and Evolution: Life Through the Lens of Pokémon

In the world of Pokémon, there’s a species named Ditto. It stands at a foot high, and is a pinkish blob of cells, ready to transform into any physical object or Pokémon it sees. It levels up fast, and can breed with any other Pokémon to produce eggs of the other species. But no serious Pokémon trainer wants a Ditto. When Ditto transforms into another Pokémon, it’s not as strong as the real thing, and it always transforms back to the normal-type blob of cells after a while. Ditto has so much potential but never ends up reaching it.

Serious Pokémon trainers would rather have a diverse team of different types. Ash Ketchum, the main character in the Pokémon TV series, had Pikachu, a chubby, loyal rodent that could electrocute enemies, the fully-evolved Dragonite, and the ghost-type Pokémon Gengar. Although they all had weaknesses, their specialization and strengths outweighed them.

In the discipline of biology, stem cells are the category of cells that have pure potential and can differentiate into any other type of specialized cell – a red blood cell, gut epithelial cell, or even a brain neuron. But if the stem cells never differentiate, the specialized cells cannot grow and develop and you’re just left with a Ditto-esque bundle of cells.

On more of a macro-scale, the same is true in human beings. Childhood is where we are introduced to as many new experiences as possible, and as we grow into adults our identity begins to harden and our potential decreases. In Pokémon, a Charmander evolves into a Charmeleon at level 16, and then into the fully-formed beast Charizard at level 36. Ditto never evolves. Evolving is a scary, unknown process, and once evolution occurs you can’t go back. That’s what induces the fear in us as humans, because we’re scared of making the wrong decisions in life. We’re in a generation petrified of commitment in relationships and in our careers.

But in the end, we get to choose. So what are you going to choose to be? A full-fledged, powerful and respected Charizard; or the archetypal Peter Pan-style Ditto?

“Those who do not choose a direction are lost. It is far better to become something than to remain anything but become nothing.”

Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order

When Is It Okay to Break the Rules?

The purpose of having rules is to keep order in the entropic nature of a world always threatening to revert to chaos. Rules are generally written in a spirit of benevolence, and they usually represent a given set of virtues in order to aim for a higher good.

But there can come a point where the rules themselves end up undermining the very spirit and virtue the rule was made to exemplify in the first place. The rules of football were made in the spirit of fair play, but now it can be argued that the referees’ implementation of the rules is so pedantic and rigid that the ethos of the game is being lost.

Rule-breakers have also stood up against repressive laws in the name of morality. Rosa Parks inspired the civil rights movement in the US when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a crowded bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. She was tired of giving in to the demands of a system that was so demonstrably unfair, that she resorted to disobedience.

Jordan Peterson, in his book Beyond Order, recommends to follow the rules first and understand the spirit in which the rule was originally made. It is only then that we can ethically break the rule – by managing to combine the necessity to conform to the rules humbly as others do, but to use judgement and a guiding conscience to do what is right, even when the rules suggest otherwise.

Here’s a rule: Follow the rules, but shoulder the responsibility to make an exception to serve a higher good.