Alternative Lineage of Evolutionary Thinking

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Zak Stein and Marc Gafni:

There is "an alternative lineage of evolutionary thinking, which has been around since before Darwin ever boarded the Beagle. Keeping with Wilson’s epistemology of equivalence, we suggest rekindling the respect and attention that was once paid to certain alterative frameworks that broke off from the Darwinian mainstream —alternatives with just as many insights (and just as many liabilities). This is only to say that absent in (David Sloan) Wilson’s narrative about human evolution, multilevel selection, and emergent super-organisms is a scholarly tradition that has made its legacy by focusing on the role of consciousness in evolution, as well as the role of humanity’s self-consciousness as a factor in future evolution. The idea being that humanity is continuing evolution by new means. This group has basically been arguing for or assuming the existence of Wilson’s new paradigm phenomena from day one of the evolutionary discourse.

This is a group that never worshiped Darwin. ... This is a tradition that focused more explicitly on interiors and on consciousness, on the role of psychological process in evolution. Long at the center of this alternative discourse has been the idea of the emergence of super-organisms, which functionally integrate lower-order parts, lessening within group selection pressure, to make the many into one, and thus foster the evolution of a new organismic totality. This led many to suggest the (inevitable?) emergence of some kind of new evolutionary event— a super-organism of humans. The idea has very, very old roots. ... The concern of many of the heterodox evolutionists has long been with outlining preferable human futures in light of evolutionary principles and trajectories. What are of concern to this group most are not the mechanisms by which such emergent forms arise, but rather the ethical and existential implications of the inevitable occurrence of emergence at the level of the human. That is, what would it mean for our humanity if we become swept up into a super-organism, as if becoming cells organized for the benefit of some larger organelle? ... The most recent work in this tradition has refined the phenomenology of moral consciousness7 associated with evolutionary emergence in human groups, especially with regards to the balance between what Wilson calls (unfortunately) “selfishness” and “altruism.” We call them autonomy and communion. Too much of either and any group is pathological. Too much communion and you get a kind of totalitarianism or coercive fascism. Too much autonomy and you get narcissists and rouges, lawlessness and violence (like the wolves of Wall Street Wilson laments). To make a long story short: heterodox evolutionists who have been concerned with the future role of self-consciousness as a factor in evolution have found that the keystone concept needed for thinking about the future of human evolution is that of uniqueness. It is one of the few keystone concepts that can bridge the gap between interiors and exteriors, science and ethics, matter and sprit. And it is the ideal keystone concept to orient the strivings of the only planetary keystone species.8 So fostering uniqueness is, in a way, a planetary evolutionary imperative."


This tradition goes back to Hegel (and he draws his linage to Heraclius, perhaps the first theorist of evolutionary process). The post-Darwinian players include Darwin himself in many moods, Lamarck, James Mark Baldwin, C. S. Peirce, Julian Huxley, Bergson, Whitehead, Jantsch, Prigogine, Kauffman, Wilber, Hubbard, and Lazlo. One might also include those with more explicit religious bents, such as the great Zionist and mystical scholar Rabbi Abraham Kook, the Indian freedom fighter and age Sri Aurobindo, and the Jesuit scientist and seer, Teilhard De Chardin. This is the tradition or lineage in which the authors of this contribution place themselves. We are each affiliated with the Center for Integral Wisdom and the Foundation of Conscious Evolution, which are organizations that see their chief aim as the deepening of this intellectual lineage and its delivery into culture."



* Article: Social Justice and Superorganisms: On The Moral Phenomenology of Participating in The Evolution of The Cosmos Supplemental contribution for the roundtable discussion of David Sloan Wilson’s, Does Altruism Exist. Zak Stein Marc Gafni. The Center for Integral Wisdom, Summer, 2015

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