Purposeful evolution is a key idea within the mission of the Center for Future Consciousness
). Simply stated, purposeful evolution means to intentionally guide the ongoing evolutionary transformation of nature, which includes humanity and human society. The intent of purposeful evolution is to improve upon the present and/or the past. Applied to humans as an ethical principle, we should purposefully strive to evolve ourselves, as best we can, rather than being negligent or incompetent regarding our own future evolution, or defensively entrenched within our present nature and state of existence.
To be clear, ever since humans developed the capacity to consciously set goals, using thinking, planning, and imagination, we have been engaging in purposeful evolution. Throughout our long history, we have incessantly attempted to further evolve and improve the environmental conditions around us, our technologies and tools, our social arrangements, our cultural values, and even ourselves. We may not thoughtfully or wisely exercise this power, or even exactly realize what we are doing, but nevertheless we are beings that routinely engage in purposeful evolution. We are beings (indeed "becomings") that purposefully evolve.
As I explain in my book Future Consciousness: The Path to Purposeful Evolution
, our capacity for "future consciousness," which includes being able to anticipate the possibilities of the future, envision desirable futures, and work toward realizing our future goals and visions is the psychological foundation of our ability to generate purposeful evolution. To have purpose is to think and act toward some envisioned future reality, and often our intent is to make things better than they presently are. I argue that being able to purposefully direct the flow of change with a conscious eye toward the future is our most distinctive and empowering psychological strength. Also see my book The Evolution of Future Consciousness
Although we should not abandon the ongoing purposeful evolution of our technologies, given contemporary world affairs and global challenges, what is absolutely crucial for a good future for all of us and our environment is to consciously focus more on evolving ourselves, psychologically, ethically, socially, and even biologically. As a first step in this direction, we need to understand that we have always been engaging in purposeful evolution and it is quite natural for us to do so; indeed it is our most empowering and human-like capacity.
A central problem we face today--the effects of which ripple out, impacting all spheres of human reality and even our environment--is that to a significant degree we resist the purposeful evolution of ourselves. In essence, when presented with the choice "to evolve or not to evolve," we frequently choose the latter response rather than the former. (See my previous Future Consciousness Insights
.) There are many reasons for this entrenched antagonism to self-improvement or self-evolution. I am going to highlight a couple key ones.
It is a common view that the world around us and our own human nature are relatively stable realities. Of course, in our contemporary culture we frequently hear that everything is changing and the world is in flux. But I believe that to a great degree many of us do not truly appreciate this point nor embrace it, especially regarding human nature and our individual selves. Many of us view contemporary changes as abnormal or out of whack with nature, and as something threatening that needs to be opposed. When we argue that we want to maintain or defend some image we have of who and what we are--we want to preserve our identities--we often fail to take into account that everything in nature is transformative, including ourselves. When it is suggested that we should evolve and improve ourselves, we frequently resist this idea because we believe that there is something stable about us that captures our intrinsic nature and should not be altered. Aren't we fine just the way we are? Don't we possess a God-given nature? Who are you to suggest that I forsake or abandon my accustomed way of life and my true inner self? The suggestion to evolve is frequently seen as an assault on our natural personal or cultural identities, even akin to a death threat.
The human drive to maintain stability is a fundamental dimension of human motivation. Indeed, just as we engage in purposeful evolution, we also engage in purposeful stability. Using the capacities of future consciousness, we purposefully set goals and enact plans to preserve and maintain the status quo. A great deal of the human struggle to survive involves purposeful efforts to maintain stability within ourselves, our societies, and our environment. Indeed, there is a great deal of stability in nature; humans have just added in a conscious and purposeful set of capacities to support and strengthen this natural phenomenon.
Yet, although human reality and nature as a whole are a fascinating mixture of stability and change, the overall trajectory of it all is transformative and evolutionary. Indeed, the rate of evolutionary transformation in humanity is significantly greater than the rate of change observed in the history of nature as a whole. What is humanity? And who are we? We are journeys and works in progress, more than stable things.
To dig a bit deeper, the expression "purposeful evolution" contains the word "evolution," and this central idea of science provokes extreme agitation and antagonism within the minds of many, often offending religious and conservative sensibilities. Evolution runs counter to the traditional idea that humanity, all of life, and the universe as a whole was initially created in its present form. Yet, the incredibly vast and detailed knowledge and wealth of information that we have discovered about human history and the history of nature, both of the earth and the universe, indicates that everything, including ourselves, is part of a colossal ongoing evolutionary process. There are elements of stability within this process, but the universe has evolved through an intricate series of stages and we have evolved within it. That is the "story of us all." And if this is the case, the most realistic view to take regarding ourselves is to make the best of the reality in which we find ourselves. If we are inherently evolutionary, then it makes much more sense to purposefully guide the ongoing transformation of ourselves as best as possible, with thought, knowledge, imagination, ethics, and wisdom, than to deny or attempt to work against our very nature.
Instead of being repulsed by this fact, we should revel in this capacity. Consciously guiding evolutionary change toward progressive improvement is an amazing ability that we possess. It is a capacity that we should more fully understand and embrace. We are evolutionary beings in an evolutionary universe, but because we can imagine and think ahead, set goals and values for ourselves, and act upon these aspirations, we can purposefully and thoughtfully direct the flow of evolution. This power builds upon and amplifies the evolutionary process, since consciousness, purpose, and thought are brought into the dynamics of natural evolution. Just as it makes sense to acknowledge our evolutionary nature, it also makes sense to acknowledge and embrace our most empowering and evolved capacity, which is to purposefully guide our own evolution, as well as the evolution of the world around us. If there is something distinctive and unique in humans, it is this evolutionary power to remake ourselves with our conscious minds. Our distinctive nature is the power of self-transcendence and self-improvement.
In consciously embracing the idea of purposeful evolution toward the goal of self-improvement, we need to ask how we are to determine what constitutes self-improvement? How do we determine what is a good change? In answering this question, we need to first realize that, as integral to our ongoing efforts at purposeful evolution, we have already offered multiple and varied answers to this question throughout our history. That is, we have always been identifying and pursuing what we believe are improvements to our reality. Since we are purposefully evolving beings that intentionally create the future, we have to make decisions about what constitutes the good that we should be pursuing. We are (and have been) in the driver's seat, whether or not we like, or even acknowledge, it. Since we cannot avoid choosing among several perceived preferable courses of action and goals, we should strive toward improving, as effectively as possible, our capacity to select our values and goals wisely.
What I have proposed in my writings is that self-evolution should pivot on the development and exercise of wisdom. Wisdom is the best possible standard--the guiding light--for defining what makes for a further evolved and improved human being. We should strive toward becoming wiser conscious minds. And, as I will explain in more depth in subsequent essays the exercise of wisdom--itself an evolving capacity--is the best possible means toward realizing this self-evolution. Who can reasonably reject or oppose the idea that we should energetically focus on re-making ourselves to be progressively wiser?
In summary, in spite of the human drive toward stability, resisting change and self-improvement runs counter to our deep evolutionary nature. The history of humanity, the earth, and the cosmos is a journey, rather than some fixed state. Moreover, given our unique and defining human capacity for purposeful evolution, we are irresponsible if we do not take responsibility for our self-directed journey through time. To run away from this responsibility is to run away from our human nature. We need to continually evolve our understanding of what constitutes improved human beings and how to best achieve such inspiring, ever-evolving visions, and we are ethically responsible for acting on this knowledge.