EVOLUTION'S ARROW

The direction of evolution and the future of humanity

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(new) The most recent and refined version of the evolutionary worldview that was first presented in Evolutionís Arrow can be found in the 34 page document The Evolutionary Manifesto which is here

Chapter 1.    Introduction       

 

The emergence of organisms who are conscious of the direction of evolution is one of the most important steps in the evolution of life on any planet. Once organisms discover the direction of evolution, they can use it to guide their own evolution. If they know where evolution is going, they can work out what will produce success in the future, and use this to plan how they will evolve.

Living things can evolve without having any knowledge of the direction of evolution. The diversity and complexity of life on earth is testimony to that. Organisms can try to deal with the future by blindly making changes to themselves or their offspring and seeing how the changes work out in practice. But this takes a lot of costly trial-and-error, particularly when the future is complex or changes rapidly. It is a bit like trying to drive a car through peak-hour traffic blindfolded. It will not be a winning strategy for organisms whose competitors can predict future events and use this to evolve more effectively.

The alternative is for organisms to guide their evolution by forming a picture of how evolution is likely to unfold in the future. They can try to find trends and patterns in this evolution that might impact on their future chances of survival. They can then use these patterns to see how they must change themselves and the way they are organised in order to continue to be successful.

On this planet, the organism that appears likely to take this significant evolutionary step is us. Our growing understanding of evolution is providing us with the knowledge that will enable us to see that there are large-scale patterns in the evolution of life. And it is a short step from this to recognising the evolutionary significance of using these patterns to guide our own evolution. But this significant step will not be possible until we have developed a comprehensive understanding of the direction of evolution and of its implications for humanity. The development of this theory will itself be an important step in our evolution. Key issues that it will have to address include:

  • what is the direction of evolution? Where is it headed? Is the direction of change progressive, in the sense that life advances and improves as evolution unfolds? If it does progress, in what way do organisms improve?

  • where does humanity fit in? Are we to be like the dinosaurs, better than what has gone before us, but soon to be replaced by something superior? Or can we play a significant role in the future evolution of life in the universe?

  • what choices do we have? If we can see where evolution is going, is it possible for us to change to fit in with the direction, so that we can survive to participate in the next steps in evolution? Or should we ignore the direction of evolution, and live our lives in ways that might make us irrelevant to future evolution? Can we turn our back on the evolutionary processes that have produced us?

  • what does this mean for us as individuals, here and now, for the way we live our lives and the way we organise ourselves socially? If we decide to do what we can to ensure that humanity participates in the future progressive evolution of life in the universe, what do we have to do, individually and collectively? Will we have to change our economic and social systems? Our psychology?

  • Can deeper understandings of evolution and of its direction assist in answering the ancient questions that confront all aware human beings: where do we come from? what are we? where are we going to? Is there a purpose to human existence?

These are the central themes of this book.

In the chapters that follow, I will argue that evolution has direction, and that the direction is progressive. I will also show that this direction is important in answering the fundamental question of how we should live our lives. Awareness of the direction of evolution is capable of providing direction to our lives and for humanity as a whole.

To clear up one point of possible confusion immediately, I will be showing that evolutionary change progresses in evolutionary terms, not in human terms. Organisms improve as evolution unfolds in the sense that they become more competitive and better adapted than those they replace. They get better at surviving. But they will not necessarily get better against criteria that are important to humans. For example, the competitiveness of an animal might increase if it develops the ability to physically terrorise other members of its species to get a greater share of food. This would be an improvement in evolutionary terms, but many of us would not consider it to be progress in human terms[1].

This distinction is particularly clear in human evolution. The idea that human society progresses has taken a battering in the 20th century. We have seen the largest scale wars in human history. Six million Jews and twenty million Russians died in the Second World War alone. And modern societies have not necessarily produced better lives for their citizens. Members of earlier tribal societies arguably experienced happier and more meaningful lives than members of technologically advanced nations.

Much change in human society has not been progressive in human terms. But this does not mean humanity has failed to progress in evolutionary terms. Most of us now live in nation states that have proved their evolutionary superiority to tribal societies by replacing them over most of the planet.

There is a further important difference between these two different types of progress. The criteria used to assess whether evolutionary progress has occurred in any instance are objective. If organisms have improved their competitiveness and their adaptive fit to their environment, they have progressed in evolutionary terms. This may be difficult to assess in practice. But it is not fundamentally subjective like deciding the criteria that should be used to assess whether change is progressive in human terms. There are as many ways of defining progress in human terms as there are different sets of human values.

Our ability to assess objectively whether evolution progresses does not mean the issue is free of controversy. Evolutionists do not currently agree on whether evolution is progressive. Most believe it is not. The view that evolution is progressive and that humans are now at the leading edge of evolution on this planet is not supported by most evolutionary thinkers[2]. A major task of this book will be to show that they are wrong.

Progressionist ideas about evolution were popular until the middle of this century[3], but have since come under increasing attack. This is largely because progressionists have been unable to identify any plausible evolutionary mechanism that would continually drive progressive change along some absolute scale. 

Anti-progressionists such as the noted American evolutionary writer Stephen Jay Gould argue that there is no such mechanism. They say that current evolutionary theory does not include any process that would produce general and on-going improvement as life evolves[4]. Natural selection adapts populations of organisms only to the specific local circumstances encountered by each population. This may produce some short-term improvement and directional change as the organism adapts better to local conditions, or as the environment changes. For example, a population of snow hares might progressively evolve thicker fur if average winter temperatures increase from year to year. But the directional change will end when the opportunity for improvements in local adaptations is exhausted, or when the local environment changes again in some other direction. And, Gould argues, better adaptation to local conditions will not produce general advance or progress. Changes that adapt a particular organism to its specific environment would not improve it for many other environments. A fish has no use for a better wing, or a bird for more efficient gills. Gould cannot envisage improvements that would be better in all conditions.

Gould and his supporters conclude that the earlier enthusiasm for progressionist views has no sound evolutionary basis: there is no mechanism within evolution that drives on-going progress; natural selection is a process that produces only local adaptation, not general advance or progress; and both the fossil record and the pattern of life we see about us are consistent with this. According to Gould, the belief that humans are at the leading edge of evolution is best explained as wishful thinking.

Progressionist views are currently in a similar position to evolutionary ideas prior to Darwin’s The Origin of Species. In the centuries before Darwin, many thinkers had come up with the idea that some form of evolution best explained the pattern of plants, animals and fossils they saw in nature[5]. But they could not identify a plausible mechanism that explained how this evolution could occur. Evolutionists prior to Darwin could demonstrate that some aspects of the pattern of nature were consistent with evolution, but this consistency could easily be dismissed as lacking any causal basis. Like patterns of stars in the night sky that resemble shapes significant to humans, the consistencies could be dismissed as the product of creative imagination, not the result of real, causal relationships.

Darwin’s great contribution was not the idea of evolution. It was to identify natural selection as the cause of evolution, and to demonstrate that natural selection was the inevitable result of sequences of tangible, concrete events in nature. He showed that evolution would occur wherever some organisms were more successful than others due to differences that could be passed to their offspring.

If progressionist views are to gain the widespread acceptance achieved by evolutionary theory, progressionists have to meet the challenge of identifying a concrete, causal basis for evolutionary progress. Without this, it is not possible to distinguish between patterns and trends that are accidental and meaningless, and those that are necessary and real. A central task of this book is to meet this challenge by showing that evolution includes processes that drive it in a particular direction, and that the direction is progressive.

I will show that the direction of evolution is towards increasing cooperation between living organisms. As evolution proceeds, living things will increasingly coordinate their actions for the benefit of the group rather than acting only in their own individual interests. Cooperators will inherit the earth, and eventually the universe[6].

Part Two of this book (Chapters 3 to 7 inclusive) is devoted to demonstrating that evolution is progressive, and that it produces increasing cooperation amongst living processes. Part of the argument in favour of this position is not controversial: it is beyond doubt that cooperation can be efficient and effective in evolutionary terms. Whatever challenges organisms face during their evolution, the challenges can be met more effectively through cooperation.

But how can evolution progress by exploiting these benefits of cooperation when, as Richard Dawkins and others have shown so clearly[7], evolution favours organisms that put their own selfish interests above all else? We will see that there is a solution to this apparent paradox: cooperation can flourish without organisms giving up their self-interest. Organisms can be organised so that beneficial cooperation is also consistent with their self-interest. When organisms are organised in this way, it is in their interests to be cooperative.

Within such an organisation, individuals will benefit when they cooperate, and will be harmed if they hurt the organisation. An example is a human business that is organised so that employees who work together to develop a new product obtain a share in any profit or loss it produces. In a group organised in this way, individuals who follow their own interests will also generally serve the interests of the group. Wherever cooperation pays off for the group, cooperation will generally also be in the interests of its members.

Evolution progresses towards greater cooperation by discovering ways to build cooperative organisations out of components that are self-interested. It has done so repeatedly throughout the history of life on earth. Cooperative groups of self-replicating molecular processes formed the first simple cells, groups of these cells formed larger and more complex cells, these in turn formed cooperative groups of cells that became multicellular organisms, and groups of multicellular organisms formed cooperative insect societies and human social systems.

One thing that is striking about this is that the cooperative groups that arose at each step in the sequence became the organisms that then teamed up to form the cooperative groups (and organisms) at the next step in the sequence. The result has been that all larger-scale living organisms are made up of smaller-scale living processes that are in turn made up of still smaller-scale processes and so on. And for the organism to operate effectively, all these layers of living processes must cooperate in the interests of the organism. All organisms, each of us included, are cooperative organisations.

It is also obvious that this sequence has direction. As the sequence has unfolded, the scale over which living processes cooperate has increased. In the evolution of life on this planet, cooperation between living processes began over very small scales and has progressively increased through the formation of larger and larger-scale cooperative groups and organisms. And in the last 10,000 years, this trend has accelerated enormously. Cooperative human groups have increased in scale from small tribal societies to nation states and empires, and now to forms of human organisation that operate on the scale of the planet (e.g. multinational companies, and economic markets).

Three thousand million years ago, cooperation extended only between molecular processes that were separated by about a millionth of a metre, the scale of early cells. Now, cooperation extends between human organisms that are separated by up to 12 million metres, the scale of the planet. And by up to 380 million metres when there are moon landings. Cooperation between molecular processes and cells now also extends over these larger scales. When humans cooperate in world-wide economic activities, so do their cells. And these increases in the scale of cooperation are unlikely to end here and now. The same evolutionary forces that drove the expansion of cooperative organisation in the past can be expected to continue to do so.

We will see that evolution progresses towards increasing cooperation whatever the mechanism that produces evolutionary change in organisms. As long as the mechanism is good enough at finding better adaptation, it will discover and exploit the benefits of cooperation. Both natural selection and the processes that produce cultural evolution in humans produce progressive evolution. Furthermore, the advantages of cooperation can be expected to drive progressive evolution wherever life emerges. On any planet where life evolves, evolution can be expected to produce cooperation over wider and wider scales, as it has on earth.

To exploit the benefits of cooperation effectively, groups of entities must evolve an ability to discover the most useful forms of cooperation, and to modify them as conditions change. They must be able to evolve and adapt their cooperation. The better and quicker they are at discovering effective cooperation, the better they will do in evolutionary terms. Imagine the evolutionary success enjoyed by the first groups of molecular processes to discover how to cooperate to construct a cellular membrane, the first groups of cells to produce a network of nerves to coordinate their activities, and the first groups of humans to learn how to chase game animals off cliffs.

So it is not only through increases in cooperation that evolution progresses. It also progresses through increases in the ability of living processes to adapt and evolve. The advantages of being better at adapting have driven progressive improvements in the evolvability and adaptability of cooperative groups, and of the organisms they eventually produce. The processes that adapt and evolve organisms have got progressively better at discovering the most effective forms of cooperation amongst the living processes that make up the organisms. Evolution itself evolves, and living processes get smarter at evolving.

Part Three of the book (Chapters 8 to 12 inclusive) deals with this evolution of the processes that adapt and evolve living processes. We will see how progressive evolution has improved the ability of the genetic evolutionary mechanism itself to adapt organisms[8]. The genetic mechanism uses trial-and-error to search for better adaptation. It tries out genetic changes when offspring are produced. If a change improves the ability of an offspring to survive and reproduce, it spreads throughout the population, producing organisms that are better adapted.

If these genetic changes are made randomly, the majority will be harmful. Most changes made blindly to a complex organism will kill it. Random change is a very inefficient way to search for improvements. So a genetic mechanism that can target its changes will have an evolutionary advantage. It can cut down on the number of changes that are harmful, and make changes that have a greater chance of being useful. For example, a population of snow hares in an environment in which general temperatures are changing widely every few years could target its genetic changes at varying the thickness of fur. This would be more likely to pay off than changing genes that are unrelated to environmental changes. A genetic mechanism that can focus genetic change in this way would be more efficient at discovering better adaptation. We will see that important features of genetic systems have evolved to target genetic change. We will see that sexual reproduction itself owes its existence to its ability to do this. Sex is smart[9].

But improvements in the genetic evolutionary mechanism can go only so far in enhancing the ability of organisms to adapt and evolve. The genetic mechanism can try out changes and discover better adaptation only when organisms reproduce. It cannot search for improvements during the life of the organism. Entirely new adaptive and evolutionary mechanisms had to be developed to exploit the great advantages of doing this. The new mechanisms had to be able to try out and test changes within the organism during its life[10]. Cells, multicellular organisms and human societies have all evolved internal processes that discover new and better adaptation in this way. Typical examples are our own physiological, emotional and mental adaptive systems.

We will see how the advantages of smarter adaptability and evolvability have driven a long sequence of improvements in these internal adaptive processes. A key milestone was reached when organisms could communicate with each other about adaptive improvements they had discovered during their lives. Adaptive discoveries no longer died with the individual who made them. They could be passed on to others, and a culture of adaptive information could be developed. Once this ability evolved, the internal adaptive processes qualified as evolutionary mechanisms, able to accumulate adaptive discoveries across the generations. On this planet, only humans and our societies have evolved this capacity to a high level.

A further key milestone in the progressive improvement of evolvability was the development of a capacity for mental modelling. Again, on this planet only humans have fully developed this ability. An organism capable of mental modelling can form internal mental models and mental pictures of how its environment will unfold in the future, and how its actions will affect this. To an extent, it can predict the future. So it is able to try out possible actions mentally, select the one that produces the best future result in its mental models, and only then try it out in practice[11]. It will be able to use its mental models to see how to manipulate its environment to achieve its particular objectives.

Over the generations, organisms with this capacity can collect more and more knowledge about their environment and the effects of their actions. This will enable them to build mental models of their environment that are more comprehensive and accurate. Progressively the organisms will be able to model how their environment unfolds over wider and wider scales of space and time. Eventually the organisms will be able to model the wider-scale evolutionary processes that have produced it and will affect them in the future. For the first time they will see themselves as situated at a particular point in an on-going and progressive evolutionary process. And they will not just become aware of the direction of evolution. They will also become aware that their increasing awareness of the direction of evolution is itself a significant step in evolution.

The organisms will see that their existing physical adaptations and their existing motivations, interests, beliefs, and values are all the products of their evolutionary history. These characteristics will have all been tailored and tuned by past evolution to ensure that the organism survives. As their understanding of the direction of evolution improves, they will also see what they will have to do in the future to continue their evolutionary success. The organisms will see what they have to do both as individuals and socially: they will understand that they must further exploit the benefits of cooperation by forming cooperative organisations of larger and larger scale and greater and greater evolvability.

But will the organisms use their awareness of the direction of evolution to guide their own evolution? Will they choose to do what is necessary for future evolutionary success? Will they care about their evolutionary future? The difficulty faced by all organisms at this stage in their evolution is that they will be unlikely to find satisfaction and motivation in what they have to do for future evolutionary success. Continued success will demand radical changes in their behaviour and social organisation. But their existing motivations, moral codes, and values will influence their willingness to make these changes. The problem is that their motivations and other predispositions will have been moulded by the needs of past evolution, not future evolution. Past evolution will have tailored their motivations and values so that they find satisfaction in behaviours and actions that would have produced success in the past, not those that will produce success in the future. Up until the development of their capacity for mental modelling, they will have been adapted by evolutionary mechanisms that were without foresight, and could not take into account the needs of future evolution.

It is one thing for an organism to know what it has to do for future evolutionary success. It is another thing entirely to want to do something about it. It is a bit like a person who knows that it is in his longer-term interests to work long hours and save money while he is young to provide for a comfortable retirement. As many of us know, awareness of our longer-term interests will not automatically motivate us to do what is necessary to serve those interests. The difficulty in finding motivation to pursue future evolutionary success is even greater. The individual will often not benefit at all through support for evolutionary objectives. It will often be only future generations who do so.

A better understanding of this difficulty can be had by imagining the following scenario: you are able to travel back in time, and you have been given the job of going back 50,000 years to show a band of human hunter-gatherers how they must change to achieve future evolutionary success. You are to use your knowledge of how evolution has unfolded since then to get them to change in the ways necessary for them for future success. How likely are you to get them to change? Would they freely choose to reorganise themselves in the ways that have proven successful for human groups since then? For example, would they want to band together with other tribes, give up their nomadic way of life, give up hunting and instead grow crops? Would they accept being ruled by a king who would collect taxes from them and use these to fund irrigation schemes and an army, as well as a personal lifestyle befitting a king?

If they could have chosen to change their behaviour and organise themselves in this way 50,000 years ago, they would have a good chance of founding an empire that had a lasting impact on human history and evolution. But to do so would mean acting contrary to their most fundamental beliefs about how they should behave as members of their band.

Based on our experience of the few hunter-gatherer tribes that have survived until recently, many of their attitudes, values and moral beliefs would have clashed with the changes needed to progress in evolutionary terms[12]. In hunter-gatherer bands, a man could not be respected if he did not hunt. A male who wanted to plant and tend crops would be despised. The members of other tribes were often seen as sub humans who had to be driven out of the tribe’s territory before they stole their game and women. To band together with them would be unthinkable. And anyone who tried to set himself up above the other members of the tribe as a ruler would be seen as a threat to all, and to be stopped at all costs. Anything gathered by an individual was not his or hers, it was the tribes’. Only a deviant would try to accumulate possessions. And deviants were seen as a danger to the band who should be expelled if they did not change their ways.

Such a band would have very little capacity to change its fundamental values and beliefs, and little desire to do so. The members of the band would not have the psychological ability to find motivation and satisfaction in whatever behaviour and life style was needed for future evolutionary success. Merely showing them how things would evolve in the next 50,000 years would not enable them to change their ways. They would continue to find satisfaction in their existing way of life.

But we will see that an organism that develops a fuller understanding of the evolutionary process and of its place in it will be more likely to break free of its biological and social past, and develop the capacity to do whatever is necessary for future success. Such an organism will become aware that its existing beliefs, motivations and values have no special validity. It knows that if its past evolutionary needs were different, its motivations and values would also be different. These predispositions will be seen as the products of shortsighted evolutionary mechanisms that have been incapable of producing the motivations and values needed for future evolutionary success.

The organism will know that all organisms that develop the capacity to mentally model their possible evolutionary futures face a common challenge: to find motivation and satisfaction in whatever actions and behaviours are shown by their models to bring future evolutionary success. The challenge is not only to see what is needed for future evolutionary success, but also to be able to do it. Where necessary, they must cease to serve the beliefs, values and objectives established by their evolutionary past. They must develop the psychological capacity to change their nature. They must be able to change as much as the first cells had to change to produce multicellular organisms. And they must be able to do this not just once, twice, or three times, but whenever necessary.

If they can develop this psychological capacity to adapt their behaviour in whatever way is necessary, they can transcend their biological and social past. They can become self-evolving beings, able to change their behaviour and objectives by conscious choice. They will see themselves as evolutionary work-in-progress, with no fixed characteristics, able to find satisfaction and motivation in doing whatever they choose.

The organism will also know that only organisms that choose to struggle to develop this psychological capacity are likely to make a significant contribution to the future evolution of life in the universe. Those who choose instead to continue to serve obsolete values and motivations will be irrelevant to life, and face eventual extinction. The organism will know that the choice that faces it is, in an evolutionary sense, a choice to be or not to be.

In Chapters 11 and 12 we will look at how organisms such as ourselves are likely to develop this psychological capacity. We will see that an organism can use its modelling capacity not only to model and manage its external environment, but also to model and manage its internal adaptive processes. It can develop mental models of the pre-existing physical, emotional, and mental adaptive processes that determine how it behaves and acts. The models will enable it to understand consciously how its pre-existing adaptive processes operate, what useful effects they have, how they might be modified, and what the consequences of this might be. Through self-knowledge they will develop the capacity to gain control over their internal adaptive processes. Increasingly, this will enable them to manage their physical actions, emotional and motivational states, and their beliefs and other mental processes in whatever ways are necessary to ensure they can do what is required for future evolutionary success. They will develop a capacity for self-management that enables them to revise and modify their previous motivations, beliefs and objectives. These will be revised and managed so that they support the ultimate objective of future evolutionary success[13]. 

Part Four of the book (Chapters 13 to 19 inclusive) use the ideas about evolutionary progress developed in earlier Chapters to understand the evolution of life on earth. These Chapters identify key evolutionary milestones since life emerged on this planet 3,500 million years ago, and predict important future milestones. A major focus is how human cooperative organisation has evolved, and how it is likely to evolve in the future.

Cooperation amongst humans has expanded considerably in scale over the past 100,000 years. Initially cooperation existed only within small family groups. Since then, cooperative organisation has progressively expanded in scale to produce multi-family bands, tribes, agricultural communities, cities, empires, nation states, and now some forms of economic and social organisation that span the globe[14].

We will see that not only has the scale of cooperative organisation expanded rapidly, but so to has its evolvability. Human societies have got better at discovering and supporting more effective cooperation, and at adapting it as circumstances change. Modern human societies can adapt and evolve continuously through internal processes during their life. They are not limited to evolving through competition and natural selection between societies.

But the ability of human cooperative organisation to exploit the benefits of cooperation can be greatly improved. Modern human societies are obviously not an endpoint of evolution. The organisms that play a significant role in the evolution of life in the universe will not be those that stop evolving when they reach the position we have. Guided by awareness of evolution’s arrow, they will go on to form cooperative organisations of larger and larger scale and of greater and greater evolvability. First they will form a unified planetary organisation that manages the matter, energy and living processes of the planet. Then this organisation will be progressively expanded to form still larger-scale societies of increasing evolvability. Matter, energy and life will be managed on the scale of the organism’s solar system and, eventually, its galaxy. The greater the scale of the resources the organism is able to manage, the more likely it will be able to adapt to whatever challenges it faces in its conscious pursuit of future evolutionary success.

We will look at how modern human societies could be changed to improve their ability to organise cooperation to satisfy the needs of their members. Economic markets and governments are the main processes in current societies that support and adapt large-scale cooperation. We will see how these processes could be improved to produce human societies that are more evolvable and better at exploiting the benefits of cooperation. These improvements would establish a highly evolvable and cooperative planetary society. They would produce benefits for all humanity by suppressing conflict and other damaging competition within the society, and by efficiently organising cooperation to serve the needs and objectives of citizens.

But, by themselves, these changes would not establish a society that would consciously pursue future evolutionary success. The society would not achieve the critical evolutionary milestone of using the direction of evolution to guide its future evolution. This is because the society would satisfy the needs and objectives of its citizens, whatever they may be. Until its citizens chose to consciously pursue future evolutionary success, the society would therefore continue to serve only the pre-existing biological and cultural needs of its members. The immense evolutionary potential of a society that could intelligently manage matter, energy and life on the scale of the planet would be used to serve values and objectives established by shortsighted and flawed evolutionary mechanisms. The enormous power of our emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and genetic engineering would not be harnessed to achieve future evolutionary success. Instead they would be used merely to satisfy obsolete desires and values that conflict with future evolutionary needs.

But this would all change once humans become aware of the direction of evolution and develop the capacity to use it to guide their own future evolution. As humans begin to pursue future evolutionary success consciously and learn how to align their personal values with this objective, they would produce a planetary society that also pursued evolutionary ends. Because the planetary society would manage matter, energy and life to serve the needs and values of its members, it would serve their evolutionary objectives. The society as a whole would develop plans, strategies, projects and goals designed to maximise its contribution to the successful evolution of life in the universe. And it would organise itself to reward and support actions of its members that assisted the society to achieve its goals—just as our bodies reward and support the actions of individual cells that contribute to meeting the body’s adaptive objectives.

Finally, we will look at what all this means for each of us as individuals, here and now. We will see that a full understanding of evolution and its direction leaves an individual with very limited choices. It is not open to us to choose to ignore the dictates of evolution. Whether we choose to pursue only the values and motivations established in us by our biological and cultural past, or instead decide consciously to serve the future evolutionary interests of humanity, we will be following evolutionary objectives. The only choice is between serving goals established in us by evolutionary mechanisms that are incompetent, or by mechanisms that are the best available. We can choose to live a life that serves obsolete evolutionary goals established by inferior and shortsighted evolutionary mechanisms. Or we can use awareness of the direction of evolution to guide how we can consciously contribute to the future evolutionary success of humanity.

Once individuals become aware of the direction of evolution, if they decide to continue to serve the dictates of past evolution they are choosing evolutionary failure, in the full knowledge that they are doing so. Individuals that make such a decision are choosing a life that is meaningless, absurd and ridiculous from an evolutionary perspective, and know that they are making such a choice.

Individuals who instead use the direction of evolution to guide their actions obtain a clear answer to one of the most central questions of their existence: “What should I do with my life?” They see that they should do what they can to promote the awareness of the direction of evolution amongst others and to develop in themselves and in others the psychological capacity to do what is necessary for future evolutionary success. They will also want to contribute to the formation of a cooperative and evolvable planetary society that manages the matter, energy and living processes of the planet to form organisations of yet larger scale and of greater evolvability. And they will be aware that their actions are contributing to the next great step in the evolution of life on earth.

One of the most important steps in the evolution of life on any planet is the emergence of organisms who are conscious of the direction of evolution and who use this to guide their own evolution. The actions of individuals who are living now can help ensure that the organism that achieves this milestone on earth will be us. 

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[1].       A clear discussion of the distinction between human and evolutionary progress can be found in Ayala, F. J. (1988) Can “Progress” be Defined as a Biological Concept? In Evolutionary Progress. (Nitecki, M. H. ed.) pp 75-96. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[2].       The great majority of the leading evolutionary theorists who attended a major international conference on evolutionary progress in 1988 opposed the view that evolution is progressive and that humans are at the leading edge of evolution on this planet. The key papers delivered at the conference are in Nitecki, M. H. ed. (1988) Evolutionary Progress. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[3].       For example, see: Blitz, D. (1992) Emergent Evolution: Qualitative Novelty and the Levels of Reality. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers; and Ruse, M. (1996) Monad to Man. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

[4].       See Gould, S. J. (1996) Full House: the Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin. New York: Harmony Books; and Maynard Smith, J. (1988) Levels of Selection. In Evolutionary Progress. (Nitecki, M. H. ed.) pp 219-236. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[5].       For a history of evolutionary thought, see Bowler, P. J. (1984) Evolution: The History of an Idea. Berkeley: University of California Press.

[6].       These ideas were first developed in detail in Stewart, J. E. (1995) Metaevolution. Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems 18: 113- 47; Stewart, J. E. (1997) Evolutionary transitions and artificial life. Artificial Life 3: 101-120; and Stewart, J. E. (1997) Evolutionary Progress. Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems 20: 335-362.

[7].       For example, see Dawkins, R. (1976) The Selfish Gene. New York: Oxford University Press; and Williams, G. C. (1966) Adaptation and Natural Selection. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[8].       Our discussion in Chapter 9 will build on the ideas outlined in Stewart, J. E. (1997) The Evolution of Genetic Cognition. Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems 20: 53-73; and in Moxon, R. E. and Thaler, D. S. (1997) The Tinkerer’s Evolving Tool-box. Nature 387: 659-662.

[9].       See Stewart, J. E. (1993) The Maintenance of Sex. Evolutionary Theory. 10: 195-202; and Stewart: The Evolution of Genetic Cognition. op. cit.

[10].     Our discussion of the evolution of internal adaptive mechanisms in Chapter 10 will build on the ideas developed in Dennett, D. C. (1995) Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. New York: Simon and Schuster; Stewart: Metaevolution. op. cit.; and Stewart: Evolutionary Progress. op. cit.

[11].     The significance of being able to first try out innovative behaviour mentally rather than in practice is emphasised by Popper, K. R. (1972) Objective knowledge—an evolutionary approach. Oxford: Clarendon.

[12].     See, for example, Klein, R. G. (1989) The Human Career: Human Biological and Cultural Origins. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Boehm, C. (1993) Egalitarian Behaviour and Reverse Dominance Hierarchy. Current Anthropology. 34: 227-54; and Knauft, B. M. (1991) Violence and Sociality in Human Evolution. Current Anthropology. 32: 391-428.

[13].     The discussion in Chapters 11 and 12 will build on the ideas first developed in Stewart: Metaevolution. op. cit.; and Stewart: Evolutionary Progress. op. cit.

[14].      A well-written broad sketch of the evolution of human society can be found in Chapter 14 (pages 265-292) of Diamond, J. (1997) Guns, Germs and Steel. London: Jonathon Cape.

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