Selected Readings
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Book cover for A New Republic of the Heart

Chapter 4: The Evolutionary Perspective - Part 2

Bending the Arc of Evolution

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Terry suggests that we humans, having discovered evolution and with a deepening understanding of its workings, have the opportunity to guide its progression wisely.
Can we course correct, with hearts, minds and collective action, to create a healthy future?

Setting the Context

 “Survival of the Fittest.” You have heard this phrase invoked by apologists for greedy or violent behaviors in order to legitimize their actions and absolve them of moral culpability. This phrase, which dates back to the age of Darwin, is also an elegant, self-evident expression of evolutionary theory: individuals that survive to maturity are by definition the fittest ones. They endow their fitness to their offspring, equipping them to perpetuate the species.

How do we define fitness? By the ability to hold up under stresses such as heat, cold, and seasonal cycles? Immunity from  diseases? The ability to repel, evade, or otherwise foil predators? Or brute strength to kill and devour prey? Many people instinctively relate to the latter interpretation.

But brute strength in a death struggle is not the only way to survive. Skunks, porcupines and chameleons simply encourage predators to let them be. And humans have even more options. 

So, is evolution, with so many conflicting influences and such rapid change tugging at it, driving us into our future randomly? Or is evolution being pulled or attracted toward a particular endpoint, along a particular path, or by a certain spin? And do we have any say in the matter? Can we use our hearts, minds and collective action to perpetuate a healthy future for all life in order to not just survive but to thrive? 

These are consequential questions. Our future hinges on their answers. Please listen to selected passages from the second part of Chapter Four, as Terry addresses these questions and more.

Selected Readings From A New Republic of the Heart

Recitations by Anneke Edson, David Chasteen, Sallie Justice, Phil Justice, and Ed Prell

Chapter 4: The Evolutionary Perspective – Part Two

EVOLUTION’S METHOD: DIFFERENTIATION AND INTEGRATION

(Pg 94)  In each of these Big Bangs, some universal principles apply. On every scale, we see the articulation of new, unique forms and behaviors, which interact and conflict and negotiate tensions. Their resolution leads to new forms of cooperation and integration and unity which, in turn, give rise to new differentiation. 

(Pg 94)  This process of “differentiation and integration,” as it is often summarized, leads in virtually all directions, proceeding in a seemingly random fashion. But over time, the significant trend (“selected for” by the process itself ) is the evolution from simpler, less intelligent entities and life forms to more conscious, complex, cooperative ones. We evolve upward.

(Pg 94)  But it is also important to note that there were ugly imbalances at every stage of our evolutionary journey —along with unique beauty. Every new stage of evolution has brought into being both “dignities and disasters.”

(Pg 94)  Because the hope and promise provided by the evolutionary story is so compelling, so inspiring, and so ultimately positive (if inherently messy in the process), it can take some effort and rigor to hold our present uncertainties in wholeness—especially for those who have internalized an evolutionary worldview.

(Pg 94 & 95)  Certainly, to walk a path between hope and denial requires a finely tuned consciousness. Nonetheless, an evolutionary awareness is characterized by grounded optimism. It is one of several key characteristics of a disposition that could serve us well in navigating the “wicked problem” future that likely awaits us.

(Pg 95)  From an evolutionary perspective we can see that any future is unlikely to be an extension of past trends, and that wildly creative new emergent possibilities will probably astonish us, more often positively than negatively. (Who could have predicted the emergence of mind from life, or life from matter?)

(Pg 95)  This does not discount the very real and epochal perils we face. There will inevitably be much to grieve in the coming years, decades, and longer. But a grim sense of impending doom, unmitigated by a sense of evolutionary possibility, is not only inaccurate, it clearly won’t elicit our best. I have long argued that, whether or not it can be confirmed by data, a kind of basic optimism—at least a positive orientation to each moment of living—is a moral imperative.

(Pg 95)  And it is also imperative that we stay related to all informed and intelligent perspectives on our ecological predicament—and that we grow, change, relate, and connect in ways that take the predicament seriously and respond effectively.

(Pg 96)  The evolutionary perspective ultimately doesn’t call for simple naive optimism, any more than it insists on a purely pessimistic take. It doesn’t split off into declarative extremes; it calls for wholeness. It thus calls us to face the darkness without losing sight of the light—synthesizing credible bases for pessimism with optimism about the potentials of evolutionary emergence.

(Pg 96)  It does so in a spirit of radical faith—faith that what is most inspiring is reality, and that life and evolution will find astonishing expressions under any and all circumstances.

INSPIRED BY CONTACT WITH THE IMPULSE OF EVOLUTION

(Pg 96)  Because the entire cosmos is always naturally manifesting its latent wholeness and divinity, and expressing them in many ways—everything always developing, progressing, and evolving—at some level, we can feel it. If we are awake and clear enough, each of us can intuit that universal impulse, experience the river that runs through everything (including us), and locate it in our subjective experience. It is evident in our highest aspirations—for awakening, illumination, love, freedom, and joy, and for making a positive difference in the world through our creativity, scholarship, industry, charity, and kindness. Those desires are healthy expressions of the greater wholeness that is our nature.

(Pg 96)  The potential, power, and leverage represented by the individual and collective experience of this “evolutionary impulse” has enormous potential. Some of us who are inspired by this larger story of evolution—and who see an opportunity for active and conscious participation, rather than merely witnessing and reporting—call ourselves “evolutionaries.”

(Pg 96 & 97)  A sense of felt contact with the “evolutionary impulse,” expressed in diverse ways, is a distinctive quality among evolutionaries. Many of us are working hard creating projects, furthering new organizations, initiatives, businesses, conferences, and websites; serving clients and students; or writing blogs, papers, and books. Some are pushing the boundaries by innovating new kinds of organizations and leadership, and coloring outside the lines that previously divided entrepreneurship, philanthropy, community organizing, international development, artistic inspiration, human empowerment, and reinventing government.

(Pg 97)  There is an innovative inspirational spirit alive in a growing community— a profound ambition to be of service. There is an openness to the “strange attractor” of an emergent higher wholeness—even a sense of contact with it. We seem to share the sense that we are co-creatively participating in what Alfred North Whitehead called “the creative advance into novelty.”

(Pg 97)  Some sense of the living impulse of evolution has been inspiring and driving me since I was a child. Paradoxically, it has driven me further now, to face the sobering implications of our ecological predicament.

(Pg 97)  And it is something that, in thoughtfully preparing for the most whole, generative, and constructive response to this unprecedented present and future, we can consciously draw from and build upon. What is already an emerging movement will be developed, expanded, and deepened. This evolutionary spirit and impulse can be purposefully brought to every effort to support or bring about a life-sustaining society. The individuals and communities who will survive, thrive, and create this new future will be those who not only share this connection to the impulse of evolution, but who consciously enact it.

AN EVOLUTIONARY LEAP

(Pg 97 & 98)  Our present crisis is not merely a historical but an evolutionary event, transcending historical change and affecting our species as a whole. Families, tribes, towns, and nations have been annihilated in our historical past, but other families, tribes, towns, and nations have carried on. Never before has global human civilization reckoned with threats to its survival. Never have we faced such serious and likely lasting changes in the planetary biosphere. Only recently have we become able to even conceive of such events.

(Pg 98)  Thousands of futurists, prophets, and visionaries agree that humanity faces radical transformation in our lifetimes and those of our children and grandchildren. Some imagine a golden-age “singularity” in which science, technology, and artificial intelligence will enable the human species to free itself from limits. Others think we’re entering a period of ecological disruption that foreshadows an apocalyptic end of human civilization as we know it. But evolutionary theorists offer a model that accounts for both the light and dark of our current scenario: the concept of punctuated equilibrium.

(Pg 98)  According to paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould and others, the fossil record seems to show long periods of equilibrium, in which species go through very gradual evolutionary changes, punctuated by relatively short periods of time during which they undergo rapid dramatic changes. Often cultural evolution has followed a similar pattern.

(Pg 98)  It may be that the human species is now entering a period of such rapid new adaptation that we will undergo an evolutionary leap. These necessary changes will be psychological, cultural, social, technological, political, and even physical. The leap may take place most deeply in human consciousness itself—a leap in what it means to be a human being. The oncoming storm of global and personal disturbances will require dramatically different new choices and behaviors—in fact, whole new ways of being.

(Pg 99)  Many scientists and scholars agree that we are entering one of these “punctuated” eras of rapid change—and we must rapidly readapt, or disappear. In other words, it’s game time on the planet—now! We will either evolve—quickly—or perish. This demand that we transform or perish is a natural consequence of our own evolutionary success. 

(Pg 99)  William Catton’s 1980 book Overshoot describes these dynamics precisely. He notes that if any species on any planet (or island, pond, or petri dish) discovers how to expand the planet’s (or island’s, etc.) carrying capacity in ways that are not permanently sustainable, it will overpopulate, overshooting that carrying capacity. If that happens, it will eventually degrade the renewable resources upon which it depends and exhaust key nonrenewable resources. It is also natural that even once the problem becomes evident, it takes significant time  for the species to metabolize that information psychologically, culturally, and socially—and muster the coordinated will necessary to adapt on a species-wide level.

(Pg 99) Our predicament is therefore perhaps best viewed as natural and, perhaps—to some extent, at least— inevitable. Our evolutionary emergency might be an entirely predictable phenomenon. This gives us an intelligent basis for relaxing the (rather useless) tendency to fret that humanity has somehow committed a terrible sin, or at least mistake. We can stop pointing our finger at a culprit, blaming others, or blaming anything (…) We can instead arrive in the present moment, as an intelligent species—one that has traced a remarkable trajectory across human history and now has further to go.

(Pg 100)  Now our knowledge—and, more important, our consciousness—is approaching a singularity too. It is not merely advancing, but accelerating at unimaginable speed toward radical change. A great transition is inevitable, either to a life-sustaining society or to a gritty, diminished human future.

(Pg 100)  The key to the future of human evolution cannot be reduced to any single factor or domain. It can’t just be ecological, technological, cultural, physical, or social. It will certainly be all those things, but the transformations this evolutionary pressure elicits may also be—may need to be—spiritual, ontological, and psychological. We are talking about not just the evolution of the human mind or body, but the evolution of the human spirit.

(Pg 100)  Our entire way of being with ourselves and one another—individually, mutually, and collectively —is now under evolutionary pressure to manifest radical new emergent properties. This, I believe, creates the conditions for tremendous potential and hope.

Summary & Preview of What is Next

In Chapter 4, Terry Patten made a persuasive case for evolution being the prime driver of change in the universe. He introduced the noosphere, the realm of thought and spirit, and suggested that its rapidly accelerating trajectory is signaling the arrival of a transformation of human society. He goes further to suggest that we humans, having discovered evolution and with a deepening understanding of its workings, have the opportunity to guide its progression wisely.

What sort of society will emerge out of this transformation? At this moment, with so many negative and positive trends at play, it’s difficult to envision how all this change will play out.

An appreciation of wholeness and an understanding of evolution can help us navigate the challenges we face. But are they enough? Are they sufficient to help us address the complex, seemingly unsolvable problems before us? 

 In Chapter 5, Terry Patten adds in a mutually reinforcing set of conceptual frames to reveal a new and powerful way of viewing the realities of matter and spirit. This integral approach is informed by the latest discoveries in the sciences, and is inspired by the enduring truths of our ancient wisdom traditions. Listen next as Terry sets up the impending showdown between the integral approach and our current predicament.