Should humans take conscious and deliberate charge of evolution?
I have learnt about an interesting book EVOLUTION’S ARROW: The Direction of Evolution and the Future of Humanity by John Stewart (2000), The Chapman Press, Australia. Here is an excerpt from the book:

‘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.’

John Stewart has been advocating the idea that the solution to all problems faced at present by humanity lies in learning from mother Nature about the essence of evolution and then taking charge of how evolution should proceed so that we humans can lead a life full of peace, cooperation, prosperity, and joy.

I agree with John entirely. What do you think?
[I attaching a soft copy of Johns's book for your reading pleasure.
.pdf   StewartEvolution\'sArrow.pdf (Size: 724.58 KB / Downloads: 8)
I think we have already taken control of our evolution. Thanks to medicine, individuals who would otherwise be dead live on. Using technology we have created an extension to our brains - computers. We no longer need to memorize data. Machine intelligence too is on the rise and I believe that the future of our evolution is in integrating with machines.

Another direction in which we could guide our evolution is through space colonization. That way even if humans on Earth get destroyed in some catastrophe, the human race can continue on the Moon or on Mars. We can also use the alien environment to guide our evolution.
(06-Apr-2010, 11:19 PM)Lije Wrote: I think we have already taken control of our evolution. Thanks to medicine, individuals who would otherwise be dead live on. Using technology we have created an extension to our brains - computers. We no longer need to memorize data. Machine intelligence too is on the rise and I believe that the future of our evolution is in integrating with machines.

Another direction in which we could guide our evolution is through space colonization. That way even if humans on Earth get destroyed in some catastrophe, the human race can continue on the Moon or on Mars. We can also use the alien environment to guide our evolution.

But John Stewart is proposing something much more comprehensive. He is suggesting that conscious and globally planned control of evolution by humans can solve problems like terrorism, global warming, disease, etc. I shall give you the link to his website when I am back in office.
Please visit John Stewart’s website:

Here is a gist (in his own words) of what he has been propounding:

‘The trajectory of evolution on Earth has produced cooperative organizations of ever-increasing scale and evolvability. Applying the framework I have outlined above, the next step in this trajectory is the formation of global cooperative society. Such a society would be enabled by a system of global constraints (governance) that organizes cooperation (including market processes) and that suppresses destructive competition (including war and international pollution, such as global warming). As in previous emergences of a superorganism, this governance will align the interests of individuals, corporations, nations etc with the interests of the whole. The harmful impacts of international crises such as global warming that cannot be resolved at our current level of organization will demand the emergence of this global society. The evolvability of human society is also likely to increase rapidly through the continued development of artificial intelligence and other technology, and also through the fundamental transition in human psychology discussed in The Evolutionary Manifesto.

At least initially, the global society will manage the living processes, technology, matter and energy of the planet into a cooperative organization. As outlined in the Manifesto, the global organization will progressively develop a capacity to adapt for the inside/now and for the outside/future. It will become conscious as a whole when it develops the Global Workspace Architecture that is now know to underpin conscious information processing in humans and other animals (this Architecture is summarized in my paper 'The future evolution of consciousness' which was published last year in the Journal of Consciousness Studies and can be accessed at

Because of its potential to assist in achieving human goals, AI will increasingly become involved in the making of decisions about the running of the global organization. As the capacity of AI improves, it may eventually become solely involved in making particular adaptive decisions and initiating their implementation (including initiating implementation by humans). No individual humans will know why the decisions were made (just as we are unaware of the reason for many of the adaptive decisions made within our bodies, and the adaptive decisions made by our economic systems). BUT humanity will put in place arrangements that constrain the autonomy of these AI systems to ensure that their interests and goals are aligned with the goals of the global organization as a whole. Eventually, much of this governance may itself be implemented and adapted by AI. The superorganism will be the global organization, and, as with previous transitions to larger-scale organizations, it will be organized so that the interests of all, including humans and AI, are aligned with the evolutionary interests of the global organization as a whole.

We are far from this yet. Much of the potential of the web to assist humans in the achievement of their goals is not yet being realized. This is because we have not yet organized the web and the governance in which it is embedded so that individuals and organization capture the effects of any actions they take that enhance the web. Governance is needed that enables humans to capture the benefits of anything they do with the web that benefits others. At present, some providers of services such as Google have found indirect ways to make money out of the services they provide. But as yet the system does not reward innovators and investors with returns that are in proportion to the benefits their innovations provide. Until this condition is met, the web will never fulfill its potential to advance human interests. When it is met, the web and the services it can provide will finally begin to attract investment and resources proportionate to the benefits it can provide humanity, sparking the kind of explosion of cooperative creativity and innovation that invariably follows the emergence of effective governance at any level of organization.

Of course, some individuals may attempt to intervene in the web to create autonomous entities that have goals contrary to human goals. They may try to design these entities so that they compete and evolve. If these individuals understand how superorganisms have emerged in past evolution, they might also try to facilitate the emergence of cooperative organizations of these entities of increasing scale and evolvability. If this process went unchecked, it might eventually produce a superorganism on the scale of the One Big Machine (OBM) that pursues its own interests with great intelligence and creativity. Free-riders and cheats of this kind have emerged to some extent during the evolution of cooperatives at all previous levels of organization. They have undermined the emergence of superorganisms until forms of organization have emerged that suppress them and/or align their interests with the interests of the emerging superorganism. A challenge for humanity will be to grow highly intelligent and creative forms of governance that achieve this in relation to entities that have interests contrary to those of the global organization. This immune system will part of the general system of governance that will ensure that the interests of all consitutents of the global organization are aligned with the interests of the whole. As mentioned above, AI itself will have an increasing role in these systems of governance.

I don't see any evidence of the intentional construction of the emergence of such a malevolent superorganism at present. Nor does it seem likely that the conditions needed for its emergence will arise spontaneously in the near term. Nevertheless, processes of governance should be put in place to deal with the possibility, as part of the wider governance of society and the web.

For the evolutionary process on this planet to advance, and for life on this planet to participate in the future successful evolution of life in the universe (wherever that may lead), the emergence of a global organization that intentionally pursues pro-evolutionary goals is needed. But as outlined in the Evolutionary Manifesto, natural selection will not drive the emergence of such a global superorganism. For such a superorganism to develop its full potential, it will have to be designed and grown intentionally, by humanity. It is if we are living in the midst of a developmental process that reaches a certain point (the threshold of a global organization) of its own accord. But the process will advance further only if certain conditions are met: humanity must awaken to the possibility they we are living in the midst of a developmental process; we must realize that the continued success of the process depends on our actions; and humanity must commit to intentionally moving the process forward.’
Vinod Sir, Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. I haven't read the whole book, but the premise looks interesting.

Whether we accept this or not, we human beings have already been in charge of the course of evolution on earth. And most of our influence has been pretty bad. We wiped out a large number of species when we turned to agriculture. Another mass extinction of species has commenced with the industrialization. The problem is that the entire bio ecosystem is connected, and each species depends on a large number of other species for survival. We would be signing off our own death warrants if we don't pay heed to the scale of damage we are doing to the environment.

So I think we should first improve on the "consciously" part and then on the "changing the course of evolution" part. In fact, it might already be too late for humans to be aware of the level of damage they are doing to the ecosystems around the world. Some changes might already have been beyond our control, in which case the best we can do is to modify "our own gene pool" to prepare for such changes.

Beyond simple arguments of self-survival, we humans also have an ethical angle, and an argument from compassion. We are probably the only species to have evolved compassion at an abstract level : an ability to sympathize with living (and even virtual) beings remotely from a distance. Due to this compassion, we should try to protect the habitats of other living creatures as well, even if that doesn't accrue any practical benefit to human beings as such. Personally, I think intelligence goes hand in hand with compassion. If at all we build a self-conscious computer, it will very likely also be a very compassionate being.. I don't believe so much in the Hollywood scare movies.

I think this technological evolution is also very much part of the natural evolution of life in the universe. We are already very much integrated with the machines we use. In the future, such integration would overlap into our intellectual and emotional functions as well, with brain machine interfaces etc.. I look upon all this as part of nature's evolution. To "consciously" mould such an immense process is a very challenging task. May be, some highly powerful computer can simulate all these connections at a distant point in the future.

But at the present, I think we should start from the bottoms up, and at least try to understand consciously the effects of our very actions of today on natural eco systems.
[/size][size=x-large]My book SMART STRUCTURES: BLURRING THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE LIVING AND THE NONLIVING (Oxford University Press, 2007) has this quotation on the first page:

Technology, hailed as the means of bringing nature
under the control of our intelligence,
is enabling nature to exercise inteligence over us.

-- George Dyson, Darwin Among the Machines
Thumbup Well said. I agree with you 100%. I am also touched by the nostalgia.

There is much merit in the 'back to Nature' idea, but certain things cannot be reversed. We may as well take things in our hands, and try to ensure a decent peaceful future for our children. We have the power to influence the course of evolution.
(18-Jun-2010, 04:51 PM)jackypunker Wrote: It's easy to keep something going when it's already in motion, when it already has momentum. But to be able to create a new experience or to change a direction in your life, you need to make a deliberate effort. That's why they call it conscious evolution. Ground qualities embody a vitality that we Moderns need. In the current crisis, these vital qualities of life have been suppressed, and we unconsciously attempt to substitute for the vitality we have lost through a process I call vitality compensation. Human beings naturally get a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction from our connection with nature. When we are deprived of this natural vitality, we often seek substitutes. In the West, our homes are filled with stereos, TVs, and VCRs to compensate for the natural sights and sounds we have lost. We buy expensive, flashy clothes, throw lavish parties, take drugs, and covet sports cars.

Very close to Karl Marx's theories on 'alienation' and 'commodity fetishism' I suppose.
Manju Vadiarillat
My only fear is that scientific attempts to 'control the trajectory of' evolution will exacerbate the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

The practicality and economics of implementation (assuming we discover some kind of therapy that leads to controlled benefits e.g. greater cognition) demand that those with resources will get the benefits first and pass it on to their progeny resulting in divergent trees of evolution that are based purely on economic status.

To be honest I think the word's 'changing the course of evolution' are still too loaded and are mostly associated with concepts like eugenics that have been rightly shunned by our species.

I do like this book's thoughts though. I've always thought that humanitys greatest achievement to date has been to overcome the harsh nature of evolution. (as a spectacle wearing, slow running, and somewhat rotund human being I am clearly not a frontrunner for 'survival of the fittest.)
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"My only fear is that scientific attempts to 'control the trajectory of' evolution will exacerbate the gap between the haves and the have-nots."

The argument put forward in my book 'Evolution's Arrow' and in 'The Evolutionary Manifesto' is that if humanity is to survive and thrive into the future we will need to intentionally control our evolution so that we align with the trajectory of evolution. If we do not align ourselves with the overall trajectory of evolution we will eventually be selected against, and will become a failed evolutionary experiment.

So we need to identify and understand the trajectory of evolution so that we can see what we have to do to survive and thrive into the future. And once we understand the evolutionary trajectory we can see where intentional evolution would lead humanity. For example, we can see whether it would exacerbate the gap between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots'.

As outlined in The Evolutionary Manifesto, the main direction of evolution is towards increasing cooperation - evolution on Earth has moved through a sequence of transitions in which smaller-scale entities are organized into larger-scale cooperatives. Self-replicating molecular processes were organized into the first simple cells, communities of simple cells formed the more complex eukaryote cell, organizations of these cells formed multi-cellular organisms, and organisms were organized into cooperative societies. A similar sequence appears to have unfolded in human evolution: from family groups, to bands, to tribes, to agricultural communities and city states, and so on.

Evolution favors cooperative organizations over independent entities because of the advantages that cooperation can provide. For example, cooperation enables the exploitation of synergies, including through specialization and division of labor. And the larger the scale of cooperative organization, the more resources commanded by the cooperative, the greater its power, the greater the impact and scale of its actions, and therefore the wider the range of environmental challenges that it can meet successfully.

If humanity is to align with this trajectory, it will next have to organize itself cooperatively on a global scale. And if this global society is to fully exploit the evolutionary advantages of forming such a larger-scale cooperative organization, it will need to fully develop the potentials of all of its citizens. A global society that directs most of its resources and opportunities towards a small elite will be no where near as effective in evolutionary terms as a global society that educates and develops all its members, and provides them all with the opportunity to contribute to the success of the society.

These arguments are developed in greater detail in The Evolutionary Manifesto.
John Stewart's response reminds me of the individual-selection vs. group-selection debate in the theory of evolution. Interestingly, Charles Darwin himself argued in favour of group selection. He even brought in the morality question. I quote from a recent article by Steve Mirsky. He writes that Darwin 'postulated that moral men might not do any better than immoral men but that tribes of moral men would certainly "have an immense advantage" over fractious bands of pirates.' I am inclined to extrapolate this to the biggest tribe of them all, namely humans as a whole. In this case the competition for survival is not among different tribes, but among the different tendies of humans. As John says, since we humans have the ability to understand the trajectory of evolution, we shall also have the sense to chart out a 'moral' and sensible (and therefore profitable) trajectory of future evolution.
thanks future.evolution , my understanding of evolution is not very good. I was thinking more along the lines of 'survival of the fittest' rather than your explanation which clearly indicates increasing co-operation.

One more question, will we need to 'align' with the trajectory of evolution of will the process be self-organizing - in the sense of say Ants or our modern economic system or the examples you indicate ? Won't we eventually develop the necessary synergies and benefits without needing any intervention or intentional organization simply as a natural extrapolation of our progress till date ?

Sorry if its a foolish question but I have very little background in evolution and its been hard to follow some of the arguments in the texts you mentioned.

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