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Our Role in the Future Evolution of Life

John Stewart
Member of the Evolution, Complexity and Cognition Research Group, The Free University of Brussels


A completely new phase in the evolution of life on Earth has begun.  It will change everything. 

In this new phase evolution will be driven intentionally, by humanity.  The evolutionary worldview that emerges from an understanding of our role in the new phase has the potential to transform the nature of human existence.

At present humanity is lost.  We don’t know what we are doing here.  We are without a worldview that can point to our place and purpose in the universe and that can also withstand rational scrutiny.

But this difficult period is coming to an end.  The emergence of the new evolutionary worldview is beginning to lift us out of the abyss.  The new worldview has a unique capacity to reveal who we are and what we should be doing with our lives.  It relies solely on scientific knowledge and reason to identify our critical role in future evolution.  The evolutionary worldview can unite us in a great common enterprise, and provide meaning and purpose for human existence.

At the heart of the evolutionary worldview is the fact that evolution has a trajectory—it heads in a particular direction.  However, evolution on Earth will not advance beyond a certain point unless it is driven consciously and intentionally.  If this transition to intentional evolution does not occur, evolution on this planet will stall, and humanity will not contribute positively to the future evolution of life in the universe—we will be a failed evolutionary experiment.

It is as if evolution is a developmental process.  Just as a human embryo is organized to develop through a number of stages to produce an adult, evolution tends to produce a particular sequence of outcomes of increasing complexity.  Initially, evolution moves in this direction of its own accord.  However, at a particular point evolution will continue to advance only if certain conditions are met: organisms must emerge that awaken to the possibility that they are living in the midst of a developmental process; they must realize that the continued success of the process depends on them; and they must commit to actively moving the process forward.

Across the planet at the beginning of the twenty first century, individuals are beginning to realize the importance of the transition to intentional evolution.  They know that they themselves have a significant role to play if the transition is to be completed successfully.

This role requires them to promote the new evolutionary worldview that will drive the transition.  It also calls on them to begin to remake themselves and their societies in whatever ways are necessary to advance the evolutionary process.  Their efforts, powered by the capacity of the evolutionary worldview to invest their lives with direction and purpose, will bring forth a great wave of evolutionary activism that will change life on this planet forever.

Evolutionary activists use the trajectory of evolution to identify what they need to do to advance evolution.  Socially, the next great step in human evolution is the emergence of a unified and sustainable global society.  Psychologically, the next step is to free our behavior from the dictates of our biological and cultural past, so that we can do that which is necessary for future evolutionary success.

The organization of a cooperative global society is an urgent priority.  With it, the threats of world war and global warming can be easily managed.  Without it, human civilization may end this century.

The Evolutionary Manifesto is an intentional attempt to promote the shift to conscious evolution and the evolutionary activism that will drive it.  To read, discuss and circulate the Manifesto is to participate in a great evolutionary transition on this planet.

Part 1 of the Manifesto provides an overview of the shift to intentional evolution and of the worldview that is motivating individuals to actively promote the transition.  Parts 2 and 3 begin by identifying the trajectory of evolution and showing that its directionality is produced by processes that are fully understandable within mainstream science, without resort to teleology or mysticism.  They go on to use the trajectory of evolution to identify the agendas that guide evolutionary activists in their attempts to advance the evolutionary process.  In particular, Part 2 deals with our future social evolution and Part 3 with the future evolution of our adaptability, intelligence and creativity. 

Part 4 of the Manifesto explores the power of the evolutionary worldview to provide meaning and direction for human existence.  It demonstrates the capacity of the worldview to make evolutionary activism the most significant political force on the planet.  In particular, it shows that philosophical arguments such as the ‘naturalistic fallacy’ do not diminish the force of the evolutionary worldview presented by the Manifesto.

The shift to intentional evolution

The shift to intentional evolution has begun on Earth.  The evolutionary process itself is evolving.  It is transitioning from a process that stumbles forward blindly to one that advances consciously and intentionally. 

Hitherto on Earth, evolution proceeded largely by trial and error.  The processes that produced mutations were not guided by foresight or by any intention to advance evolution. 

The same applies to the processes that drive human cultural evolution.  When we humans make scientific discoveries, technological advances, or institute new forms of social organization, we are not consciously attempting to advance the evolutionary process.  Thus far in our evolution we do not intentionally design improvements so that they will be successful in evolutionary terms. 

In contrast, if the transition to conscious evolution is successful, evolution on Earth will henceforth proceed deliberately and intelligently.  Life on Earth, including human societies, will be made and remade continually with the explicit intent of advancing the evolutionary process.  Human nature, culture, technology and social systems, as well as the other living processes on the planet, will all be shaped intentionally so that they contribute positively to the further evolution of life in the universe. 

This transition will increase enormously the ability of the evolutionary process to adapt and innovate to meet whatever challenges are faced by life on this planet in the future.  What might take trial and error many thousands of millions of years to discover can be developed almost instantly by intelligent evolution.  In a few centuries, human technology has produced innovations such as heavier-than-air flight that took past evolution millions of generations of genetic trial and error to accomplish. 

But the significance of this transition goes far beyond merely improving the effectiveness of adaptation to existing circumstances.  It will also enable life on Earth to identify what it can do to contribute productively to the future evolution of life in the universe.  Life on Earth will be able to envision a creative and meaningful role for itself in future evolution, and use the vision to guide its actions and its future development. 

Life on Earth will never be the same. 

The potential for the evolutionary process to ‘awaken’ in this way has arisen because of the emergence on the planet of organisms that are conscious and highly intelligent—humanity.  We have the capacity to pursue our goals deliberately and consciously—we use planning, foresight, anticipation and intent.  To the extent that we begin to use our intelligence to advance the evolutionary process intentionally, evolution itself will be powered by intelligence.  Human creativity will drive the advancement of the evolutionary process on Earth. 

Importantly, this would not only mean that humanity will evolve intelligently.  Increasingly, humanity is managing and adapting the other processes on the planet, living and non-living, for our own ends.  If humanity embraces evolutionary goals, it will therefore mean that the living and non-living processes of the planet are also managed and adapted intelligently for evolutionary ends. 

Because of the central role of innovation in evolution, humanity will also set out to enhance the creativity of the evolutionary process.  This will mean improving our own capacity to innovate as well as the creativity of the systems we are embedded in.  Understanding and utilizing creative processes such as emergence and collective intelligence will be priorities. 

If this major evolution transition is completed successfully, humans will henceforth shape their societies, themselves, and all other living processes on the planet to serve evolutionary goals. Through humanity, the evolutionary process on Earth will have become conscious of itself, and will have acquired the capacity to advance itself intentionally and consciously.  It will have undergone a fundamental and extremely significant transformation.  Evolution will have transitioned from a process that groped its way forward by trial and error to one that strides knowingly into the future, guided by foresight and powered by consciousness. 

Humans who are alive during the 21st century, 13.7 billion years of evolution after the ‘big bang’, are extraordinarily fortunate.  The shift to intentional evolution is one of the most significant evolutionary transitions that can occur on any planet on which life emerges.  We have the unique opportunity to contribute to its successful completion on this planet.  And if we choose to make this contribution, we will do so consciously—we will be aware that we are contributing intentionally to the successful completion of a pivotal evolutionary event on this planet. 

The emergence of intentional evolutionaries 

As the transition begins, individuals are emerging who are choosing to dedicate their lives to advancing the evolutionary process. 

These intentional evolutionaries recognize that they have a critical role to play in driving the evolutionary transition and the future evolution of life.  Their lives can be an important part of the great evolutionary process that has produced the universe and life within it.  They know that if evolution is to continue to fulfill its potential, it now must be driven deliberately, and it is their responsibility and destiny to contribute to this. 

Their conscious participation in the evolutionary process is increasingly becoming the source of value and meaning in their lives.  Redefining themselves within a wider evolutionary perspective is providing direction and purpose to their existence—they no longer see themselves as isolated, self-concerned individuals who live for a short time, then die irrelevantly in a meaningless universe. 

Intentional evolutionaries are energized by the knowledge that their decision to embrace this role is part of the unfolding of the great transition itself.  They see that they are contributing to the success of processes much larger than themselves that will outlast them and potentially live forever.  They know that if they live their lives incompatibly with the processes that govern the evolution of life in the universe, their lives will not have any longer-term relevance.  They will die without leaving a lasting trace. 

For intentional evolutionaries at the leading edge of the transition, their commitment is a major act of existential self-assertion.  It is not a choice that they are predisposed to make by their genetic make-up, nor by the society in which they were raised.  It is a commitment that they can make only after developing some psychological distance from the goals and perspectives of their culture, and only after achieving a deep understanding of their relationship with the evolutionary process. 

Intentional evolutionaries are aware that they have set themselves an extraordinarily challenging task, but know the transition cannot be completed unless sufficient individuals commit themselves to it.  And if life on Earth does not make the transition, it will not participate in the future evolution of life in the universe.  It will be a failed evolutionary experiment.  Intentional evolutionaries know the deepest evolutionary meaning of the challenge: “If not now, when?  And if not you, who?”. 

The allegiance of conscious evolutionaries is not to what is, but to what can be.  They know that they are alive at one of those rare times in history when an old phase is ending, and a new one of infinite possibility is beginning.  They have the courage and wisdom to seize their opportunity and to accept the challenge of the future. 

Intentional evolutionaries know that they have much in common with all others who consciously adopt evolutionary goals, including those that emerge elsewhere in the universe.  Intentional evolutionaries experience a deep connection and kinship with all who awaken to the significance of evolutionary consciousness, even if they never have any direct contact with them.  They are united because they know that despite many difference, they share common perspectives, worldviews, goals and conscious experiences.  They are bound together as members of the circle of conscious life in the universe. 

The goals of intentional evolutionaries 

The goals and objectives of intentional evolutionaries are guided by a comprehensive understanding of the evolutionary processes that have produced life on this planet and that will determine its future.  They are aware of how past evolution has shaped all aspects of their being—their bodies, motivations, values and thinking—and how it has shaped humanity’s economic, social and religious systems, as well as all the other living processes on the planet.  But even more importantly, they also have a deep understanding of the evolutionary processes that will unfold in the future and will ultimately determine the relevance of their lives. 

For intentional evolutionaries, this understanding of future evolution is indispensable—it points to how life on Earth must remake itself if it is to participate successfully in the future evolution of life in the universe.  It also identifies the types of living processes that will not survive future evolution.  It shows how life on Earth needs to change now if it is to play a significant role as evolution advances. 

The direction of evolution 

The task of identifying what will work in the future is made easier because evolution has a trajectory.  It has headed in particular directions in the past, and there is every reason to believe that it will continue to do so in the future.  It is possible to locate humanity and life on Earth on this trajectory, and to see what needs to happen if we are to continue to advance along its path. 

Not only does this understanding emphasize that humanity and life on Earth is evolutionary work-in-progress, it also enables intentional evolutionaries to identify the next great milestones in the evolutionary process on Earth.  These milestones are the evolutionary goals and objectives that they deliberately choose to pursue.  They point to how individuals would live their lives if they are to contribute to the advancement of evolution.  They are the lights on the distant hills that draw us forever onwards. 

The trajectory of evolution is not produced by an external force, or by some impulse that is intrinsic to the universe, or by an ideal end-point that somehow attracts evolution towards it.  Directionality can be explained and understood fully without resort to mysticism. 

For intentional evolutionaries, scientific explanations have a major advantage.  They identify the forces, processes and conditions that produce directionality.  Scientific understanding can therefore be used to work out the kinds of interventions that will advance the process.  In contrast, a readiness to accept mystical explanations can be counterproductive—it can impede the acquisition of the detailed evolutionary understanding that is essential to guide intentional evolution. 

Life tends to evolve in a particular direction simply because there are particular capacities that provide organisms with evolutionary advantage across a wide range of circumstances.  Irrespective of the specifics of the organism or its environment, these capacities enable it to do better in evolutionary terms. And the more an organism has of each of these capacities, the better it will do (e.g. the greater its fitness). 

So as evolution unfolds, it will tend to favor increases in these capacities across all life.  As improvements in these capacities are discovered, life will tend to evolve directionally.  Of course, this trajectory will often be masked by meandering, halting and back-tracking, particularly where the process that searches for improvements relies on blind trial and error.  Furthermore, improvements in these capacities will be favored only when the advantages they provide outweigh their cost.  As a consequence, directional change will often stall until evolution discovers a cost/effective way of enhancing the capacities. 

Two attributes that increase as evolution proceeds are the scale of cooperative organization, and evolvability (i.e. the ability to evolve successfully through the discovery of effective adaptations).  As a result, the advancement of evolution is marked by greater interdependence and cooperation amongst living processes, and by improvement in the ability to respond effectively to adaptive challenges. 

Both of these attributes have the potential to provide evolutionary advantage to living processes across a wide range of environments.  This is because they are meta-adaptive capacities—they improve the ability to adapt in all circumstances, although they are not themselves an adaptation to any specific circumstance. 

In particular, the larger the scale of a cooperative organization, the more resources commanded by the cooperative, the greater its power, the greater the impact of its actions, and therefore the wider the range of environmental challenges that it can meet successfully.  And the greater the evolvability, the greater the capacity to respond effectively to any challenges. 

For example, once intelligent life evolves that is organized cooperatively on a global scale, it will have the power and creativity to protect itself from asteroids that would otherwise collide with the planet.  These devastating collisions would be unavoidable to life that is less evolvable and smaller in scale, as was the case on Earth in the age of the dinosaurs.  And left to their own devices, bacteria are unlikely to survive the engulfment of their solar system by a dying sun. 

If living processes were to set out intentionally to develop strategies that would enable them to succeed in future evolution, these are attributes that they would boost.  Both are capacities that conscious evolutionaries will intentionally attempt to enhance amongst life on Earth.

For Part 2 of the Manifesto (html version) go here

For a Kindle Book that combines The Evolutionary Manifesto with its companion article Strategies for Advancing Evolution go to the book's page at Amazon here (US$1.99)

For an easy-to-print and easy-to-circulate PDF version of the full Manifesto go here (34 pages)


For further technical justification of the evolutionary trend to increasing cooperation (including references to relevant scientific publications) see my book Evolution’s Arrow which is online here


Help to promote discussion of the evolutionary worldview

Feedback from those who read the Manifesto indicates that whether or not they are prepared to embrace the new evolutionary worldview immediately, they generally agree on one thing:  as a matter of urgency, the Manifesto should be widely circulated and subject to extensive discussion and serious consideration.

You can help to promote this debate and consideration by circulating copies of the Manifesto or links to this website as widely as possible.  For example, you could email links to people who might be interested, put links on web sites, in blogs, in comments on blogs and discussion groups, and so on.

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Subscribe to Email list

If you wish to receive occasional emails about key developments in the spread of the evolutionary worldview, send an email to announcelist@evolutionarymanifesto.com with 'subscribe' in the subject line.

Strategies for Advancing Evolution

What can intentional evolutionaries do to advance the evolutionary process?  A 24 page document 'Strategies for advancing evolution' is online here

The Meaning of Life

The paper I delivered as a keynote speaker at the first International Conference on the Evolution and Development of the Universe in Paris in October 2008 has been accepted for publication in the journal Foundations of Science.  The paper (The Meaning of Life in a Developing Universe) is here    

How Computer Games can Develop Consciousness

Six blog posts that explore the potential of computer games to develop humanity and to advance the evolutionary process are here
HomeAbout the Author | Contact | Manifesto.pdf | Strategies.pdf | Meaning of Life.pdf | Computer Games