We are living in a unique time in the history of life on earth. After billions of years, we are the first generations of the first species to evolve to understand and consciously control our own evolution. Its kind of like a watch becoming its own watchmaker.
Stephen Hawking just spoke about this in Humans have entered a new stage in evolution:
But we are now entering a new phase, of what Hawking calls “self designed evolution,” in which we will be able to change and improve our DNA. “At first,” he continues “these changes will be confined to the repair of genetic defects, like cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy. These are controlled by single genes, and so are fairly easy to identify, and correct. Other qualities, such as intelligence, are probably controlled by a large number of genes. It will be much more difficult to find them, and work out the relations between them. Nevertheless, I am sure that during the next century, people will discover how to modify both intelligence, and instincts like aggression.
Barbara Marx Hubbard
He is not the first to discover this 600 pound gorilla in the room. Jonas Salk coined the term Conscious Evolution to talk about this in the context of his notions of “metabiology.” Barbara Marx Hubbard has dedicated her life to exploring this as well.
There’s a certain denial going on with this topic. Just as a management meeting will pass a million dollar proposal quickly but haggle over a few dollars on office chairs, society seems to be haggling over the trivial stuff and ignoring the really important things: just how do we deal with conscious evolution to trigger a flourishing civilization, and not just an evolutionary meltdown?
Judith Rosen talks about her father Robert Rosen’s work bridging the gap between physics and biology as well as the role of anticipatory systems theory.
Darwin taught us all about the survival of the fittest – the “fitness function” by which life has evolved over the past 4 billion years or so. However, we are the first generations of the first species to reach a point of intelligence that we can understand and affect our own evolution. This is not your grandfather’s evolution. The birth control pill in the 60’s allowed us shift our species’ hormones and triggered a sexual revolution. Our understanding of DNA and the human genome poises us for fantastic new vistas in medicine.
This brings up the question: just what is our new fitness function as we consciously shape our own evolution? The tried-and-true formula that nature has used until now – maximizing the number of your surviving offspring – is not going to work. We won that race, and now have 6.5 billion homo sapiens sapiens on earth. Blindly increasing that number is not going to work.
Scientists in China have just announced that they have sequenced the DNA of the Giant Panda – surely the mark of distinction the millions of species in the world today. But why the panda? According to Jun Wang, the institute’s associate director and professor, they chose the giant panda it’s cute and therefore able to capture the public’s attention.
Never mind that the Panda is one of the most “brittle” species on earth, locked into a single food source (bamboo), and a single climate. But what about the trillions of lowly earthworms, constantly refreshing our soils. Darwin recognized this: “it may be doubted if there are any other animals which have played such an important part in the history of the world as these lowly organized creatures.”
But they aren’t cute.
Perhaps saving the most mediagenic species has a lot of sex appeal to some, but perhaps we need to move to the Survival of the Wisest, not the Survival of the Cutest. A great visionary, Jonas Salk, coined this phrase. I think we need to pay more attention to it.