John Stewart Member of the Evolution, Complexity and Cognition Research Group, The Free University of Brussels email@example.com (This paper was delivered at the First International Conference on the Evolution and Development of the Universe held in Paris on 8 and 9 October 2008) Abstract: The evolution of life on Earth has produced an organism that is beginning to model and understand its own evolution and the possible future evolution of life in the universe. These models and associated evidence show that evolution on Earth has a trajectory. The scale over which living processes are organized cooperatively has increased progressively, as has its evolvability. Recent theoretical advances raise the possibility that this trajectory is itself part of a wider developmental process. According to these theories, the developmental process has been shaped by a larger evolutionary process that involves the reproduction of universes. This evolutionary process has tuned the key parameters of the universe to increase the likelihood that life will emerge and develop to produce outcomes that are successful in the larger process (e.g. a key outcome may be to produce life and intelligence that intentionally reproduces the universe and tunes the parameters of ‘offspring’ universes). Theory suggests that when life emerges on a planet, it moves along this trajectory of its own accord. However, at a particular point evolution will continue to advance only if organisms emerge that decide to advance the evolutionary process intentionally. The organisms must be prepared to make this commitment even though the ultimate nature and destination of the process is uncertain, and may forever remain unknown. Organisms that complete this transition to intentional evolution will drive the further development of life and intelligence in the universe. Humanity’s increasing understanding of the evolution of life in the universe is rapidly bringing it to the threshold of this major evolutionary transition.
The inadequacy of an intellectual commitment. However, a mere intellectual decision to align their goals with the trajectory of evolution will not free the organisms from the desires, motivations and emotions inherited from their biological and cultural past (Stewart, 2000, 2001). Their thinking and rationality is unlikely to be able to easily modify their inherited predispositions. When a capacity for thought first arises, it would be unable to understand why motivations and emotions influence behavior in the particular ways that they do. It would not understand their adaptive purposes. Selection would therefore be likely to act against the emergence of any capacity for thought to override these predispositions, since the outcome would be likely to be maladaptive. Thus humans do not choose their desires and emotional responses, or their likes and dislikes. Humans generally use thinking and rationality to devise better ways to achieve their ends, not to determine their ends. As a result, in order to fully align their values with the trajectory of evolution, the organisms would first have to free themselves from the predispositions inherited from their biological and cultural past. Since these changes will not be driven by natural selection, the organisms will have to develop this new psychological capacity intentionally, through changes to their ‘software’ rather that their ‘hardware’ (Stewart, 2001). Living processes that have completed this transition will not be hostile as they move out into space. They will be motivated by pro-evolutionary goals, and know that in order to achieve these goals, they will need to work cooperatively with other living processes.
There is abundant evidence that the psychological organization of humans is such that we have the potential to free our behavior from the dictates of our evolutionary past (Stewart 2000, 2001, 2007). The world’s spiritual and contemplative traditions have discovered a variety of practices and techniques that can be adapted to develop the new psychological software that is needed. These practices can also enhance the ability of humans to understand and manage complex systems (Stewart, 2007, 2008a). Work has begun on using the tools of scientific inquiry to model and understand how these capacities can be developed and how the practices that train them can be enhanced (Stewart, 2007). The discoveries of the contemplative traditions about the human potential for enhanced modes of consciousness are being shorn of their mystical associations and are being integrated into mainstream science. We can also see the beginnings of attempts to initiate a political program that seeks to intentionally advance the evolutionary process on Earth (Stewart 2008a and 2008b). If humanity completes this great evolutionary transition successfully, we will have embraced a role that provides meaning and purpose for our existence.