Human beings are the only living creatures who can manage their own evolution. We can decide to progress and grow or to devolve and ultimately destroy ourselves. This isn’t a Darwinian proposition. Darwin’s theory of evolution is based on the struggle for survival where two factors dominate: being able to mate and to find enough food. Homo sapiens escaped those factors (for the most part) in recent times. Our evolution moved from primitive survival needs into the realm of consciousness.
This turns out to be the most fascinating aspect of being human, and not just in the abstract. Current planetary crises, from climate change to famine, epidemic disease, and overpopulation, starkly inform us that we are not managing our evolution well. A rogue state like North Korea holds up a mirror to our propensity for irrational violence and self-destruction. In short, managing our evolution means that we must learn a new way to manage consciousness. How did we get here and what can the individual do about it?
One entry point is to look at consciousness a new way. In some form, all living things have evolved, not just physically, but in terms of consciousness. We are surrounded by other species of consciousness, and this fact is all-important when considering our own future. Take the presence of sunlight striking the Earth. Primitive one-celled creatures early on developed the ability to move toward the light, which holds true for both plants and animals. Finding the light is a function of life, and with every function, evolution invents new forms. Certain one-celled animals developed hair-like cilia, for example, that move rhythmically like oars to propel them to the light. Sunflowers adapted to face the sun as it moves across the sky. In tropical forests vines developed the ability to wind their way up trees to grab their ration of sunlight.
Evolutionists are physically minded, so they would assert that these ingenious forms are what is most important in carrying out the function of reaching the light. But the impulse that lies behind form and function is just as important. In an amazing way, this impulse can be turned upside down, so that blind cavefish need no light, and therefore they can dispense with functioning eyesight. Similarly, at the depths of the ocean are myriad creatures, including some species of shark that never see any light. Seeking the darkness can be an evolutionary impulse.
What this tells me is that without considering the species of consciousness, we will never fully understand evolution. It’s ironic that human beings claim a patent on higher consciousness. We feel singular and unique in our ability to reason, invent, discover, ponder, and create. But this has created a blind spot. We didn’t see, until very recently, the infinite diversity of mind that is part of all living things.
Other species of consciousness exist in a world totally unlike ours. We cannot conceive of what it is like to use a bat’s sonar or the signaling of humpback whales across hundreds of miles. We cannot orient ourselves in the ocean using sensitive depth sensors the way fish do, or migrate thousands of miles with unerring certainty the way birds and monarch butterflies do. Yes, we can observe the form and function that marks other species of consciousness by examining genes, brain tissue, and all manner of behavior in so-called lower creatures. But if you stand back, every species of consciousness is on its own evolutionary track and has evolved holistically.
The eagle has an eyeball larger than a human’s, and this enables it to see small prey from hundreds of feet in the air. A specific from (oversized eye) is linked to a specific function (hunting for food). But an eagle also constitutes the entire history of birds, the development of feathers, the appetite for meat or vegetation as food, and dozens of other adaptations that constitute its unique eagle-ness. Hummingbirds made completely different adaptations, following their own species of consciousness.
Let’s say that we can accept for the moment that the mental and physical side of evolution are totally necessary and complementary. This isn’t Darwinism, nor does it pretend to be. But several important ideas flow from giving consciousness a place at the evolutionary table (I would give it pride of place, but that’s an argument for another day). The first idea that flows from accepting consciousness is actually a question: What is consciousness trying to accomplish? If we can answer that, we’d know what the future holds, for if you see the goal in advance, you can manage the pace and direction of evolution.
The evidence, as we gaze around the Earth’s biosphere, is that consciousness possesses certain basic traits. It is creative. It works intimately with form and function, meaning that it is involved in how creatures develop their physical structure and behavior. Consciousness is also self-correcting. It knows how to experiment and use feedback to move away from useless adaptations. From these basic traits, which can found even in primitive one-celled organisms, a flood of other traits follow. In fact, being the only creatures (we assume) who can think about evolution, it’s fair to say that whatever makes us human is imbedded in the fabric of consciousness, not just creativity but intelligence, love, a desire to expand and grow, and self-reflection.
In a new book I am drafting now, called Meta-Human, I propose with complete conviction that the evolution of consciousness will determine the future of Homo sapiens. Everything this implies is crucial for each person, not just our species. Here the relevant points:
1. Finding a new story for ourselves and the planet. In this new story, cooperation, compassion, non-violence, and care for the environment will become totally necessary.
2. Relying on creativity over destructiveness.
3. Giving consciousness a primary place in education.
4. Developing a worldview that turns away from materialism and technology as the prime movers of society. Technology is a necessary part of the solution, but we must
minimize its destructive side and direct a future technology for a more just, sustainable, healthy and peaceful world.
5. In place of externals as the measure of progress (e.g., more money, more advanced weapons, power of the strong over the weak), inner values become the true mark of evolution (e.g., self-awareness, inner fulfilment, spirituality).
6. Higher consciousness must be accepted as real and desirable.
7. Fundamental reality must be couched in terms of consciousness creating and evolving within itself. In human terms, this means accepting that we live in a human universe entirely created by constructs and stories we project on to pure consciousness. Only by seeing our creative role in shaping reality can we become better, more evolved creators.
Long ago Homo sapiens developed an infinite capacity for managing the future, even though we are still subject to natural forces. Every flood, hurricane, drought, or earthquake can be made survivable if we place an emphasis on that. Potentially every disease is survivable, too. Modifications of genes are theoretically feasible. What we face isn’t a fixed limitation; instead, it’s our own self-destructive, anti-evolutionary impulses that have taken us into violence, crime, wars, famines, political strife, and us-versus-them thinking.
Those are not innate, fixed aspects of human nature. The truth is that we have been managing our evolution for centuries while also carrying the burden of outworn traits like anger and fear that we can no longer afford to indulge in. Having been granted evolutionary freedom, it’s time to use this incredible gift responsibly. In the next post we’ll look at what this means for the individual who wants to seize the opportunities opened up by our own species of consciousness.
Deepak Chopra MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing and Jiyo.com, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and Clinical Professor at UCSD School of Medicine. Chopra is the author of more than 85 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers along with You Are the Universe (February 2017, Harmony) co-written with leading physicist, Menas Kafatos. Other recent books include Super Genes co-authored with Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D. and Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine. www.deepakchopra.com