HOW CAN WE SPEED UP EVOLUTION?
By cultivating radical openness.
All evolution works by a process of variation and selection. Anything which provides the space for variation or increases the speed of selection will accelerate the process of evolution.
Creativity, diversity, freedom: these qualities provide the space for new ideas, new ways of doing things. The more varied the behavioral melting pot, the greater the cultural variety upon which evolution can go to work.
Advances in information technology, education, intelligence: these facilitate the spread of successful variants throughout the population.
Above all it’s about being open-minded. Life is inherently unpredictable – rather than trying to predict the future, let’s aim to be as adaptable as possible. Be prepared to try new things and be wrong about everything you know at the drop of a hat. The more open-minded we are as individuals, the more adaptable our species becomes.
This does not come naturally to everyone, but there are ways in which we can cultivate open-mindedness. Meditation and yoga are thousand year old traditions which aim to do just that – make us as flexible and adaptable as possible so that we can respond appropriately to whatever life throws at us.
Individually, conscious evolution means freeing ourselves from the dictates of our biological history, collectively it means forming a united and sustainable global society.
There are all sorts of behaviours that we have evolved because they helped us survive and reproduce in a hunter-gatherer context, but are no longer helpful in our radically altered modern context. Our love of meat is a classic example. Our physical bodies and reward circuits evolved over tens of thousands of years of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Loving meat helped us survive in this context – it ensured that our ancestors took full advantage whenever the precious opportunity presented itself.
We are still stuck with the reward circuits of our ancestors, even though they lead us to behaviour which is directly detrimental to our evolutionary fitness. But we have also evolved the awareness and intelligence to become aware of all this and make intelligent choices. Many people choose to override their taste for meat because they now know it is not only injurious to their individual health, but catastrophic for the survival chances of our species as a whole. This is conscious evolution in a nutshell.
Moreover, a long term look at what evolution has accomplished thus far will notice that over large timescales evolution tends towards three things: complexity, consciousness and co-operation. Although there are plenty of setbacks and wobbles these three things tend to increase over the long term, spanning the history of life on earth from primordial soup to globalised human society. Simple prokaryotic cells worked together to form eukaryotic cells, competing eukaryotes got together to form co-operating groups of cells called multicellular organisms, groups of these multicellular organisms got together to form hives, shoals, and herds.
The process was repeated with humans. Bands got together to form tribes, tribes got together to form city states, city states got together to form nations, nations got together to form trading blocs and global organisations. Each of these transitions represents a leap forward in complexity, co-operation and consciousness. Life now is more complex, co-operative and conscious than it was 10,000 years ago, and life 10,000 years ago was more complex, co-operative and conscious than it was a billion years ago.
Extrapolating this process we can predict that “in the medium term conflict and friction within human society will diminish, cooperation will expand to the planetary level, well-being will increase, individuals will become ever more integrated with the socio-technological systems that surround them, while individual and collective intelligence will spectacularly augment.”
Any action which aids these goals is also an act of conscious evolution.
This gives birth to a value system, and an ethics of evolution. Any action that speeds up or aids the process of evolution is inherently good. Any action which slows it down is inherently bad.
There are areas of life in which an evolutionary ethics is clearly prescriptive, and others in which there is plenty of room for debate. Moreover everyone is different, with different skills, abilities and inclinations. Conscious evolution embraces this diversity, for diversity is the lifeblood of evolution. Everyone will have their own way of participating in the evolutionary process.