REASON AND EVOLUTION
By Roland Watson
In the last article, I presented the chain of life, and how human life is moving forward, particularly through changes to our reason and consciousness. I will begin this article, by reviewing the neural programming that will be required to support these changes.
Neural circuitry changes
First, and as with the achievement of the absolute unity of being states, an increase in our ethical capacity will also require growth in the frontal lobe, to enable us to better evaluate the consequences of our actions. (It seems we are destined for even higher foreheads.) Also, and in tandem with this, our reason will have to achieve dominance, at least in certain circumstances, over our emotion, and this will necessitate its own changes to brain structure.
As it stands now, there are more neurotransmitter channels from the limbic system to the frontal lobe, than vice-versa. Emotion, which derives from or is coordinated by the limbic system, usually guides our behavior. The basis of this pattern is that survival requires the brain to attach an emotional value to incoming perceptions, immediately, so that in cases of danger we act by reflex, meaning without thinking - without engaging the frontal lobe. For consciousness evolution to proceed, though, this must be balanced.
There are actually two paths from the limbic system to the frontal cortex, an "upper" path, according to Dr. Ratey's guide to the brain, "that deals with pleasure and sociability, and a 'lower' path that deals with issues of self-preservation." Speaking practically, we need to expand or enlarge the upper path, and also the reverse route from the cortex to the limbic system. Our reason is able to guide us, even in the most dangerous situations. We no longer require an emotional reflex. As I mentioned elsewhere, this is demonstrated by the training of Special Forces soldiers, and also more generally through the behavior of individuals who are experienced with danger. They are able to keep their cool in such situations, and this increases their chances of survival.
Lastly, we need more of what is termed lateralization, meaning, more specialization by brain hemisphere. (In this case, we do not want symmetry.) Further, we need more neural connections between the hemispheres, through what is known as the corpus callosum.
Again, quoting Dr. Ratey, "Creative and artistic individuals do indeed possess higher levels of inter-hemispheric communication. The creative meanderings and patternings of the right hemisphere are not enough for creativity; they must be joined with action or language - motor functions - coordinated by the left hemisphere to be demonstrated to the world."
In summary, brain evolution is moving towards increasing hemispheric specialization, and at the same time, greater integration between the two.
Can will play a role?
Regarding all of this, there is still the question of how it will occur, meaning via traditional natural selection, through chance genetic mutations that lead to such structural changes, or behaviorally. Indeed, one can imagine how many if not all of the changes that I described could occur through genetic mutations, given a very long period of time.
But, we also must recognize that human evolution, starting with brain evolution, may now be proceeding at a rapid rate. Further, if any one factor is responsible for this, it is the development of language, written language. Widespread literacy, which I consider to be the basic fuel for our evolution, is a recent phenomenon. And this in turn has greatly increased our access to what might be termed the collective human memory, and learning. So, we are, if not evolving now, certainly developing very rapidly, because of this. We may in fact finally be poised truly to evolve.
For example, increased ethics requires increased frontal lobe activity, which itself requires extensive education, to stimulate the neurons in the frontal lobe, and thereby encourage them to grow more and stronger synapses. Written language has enabled this education, and brain development. And, this can be passed on to subsequent generations, without the need for genetic mutations.
I don't want to sell mutations short, though. Even though Lamarck's rough view about the inheritability of acquired traits does not hold, the possibility that through education we might be able to lay the groundwork for positive mutations in the brains of our offspring, such as through new patterns of gene expression, including via epigenetics, shouldn't be discounted completely.
We have a bias where we try to fit all evolution, of every characteristic, into a traditional natural selection model. This is known as the Economic Principle. But this is looking backward, not forward. Such a perspective may apply only to species that have limited self-consciousness. The development of self-consciousness via genetic mutations may trigger the operation of
new evolutionary processes, for which such mutations are either triggered in new ways, or not required at all.
Other perceptual biases
There are a number of other specific and entrenched biases that we will have to overcome as well. For example, we should try to learn to think and talk as if time and space are not separate, or even potentially that they have an independent existence.
Similarly, we must reject our bias towards the "physical," towards accepting without question the view that the world is material. We are not composed of particles of matter; rather, we are the forms that arise as interacting waves establish a semblance of stability.
I should add, we must temper our common sense view of gravity. Einstein's general theory of relativity predicts the existence of gravity waves, hence the objective of some physicists to find the graviton, the wave's dual particle. Also, we now understand that each of the universe's forces has a corresponding gauge field, and that this field provides a means of communication across the universe such that the forces which act at any particular point also act everywhere. Said another way, the field communicates "local" symmetry to create "global" or universal symmetry. The corresponding particle for these gauge fields has also been found to be the graviton.
What I am driving at here is that physicists look for an explanation of how things work, not why. Moreover, they also can never prove that something is "right," only that it is "not wrong."
Why is energy attracted to other energy? In an expanding universe - in any universe - why is there such a linkage? I said earlier that gravity can be considered to be god's will. It may also be an indicator of universal consciousness. We - our entire bodies - are affected by it. Unlike electrical charge, gravity cannot be shielded. While a positive charge is offset by a negative charge, adding energy to energy always increases its gravity.
We perceive gravity - and its hints of universal consciousness - at the macro level. But only when we escape from these misleading forms will we become aware of it at the micro level: not the particles or strings - of what? - on which everything is supposed to be based. Rather, those shapes and forms that underlie all others. Indeed, a final and highly intriguing idea about gravity is that the reason it is so weak in our universe, is that it extends across all of the universes in the multiverse, to hold them together, to hold "everything" as one.
Creation of new forms of life
I want to complete my review of the directions by which reason is leading the evolution of human life, by talking about the outcome that may prove to be our signal accomplishment, but which is also the one with the greatest dangers, and not only to us, but to all life on earth.
As planets create non-planetary life, so too some day may humans create non-human life - which itself reproduces, and at some point the life that we create may itself go on to create other life. One can imagine a never-ending stream of life creating life creating life - although, of course, in a different way this is what we already have. This would be evolution moving from self-propulsion, to self-creation, to the creation of other selves, not only via procreation, but also through other means. Now, these other means are science, so we already have an idea of the directions such developments might take, and of some of the risks that will be involved.
Scientific naivete, and dictatorship
Through genetic engineering, we will attempt to reshape our own organic components, and those of other forms of life as well, including by mixing the components of different species. The last, in particular, including transgenics and xenotransplantation, is dangerous to the point of absurdity.
We know that the process of evolution choosing forms is long and considered, but, our own efforts are rapid and impulsive. We are in a race to try anything that we have the technology to attempt. We also know that there is no underlying evolutionary logic for what we seek. Rather than shape our efforts to conform to normal evolutionary paths, by which improvements in form, ability and consciousness slowly are revealed, we are attempting to force the issue. We are attempting to order evolution to conform to us and to our desires. But, evolution cannot be dictated. If forced, it will not work!
Another direction in the creation of autonomous selves is the application of advanced technology to machines, specifically, to computers. The idea here is that we will be able to create computers that can think independently, and which develop their own form of consciousness, such that they too ultimately recognize that actions have consequences. I should note, this constitutes awareness of self, and hence of will.
Of course, even with today's state of technology, there is still a long way to go. Even the most powerful computers have nothing like the organic parallel processing exhibited by the neurons in a human brain. But still, we should be prepared. Some day we may create a true artificial intelligence. And, if such a day ever comes, one hopes we will retain the ability to pull its plug. If not, our new creation may also be our death.
Then there is the option for new life creation through the mixing of the two: through human/machine links. These too are conceivable, but, we also must recognize that they will incur all of the risks, of both of the other methods.
There are a few other possibilities as well. First, we may create simple forms of life, in labs, if we learn how to duplicate the conditions that led to the origination of life on earth. Also, it may be possible to create a simple life form from scratch. A combination of a few hundred genes should be sufficient. But again, like transgenics, this raises the starkest version possible of the idea that just because we can do something, in many cases, we should not!
Actually, scientists have already begun creating simple, synthetic forms of life. These are new types of microbes, which are essentially alien to the earth's ecology. While the scientists say that we shouldn't worry, because the microbes are so simple, we have no idea of what the long-term consequences of their creation will be. Moreover, it is certain that synthetic biology will eventually be used to create more complex forms of life.
As a closing commentary on the extreme consequences that may result from technological development, it is worth repeating that this course is fundamentally different from the other directions. Ethical development, and the development of advanced forms of consciousness, are the direct outcomes, and the continuance, of the evolutionary tradition. They represent further refinements of our ability to survive, and to enjoy life.
Technological development is different from this. While it is also an outcome of the tradition, it is not a continuance. The evolutionary tradition is a manifestation of universal will, even of the will of god. Technological development is a manifestation of human will, distinct from this.
Its goal is to satisfy human needs; specifically, our selfishness. But in doing this, it is in opposition to our ethical development, which tells us that we should leave our selfishness and our lust to compete behind. This new course is in fact a distinct branching, a diversion, by form, from the evolutionary tradition. It does not appear consistent with the purpose of life, and as such it is highly unlikely to succeed.
The universe is characterized by movement from the ordered to the less ordered. Gravity notwithstanding, the only exception to this is the development of life. Evolution is contra-entropy. The more a lifeline evolves, the more orderly it becomes. Ethical development and advanced consciousness are clearly examples of such greater order, of a truly higher form of organization. And, the latter in turn gave us science. It too is part of the tradition. Enjoyment is predicated on knowledge, which is itself predicated on a consciousness able to understand.
Science is one source of, or conduit to, knowledge. But science itself has given us technology, and while some of it is good - it follows the tradition - much of it, particularly the cases that I just described, is a distortion or perversion of the tradition, through its being polluted with primitive human form. Further, it will not survive. It will not pass the evolutionary test.
Human created life may be higher, if it reaches a state of greater order. But it, and we, are not, if it does not.
In the next article, I will review the two great challenges of life.
© Roland Watson 2015