If we wish
to consciously evolve as a civilization
evolution has some lessons
we need to start learning, taking seriously, and applying.
of all, I want to be clear that this is not about Darwin or
genetic engineering. It is bigger than that, much bigger. Those
pursuing this inquiry see Darwin as a genius who opened new
realms of understanding, while at the same time provoking profoundly
deeper questions about what's really happening in evolutionary
processes. Furthermore, we are exploring not only the evolution
of living species, but the evolution of the cosmos, the planet,
society -- everything from natural laws to the shape of our
Evolution is the process of change -- ongoing
transformational change. It is the cumulative development of
life, unfolding slowly and incrementally, with occasional sudden
bursts of creativity, with evolutionary opportunities sprouting
in climates of crisis. We are living through one of these disorienting
bursts of creativity and crisis right now.
Through evolution new forms appear -- new organisms,
new partnerships, new conditions, new systems. Some of them
last and some don't. Evolution tests things out. Evolutionary
testing goes on at every level, all the time. The universe does
it. Life does it. Human societies do it. You and I are doing
it every day -- sometimes in our lives, sometimes in our minds,
sometimes in our conversations. New patterns rise and fall.
Billions of years of creative trial and error
have added up to the world we live in. Some of that world is
profoundly exciting and enjoyable. Some of it is increasingly
scary. Things are getting better and better and worse and worse,
faster and faster. Much of it is changing faster than we can
follow, its novelty and complexity racing ahead of our individual
capacity to understand and respond.
We face daunting choices about how to respond
to changes that seem forced on us. We also face compelling choices
about creating a better world from the depths of our hearts
and our dreams.
How did we end up in this place? Individually
and collectively, we are products of evolution. Evolution produced
us through 13.7 billion years of trial and error and a few thousand
years of more or less conscious choices by thousands of people
we call our parents, leaders, elders, ancestors. Little did
they know what would happen.
And now WE are the ones making choices that are shaping the
evolution of the future -- not only future generations of humanity
but future generations of all life on earth.
How conscious are we about who we are, what we
are doing, where our motivations come from, and the consequences
of the choices we make? Do we realize that our awareness, our
intelligence, our desires and dreams, our creativity and efforts
-- seasoned by wisdom, or not -- have become evolution,
right here on earth, at least for now?
Nothing on earth can compete with the impact of 21st century
humanity. Collectively we have become a semi-conscious branch
of evolution. We are the shapers of the ongoing processes of
transformational change -- half blind, half awake, less than
It is slowly dawning on us that our species will flourish or
fade away, thanks to the evolutionary choices we make now, whether
or not we know what we are doing.
We are at a critical stage in our remarkable human journey on
this planet: We are coming to a place where the road ends. From
here on out, we will be making the road as we walk it, in ways
we've never had to do before. We now have the job of forging
our own evolutionary destiny, and being prime agents of the
process of evolution here on earth.
It behooves us to learn something about the job
description, starting with the story of who we are.
Our remarkable evoutionary story
We now know from science that everything in and around us is
made of the initial Great Radiance with which the universe began,
the Big Bang. The Big Bang never stopped, and there is nothing
outside of it. All the hydrogen atoms in the water (and in the
carbohydrates) in and around us are almost as old as the universe,
itself -- 13,700,000,000 years. The carbon, nitrogen and oxygen
atoms that form the rest of us -- and all life on earth -- came
into being in the bellies of red giant stars that lived and
died before our sun was born. More complex elements -- calcium
and magnesium, gold and silver, and all the rest -- were created
in supernova explosions brighter than a billion stars, flung
to the far ends of the galaxy as raw materials for Life.
It is not mysticism but hard science that now tells us we are
made of stardust and light, waves and coalescences of stardust
and light reconfiguring into cars and trees, oceans and civilizations.
We -- humanity and the living earth we are part of -- are the
soul and substance of cosmic evolution, happening right here
and now. We are the living face of evolution, the eyes and hands
and wings and minds of the universe weaving itself into its
next manifestations, day after day after day. And humans are
a growing edge of the universe becoming conscious, watching
itself through microscopes and telescopes, mountaintops and
meditations, awed, nudging its pieces into greater awareness
We humans are also the universe broken apart in the illusion
of separateness, the arrogance of our small but growing power,
the pursuit of our small but growing desires. And we are the
universe waking up from this dream of separateness and smallness
into the discovery of ourselves as conscious, loving Evolution,
finding ever more remarkable and inclusive forms of cooperation.
We are both the universe's sleep and the universe's awakening.
Here on earth, we are stardust-as-human-civilization dawning
into an evolutionary imperative: the creation of a collectively
wise culture that is capable of its own conscious evolution.
This unprecedented challenge is more than an enticing possibility.
It is a collective necessity, a matter of survival. It IS our
next evolutionary leap and we ARE that leap.
This is where the work of co-intelligence was
born -- the work of preparing for wise, conscious collective
Learning from evolution how to be evolution
Lessons from our long evolutionary journey offer
rich sources of guidance about how to consciously participate
in the evolutionary process. Taking this guidance seriously
can help us transform ourselves, our consciousness, our social
systems and cultures, and our technologies in ways that serve
our long-term collective flourishing as part of a flourishing
Here are just a few of the evolutionary dynamics
and opportunities we can explore and use, which are described
further at the end of this article. A major project of the Co-Intelligence
Institute now is researching more of them, and how to best apply
them all, and spreading that new old knowledge.
1. LOVE AT THE CORE. Our common
past makes us kin, and deep inside we know it. We are wholeness
enroute to new wholeness. This deep truth can be called forth
to help us resonate with each other. Much of what we need to
do next taps into this powerful fact of life.
2. A NEW DANCE OF COOPERATION AND COMPETITION.
Evolution has evolved with cooperation enhancing competitiveness.
As we become a global society, competition will necessarily
evolve to support cooperation.
3. SYNERGY BETWEEN SELF AND WHOLE.
Life on earth finds novel ways for self-interest and the whole
to serve each other. We are called to create new ways to design
this dynamic into complex 21st century societies.
4. HIGHER LEARNING. Evolution
is, itself, a vast learning enterprise -- and emergence is its
learning edge. That edge involves new forms of ongoing collective
intelligence and wisdom, and reframing education to meet the
challenges of conscious collective evolution. By its nature,
learning on the edge requires a growing capacity to embrace
5. SELF-ORGANIZATION AND EMERGENCE.
Evolution starts simple and brings forth increasing complexity.
At the same time, it creates remarkable ways for life to self-organize
without top-down direction. Our social and technological complexity
is now calling forth new forms of creative, conscious human
6. EVOLVING CONSCIOUSNESS. Consciousness
shapes social systems and culture -- and social systems and
culture shape consciousness. This insight, combined with new
and ancient methods of expanding consciousness, offer tremendous
leverage for humanity's conscious evolution.
7. THE JUICE OF OUR DIFFERENCES.
A major driver of evolution is the creative use of diversity,
conflict, crisis and dissonance. And our uniqueness -- our individual
specialness -- is a vast nascent resource for the world. These
insights challenge us, in times of collective trauma, to move
beyond peacemaking and crisis management to catalyzing inclusive
8. IT'S ABOUT PROCESS. The essence
of evolution is the emergence of outcomes from powerful interactive
processes. But it isn't about being attached to particular outcomes,
since they, too, will change and evolve. If we want to become
evolution, we would be wise to learn how to let go and focus
on manifesting powerfully interactive, life-serving processes.
These eight evolutionary dynamics and their corresponding transformational
projects are but a taste of the rich guidance available from
the serious study of evolution's relevance for today. There
are dozens of other dynamics and patterns revealed by evolutionary
science and related studies which could also guide us -- and
new ones are being discovered every year.
We are just beginning to learn how to apply these emerging undertandings
to our lives, our societes, and our efforts to make a better
world. This is a new field of study and practice. Its insights
will help us see where our energy, attention and resources can
be most usefully focussed to build a more sustainable, just,
and life-serving civilization.
Perhaps most remarkably, in doing this work --
to the extent we learn to consciously apply the dynamics which
are already at work in the evolution of life -- we are actually
becoming a manifestation of evolution in a totally new realm
-- conscious evolution.
Just as evolution shifted into major new realms of creativity
when it discovered cells... then sexual reproduction... then
multi-cellular organisms... then language... it is now shifting
into a remarkable new game as it becomes conscious of itself,
through us, and begins to consciously perform its transformational
magic -- even consciously evolving its own consciousness into
more profound states.
To make crystal clear what we're dealing with here: "conscious
evolution" is not primarily about the genetic engineering
of individual animals, plants, and humans. It is about far greater,
more productive and vital challenges -- the conscious evolution
of our societies, our lives, and our individual and collective
consciousness -- and the conscious evolution of the knowledge,
arts and tools that will make those developments possible. Therein
lie tremendous hope for our civilization and an inspiring new
view of who we are and what we are doing in this universe.
For we are not just organisms trying to survive,
accidents of mutating materiality, or isolated individuals consuming
one more wave of well-advertised products. In a very profound
sense, we are the universe, itself, beginning another chapter
in its truly remarkable, wildly creative, and keenly experimental
What we do next will be profoundly important. No matter what.
MORE ABOUT THE ABOVE EIGHT EXAMPLES OF
1. LOVE AT THE CORE. The fact
of evolution means we are all related. Not just we humans, but
all entities in the universe -- all are expressions of one universe.
We have been kin since the infinitely intense birth of this
universe, when we were obviously One but not separate enough
to notice the fact. We all arose from the Source of that --
whatever that may have been -- and we are all made of stardust,
literally. Two hundred million generations ago, our ancestors
swam in the sea; today the chemistry of the sea flows through
our veins. Our bodies contain great civilizations of highly
specialized and synchronized single-celled beings, cousins of
the trillions of microbes that populate the world around us.
All humanity is one family, rich with diversity yet sharing
one root. Deep inside we know this, we resonate with one another,
we are drawn into relationship, support, and celebration. Love
is not something that needs to be added or built, only freed
and nurtured, for it is our natural state. On the other hand,
evolution is about moving from old states of wholeness into
new states of wholeness. So love can and must find new forms
and ways to be and do.
2. A NEW DANCE OF COOPERATION AND COMPETITION.
Those who today detect directionality in the history of life
note that evolution through time has produced ever more inclusive
and intricate systems of cooperation, from molecular synergies
to the global financial web of Visa. Cooperative achievements
have been retained by the body of life not at the expense of
competition but in service to it: Quite simply, cooperating
entities are usually more robust in handling the challenges
offered up by the world around them and beat their competition.
However, this dynamic is now undergoing a radical shift. As
human activities expand to embrace the global commons we all
share, the win/lose games that drove human interactions in the
past are being supplanted by cooperative games that recognize
we are now all in it together. Our exploding power has made
it clear that, in the final analysis, we will either win together
or lose together. More inclusive, sophisticated forms of cooperation
are no longer simply admirable; they are essential. In the next
evolutionary surge, competition will be honed for its best gifts
-- driving creativity and excellence -- but contained and constrained
within globally cooperative contexts.
3. SYNERGY BETWEEN SELF AND WHOLE.
Because individual organisms play their role in biological evolution
by passing on genes, self-interest is foundational in biological
evolution. And yet it is evident that the evolutionary benefits
of cooperation throughout the journey of life have been achieved
by creatively tying self-interest to the welfare of the whole.
Sustainable cooperative systems thus contain feedback loops
that help individuals experience the positive and negative effects
of their own acts. On that loom, individual gifts can then be
woven into patterns that serve the whole even as the whole enhances
the lives of its individual members. Under the right social
conditions, individuals "taking responsiblity for what
they love" generate greater life for their whole group
or society. Our job is to bring about those "right social
conditions." This is evolutionary science. This is evolutionary
economics. This is evolutionary sociology. This is evolutionary
politics and governance.
4. HIGHER LEARNING. Evolution
is a vast learning enterprise. In biological evolution, learning
happens when organisms pass information from one generation
to the next, using the genetic language of DNA. New genetic
approaches (mutations, sexual recombinations, etc.) get tested
in new environments, and workable ones spread. This change-and-test
evolutionary intelligence changed radically -- accelerating
and freeing life from many harsh consequences -- when it became
embodied in minds that could test ideas and options in virtual
safety before trying them out in the physical and social worlds.
Then, as symbolic language emerged in the human realm, this
intelligence became augmented by increasingly sophisticated
methods for developing and transmitting knowledge over time
and space -- writing, education, printing, science, telecommunications,
the internet. And with those developments, collective intelligence
-- which began with multicellular organisms and social insects
-- rapidly evolved into totally new realms. Today, increasingly
inclusive forms of collective intelligence and wisdom are embracing
and creatively engaging with complexity, uncertainty, and mystery
at the emerging edge of evolution. And quite naturally, this
rapidly evolving higher learning is beginning to explore the
subject of evolution, itself.
5. SELF-ORGANIZATION AND EMERGENCE.
Evolution has steadily enriched the capacity of life to organize
itself into ever-more creative, remarkable, complex, and workable
forms. The wonder of the universe is not that it was designed
from outside, but that it is designing itself from the inside,
and getting better and better at doing so. (Some say God manifests
in this intimate, imminent, infinite, ever-expanding creativity.)
As complexity increases, linear forms of understanding and management
become less and less workable -- both in the realm of human
societies and ecologically in the world at large. The complexity
sciences have vividly demonstrated that life operates primarily
with distributed, evocative, loopy, self-generating, whole-system
organic forms of organization and leadership, rather than through
straight lines, boxes, command heirarchies, conformity, and
unchanging rules (except for the deepest laws of nature). Using
whole-system forms of intelligence, life generates its own newness
at the evolutionary edge, which we humans experience as emergence,
as a creative upwelling within us, among us and around us. The
growing body of knowledge about healthy self-organization and
emergence can help us transform problems and crises into evolutionary
6. EVOLVING CONSCIOUSNESS. Most
native peoples experience the world as alive and aware: stones,
mountains, forests, plants, animals are all alive and conscious,
each in their own ways. Drawing upon mainstream science, as
well as these indigenous roots, many other people are beginning
to recover similar forms of depth communion with the more-than-human
world. The resulting deep sense of interconnectedness engenders
a more sensitive relationship with nature. In addition, for
thousands of years, pioneers committed to exploring the interior
dimension of reality have explored and mapped diverse, extensive,
evolving realms of awareness, which are now becoming available
to more people, deepening them into Spirit and ameliorating
the destructive tendencies of materialism. More recently, social,
psychological, and cognitive sciences have begun to clarify
how civilization -- with its languages, tools, stories, and
constructed environments and institutions -- shapes consciousness
-- AND how individual and collective states of consciousness
-- and the interactions and conversations among conscious beings
-- influence and create culture and social systems. The more
we explore these two, the more we discover that social systems
and consciousness co-create each other and co-evolve. We suspect
tremendous evolutionary opportunities will be found in the dynamics
where these two powerful realites shape each other. As we engage
those opportunities, we will become conscious agents of evolution,
midwifing increasingly conscious and self-evolving people and
social systems -- which will constitute new forms of consciousness,
7. THE JUICE OF OUR DIFFERENCES.
Diversity -- dynamic, interacting diversity -- is one of the
deepest and most widespread realities in the universe. It could
be called the most important engine of evolution, being the
source of so much creativity -- AND transformational crises.
Just as we all arise from stardust, we are each profoundly unique.
Society can gloss over our uniqueness with conformity, prejudice,
and politeness -- trying to restrain our mind-boggling diversity
-- but it refuses to disappear, and constantly struggles to
show up, to be recognized, to make a difference. When our differences
come vividly into view, they often disturb our simple certainties
and comfortable order. Those disturbances almost always mark
something new and important trying to surface in our midst,
so today we need to hear the call to acknowledge our differences
while remaining connected with each other. Welcoming diversity
and disturbance, and engaging them creatively, are powerful
conscious acts that catalyze emergence at the growing edge of
evolution. Efforts to simply resolve, solve, ameliorate, and
calm troubled waters can short-circuit important opportunities
for transformation. Our capacitance -- our individual and collective
capacity to welcome, hold in dynamic tension, and creatively
engage with diversity, dissonance, uncertainty, and complexity
-- is a hallmark of co-intelligence and a source of evolutionary
energy and guidance.
8. IT'S ABOUT PROCESS. Evolution
IS process -- or perhaps we should say a vast family of processes
that together add up to creative development, unfolding complexity,
and ever-emergent wholeness. How can we be conscious agents
of such processes? How can we catalyze them, live into them,
embody them? These are guiding questions for those of us wishing
to become conscious manifestations of intentional evolution-in-action.
Most leading-edge processes used in groups, organizations and
communities involve many of the seven dynamics listed above.
They blend intentionality with a responsive "letting go
of particular outcomes". They embody a trust in the capacity
of living systems -- under the right conditions -- to call forth
inspired, workable next steps. Creating those conditions is
the task of the process worker, who holds a space for life's
diversity to show up, interact, and learn in ways that welcome
and empower breakthroughs. Reflecting on the creativity of the
universe, we can imagine evolution pursuing and pushing the
limits of an unspoken question: "What is actually possible
here?" Evolutionary process workers use variations of that
question to call forth the transformational energies of the
people and systems they are working with. In the resulting conversations
and interactive spaces, people explore their individual and
collective dreams, passions, and circumstances and discover
totally new possibilities they can work on or BE together. As
those possibilities get tested in the real world, evolution
continues, making space and energy for still newer possibilities...