The “COOPERATION” Category is devoted to show that the evolution of Life on Earth has a direction. This direction is toward increasing the scale of cooperation among living processes. Also, the direction of evolution is toward increasing the adaptability of individuals and communities to better face the challenges of Life. The Butterfly-Community Open-Project is aiming to be the humanity step further in its evolution.
This article is compiled using texts from John Stewart’s book, Evolution’s Arrow
The advantages of being better at adapting have driven progressive improvements in the evolvability of cooperative groups. The processes that adapt and evolve individuals and societies have gotten progressively better at discovering effective forms of cooperation. Evolution itself evolves, and living processes get smarter at evolving.
Progressive evolution has improved the ability of the genetic mechanism to adapt organisms and even societies of organisms. The genetic mechanism uses trial-and-error to search for better adaptation. It tries out genetic changes when offspring are produced. If a change improves the ability of an offspring to survive and reproduce, it spreads throughout the population, producing organisms that are better adapted.
If these genetic changes are made randomly, the majority will be harmful. Most changes made blindly to a complex organism will kill it. Random change is a very inefficient way to search for improvements. So a genetic mechanism that can target its changes will have an evolutionary advantage. It can cut down on the number of changes that are harmful, and make changes that have a greater chance of being useful. For example, a population of snow hares in an environment in which general temperatures are changing widely every few years could target its genetic changes at varying the thickness of fur. This would be more likely to pay off than changing genes that are unrelated to environmental changes. A genetic mechanism that can focus on genetic change in this way would be more efficient at discovering better adaptation. Sexual reproduction itself owes its existence to its ability to do this. But its improvements in the genetic mechanism are still limited: it cannot search for improvements during the life of the organism, but only when organisms reproduce.
Entirely new evolutionary mechanisms had to be developed to be able to try out and test changes within the organism during its life. Animals and human societies have evolved internal processes that discover new and better adaptation in this way. Typical examples are our own physiological, emotional and mental adaptive systems. It is clear that smarter adaptability has driven a long sequence of improvements in these internal adaptive processes.
A key milestone was reached when organisms could communicate with each other about adaptive improvements they had discovered during their lives. Adaptive discoveries no longer died with the individual who made them. They could be passed on to others and a culture of adaptive information could be developed. Once this ability evolved, the internal adaptive processes qualified as evolutionary mechanisms, able to accumulate adaptive discoveries across the generations. On this Planet, only humans and our societies have evolved this capacity to a high level.
Another key milestone was improving the way to multiply, store and transmit information: in the beginning were songs, stories and legends. Then people invented writing: from clay tablets, animal skins and papyrus sheets to paper and digital support. The invention of print, radio, television, and internet greatly increased our ability to transmit information, learn, adapt and co-evolve.
A further key milestone in the progressive improvement of evolvability was the development of a capacity for mental modeling. Somebody capable of mental modeling can form internal mental models and mental pictures of how its environment will unfold in the future and how its actions will affect this. To an extent, it can predict more accurately about its environment, in time and space. So it is able to try out possible actions mentally, select the one that produces the best future result in its mental models and then try it out in practice. It will be able to use its mental models to transform its environment to achieve its particular objectives. Over the generations, humans with this capacity can collect more and more knowledge about their environment and the effects of their actions. This will enable them to build mental models of their environment that are more comprehensive and accurate.
Progressively, humans will be able to model how their environment unfolds over wider and wider scales of space and time. Eventually, the organisms will be able to model the wider-scale evolutionary processes that have produced it and will affect them in the future. For the first time, they will see themselves as situated at a particular point in a progressive evolutionary process. They will become aware of the direction of evolution and therefore, they will engage their individual and social evolution in a conscious way. They will become aware that their increasing awareness of the direction of evolution is itself a significant step in evolution.
We will understand that our existing set of emotions, motivations, beliefs, values and aspirations are all the products of our evolutionary history. These characteristics will have all been tailored and tuned by past evolution to ensure our survival. As our understanding of the direction of evolution improves, we will see what we have to do in the future to continue our evolutionary success. We simply understand that we must further harness the benefits of cooperation by forming cooperative organizations of larger and larger scale and greater and greater evolvability.
But will we use our awareness of the direction of evolution to guide our evolution? Will we choose to do what is necessary for future evolutionary success? Will we care about our evolutionary future?
The difficulty faced by all organisms in their evolution is that, in order to continue their success story, they have to change themselves. What was once a successful strategy, over time becomes obsolete. As our social challenges change, so too, we must evolve and change our life strategies.
For this, we must start by changing our worldview. A new worldview will inform us differently and, over time, our patterns of perception, motivation, choice, decision and action will change accordingly to be more appropriate to our new environment. Continuing our success story will require radical changes in our behavior and social organization.