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 11.    Smarter Humans             


Organisms that can build complex mental models have the potential to model and understand the evolutionary processes that have formed them and that will determine their future. Once they accumulate sufficient knowledge about these evolutionary processes, they will be able to see their evolutionary future. Potentially, the organisms will be able to use this evolutionary knowledge to decide how they will adapt as individuals and collectively. The organisms will continue to test possible adaptations against their ability to satisfy shorter-term material and social needs. But they can also use their modelling ability to test adaptations against their evolutionary effects. This will enable them to choose adaptations that are also consistent with longer-term evolutionary success.

The development of such a capacity is a major step forward in evolvability. An organism that can see what is needed for future evolutionary success and can use this knowledge will be better at evolving. It will do better in evolutionary terms than an organism that is blind to the longer-term evolutionary consequences of its acts, and that is unable to consciously target its actions at future evolutionary success. Once life becomes conscious of its own evolution, its evolvability can improve significantly.

An organism that is unable to model evolutionary trends will be limited to optimising its behaviour only for the shorter-term effects of its actions. The organism’s adaptive mechanisms will be able to discover behaviours that are successful only when the more immediate effects of the behaviour are assessed. The organism will be unable to take account of the longer-term consequences of actions that occur beyond the life span of the individual. As a result, the organism is likely to establish adaptations that are maladaptive when their longer-term effects are considered. And they will fail to discover adaptations that sacrifice shorter-term interests to achieve greater long-term evolutionary success. An organism that can take into account the likely future evolutionary consequences of its actions will achieve greater evolutionary success than one that must rely on the genetic evolutionary mechanism and other adaptive processes of more limited scope.

Humans are rapidly accumulating the knowledge to model the future evolutionary consequences of our behaviours. As outlined in earlier chapters, we are beginning to see the broader direction in which the evolution of life progresses. We are beginning to see what humanity must do if we are to participate in future evolutionary progress. Successful participation in the future evolution of life means we must continue to form cooperative organisations of larger and larger scale. To enable these organisations to fully explore the immense benefits of cooperation, they must be managed as far as possible so that individuals capture the effects of their actions on others, and therefore treat the other as self. And the organisations must be structured so as to maximise their evolvability. When humanity forms a unified, managed organisation on the scale of our planet, the planetary society must develop evolutionary mechanisms that enable the society to adapt not only for the inside/now, but also for the outside/future. A society whose adaptive ability is limited to tuning its economic and social systems for internal efficiency will not be successful in evolutionary terms. The society must also include mechanisms that enable it to adapt as a whole in relation to events outside the planet, whether the events arise from living or non-living sources.

Once we develop comprehensive models of larger-scale evolutionary processes and trends, we will see in detail what we must do if we want future evolutionary success. But how motivated will we be to want future evolutionary success for humanity? Will we want it enough? If future evolutionary success means behaving in ways that clash with our more immediate material and social needs, will we sacrifice these to continue to pursue future evolutionary success?

To be more specific, how ready are humans to put the interests of a planetary organisation ahead of those of our nation, ethnic community, and religion? Will we abandon any belief, prejudice and value that might stand in the way of our support for a truly global human society in which all individuals of all races and backgrounds are treated equally? What if this means a reduced standard of living? Will we accept and support the development of a capacity for the planetary society to adapt for the outside/future if this means a lower level of satisfaction of our immediate material, emotional and social needs?

The mere development of the capacity to use mental models to understand evolutionary trends will not make us want to adapt in the ways needed for future evolutionary success. By itself, it will not motivate us to put evolutionary success ahead of all our other adaptive goals and motivations. This is because our current goals and motivations are produced by our pre-existing internal adaptive processes, including by our emotional system. And these fail to take account of the longer-term evolutionary consequences of our actions. They have been established by shortsighted evolutionary mechanisms. Our existing adaptive processes have not evolved to reward and motivate the behaviours necessary for future evolutionary success.

When mental modelling is first developed, its main benefit is that it enables us to discover better ways to satisfy our pre-existing objectives and motivations. It helps us to find better means to our ends; it does not establish the ends themselves. Our modelling capacity has enabled us to develop sophisticated technologies and other ways of intervening in our environment. But these technologies serve our pre-existing goals and motivations. If we had different emotional goals and motivations, our technology would be different, as would our systems of government and other social arrangements.

The important point is that our existing objectives and motivations have been established by evolutionary mechanisms and adaptive processes that do not take into account evolutionary effects beyond the life of the organism. Obviously, these objectives clash with those that we would need if we were to pursue longer-term evolutionary success for humanity. So if we use our existing objectives and motivations to decide whether we want to pursue evolutionary objectives, we will decide against doing so. We will not feel motivated to do all that is necessary for future evolutionary success.

An organism whose motivations and objectives fail to take into account the evolutionary effects of its actions will not value objectives that do. Instead, the organism will use the immense adaptive capacity unleashed by mental modelling to get better and better at serving the goals of its existing internal reward systems[1]. It will not matter that these were established by limited and flawed evolutionary mechanisms and adaptive processes. When the organism discovers technological advances of great power such as genetic engineering and artificial intelligence, it will use them to serve motivations and objectives that ignore its longer-term evolutionary needs. The same will apply to the organisms’ systems of government and other social arrangements. They will not serve the longer-term evolutionary interests of the organism. No matter how sophisticated its technology and social arrangements, the organism will not achieve evolutionary success. It will get better and better at achieving the wrong ends.

This evolutionary difficulty is likely to be struck by any organism that develops a comprehensive capacity for mental modelling. It will eventually be able to model and understand the larger-scale evolutionary trends that will determine its future evolutionary success. It will know what it has to do to continue to participate successfully in the evolution of life. But, initially, at least, it will not be motivated to do these things. Instead, it will continue to be motivated to use its growing knowledge of the effects of its actions to serve only its pre-existing objectives and motives.

But to continue to be successful in evolutionary terms, an organism must overcome this difficulty. To make a significant contribution to the evolution of life in the universe, an organism must be able to form highly cooperative and highly evolvable organisations on the scale of planets, solar systems, and galaxies. An organism will fail to be relevant to future evolution if it remains unorganised on a single planet, serving objectives and motivations established by flawed and shortsighted evolutionary mechanisms. We can be sure that the organisms that make a significant contribution to the future evolution of life in the universe will be those that develop a capacity to motivate themselves to pursue evolutionary objectives. Future evolution will belong to organisms that can free themselves from the goals and objectives of their biological and social past. The organisms that end up managing the matter, energy and living processes of large tracts of the universe will be those that develop the ability to adapt in whatever ways are required for evolutionary success, unrestricted by the goals and objectives implanted in them by earlier evolution. Those that do not develop this ability will be failed evolutionary experiments.

How can this evolutionary difficulty be overcome? Can evolution change the motivations and goals of an organism to align them with the dictates of future evolutionary success? Repeatedly during the past evolution of life on earth, the genetic evolutionary mechanism has significantly changed the internal adaptive goals of organisms. The cells that grouped together to form multicellular organisms had quite different adaptive goals to the solitary single-celled organisms from which they evolved. The amphibians that moved on to the land had very different internal goals to the fish that were their ancestors. And complex new internal reward systems were needed to motivate multicellular organisms to form social groups.

In all these cases, the new adaptive objectives were established by the genetic evolutionary mechanism. Genes that produced the goals that were consistent with the new form of life were favoured by natural selection. But the genetic mechanism is unable to overcome the specific evolutionary difficulty that confronts us. The genetic mechanism is largely limited to establishing features that pay-off during the life of the individual. Genetic evolution finds it very difficult to establish features that benefit only future generations. A gene that does not advantage the individual that carries it, but helps only future generations, will soon die out. This is true no matter how large the evolutionary benefits the gene delivers to future generations. The genetic mechanism cannot look far enough ahead to establish the motivations and objectives that are needed to produce longer-term evolutionary success.

Of course, this evolutionary difficulty could be overcome somewhat if the organisms were managed as members of a cooperative organisation. The management of such an organisation could redistribute benefits so that organisms that contribute to the future evolutionary success of the organisation are immediately supported and rewarded. This would align the shorter-term interests of the organisms with their longer-term evolutionary interests. But organisms that encounter this evolutionary difficulty will not want to organise themselves in this way. Organisms will invest in forming an organisation that produces longer-term evolutionary benefits only if this is consistent with their motivations and objectives. If they are not already motivated to pursue longer-term evolutionary goals, they will not invest in an organisation that is designed to assist them to do so.

The genetic evolutionary mechanism is unable to hard wire us now with the motivation and goals needed for longer-term evolutionary success. Evolution will not rewire the hardware of our brains and nervous system to realign our motivations and goals with longer-term evolutionary objectives. Does this mean that humanity has no alternative but to forever use its capacity for mental modelling to pursue our pre-existing motivations and goals, even though this would condemn us to future evolutionary irrelevance? Or is there another possibility? Can our motivations and goals change through modifications to our psychological software? Is it possible for humans to learn to reorganise ourselves psychologically so that we acquire the capacity to consciously choose our motivations, likes, dislikes, goals and objectives? Through our own psychological efforts can we learn the new ways of thinking and feeling that are needed for future evolutionary success?

To begin to answer these questions, we need to look more closely at the sort of psychological capacities that we would have to develop, and consider their feasibility. If we are to free ourselves from our biological and social past, we would have to develop the ability to find motivation and emotional satisfaction in whatever we have to do to pursue evolutionary objectives. This would mean, for example, that we would have to be able to drop our emotional attachments to any ideas, attitudes, beliefs, norms, values, religious systems and moral principles that were inconsistent with future evolutionary success. And we would have to be able to continually change our motivations and our likes and dislikes to fit in with whatever is required for future evolutionary success.

Ideally we would develop the ability to manage our motivational and emotional systems so that we could choose what it is that we want to do. Then whatever actions were demanded by evolutionary success, we could find them rewarding and satisfying. Once we could do this, we would be able to pursue future evolutionary success without sacrificing our shorter-term interests. And we would be able to transcend our biological and social past, able to modify the objectives and motivations established by this past where necessary, and able to choose new values and objectives consistent with evolutionary success. Each of us would become a self-evolving being.

This would be made easier if we could form human societies that redistribute benefits to reward behaviours that help achieve future evolutionary success. The ideal would be to align both our internal psychological reward systems and the external reward systems established by the society with evolutionary objectives.

Will humans change psychologically in the ways necessary to meet this ideal? Can we develop the psychological tools that would enable us to make this major improvement in evolvability? Will we be able to establish evolutionary success as an ultimate objective, and align all our pre-existing adaptive systems with this goal, ensuring that whatever behaviour will produce evolutionary success will be rewarded by our internal reward systems? Can we escape out biological and social past, and become true self-evolving beings?

In the remainder of this Chapter and in the next, I will demonstrate that as the modelling capacity of an organism improves, the organism will tend to undergo a sequence of psychological transformations. These changes move the organism toward making this great improvement in evolvability. Humans have been progressing through this sequence, and can be expected to continue to do so. Although there is no guarantee that humanity as a whole will finally takes this great step in evolvability, the changes currently under way are increasingly making it possible.

This approach immediately raises a key question: how will improvements in our modelling capacity help us develop the ability to align our motivation and reward systems with evolutionary objectives? Improvements in our ability to model accurately the effects of our actions on our external environment can obviously improve our capacity to discover effective adaptations. But how can it contribute to changing the objectives and values that these adaptations serve?

It can do this when the modelling capacity is turned inwards, and is used to model the individual’s own internal adaptive processes. Our ability to mentally model our external environment has enabled us to manage the world outside us, and to intervene in it to achieve our objectives. In a similar way, the development of a capacity to form mental representations and models of our own internal adaptive systems can enable us to manage them and to modify their operation[2]. Once we become aware of our internal thoughts, motivations and emotional states, we can observe how they operate, what influences them, and what adaptive effects they have. We can use this knowledge to build mental models and representations of the operation of our mental, emotional and physical adaptive systems. As an individual learns to do this, the operation of these systems will increasingly become an object of consciousness. The individual can develop the ability to mentally stand outside his thoughts, motivations and emotional states, and gain freedom from them. Psychologically the individual separates into two parts—one that observes, and another that is observed. He no longer experiences himself as his thoughts or emotions. Increasingly he can stand back from them and mentally watch how they unfold, think about how they will operate and how effective they will be, and consider how they might be modified in the interests of other objectives or to improve their effectiveness. The individual’s internal thoughts and emotions become like objects of consciousness in his external world—he will use mental models to discover how he can manage them for his own ends. Eventually, the observing part of the individual’s psychology develops a comprehensive capacity to manage the other part.

This psychological capacity for self-management will be reinforced and strengthened as it discovers better ways to adapt the individual. It will find more and more ways to do this as the capacity for mental modelling improves. Mental modelling will increasingly improve at taking into account the effects of alternative behaviours, particularly the effects over longer time scales. As mental modelling accumulates knowledge, its ability to discover effective adaptations will increasingly surpass the ability of the pre-existing adaptive systems. Where our mental modelling sees opportunities to improve our adaptability, self-management will modify the operation of the pre-existing adaptive arrangements to implement the improvements. The adaptive benefits delivered by self-management will drive its improvement.

But competent self-management will not completely override and replace the pre-existing adaptive systems. Instead, it will modify them as far as is necessary to realign their goals with longer-term evolutionary objectives. Self-management operates like a new visionary Chief Executive Officer who takes over a corporation and implements for the first time a forward-thinking strategic plan. The elements of the strategic plan are designed to ensure that the company will be competitive and successful in the future despite changes in technology, markets and competitors. The plan models the future external environment of the company, and uses this to identify how the company should change the way it operates in order to continue to be successful.

The challenge for the CEO is to change the way the corporation operates so that it serves the new direction and goals. In most circumstances, he will be able to change the behaviour of the company to implement the plan without replacing or changing the nature of the employees. The employees will continue to have the same personal interests, objectives and internal motivations. But, if the strategic plan is implemented successfully, they will have to behave quite differently to before. Their behaviour will now also have to serve the ultimate objective of long-term success for the company. For this to be achieved, the interests of the employees will have to be aligned with the longer-term objectives of the company.

The CEO can achieve this by changes to the ways in which employees are managed, rather than by changes to their internal adaptive systems. The new management will create a new pattern of incentives and disincentives and other environmental conditions for employees. These will ensure that employees find it personally rewarding to act in ways that serve the corporation’s objectives. Within the internal environment of the corporation, when employees follow their personal interests, objectives and internal motivations, they will contribute to the effective operation of the company.

In the same way, successful self-management does not generally override, repress or abandon the pre-existing mental, emotional or physical adaptive systems that currently adapt us for shorter-term goals. The pre-existing systems are effective at adapting us to meet shorter-term requirements. So all that self-management needs to do is to modify the operation of the pre-existing systems only in so far as is necessary to take into account longer-term considerations. In this way it can align their operation with the longer-term goal of future evolutionary success.

We will now look in more detail at how improvements in modelling ability have driven improvements in the psychological evolvability of humans. In particular, we will look closely at how the continuation of these improvements tend to produce in humans a psychological capacity for self-management. When it is fully developed, this capacity would enable humans to manage their pre-existing adaptive systems so that they could find motivation and psychological satisfaction in pursuing longer-term evolutionary objectives for humanity, whatever this may entail. They would manage their internal emotional system so that it no longer rewarded behaviour that was inconsistent with future evolutionary success. Evolutionary self-management would allow humans to transcend their biological and social past so that they are free to adapt in whatever ways are necessary to achieve future evolutionary success.

It is useful to divide modelling ability into three broad levels[3][4]. The first, linear modelling, is limited in the complexity of the processes that it can model successfully. It cannot model a complex system in which a large number of components mutually interact. It can deal only with systems that can be analysed into components that interact in chains of causation that unfold step by step. It can understand systems that can be analysed by logical reasoning. So it is capable of modelling the outcome of the interaction of a small group of people over short time frames, the working of mechanical devices, and the movements of the planets about the sun.

In contrast, systemic modelling can successfully model the unfolding through time of complex systems with many interacting components. So it can model and understand a large social system, a flexible international corporation, or an ecological system. The third level, evolutionary modelling, is able to model the evolution of extremely complex systems over large scales of space and time. In particular, it can model the large-scale evolutionary processes that have formed us, and that will determine the future evolutionary success of humanity.

The progressive improvement of modelling capacity through these three levels is driven by the greater adaptive abilities that the improvements bring the individual. Individuals who improve their modelling will be better equipped to discover adaptations that satisfy their needs and goals, whatever these happen to be. As individuals proceed through the levels, they will be able to model the effects of their actions more accurately, understand the effects on their environment of a wider range of possible actions, and will be able to model the effects of their actions over wider and wider scales of space and time.

In part, these improvements in modelling capacity will result from the progressive accumulation by humanity of knowledge that is more detailed and that relates to processes that unfold over wider scales in space and time. And in part they will result from enhanced mental skills, and from technologies that aid human mental processes such as writing, diagrams, computer simulation, and artificial intelligence. At any point in human evolution, individuals will differ in their access to this knowledge, and in their ability to use it. So at any point in human evolution individuals will have different modelling capacities. And individuals may be able to apply a high level of modelling ability to some of their behaviours, but a lower level to others. The levels of modelling capacity are not mutually exclusive.

Individuals can use these improvements in modelling capacity to discover better ways to modify their external living and non-living environment. But as I have foreshadowed, individuals can also use the improvements to enhance the management of their internal adaptive processes. As the modelling capacity develops, it will be able to improve the pre-existing internal adaptive processes because it will be able to take account of effects that these processes are blind to. So, as we shall see in detail, each level of modelling not only corresponds to a particular level of ability to discover adaptations that impact directly on our external world. It also corresponds to a particular level of ability to self-manage.

We will now look in more detail at each of the three levels of modelling capacity. For each level, we will look first at how an organism can use it to mentally represent and understand the effects of the organism’s interactions with its external environment. Then we will look at how an organism can use the modelling capacity to represent and manage its own adaptive processes. In the remainder of this Chapter, we will deal with linear modelling. Systemic and evolutionary modelling will be considered in detail in the next Chapter.

External Linear Modelling

The simplest form of modelling we will consider is linear modelling. It can be used by an organism to mentally model and predict the effects of its actions on its external environment. The ability of linear modelling to predict the effects of alternative behaviours will depend on the extent of knowledge used in the models. As organisms accumulate knowledge across the generations, they will be able to model with greater accuracy the effects across wider scales of space and time of a greater variety of possible actions. The actions that they model will eventually include the use of technology to produce specific adaptive effects on their environment. As knowledge accumulates, the organisms will become increasingly conscious of their external environment and how they can manipulate it to achieve their adaptive goals.

But linear modelling is limited in the complexity of external events and processes that it can model and understand successfully. It models how processes will unfold through time by following chains of cause and effect. It looks for causal relationships between events, and simulates what will happen in a particular set of circumstances by tracing how events will cause other events in a step-by-step manner. Linear modelling breaks processes down into parts, and looks for how simple step-by-step interactions between the parts can be used to predict how the process will unfold under different conditions. Analysis, reduction and logical deduction are its basic tools.

Linear modelling can work accurately and effectively for processes that are simple. But it is quickly overwhelmed as complexity increases. It is of limited use for understanding processes consisting of many interacting components that all contribute to how the process unfolds. These processes cannot usually be analysed into step-by-step chains of cause and effect. Linear modellers are unable to understand or predict the behaviour of these more complex processes. As a result, linear modelling is also limited in relation to the scales of space and time over which it can model the effects of possible adaptations. Over larger scales of space and time, most processes interact with other processes and become far too complex to understand by linear modelling. For these reasons, logical step-by-step analysis is notoriously ineffective for modelling and understanding the unfolding of complex systems such as human economic systems, ecosystems, human history and the mind and other complex adaptive systems.

External linear modelling is the mental capacity we use most often as we adapt consciously in our day-to-day life. It enables us to understand simple processes and to predict their future behaviour. We have built and designed our technology, our housing and our gadgets so that they can be readily understood and manipulated with linear modelling. The environment we have built around us is far more simple and mechanistic than our natural environment. It has been designed by linear modellers for linear modellers. In contrast, we need a capacity for systemic modelling if we are to manipulate our natural environment successfully.

Linear modelling is also the basis of most science as it is currently practised. The scientific method has been extraordinarily successful at understanding simple, linear processes and parts of more complex systems that can be reduced to simple processes. But the traditional scientific approaches have had little success in dealing with fields that cover complex systems such as ecology, psychology, economics, sociology and the other social sciences.

Humans that are capable only of linear modelling are unable to manage large complex organisations competently. In order to manage complex human social groups successfully, a manager such as a king or other ruler must be able to mentally model the effects on the group of alternative acts of governance. He (or his associates) must be able to mentally simulate the effects of his management on the group. For this reason, until at least some humans had moved beyond the limitations of linear modelling, humans were unable to form complex cooperative organisations managed by external managers. To be competent, external managers must be capable of some form of systemic modelling. It was not until about 10,000 years ago that human societies organised by rulers or other external managers were formed.

External linear modelling is used by the individual to form mental representations of himself, his physical, emotional and mental characteristics, and his skills. These mental representations are essential if the individual is to model effectively how he might interact with his external world to achieve adaptive goals. He must be able to include himself and his capabilities in his external models. But an individual who is limited to external linear modelling will not model how his mental and emotional characteristics might be changed. Without a capacity for internal modelling, he can model different ways of behaving, but not different emotional reactions and modes of thought. He will tend to treat his emotional responses, motivations and ways of thinking as fixed and given. They will not be objects of consciousness that the individual believes he can change.

The linear external modeller looks out at the external world and uses his models to search for ways of acting on the world to satisfy his adaptive goals. But in these models, the goals established by his internal reward systems are not treated as variable. Without a capacity for internal modelling, he has little ability to mentally model how his goals might be changed, and what effects these changes might have. He is largely unaware of the possibility of changing the key aspects of these adaptive processes, cannot consciously choose to modify them, and tends to take them as given.

But as the capacity for mental modelling improves, it inevitably will begin to clash with the organism’s pre-existing adaptive systems. As organisms accumulate knowledge, their mental processes get better at modelling the external world. They get better at predicting how they can act on their environment to achieve their adaptive goals. Eventually, their mental knowledge will be superior in some cases to the knowledge embodied in their internal reward system and other adaptive processes. Their mental models will enable them to take into account effects of their actions that their pre-existing systems are blind to. They will see that acting in the way dictated by their emotional and motivation systems may be against their longer-term interests in some situations. For example, as we humans mature and learn more about the consequences of our acts, we become aware that in some circumstances it might be best not to respond to emotional impulses such as anger and sexual drives. We use mental modelling to see that acting immediately on these impulses may prevent us from gaining greater emotional satisfaction in the longer-term.

The external linear modeller will not be able to resolve easily these inevitable clashes between his mental modelling and his pre-existing adaptive processes. Earlier evolution will not have given his mental processes the capacity to manage his motivational and emotional systems. When the capacity for mental modelling first develops, it does not have the knowledge or ability to adapt the organism as competently as the pre-existing adaptive processes. To have given it the power to manage these processes before it was competent to do so would have been disastrous. Without the ability to manage his motivational systems, a linear modeller is unable to ensure that he will be motivated to implement any superior adaptations identified by his modelling. A linear modeller might be able to see longer-term advantages in particular actions, but will be unable to manage his internal adaptive processes so that he will find the actions emotionally satisfying. He will continue to be motivated and rewarded for the same actions as before. For example, we might see mentally that dieting is in our longer-term health interests. But this does not make fatty foods less tasty, or dieting pleasurable. And we might see that locking ourself in a room and studying will pay off eventually with a better job. But this does not make study satisfying, or our hobbies less enjoyable. We have little capacity to change these motivations and emotional responses to ensure that they support the findings of our mental modelling.

In order to do what is suggested by his mental modelling, the external linear modeller is likely to attempt to repress and override existing motivations and emotional feelings. This may enable him to improve on his pre-existing emotional responses in circumstances that are uncomplicated. It may pay to override emotional responses where the advantages are clear-cut. But the linear modeller is not well equipped to improve on his existing systems in more complex situations. The problem is that external linear modelling is not competent to assess the consequences of overriding emotional responses in most situations. It cannot model and therefore cannot understand the effects of choosing to ignore internal rewards or motivations. The linear modeller has no comprehensive understanding of why his emotional system provides rewards and motivations for particular behaviours but not others, and why it produces various emotional states in particular circumstances. The individual is not conscious of why his adaptive systems operate in the way they do. The individual is therefore in no position to use mental modelling to decide whether to override or repress particular motivations or internal rewards.

The problem is made worse because the individual does not know that his modelling capacity is limited in these ways. He is not conscious of the limitations of his consciousness. To know these, he would have to have modelled his modelling capacity. He would have to have a capacity for complex mental self-reflection. But he does not have this ability. The individual will be unaware that his mental awareness is grafted on top of a sophisticated and complex hierarchy of pre-existing adaptive processes that routinely and continually solve adaptive problems that he has not even begun to understand.

So an individual who uses only external modelling to determine how he adapts and behaves will have difficulty in integrating his conscious, mental adaptation with his pre-existing emotional and physical adaptive systems. He will continually make mental decisions that serve some internal goals but conflict with others. And the mental models he uses to make these decisions will not have the knowledge or ability to make them competently. He may try to use his mental modelling to decide whether or not to respond to particular emotions, motivations, and physical needs, but he will have little knowledge of why these exist or what specific adaptive functions they perform.

A typical example of the late 20th century is an individual who single-mindedly pursues career goals, repressing and ignoring the internal physical and emotional signals that indicate he should also serve other adaptive needs. In extreme cases, if the individual continues to ignore stress and depression, the result is physical, emotional and mental breakdown.

The problem will worsen as the capacity for external linear modelling grows. As knowledge accumulates, the growing ability of modelling to discover effective adaptations means that it will be used increasingly to determine how the individual behaves. More and more, mental modelling will guide the individual on how to achieve the adaptive goals established by his internal reward systems. The result will often be that the individual ignores and represses some of the motivations and needs associated with his pre-existing adaptive system, even though these may be essential for producing behaviour and adaptations that are critically important for the effective operation of the individual.

The need to integrate mental modelling with the pre-existing physical and emotional adaptive systems is a problem that will be encountered by any organisms that begin to develop a capacity for mental modelling. Wherever in the universe mental consciousness emerges, it will initially clash with the processes that have adapted the organism up until then. As the mental system develops, it will be used increasingly to control and run a complex, multi-level organisation that it does not understand or appreciate. It will have ultimate power over a complex system it is only dimly aware of. Initially it will have the power but not the wisdom to manage the organism, and it will not know itself well enough to see its own limitations. On every planet where mental consciousness emerges and develops, there will be a demand for personal growth programs that promote the development of psychological skills that can deal with this problem. The organisms that contribute most to the future evolution of life in the universe will be those that successfully overcome the problem by developing the higher levels of modelling capacity that we will discuss in the next Chapter.

The linear modeller is like the Chief Executive Officer of a large modern corporation who develops a comprehensive vision of what the corporation must do for future success, but has little understanding of the internal processes that adapt the corporation. He has control over the direction of the company, and knows where it should be headed. The CEO has good mental models of the external environment of the company, but lacks effective models of its internal workings. He has little understanding of the internal patterns of incentives and disincentives that the corporation creates for its employees, and how this impacts on their motivations and work performance. He has little knowledge of how employees will react to particular changes and management actions.

When he sets out to change the way the corporation operates, such a CEO is likely to fail to motivate his employees to go with his new vision. Announcing the changes will not be enough, because this will not change the pattern of incentives and disincentives created by the internal environment of the firm. It will not change the corporation’s pre-existing internal reward and motivation systems. Employees will not change their behaviour if they are asked to do things that do not pay off within the corporation, and to stop doing things that are rewarded. For example, asking employees to take more risks will not produce much change if they have discovered it is best to avoid risk because mistakes reduce promotional opportunities. And if the CEO attempts to override these pre-existing reward systems coercively, he will produce the internal double binds, stresses and low morale that is common in poorly managed modern corporations.

If the CEO is to implement his new vision successfully, he and his executives have to know sufficient about the adaptive characteristics of the organisation to see how the pattern of incentives and disincentives should be changed to bring the employees along with his vision. The operation of the pre-existing internal reward systems of the corporation will have to be modified. Changes will have to be made that align the interests of all levels of the organisation with the future vision, but without disrupting functions and behaviours that will continue to be needed by the organisation. Unless the CEO develops the capacity to do this, he can have a vision and he can explain it to employees, but he will not be able to implement it effectively. Employees will continue to adapt to the incentives and disincentives that they continue to encounter. If a capacity to model the future is to be used to guide the adaptation of the corporation, it must be integrated with the pre-existing processes that adapt the corporation on a day-to-day basis. And to achieve this, the CEO must have effective models of the internal operation of the company. Without these models, he cannot manage the pre-existing processes to realign them with his vision.

The need to integrate the capacity for conscious mental modelling with the pre-existing adaptive systems of the organism can be expected to drive a long sequence of psychological evolution. In this sequence, the modelling capacity will progressively develop comprehensive models of the pre-existing adaptive processes and of their adaptive effects. It will develop the ability to manage them where there is advantage in doing so. Significant advantages can be expected where self-management is able to improve the pre-existing adaptive processes. At first, the modelling capacity will not have the knowledge or wisdom to do this. But as knowledge accumulates, the modelling capacity will increasingly be more effective at discovering better adaptations than the pre-existing processes. It will be more accurate, and be able to assess longer-term consequences. Psychological processes will have a considerable advantage if they can use this modelling capacity to manage and revise the pre-existing processes to produce better adaptation.

Linear Self-Management

The first major step in the evolution of self-management in humans began with the use of linear modelling to model internal adaptive processes. As the capacity developed, mental, emotional and physical adaptive processes became objects within mental models, and therefore objects of consciousness. Instead of the individual experiencing himself as his thoughts and emotional states, he could experience himself to some extent as being outside them, and able to treat them as objects of consciousness that could be influenced. His thoughts and emotional processes were no longer taken as entirely fixed and given.

But the limitations of linear modelling also restricted the level of self-management that it could support. Linear modelling can understand only simple processes that can be effectively represented by chains of cause and effect. It is unable to model complex systems, and is largely limited to modelling the effects of possible adaptations over relatively small scales of space and time.

As a result, linear modelling is able to model and understand only simple mental, emotional and physical adaptive processes. It can model only those that take into account effects that can be followed by linear modelling. If a particular adaptive process deals with circumstances that cannot be modelled and understood by linear modelling, linear modelling will be unable to competently model the consequences of modifying the adaptive process. It will not be able to understand why the adaptive process is structured the way it is, or to follow the effects of modifying it.

Linear self-management is particularly limited at understanding the emotional system. As we have seen, much of the emotional system was established by natural selection to provide internal rewards for behaviours that adapt us in our social life. The adaptive problems we encounter in our social interactions are often complex, and cannot be fully understood by linear modelling. The reasons why our emotional systems reward particular behaviours and not others are often outside the understanding of a consciousness that uses only linear modelling. And if linear self-management attempts to modify and improve upon these emotional processes, it will not do so effectively.

If linear self-management over reaches itself and attempts to manage tightly all of the organism’s adaptive processes, it can produce a personality similar to the parts of the external environment that are designed and built by linear modellers. The personality will tend to be mechanistic, overly simplified, inflexible and rigid, and ultimately maladaptive.

For these reasons, a linear self-manager will be unable to fully integrate his mental modelling with his pre-existing emotional and physical systems. He will be unable to use his mental modelling to competently manage the pre-existing systems, and unable to resolve the conflicts that inevitably arise. As we will see in detail in the next Chapter, it is not until an individual can develop more complex capacities for self-management that this integration can be achieved.

However, linear modelling can be particularly effective at modelling linear mental processes. This is because these mental processes and the environmental circumstances that they model are simple enough to be dealt with adequately by linear modelling. Linear modelling has the potential to model itself. An individual who is capable of linear modelling has the potential to improve his adaptability by developing the capacity to manage his own mental adaptive processes.

Individuals capable of a high degree of linear self-management are able to mentally stand outside their thoughts, treating them as objects of consciousness that can be examined, analysed and influenced. They can accumulate knowledge about rules of logical inference and deduction, and can develop the ability to use these to test the validity of their thought processes, discarding those that do not meet the tests. They are able to critically evaluate their own thoughts and ideas.

Linear self-managers can develop the ability to learn how to learn. They can analyse the thought processes and mental strategies they use to solve problems, mentally model alternative strategies, and implement those that are shown by their modelling to be more effective. In this way they become increasingly conscious of their mental processes, and use the power of mental modelling to search for improvements in their mental processes.

The capacity to model their own mental processes may also enable linear self-managers to deal with thought processes that are maladaptive, such as unproductive worry. But this capacity can itself be used maladaptively. The individual may discover that he can manage his thoughts in a way that will produce desirable feelings and avoid unpleasant emotional states, even when he is poorly adapted to his external environment. For example, he may be able to think positively in the face of impending disaster, or learn how to treat the external world as an illusion, reducing its ability to produce undesirable emotional states. This maladaptive self-management short circuits the ability of the internal reward system to motivate behaviour that enables the individual to function more effectively in its external environment.

As the capacity for internal linear modelling develops, it will also undermine a number of the adaptations that organise cooperative social behaviour amongst humans. We saw in Chapter 7 that distributed internal management can organise the members of a band or tribe to behave cooperatively. This management consists of a set of norms and inculcated behaviours that are reproduced in each member of the group. The inculcated behaviours predispose individuals to cooperate in situations where it otherwise would not be in their individual interests to do so. Before the rise of rulers and other external managers about 10,000 years ago, cooperative human groups were organised by internal management of this type. Humans generally lived in small bands that were not controlled by a chief or other ruler. The norms and inculcated beliefs that organised these cooperative bands were often entrenched in myths and religious systems.

Internal linear modelling undermines these norms and religious beliefs because it finds no rational basis for them. It is largely unaware of their complex evolutionary function in the formation of cooperative organisation. Instead it sees them as illogical and irrational beliefs that stand in the way of the individual achieving his more immediate physical and emotional goals. The linear modeller is not conscious of the fact that the norms and religious beliefs that are rejected by his limited modelling capacity are adaptations that have essential evolutionary functions.

Once the linear modeller abandons these belief systems, he is left with physical and emotional goals that are largely self-centred. The internal linear modeller is fundamentally ego centric, driven by goals that serve the functioning of the individual rather than the social group. The rise of internal linear modelling amongst humanity has produced the abandonment of religion and the rise of rationalism and individualism that we have seen in the last few hundred years of human history. It is only with the further evolution of the modelling capacity through the development of systemic and evolutionary modelling that the individual will eventually become conscious of the need to reinstate behaviours that produce cooperative organisation. In the next Chapter we will deal in detail with the characteristics of systemic and evolutionary modelling, and look at the superior capacities of self-management that they can underpin.

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1.       Stewart, J. E. (1997) Evolutionary Progress. Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems 20: 335-362.

2.       Stewart, J. E. (1995). Metaevolution. Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems 18: 113-147; and Stewart: Evolutionary Progress. op. cit. 

3.       Stewart: Metaevolution. op. cit.; and Stewart: Evolutionary Progress. op. cit.

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