Until humanity frees itself from maladaptive motivations and behaviors, it will be just like a family that endlessly repeats the same arguments until someone learns to stand outside the situation and stop their habitual reactions. Humanity will continue to be trapped in the endless and useless repetition of maladaptive behaviors until we can stand outside our current desires and motivations. To be able to intervene in the world to advance the evolutionary process, we need to be able to move at right angles to our evolutionary past. For this we will have to develop a degree of psychological distance from our desires and motivations.
It is worth underlining that this cannot be achieved simply by making an intellectual decision to do so. While ever our desires and motivations continue to dominate our behavior, any intellectual decision will be utterly ineffective.
To free ourselves from our biological past and social conditioning, we will need to develop an entirely new capacity. Without this, the transition to intentional evolution cannot proceed. Intentional evolutionaries know that until they develop such a capacity, they will know how they should live their life, but will be unable to do so.
Nor can this freedom be achieved by repressing or ignoring our feelings and emotions. We will continue to need to rely on skills and abilities that only our emotional system can provide. This is typical when evolution develops new capacities—it does not discard the older systems. Instead the new capacities continue to take advantage of the specialist talents and abilities of the old processes where they are useful.
When we free ourselves from the dictates of our evolutionary past, our emotional and motivational systems will continue to make essential contributions to our evolvability. But they will be managed and educated so that they are aligned with our evolutionary goals. In particular our emotional systems will provide us with energy and motivation to advance the evolutionary process. Just as we are now able to voluntarily adopt a physical posture that helps us with a particular physical task, we will be able to adopt an emotional and motivational posture that assists us to achieve particular evolutionary tasks.
Our emotional systems will also make a significant contribution to our capacity to understand complex systems. This contribution will build on the ability of our emotional processes to swiftly and silently (without thought) recognize and appraise complex patterns, particularly in social situations. In an instant these processes recognize and evaluate patterns that cannot be understood by rational analysis. This ability will be built on and modified to become an essential component of our capacity to wisely manage complex social, psychological and evolutionary processes.
The need to achieve freedom from the dictates of past evolution is a challenge that is likely to be faced by all conscious life that emerges in the universe. If organisms that reach our stage in evolution are to continue to evolve successfully, transcendence of their biological and cultural past is essential. They will need to be able to use the enormous creativity of consciousness to establish goals that serve the needs of their future evolution.
The living processes that go on to make a significant contribution to the future evolution of life in the universe will not be those that continue to squat on the planet of their origin, masturbating stone-age desires forever.
The Significance of Self-Evolving Beings
The emergence of self-evolving beings who embrace evolutionary goals is a very significant step in the evolution of life on Earth. Intentional evolutionaries with this capacity will be able to remake themselves in any way that is necessary to advance the evolutionary process, unfettered by their biological or cultural past.
As we have seen, organisms are programmed to do evolution’s bidding—they are fitted out with desires and motivation that are proxies for evolutionary success in past environments. But this programming was undertaken by highly unintelligent processes—it was put in place and tuned by the blind trial and error of natural selection and by unconscious learning processes during their upbringing.
In contrast, self-evolving beings can use far more intelligent processes to identify the goals that will best advance the evolutionary process. They can use foresight to take into account the longer term evolutionary consequences of their actions. Reliance on blind trial and error to program organisms to pursue evolutionary success was clearly an inferior arrangement that was always going to be temporary. It will be rendered obsolete by organisms who consciously work out what will achieve evolutionary success, and use this knowledge to guide their actions. A new and superior kind of being will enter history and evolution.
Once enough members of the global society are self-evolving, the society will become a self-evolving being in its own right. Through the global organization, life on Earth will transcend it evolutionary past. It will be able to adapt in whatever ways are necessary for life on Earth to make a significant contribution to the successful evolution of life in the universe. No longer will the global organization waste the enormous creativity of consciousness on the pursuit of self-centered desires that were established by past evolution. As Earth life moves out into the solar system, the galaxy and the universe, it will be able to change its adaptive goals and behavior in whatever ways are demanded by the challenges it meets. It will be able to continually recreate itself, to change its nature at will, to repeatedly sacrifice what it is for what it can become, to continually die and be born again.
The above is an excerpt from The Evolutionary Manifesto by John Stewart, member of the Evolution, Complexity and Cognition Research Group