The Trajectory of Evolution and Its Implications for Humanity

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John E. Stewart

Abstract

Does the Big History of life on Earth disclose a trajectory that has been driven by selection? If so, will the trajectory continue to apply into the future? This paper argues that such a trajectory exists, and examines some of its key implications. The most important consequence is that humanity can use the trajectory to guide how it evolves and adapts into the future. This is because the trajectory identifies a sequence of adaptations that will be favoured by selection. If humanity intentionally evolves its social systems and psychological capacities so that they follow the trajectory, humanity can avoid negative selection and instead survive and thrive indefinitely into the future. This would enable humanity to make a positive contribution to the future evolution of life in the universe. But it turns out that immediate selection will not drive the evolution of life on Earth further along this trajectory. Instead, intentional action by humanity is necessary. It is as if the evolution of life on any planet is a developmental process that has a very unusual characteristic: evolution will continue to develop successfully beyond a certain point only if it produces a sentient organism that: (i) awakens to the possibility it is embedded in a developing process; (ii) realizes that this developing process will continue successfully only if it chooses to intentionally drive the process forward; and (iii) commits to doing whatever is necessary to achieve this. On this planet, humanity is that sentient organism. The existence of such a key evolutionary role for humanity is capable of providing humanity with meaning and purpose in a larger scheme of things. For individuals who commit to driving the process forward, the nature of the trajectory has immediate consequences for what they should do with their lives, here and now.

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