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 19.    The Evolutionary Warrior       


What contribution should I make to the progressive evolution of humanity? Now that I am aware of the direction of evolution, should I use this knowledge to do what I can to ensure humanity achieves future evolutionary success? Should I promote the formation of a cooperative and highly evolvable planetary organisation, and encourage the development in myself and others of a psychological capacity for evolutionary self-management?

Or should I choose not to direct any of my time and energy to pursuing evolutionary objectives? Since I will not be affected personally by what happens in our distant evolutionary future, should I ignore it? Should I continue to serve the same motivations and goals as I have previously, goals that I now know have been established in me by shortsighted and limited evolutionary mechanisms?

Questions like this will face all individual organisms who become aware of the nature of the evolutionary processes that have formed them and that will determine the evolutionary future of their species.

The way each of us deals with these issues will impact on the ability of humanity to play a significant role in the future evolution of life in the universe. It also has the potential to change how each of us sees ourself, what we do with our life, and the meaning and purpose we see in our individual existence. Evolutionary consciousness has the potential to radically change the experience of being a human being.

Evolutionary awareness impacts on the individual in two main ways. First, it loosens our attachment to our existing motivations, beliefs, values and objectives. It calls into question the appropriateness of our personal characteristics, and the behaviours they motivate. Second, evolutionary awareness can provide us with new values and objectives, and a new direction to our life. It points to how we can live a life that contributes to the successful evolution of living processes in the universe, a life that is therefore consistent with the forces that are responsible for our existence.

Evolutionary awareness calls into question our existing motivations, beliefs and objectives by showing us what formed them. They are evolution’s best attempt until now to get us to behave in ways that will produce evolutionary success. Our most fundamental characteristics have been organised and tailored by evolution for evolutionary ends. Largely, we are the puppets of the evolutionary processes that have produced us. If the evolutionary needs of humanity had been different, the genetic and cultural evolutionary mechanisms would have fitted us out with different motivations, beliefs and values.

This awareness makes it harder for us to continue to take our fundamental characteristics as things that are fixed, given, and beyond conscious choice. Once we see that they have no absolute validity or certainty, we are more likely to see them as things that we can reflect upon and change consciously.

But our attachment to our existing motivations, beliefs and values is shaken more strongly once we begin to see that they fail to do the job they are designed for. Full evolutionary awareness enables us to see the direction of evolution, and what we have to do to achieve future evolutionary success. We can use our mental models of future evolution to test whether we will be successful if we continue to be organised by our existing motivations and needs. Not surprisingly, it is obvious that we will not. The evolutionary mechanisms that have produced us and our behaviour have limited foresight. They have no knowledge of what is needed for future evolutionary success, and have failed to fit us out with the motivations and values needed to achieve it. Evolutionary awareness enables us to see that the motivations and values installed in us by genetic and cultural evolution will fail to produce evolutionary success in the future.

We have been designed for evolutionary success, but poorly. Our mental modelling enables us to see that our current behaviours and social organisation will not deliver future success. We cannot help but ask ourselves some fundamental questions: as far as we can, should we manage and modify our existing motivations, beliefs and values so that they will support the behaviour needed to achieve future evolutionary success? Or should we just continue to serve our pre-existing motivations, knowing that they fail to so the job they are designed for? Can we continue behaviours that we know fail to serve their ultimate objectives? Once we have the ability to evolve through evolutionary mechanisms that have much greater foresight and intelligence than previous mechanisms, can we refuse to use them?

But it is not easy to escape the control exercised over us by our existing motivations, beliefs and values. It is one thing to see mentally that they fail to serve their ultimate objectives. It is another thing entirely to change them. This is because any decision we make about changing our behaviour will be influenced strongly by our existing motivations, beliefs and values. We will tend to use our existing characteristics to decide what we want to do with our lives. And if we have little evolutionary awareness, the evolutionary needs of far-distant generations will not count for much against our more immediate needs for food, sex, money, power and social status.

But evolutionary awareness can change this. It tends to produce individuals who place more value on the evolutionary success of future generations, and less on the gratification of their own immediate urges and needs. Individuals can see that it is the on-going and evolving population of organisms that are important to evolution, not any particular individual. Individuals are significant only to the extent that they contribute to the success of the on-going evolutionary process.

Evolution ensures that individuals that are not self-evolving are temporary. Individuals are evolutionary experiments. There is a chance they will produce improvements that will be passed to the next generation and perpetuated by the species. But if new possibilities are to be tried out and new experiments made, new individuals must be produced. And in a world of limited resources, this means that older individuals must die to make way for the new ones. Older individuals must cease to exist, but the population goes on, made up of new individuals, new experiments.

The evolutionary relevance of individuals is determined by what they can contribute to the evolution of the species. The means by which this contribution is made differs for different evolutionary mechanisms. If the population evolves genetically, individuals can contribute to future generations through their reproduction. If it evolves culturally, individuals can contribute to the on-going process by passing new ideas, discoveries, and other adaptive information to future generations. But from the evolutionary perspective, individuals are irrelevant and meaningless if they contribute nothing to the on-going evolutionary process that produced them, and that will outlive them. They might as well never have lived.

Evolutionary awareness shows us that it is an illusion to see ourselves or other individuals as distinct and separate entities. Individuals are inextricably part of an on-going evolutionary process. They can have no existence without that process. They are born out of it, and can have on-going effects only through what they return to it. In our mental processes, we can separate individuals out from the on-going process and consider them as independent entities. But in reality they are never separate. Without an on-going population that reproduces and evolves through time, there can be no individuals. The population lives in and through the individuals that are its members at any particular time, but it lives on beyond them. Once we can mentally model the processes of life over time scales that are long enough, we cannot help but see that individual organisms such as ourselves are always parts of larger evolving processes.

Mentally we can abstract individuals out of this on-going process and consider them as separate and independent beings. If we do this and then ask what purpose or meaning there can be in their temporary lives, we must conclude that there can be none. From the point of view of an isolated individual, the inevitability of death makes anything he does during his life irrelevant and meaningless. If there is no afterlife, whatever he does during his short life can make no difference to himself in the long run. He still ends up dead. It is impossible to find meaning in a temporary and isolated life that is not part of some on-going process.

This is the essence of the type of thinking that has produced the collapse of meaning and purpose in the lives of many people this century. But this thinking is wrong because its starting point is wrong. It begins with individuals who are artificially abstracted from the on-going evolutionary process. Evolutionary awareness enables us to avoid this error. It correctly sees individuals as part of an on-going and evolving process. This process continually produces new individuals and fits them out with the adaptive knowledge accumulated by the process over the billions of years it has evolved. The lives of countless organisms who have come before us have contributed to this accumulation. During our own lives we have the chance to consciously add to this knowledge by discovering and implementing adaptive improvements, and contributing them to the on-going process. The process goes on after our death, producing new individuals who are equipped with any improvements we have contributed. In this broader context individuals are the method used by the on-going process to perpetuate itself and to discover more about how to achieve evolutionary success. Abstracted from this process, our lives make as much sense as would the lives of our cells if their relationship with our bodies is ignored.

We can live our lives as if we are separate from the on-going evolutionary process, and make no conscious contribution to it. But individuals with evolutionary awareness will not find meaning or purpose in such a life. They will find no meaning in a life spent vigorously and energetically seeking the satisfaction of their pre-existing material and emotional urges. A life dedicated to the pursuit of money, sex, power, and social status within our current social structures is a wasted life from the perspective of evolutionary awareness. Meaning can come only from taking whatever opportunities we have to contribute to the on-going evolutionary processes that will outlive us.

But if we are to escape control by the motivations, needs, beliefs and values established in us by shortsighted evolutionary processes, we need to discover how to modify and manage these internal predispositions. We must be able to consciously manage our predispositions and our external environment so that we can find satisfaction and motivation in whatever we need to do to contribute to future evolutionary success. We must develop the psychological capacity to transcend our biological and cultural predispositions so that we can consciously adapt our behaviour in whatever way we see is necessary. Our ultimate objectives will be set by our mental modelling of future evolutionary possibilities, and we must be able to do whatever is suggested by these models. Our adaptive repertoire must not be restricted by the motivations, needs, beliefs and values established by past evolution.

Evolutionary awareness shows us that this is a challenge faced by all organisms that develop the capacity to model their evolutionary future. Any organism that develops evolutionary awareness will see that they must transcend their biological and cultural past if they are to be able to do what is necessary for future evolutionary success. They know that the organisms who will contribute most to the evolution of life in the universe are those that meet this challenge successfully. Evolutionary awareness also shows us that our struggle to develop the psychological skills needed to transcend our social and biological past is part of an evolutionary event of great significance on this planet. And it makes us aware that our growing evolutionary awareness is itself an important part of the unfolding of this evolutionary event.

As we have seen, humans have already begun to develop the psychological skills that will enable us to manage our pre-existing adaptive processes consciously. Once organisms evolve a capacity for mental modelling, it is inevitable that they will begin to learn these skills. Because mental modelling has superior foresight, it will often discover better adaptations than those established by the pre-existing adaptive processes. As the modelling capacity improves, it increasingly discovers circumstances in which existing motivations and emotional urges produce behaviour that are against the longer-term interests of the organism. To take advantage of this superior foresight, organisms begin to learn how to ensure that their behaviour is guided by their mental models, not by their pre-existing adaptive processes.

So we begin to learn to manage our sexual urges, anger and other emotional impulses when we see that it is in our longer-term interests to do so. For example, many of us learn to forgo the immediate gratification of some of our needs in order to achieve longer-term career goals. We learn to organise our thoughts, motivations and our environment to find satisfaction in study and other behaviours that serve these career goals. The logical extension of this capacity would be the ability to manage our pre-existing adaptive processes to make them consistent with our interests over all time scales, including over evolutionary scales.

As we have seen, we must turn our mental modelling inwards if we are to develop fully the psychological capacity to consciously modify and manage our pre-existing physical, emotional and mental adaptive processes. Our thoughts, beliefs, motivations and emotional states, as well as the methods we use to influence them, must become objects of consciousness. This would provide us with the self-knowledge and self-awareness needed to develop the capacity to manage our internal adaptive processes. It would enable us to develop a new “I” that is not limited or controlled in what it can do by our biological and cultural past. The new “I” would act upon our internal processes, rather than being acted upon by them. Our reactions to external circumstances would no longer be determined automatically by our pre-existing mental and emotional predispositions. Instead our new “I” would be able to decide to intervene before these predispositions determined our reactions. Our new “I” would then be able to consciously organise a different response that is more appropriate to our evolutionary objectives. It would see what we must do to contribute to future evolutionary success and would produce this behaviour by consciously managing our internal processes, and intervening in them. The result would be an organism that is able to recreate and reinvent itself through conscious choice as often as is necessary to meet evolutionary demands.

The development of this new psychological software would free individuals from their biological and cultural past. It would produce individuals who are self-evolving and who therefore have a completely new evolutionary status. We saw earlier that individuals who are not self-evolving must be temporary if evolution is to proceed successfully. Individuals with restricted adaptability and evolvability would stall evolution if they live forever. For this reason, organisms who are not self-evolving but whose overriding objective is to contribute to the successful evolution of life would not attempt to achieve immortality. To do so would contradict their fundamental purpose.

But a being that is truly self-evolving would not impede evolution if it lived forever. If an individual were truly capable of adapting in whatever ways are demanded by future evolutionary needs, it would not have to die for evolution to proceed. Evolution could try out new possibilities without having to replace the individual. New possibilities could be fully explored within a self-evolving individual. The internal adaptive processes of self-evolving beings have the capacity to adapt freely in any direction. With the emergence of self-evolving individuals, the evolutionary process would be internalised within the individual.

The acquisition of evolutionary awareness would also show each of us that if humanity is to achieve future evolutionary success, we must not only transform ourselves, we must also transform our societies. Our individual efforts to contribute to the successful evolution of life will be futile without radical changes to our social organisation. It is only through the formation of cooperative organisations of larger scale and greater evolvability that humanity can participate successfully in the future evolution of life in the universe. We must continue the progressive evolution on this planet that has seen molecular processes organised into cells, cells organised into multicellular organisms, and organisms organised into societies.

We have seen that a significant step forward would be the formation of a cooperative planetary society whose ultimate objective is to pursue future evolutionary success. The society would manage the matter, energy and living resources of the planet in whatever ways would advance its evolutionary interests. The management of the planetary society would support and reward behaviours that assisted the pursuit of evolutionary objectives. As a result, cooperation that promoted evolutionary success would pay. The members of the society would capture the evolutionary effects on others of their actions. Individuals would find it advantageous to do whatever was necessary to enhance the evolutionary success of the planetary society. And individuals would be provided with feedback about what actions would contribute most to the evolutionary success of the society. Global governance would produce a cooperative planetary society in the same way that the governance of molecular processes produced the cooperative organisations that became cells, the governance of cells produced the cooperative groups of cells that became multicellular organisms, and the governance of organisms produced societies of organisms.

But our current economic systems and forms of governance are not capable of organising a planetary society that can fully exploit the benefits of cooperation in the interests of its members. Our governance and our economic systems do not always ensure that individuals capture the effects of their actions on others. And the evolvability of these systems can be substantially improved. Evolutionary awareness tells us that we must transform our current economic systems and forms of governance if we are to achieve future evolutionary success, and identifies the types of changes that need to be made. It shows us how to build cooperative and evolvable organisations out of self-interested components. As we have seen, an important step is to enhance the adaptability and effectiveness of our systems of governance by implementing a vertical market system and the supra-individual change-and-test processes that go with such a market.

The result would be a highly evolvable planetary society that efficiently and adaptively manages the matter, energy and living processes of the planet to serve the objectives of the members of the society. But these changes will not produce a society that pursues future evolutionary success until most of its members also embrace this objective. If its members continue to be motivated by pre-existing biological and cultural needs, the society and all its resources will be harnessed to serve those needs. The society will serve needs that are inconsistent with the continued evolutionary success of life on earth. If life on this planet does not progress beyond this point, it will be a failed evolutionary experiment.

But when the majority of members of the society embrace evolutionary objectives, so to will the society. The society will begin to manage the matter, energy and living processes of the planet to achieve evolutionary objectives. In its pursuit of future evolutionary success, the planetary society will begin to develop an ability to adapt and act as a coherent whole. The planetary society will develop the ability to make plans, develop projects, establish objectives, and deal with any alien societies it encounters. A society of evolutionary warriors will eventually self-actualise as an evolutionary warrior in its own right.

Against this background, we can now summarise what individuals at the beginning of the 21st century should do to contribute to the future evolutionary success of life on this planet. Those of us who acquire evolutionary awareness will have three general projects: first, we will work on ourselves to improve our adaptability and evolvability. Our objective will be to develop the self-knowledge and psychological skills needed to transcend our biological and cultural past. We will develop a psychology that is no longer controlled by the needs and motivations we inherit biologically and culturally. This psychology will enable us to be self-evolving. It will equip us with the capacity to find motivation and satisfaction in whatever we need to do to contribute to evolutionary objectives.

Second, we will promote in others a deeper understanding of the evolutionary process, and will encourage and assist them to develop the psychological capacity to use this understanding to guide and manage their own behaviour. Humanity cannot make significant progress in evolutionary terms until the majority of us embrace evolutionary objectives. Future evolutionary success can only be achieved collectively and cooperatively. And if human society as a whole is to be an evolutionary warrior that transcends its biological and cultural past, its members must first become evolutionary warriors. The evolvability of human society will depend on the evolvability and adaptability of its members. Those of us that become aware of this will promote evolutionary awareness and self-management in others. One of the best ways we can do this is to develop these capacities to the fullest extent in ourselves.

Finally, we will support the formation of a unified and self-actualised planetary society. We will do what we can to develop a society that uses its understanding of the direction of evolution to guide its own evolution. Critical steps along the way to achieving such a society will be the establishment of a system of global governance, and the implementation of new forms of governance and economic systems that are more evolvable and better at organising cooperation. The society will develop and utilise the potential of all its members in order to fulfil its own potential.

It would over-dramatise the situation to say that the future evolutionary success of humanity depends on how well we pursue these projects. We can hope that others who come after us will have the opportunity to repair any damage we cause, and make up for any short fall in what we achieve. But how successful we are at advancing these projects will determine the significance of our lives.

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