I would like to propose that the concept of “conscious evolution” be taken seriously. The concept emerged in the “spiritualist” community hearkening back to Pierre Tielhard de Jardin and perhaps through to Henri Bergson’s “creative evolution.” Alongside most spiritual and/or “metaphysical” notions, it is largely dismissed by more serious thinkers as at best “just words” and at worst, a dangerously fuzzy headed distraction from reality.
I propose an alternative view. Firstly that the concept identifies a real phenomenon in the world. Secondly, that this phenomenon is actionable and important. Thirdly, that this phenomenon might in fact be the most important place for us to focus our energies.
First: What is “Conscious Evolution”?
The two phenomena of “consciousness” and “evolution” are, in themselves, notoriously difficult to get our arms around. Conjoining them into a single idea seems doomed to confusion. Fortunately, we don’t have to make a strong claim as to the fundamentals of either consciousness or evolution to carve out a meaning for Conscious Evolution.
There are three different facets of the concept:
- That the subject of evolution has moved from the bio/morphological level (i.e., changes in bodies) to the neuro/cognitive (i.e., changes in behaviours, practices, concepts, theories, ideas, etc.). Because human beings can so profoundly impact our enviroment and because we can so profoundly change with different “software,” the primary driver of our fitness has moved from the “hardware” into the “software” layer. This is closely linked to so-called “cultural evolution.”
- Because we can be conscious of our own software, consciousness can be conscious of and have agency in its own evolution. We can and quite likely must be aware of and deliberate about the evolution of our software.
- Because evolution is something that we can be aware of, it becomes a subject of consciousness. Consciousness can be conscious of evolution and deploy all of its capacities on evolution. Which is to say that evolution is no longer an unknown force operating on the world. It is increasingly becoming a subject of knowledge.
These three aspects combined are what is implied in the concept of “conscious evolution” and it is their intense overlap that is at the very center of the concept.