Who's coming to the human adventure?
Here are two clues:
(1) It's all happened before, 600 million years ago.
And (2) this event will be the next big step for our species.
To see who's coming to the human adventure, let us think together.
Scientists have recently traced our animal genetic origins to the sponges – the only animals today that do not have a nervous system.
It follows, then, that out of the uncountable number of variants that sponges produced in the early stage of their reign, one lucky creature finally emerged with the recognizable rudiments of a nervous system in the sponges' main stream of descent.
This is the animal that I like to call the sponge+.
As unlikely as it may seem on the surface, the pattern for the future of the human adventure was probably set by the sponges and our ancestral sponge+.
One way to think about the evolutionary process that created us is to say that Mother Nature optimized the level of effective intelligence on our planet with her program of animal evolution.
(If you find the concept of effective intelligence less than self-evident, consider this illustration: Let's say we have a Tea Party congressman and a water buffalo alone on a grassy plain in Africa with one handy tree when a hungry lion comes along. Now, the water buffalo probably has a higher level of pure intelligence than the congressman and therefore has a better understanding of the situation. But the congressman has a survival advantage in the form of nerve-controlled appendages that allow him to exercise his lower level of intelligence more effectively than the water buffalo. That is, he has hands and arms and feet and legs that will allow him to climb the tree and save himself while the water buffalo cannot escape from the lion. And as socially undesirable and essentially unjust as it may seem, the congressman will probably be saved from the lion by his higher level of effective intelligence.)
Long before animal evolution began, in the very beginning of life on our planet, Mother Nature created single-cell organisms. Then, later, she created plants – multicellular life forms that use sunlight to fuel the processes of life.
Plants and single-cell organisms thrived in the oceans for a very long time before the first animal came along.
But eventually, from the same primitive genetic base that gave birth to plants, Mother Nature created a scavenger-and-sort-of-predator, the animal that we call a sponge. Sponges lived then as they do now – by mindlessly pumping water through their bodies and filtering out and eating any plant debris and microscopic life forms that happen to be in the neighborhood.
With no competitors and with whole oceans of food to dine on, the sponges lived in a biblical paradise and filled the waters of the earth with their progeny.
Like all life forms, they created a multitude of variants until, after tens of millions of years, one of their descendants turned out to be the sponge+, our first ancestor with a functional nervous system.
From that point on, the pattern in Mother Nature's program to create intelligent life forms like us was very straightforward:
In Mother Nature's traditional, brutal way of doing her job on the animal kingdom, some species always proliferate and create a large population with many, many variants. Within such a species, the variants with higher levels of effective intelligence have a strong tendency to live longer and to reproduce in larger numbers. In the usual case, as the evolutionary logic of the situation works itself out, one or more new species will eventually emerge with a higher level of effective intelligence than the original population.
When Mother Nature, in her grand program of animal evolution, first created the sponge, it had a couple of tremendous advantages over plants.
First of all, without the drag of photosynthesis, it could develop body parts of a completely different order from anything in the plant kingdom. Specifically, it could develop flexible tissues with the range of motion to pump huge masses of water through its body and filter life-supporting materials out of it.
Then, with body parts that were capable of large-scale, quick movements, it could create variants with a nervous system to control those movements – the first of which was our sponge+. Down the line, the successful variants of the sponge+ could go on to develop new nerve-controlled body parts to do more sophisticated things.
This new evolutionary capacity led to the whole animal kingdom as we know it today with the wonderful variety of nerve-related body parts that typical animals possess – parts like fins and teeth and muscles and bones and hands and feet and legs and arms and specialized sensory organs.
The appearance of the first nervous system in the sponge+ was the innovation that defined the direction of development in the animal kingdom from then on.
That was the innovation that made it possible for us think about a concept like the level of effective intelligence that could be brought to bear in solving the problems of surviving and thriving and reproducing.
This competition on the basis of effective intelligence continued for 600-million years, creating ever-increasing levels of effective intelligence throughout the animal kingdom until an animal with a capacity as dramatically new as the sponge+ in its time appeared on the scene.
That new thing was us, a species that brought a brand new ability into Mother Nature's scheme of things, an ability that defines us:
This new ability made us so powerful that we now have no serious competitors. Other animals exist at our pleasure. We can drive to extinction any life form that threatens us. And to get to the bottom line, we find ourselves in a situation that is remarkably similar to that of the sponges before us:
We have a deep relationship to the future level of effective intelligence on our planet. We have no serious competitors for resources. We live in a state of paradise in comparison to the quality of life that other species have any chance of directly achieving. And we are proliferating wildly in every environment we choose to enter.
So the natural question is this:
Are we the endpoint of the evolutionary process, or will we, like the sponges before us, eventually give rise to a sapiens+ who will lead to something with incipient possibilities that are as striking as those of the sponge+, the variant that led to the whole nerve-based animal kingdom from jellyfish to dinosaurs to us?
Yes, I know.
You probably just caught the putrid odor of a Nietzschean Superman – the shallow, romantic fantasy that a happy, conscienceless super-predator will emerge from our species. That is a philosophical image that reminds most of us of the Nazi idiocies and atrocities of World War II. And this discussion is not headed towards anything like such an outcome.
So let's back up a bit and make it clear where we are headed.
When our species first appeared on the scene, our abilities represented a dramatic leap forward in Mother Nature's program to create intelligent life forms.
And our appearance on the scene changed everything.
In fact, our appearance even changed the very concept of reproduction because we could create descendants in a dramatically new, non-biological way that is extremely relevant in any scheme to increase the level of effective intelligence on our planet:
We could reproduce not just physically but intellectually.
That is, we could pass on belief systems and worldviews to new generations, a thing that has never been a conceivable part of the job description for any other species.
You frequently see this new mode of reproduction at work in families and especially in religious groups.
But so far, the process has never really turned out well in terms of creating anything as definitively new as the sponge+ in its time. That is, we have never found a worldview that is close enough to universally appealing to define a single path of future development for us the way that the sponge+ defined a new direction of development for the whole animal kingdom.
Yes. We make marvelous technological advances on a regular basis.
But in terms of values and understanding and insight into the human condition, we are a stagnant, pitiful, whimpering puddle of pottage.
Instead of finding a way to unite in pursuit of the human adventure, we blindly pursue religions and philosophies in such diversity that we make the human adventure on our planet look like the spiritual descendant of Stephen Leacock's comic figure who jumped on his horse and rode off in all directions.
Still, in spite of the obvious state of affairs here, almost all parents and religions and even some secular institutions still try desperately to pass on their belief systems to the next generation because –
Passing on belief systems is a basic reproductive drive that is unique to our species.
So, when I posed this question earlier:
“Are we the endpoint of the evolutionary process, or will we, like the sponges before us, eventually give rise to a sapiens+ who will lead to something with incipient possibilities that are as striking as those of the sponge+ – the variant that led to the whole nerve-based animal kingdom from jellyfish to dinosaurs to us?”
The answer is:
“It is virtually certain that we will, because that's the pattern in Mother Nature's way of doing things and we have already repeated almost the full pattern. But the sapiens+ will not be a genetic variant: It will be an intellectual variant, a variant with a new worldview to pass on to its intellectual descendants.”
Let's put it this way: Mother Nature's 600-million-year-old program is to maximize the level of effective intelligence on our planet, and one obvious step in that program is to create a new human variant with a worldview that is absolutely “on the mark” and that will eventually become the universally accepted worldview among us.
When that happens, as it surely will, the transformation in our collective level of effective intelligence will be so dramatic that it would not be inappropriate to designate us as a new species – perhaps as Homo sapiens+.
Why is this the obvious, natural next step in the human adventure?
Here's the logic: The universe is, as its name implies, exactly one thing.
Since it is exactly one thing, there is only one view about its essential nature and about the nature of the human adventure within it that can be right.
Until we work out all the details of the picture here, the level of effective intelligence that we can bring to bear on our work will not be optimized – and Mother Nature will see to it one way or another that our minds do indeed get optimized because her agenda, with its 600-million-year history, obviously involves maximizing the level of effective intelligence on our planet.
It's just a question of how much pain we make ourselves endure before we work out the details of the human condition and move in that direction as a species.
Why is the one correct worldview a necessary part of optimizing the level of effective intelligence in our species?
Again, the answer is straightforward.
Consider two guys whose worldviews are identical except for the mistaken belief of one of them that he can fly when he jumps off of tall buildings and cliffs.
As you can clearly see, the other guy here is the one with a survival advantage – a very large survival advantage – and the situation is the same for any part of a worldview that doesn't match up with reality, no matter how dramatic or how subtle the misconception may be.
You can find such cases everywhere in the real world when you look for them.
For example, consider the three-and-a-half million Nazis who believed that they belonged to “the Master Race” and died from following this mistaken belief in World War II.
Or consider the Japanese soldiers who, in the middle of the twentieth century, believed that they were all the children of their emperor-god with the “privileges” of gods to rape and slaughter and enslave and torture their neighbors as they pleased – another mistaken belief that got a couple of million of them slaughtered in the same war.
It is true that these examples are extreme cases, but lesser worldview mistakes have the same deadly tendencies.
Millions of people, for example, who believed that tobacco executives were respectable businessmen who would never lie to the public in a life-and-death matter died and are still dying from lung cancer and other tobacco-related diseases.
And another case: For at least fifty years, hundreds of thousands of people who joined the military with the normal human assumption that at the very least their government would respect their basic human rights were secretly used in human medical experiments involving mustard gas, nerve gas, hallucinogens, etc. (according to a report issued by Senator John D. Rockefeller in 1994).
In short –
Any conceptual mistake in one's conception of human affairs puts its possessor at a life-threatening disadvantage.
And this is the point:
You can't avoid or correct a problem unless you perceive the problem as a problem – and your worldview is the primary basis for such insights.
That being the case, we can fairly conclude that the way we observe human affairs to work will drive us to create intellectual variants until we eventually rid ourselves of all of our worldview illusions and find the one right way of thinking about the universe and the human adventure.
When that happens, the creation of homo sapiens+ will take place rather rapidly (actually, almost instantly on an evolutionary time scale) because of this fact: When it comes to this new kind of intellectual reproduction, we get to choose our own ancestors.
And the mere fact that the ability of every individual to survive and thrive in life depends on his or her worldview will force the acceptance of the correct worldview when it eventually comes along.
That process may take several physical generations after the sapiens+ debuts among us, just because that's the way things are with our species. But when that one right one worldview does arrive, the transformation will happen because the survival advantages will be too enormous to ignore.
And that, of course, is why I framed the BMOP Challenge (explained in an earlier blog entry) in terms of answering the worldview question:
(1) Is there any set of facts in our modern knowledge base that (2) strongly supports a picture of the universe and of the human adventure -- a picture in which (3) our species has a serious, meaningful role to play in the scheme of things and which (4) predicts a future for our species that at the very least would make life irresistibly interesting?
That's the question I intend to answer in my next blog post – now that I have made its importance clear.
And who knows?
This new worldview just could be the one that turns you into a homo sapiens+.
You'll have to make up your own mind about that, of course.
But make no mistake about it.
I may not be the sapiens+.
The sapiens+ may not even have been born yet.
But the pattern is there, and we have almost completed it now.
And one of the best bets you will ever get in life is that –
The sapiens+ is coming to the human adventure.
Well, okay, that may not be exactly true because –
If it turns out that I've got it absolutely right, then the sapiens+ is not exactly “coming to the human adventure.”
He's here now ...