THE FUTURE OF OUR SPECIES
By Roland Watson
This is the final article in the series on human evolution, and I am going to make a couple of predictions. To begin, I want to return again to the concepts of topology, which subject I introduced in the general series on evolution and chaos theory. I want to do this to see if there are any other deeper conclusions about human evolution that we might be able to draw. And, to repeat, topology is the study of continuity within a form, and chaos the study of discontinuous breaks between forms. So, the question is: are the following transformations topologically possible, or is a period of chaos required?
- competition to cooperation?
- selfishness to selflessness?
- the demand for unlimited freedom to accepting some constraints on our personal liberty?
- and, concern only for the needs of humans to those of all life?
Also, can we transform hate to love, or to forgiveness? And, can we transform a society that is controlled by a tight network of large and extremely powerful institutions to one with a looser network of smaller institutions and which only assist, not control? Finally, can we eliminate the need for a group to define a common enemy as a means to establish its identity?
Gradual human evolution?
At the individual level, such transformations would appear to be possible. Reform, person by person, seems to occur, without a period of disruption being required. Through such transformations many people have reduced their desires, and learned to forgive. They have learned that to be ethical is the reasonable choice. And, at the social level many traditional societies had limited institutions, made peace with their neighbors, and functioned well. Also, many modern societies have made great strides, particularly in eliminating certain forms of discrimination.
Still, it is arguable that any such transformation, individual or social, requires a chaotic trigger. For an individual, it could be as subtle as the creation of a new thought - an epiphany. The real change then follows, as the individual engages in introspection on this thought. Similarly, many traditional societies likely achieved peace with their neighbors through the renunciation of war. They had to experience war to learn that it was not worth it. They had to learn not to fight.
The same process is also evident in modern societies, through the steps that have been required to reduce discrimination. And, of course, it is notable that such transformations have been accomplished only by a minority of people, and societies.
It would appear, then, that real social evolution, moving from the committed few to the enlightened all, is topologically impossible. Chaos and a complete species change is required.
Technology will not lead the way
Furthermore, it is also possible to use the ideas of topology to refute the belief that technology will lead the way. I have described, in the introductory article titled the Symbol of Life, what is essentially an underlying topological geometry - of life: the form of an inverted pyramid resting on a sphere. I characterized the history of human development, in philosophical terms, as movement up one side of the pyramid, through our increasing knowledge of life and the universe, and up the opposite side through the spread of increasingly sophisticated and disciplined ethical behavior. However, while this characterization separates these developments, they are of course linked. The form is a continuous whole. Therefore, as they appear to be the directions by which human evolution is proceeding, one can conclude that they must continue to develop together. We will not evolve with greater scientific understanding, but stagnant or declining ethics, or vice-versa.
Scientific exploration, for the most part is, or at least it has been, removed from ethical concerns. Historically, scientists used their powers of reasoning and prepared simple - to construct - experimental apparatus, to develop and test their theories. And, in most cases this exploration was ethically benign. No life, human or otherwise, was harmed in the process. Much modern scientific exploration continues in this vein, but a growing part of it is now ethically unacceptable. The production of larger and larger apparatus requires environmental destruction, and life - more and more of it - is considered expendable in the search for truth.
Technology is an offshoot of science, and while some of it leads to greater knowledge, it is also the catalyst behind modern ethical degradation. Technology is supported by commerce - it is, under our present social structure, inseparable from it - and corporations insist that it not be subject to any ethical considerations. It is funded solely as a part of their quest to earn profits, which necessarily excludes such considerations, and it also inevitably engenders all manner of inequality.
Technological development is not following the higher ethics that have been revealed by reason, that we should be selfless, and strive to assist others, and to value all life. Instead, it represents the continuation of ethics based on selfishness and human chauvinism. It does not entail growth on both sides of the pyramid. It is not symmetrical. Therefore, changes to the human species that result from technological development, will not be evolutionary. That technology, as it is now pursued, would lead to evolution, is topologically precluded. Human development motivated by changes in technology, given their current ethical foundation, is an evolutionary dead end.
Evolution in our consciousness
To close this series, I want to expand my review of human evolution to consider other changes to our form that might occur, starting with modifications to our self-consciousness. At the moment we are self-conscious, but it is still a rather primitive form.
We are not truly conscious of self, of how and why we act the way we do, and also what it means, including what our consequences are, on ourselves and others. But, our self-consciousness also is evolving - this is actually one of the core aspects of the evolutionary experience - towards a point of far greater knowledge: of self, and of others.
We are also experiencing changes to our consciousness through spiritual or philosophical evolution, starting with our ability to bring about and maintain a specific mental state that has been characterized as the absolute unity of being. This state of mind is achieved when the discrete boundaries that, apparently, exist between different objects and individuals, and also the sense of time, are eliminated. In such a state, you - so-to-speak - become one with the universe. Indeed, there may well be another evolutionary goal that is involved in the development of this form of consciousness, and which I will consider in more detail in the final series of articles.
And, for all of this, for all of these evolutionarily-driven behavioral changes, I want to re-emphasize: individuals will lead the way. Form is defeated and ethics implemented, by individuals. Mobs fail to form, when individuals refuse to join in. And, advanced states of consciousness, occur inside individual minds. Indeed, it all starts in the mind. Our perception of reality is a mental one. Furthermore, life is manifested through will, through the will to create new thoughts, to guide the brain to reconfigure itself so that it can have them; and through discipline, to decide which thoughts to follow and expand, and which to reject and cut-off.
For physiology, it is likely that some minor physical changes will accompany our behavioral developments. First, with widespread equality in nutrition and medical care, the types of health and stature and life expectancy differences that remain between individuals from developed and developing regions, should be eliminated. Secondly, as we reduce our desire to kill, and our dependency on it, and hence our protein consumption, this should make us slimmer and more fit - and less prone to heart disease and cancer. However, we are unlikely to see additional great increases in stature - a race of three meter or nine foot tall humans - because of stabilizing selection, the need for energy conservation, and also because there appears to be no compelling motivation for such a change. Therefore, the next edition of the genus Homo should not be dissimilar, physically, from us, except perhaps in the brain. (It seems likely that significant neural rewiring will be required to enable the evolution of our consciousness.)
Lastly, regarding our gender characteristics - including their associated behavioral attributes - while some new trends appear to be underway here, such as the movement towards behavioral similarity between the sexes, it is probably too early to say if they will prove to be evolutionary or not. The reasons for these trends, even given the effects of social form, are not yet clear. Also, the basic condition, the competition to find a mate - a partner, will remain. Of course, if people reject this competition, and even the idea of needing a partner, such a change could lead to developments which themselves might prove to be evolutionary.
As to the consequences of these changes for "post-human" society, while I would not expect a utopia, or neo-communism, we should see a move away from social pyramids, and a greater focus on self-reliance and the positive aspects of community and culture. Also, with a more advanced self-consciousness, there is the possibility that we will create new forms of group unity. Social media enabled by the Internet may well be a precursor of this. We may even find a way to transcend the conflict that has always existed between the individual and the group.
However, to return to the issue of timing, while you may help initiate it, it is not going to happen tomorrow. Even forced adaptation evolution takes at a minimum thousands of years, and while we may have been evolving for some time now, we are certainly not there yet. If only because of population pressures, it will be a long time before we all reach what I previously described as stage three. Indeed, one would expect our successors to be - individually - completely familiar with all aspects of our currently most advanced science and mathematics, so there is a huge technical educational hurdle to overcome as well. In our successor species, every individual will be a genius, by our species' standard.
Furthermore, it is important to recognize that the achievement of stage three may itself be only the jumping off point, for the real evolution to come. For example, one perspective on this is available from another aspect of chaos theory. It has been demonstrated mathematically that a system with one degree of freedom, when energized, if it ever displays - here I am again quoting James Gleick - "a regular cycle of period three," that this will lead to chaos, out of which a new form of order might arise. For humans, the degree of freedom is will, our behavior constitutes the energy addition, and period three is the third stage of personal development and its associated values and social structure. One would expect, then, that if and when a critical mass of our population reaches stage three, some form of chaos will occur, followed, potentially, by our evolution to a new form.
I can add that through doing this we would effectively accomplish our escape from the historical cycle described by Giambattista Uico, which I related in the introductory article on human cycles.
We still have a long way to go, though. Let's hope we make it! But, the trend is set, and you should definitely do your part to continue it.
Also, theoretically, we might be able to accomplish a rapid evolution. With the right education, and by making good use of modern communications, we could bring most people to stage three quite quickly, even in a generation or two. However, with the problems that now exist, this is unlikely to occur.
I should further add that we remain at risk, although I believe the risk is small, of following other evolutionary routes. First, we could degrade further, become more and more conditioned and determined, but this, as we have seen, is a dead end. Like the dogs we have made, we too would lose our ability to survive "in the wild." And then, if some event confronted us with it - with the wild - if as through overpopulation and environmental destruction we lost all of our own support systems, which now protect us from it, we would be finished.
The other evolutionary possibility is that of a split in humanity, as was hypothesized by H.G. Wells in The Time Machine. There are great inequalities now, and these conceivably could lead to permanent splits. As to inequality in nutrition, and hence in physical characteristics including appearance, size and speed, which differences traditionally fueled evolution, we have just seen that they should be eliminated. But this is not necessarily the case with inequality in wealth. The wealthy may be able, and perhaps some day they will try to buy - through technology - a new form. Of course, if they do, good luck to them, or rather, good chance. As we also have seen, such options - including genetic engineering, test-tube clones, and the linkage of man and machine - are almost certainly doomed to fail.
In conclusion, whatever evolutionary route we take, we will still be animal. It seems clear that we are not yet at the stage of initiating a new kingdom of life. Also, if we do evolve, let us hope that the members of our successor species, when they look back on us, will think that while we had to face serious challenges - of our own making - we responded to them quickly, and with great determination.
© Roland Watson 2015