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Evolution’s Arrow by John Stewart - Essay

Updated: Apr 28, 2022

(Click above to listen to this article. Video editing by Dinorah Delfin )

“This is no place to stop – halfway between ape and angel”

- Benjamin Disraeli

A major evolutionary transition is beginning to unfold on earth. Individuals are emerging who are choosing to dedicate their lives to consciously advancing the evolutionary process. They see that their lives are an important part of the great evolutionary process that has produced the universe and the life within it. They realise that they have a significant role to play in evolution.

Redefining themselves within a wider evolutionary perspective is providing meaning and direction to their lives - they no longer see themselves as isolated, self-concerned individuals who live for a short time, then die irrelevantly in a meaningless universe. They know that if evolution is to continue to fulfill its potential, it now must be driven consciously, and it is their responsibility and destiny to contribute to this.

At the heart of this evolutionary awakening is the understanding that evolution is directional. Evolution is not an aimless and random process; it is headed somewhere. This is very important knowledge -

once we understand the direction of evolution, we can identify where we are located along the evolutionary trajectory, discover what the next steps are, and see what they mean for us, as individuals and collectively.

Where is evolution headed? Contrary to earlier understandings of evolution, an unmistakable trend is towards greater interdependence and cooperation amongst living processes. If humans are to advance the evolutionary process on this planet, a major task will be to find more cooperative ways of organising ourselves.

The trend towards increasing cooperation is well illustrated by a short history of the evolution of life on earth. For billions of years after the big bang, the universe expanded rapidly in scale and diversified into a multitude of galaxies, stars, planets, and other forms of lifeless matter. The first life that eventually arose on earth was infinitesimal – it was comprised of a few molecular processes. But it did not remain on this tiny scale for long. In the first major development, cooperative groups of molecular processes formed the first simple cells. Then, in a further significant advance, communities of these simple cells formed more complex cells of much greater scale.

A further major evolutionary transition unfolded after many more millions of years. Evolution discovered how to organise cooperative groups of these complex cells into multi-celled organisms such as insects, fish, and eventually mammals. Again the scale of living processes had increased enormously. This trend continued with the emergence of cooperative societies of multi-celled organisms, including beehives, wolf packs, and baboon troops. The pattern was repeated with humans – families joined up to form bands, bands teamed up to form tribes, tribes joined to form agricultural communities, and so on. The largest-scale cooperative organisations of living processes on the planet are now human societies.

This unmistakable trend is the result of many repetitions of a process in which living entities team up to form larger-scale cooperatives. Strikingly, the cooperative groups that arise at each step in this sequence become the entities that then team up to form the cooperative groups at the next step in the sequence.