Quite likely many readers will wonder why I spend time thinking about the distant future, why I would speculate about where human evolution might lead when I could never possibly know what will actually happen. Undoubtedly their questioning is well founded. I myself wonder what motivates me! There is no way I could ever find out if my speculations were in any sense accurate. Why even bother to write any of this down?
There are possibly three arguments I can offer, all of which may still seem weak to many, but then again, maybe they are enough.
The first argument is very personal. Thinking that there might actually be a future for the human genus is comforting. More than that, thinking it is highly likely fills me with a sense that our lives have actually meant something good, ironically as it is, even as we work furiously to destroy the environment that nurtured us. We all have a deep biologically-based need for this kind of sense being fulfilled. It is the basis for so many humans accepting theistic religious doctrines. One needs to believe that there is a universal story that has some kind of a plot, and that our contributions to it are meaningful, even if bit parts. I offered “Does evolution have a trajectory” sometime back, expressing what I hold to be a science-based teleonomic explanation of the story of the Universe in which the operations of the second law of thermodynamics and the evolution of higher organization, seemingly antagonistic processes, could simultaneously lead to both dispersal of energy and pockets of life and meta-life (see also What is the Universe Up To?).
The second argument is, perhaps, a bit more pragmatic; or at least it might offer some insights to help us face what I take to be the impending population bottleneck (Catton, 2009). And that might be viewed as a kind of plan for how our species can traverse the bottleneck in a way that positions it for progressive evolution to a more eusapient species in the distant future. If we actually can have a vision of what that might look like, we just might be more energized in working toward making it happen. I have presented the case for making sure highly sapient people differentially get through the bottleneck.
The third argument is motivated by the fact that one has to fight the good fight right to the end. I am a scientist (and maybe a little bit of a philosopher) and driven by a need to understand the phenomena I see before me. I have long been puzzled by what I see in humanity. There is so much that seems irrational when one buys into the notion that we are a smart species. I've written extensively about sapience, or lack thereof, of course. But now I think I see more aspects of our human condition. It is all related to sapience but connects more dots than that previous thesis attempted. Moreover, it is the basis of an explanatory story about the present extant species. And that helps to explain why we are so neurotic and all too often psychotic (or at least suffer antisocial personality disorders to one degree or another).
We have much to explain about current humans, their beliefs, and their natures. Psychology, even neuropsychology will have difficulty explaining why we act the way we do unless it is framed in the context of the universal evolutionary process. The story goes from the origins and evolution of the hominids, brings us to the current situation, and then must recognize that the plot is written by on-going evolutionary forces that will propel us into a future that we might be able to vaguely conjecture. Every story has an arc.
We build all kinds of models of systems as we find them for the purpose of generating plausible if not probable future scenarios for those systems. Consider my exploration of the human condition as attempting to build such a model, at least in a mental form.
Mankind in Transition
The extant human species is in a difficult transition. It has just emerged as a species possessing the capabilities of mind that make it much superior in cleverness to all prior animals and the beginnings of sapience. It is in a precarious position. A dangerous position. As I have conjectured, humans, as we are, posses only emergent sapience. We show the beginnings of a capacity to use higher order judgements to obtain ecological closure — to manage ourselves consciously to live in balance with the Ecos. The evolution of cleverness had long preceded sapience and so had, so to speak, a head start. The emergence of sapience acted to accelerate the development of higher cleverness which ultimately led to our being too smart for our own good.
Unlike previous species that continually had to be tested for fitness, and balance was achieved by external feedback loops (predation, diseases, etc.), humans have seemed to transcend the normal bounds of biology and have leapt free of natural selection as it is normally understood in biology. This is, of course, only an illusion. Natural selection never sleeps. It may be true that our population growth has escaped the normal kinds of controls, but that only leads to different forces of selection acting on our raw material. As we have seen, and I have endeavored to report in some of these postings, natural limits are coming swiftly into play to curtail humanity's unreasoned exuberance and finally rein in human expansion beyond the carrying capacity of the planet for our kind. We are deluded by our seeming success and it will soon become apparent. Not only will our numbers be culled but that new regime of contraction will act as yet another new way for selection to act.
This illusion was created by virtue of our evolved cleverness. We are exceptional in our ability to use symbolic communications and reasoning along with our incomparable capacity to invent technological ways to adapt to changing and challenging environments. We were so successful as a species that our kind now inhabit every continent on the planet and every type of environment has been colonized. And that success has led us into the trap of thinking that cleverness trumps all else. Due to our weak, emerging sapience we could be aware of our accomplishments, but not wise about how to use our cleverness. Van R. Potter (1971) defined wisdom as “knowledge of how to use knowledge”. We tend to use our knowledge to solve vexing problems like how to make more lethal weapons, or grow more food without ever asking whether we should or not. We never really consider unintended consequences when seeking solutions that make life more comfortable or allow us to go faster from point A to point B.
But even over the history of our emergence as a species and development toward complex global societies we have demonstrated repeatedly that we are dangerous to ourselves and to the rest of the Ecos. We have demonstrated repeatedly that we carry demons inside that when unleashed cause us to behave abhorrently. Even so, as Steven Pinker (2011) points out we have also emerged with a more highly developed eusocial tendency that has allowed us to reduce the levels of violence that our species lived with for so long. Civilization depends on socialization, the ability for individuals to cooperate with one another in order to achieve things that they could not on their own. And sociality has a biological basis.
Homo sapiens is at a nexus of evolutionary progress in which seemingly competing forces push and pull in so many directions. In particular we have crossed a threshold of consciousness such that we are aware of our own awareness. We can puzzle at our own experience of phenomenal experience. Moreover we can think about it and everything else in abstract language. We can communicate with one another through symbols; even our acts become symbolic. We are both sub- and consciously aware that others are conscious in the same way we are and so, from a deep level to the light of our conscious experience, we can feel and know what others feel and know by reflection onto ourselves. We are empathetic in ways no prior beast has ever been.
Our evolved moral sentimentality, the general behavioral rules of conduct we are compelled to recognize and judge in ourselves and others, has moved increasingly in a direction that compels us to feel a need to cooperate more than compete. We have evolved the capacity to form alliances beyond families and tribes. And we actively seek to do so in many situations. Cooperativity is at the heart of group success and reproductive fitness, hence has evolutionary appeal. However we need to always remember that this is a trait that is expressed “on average”; the range of expression or non-expression of the trait is still quite high. Unfortunately it seems that those who express the trait least tend to also take commanding positions in a culture of capitalism.
Beyond cooperativity we have evolved genuine emotional bonding, friendships and loves, that exceed the necessary levels for family life. Camaraderie, social clubs, and such involve deep personal attractions to others. We experience love of friends and have strong need of the esteem of others.
These are a few of the ways in which we humans have evolved to promote sociality as the primary route to evolutionary success. Unfortunately we carry yet a tremendous amount of biological history of competition (intra- and inter-species) for resources, mates, space, etc. And that hasn't gone away. Evolution works by accretion and remolding any redundant facilities for new purposes. The brain's structures reflect this clearly. The fact of our wonderful neocortex does not eliminate the need for or functions of the limbic centers. The prefrontal cortex does not obviate the need for the sensory, association, action loop of the rest of the cortex. We are an amalgam of old behaviors and more recently evolved ones. And the more recently evolved capabilities will necessarily not be in complete control. Ergo, we so often seem to suffer from dissociative identity disorder. We are literally many people in one. Some aggressive, mean. Others gentle and kind. Some of those personalities seem to prevail, others wither.
This makes us dangerous.
Even so, as Pinker (2011) points out, the better angels of our nature, generally come out when the conditions warrant. The problem is, and has always been, how do we make sure the conditions do warrant? How do we avoid conditions where our worst angels prevail?
The emergence of sapience gave animal life a foot into the door of sentient eusociality — the possibility for highly intelligent beings to achieve living together in harmony with one another and with the Ecos without becoming ant-like automatons in a rigid social structure. It provides a pathway for individual consciousness to abide without individualism causing us to resort to unfettered competition. We can form communities that exist in a steady-state flow of energy, sustained so long as that energy flows. Sapience amplifies one more attribute of cognition that emerged in primate evolution, the capacity to think about the future and about aspects of the environment that might not even seem to be relevant to one's existence — strategic thinking.
It was a weak attribute, in the population on average, to begin with. And it was probably weakened further as a result of the agricultural and industrial revolutions. Something that isn't used in biology generally atrophies, both physiologically, and, over sufficient time, evolutionarily (think of the eyeless cave fishes). Today the vast majority of people do not think strategically, not even some of the smartest people. They can be very clever at addressing immediate problems, and devise ingenious short-term solutions, but fail to see the long-term consequences of those solutions.
Eusociality is what Edward Wilson (2012) had originally defined (for eusocial insects) as:
- Reproductive division of labor (with or without sterile castes)
- Overlapping generations
- Cooperative care of young
More recent thinking by social and evolutionary psychologists tends to apply the notion of eusociality to humans as well as a larger number on non-insect species. They hold that it varies in terms of mechanisms by which a stronger social network is constructed and maintained. But the end result is that individuals of the species have a compelling need to interact and cooperate with other individuals. In the case of humans this resulted originally in the tribal organization and more recently the larger scale of nation states. There is some doubt that the latter qualifies as a eusocial structure since regional and even local eusocial structures can often override the effects of the larger national structures. Nevertheless, the evidence that humans must operate in a eusocial structure in general is overwhelming.
Is it Possible to Imagine Future Evolution for Mankind?
Sometimes the answers are right in front of you but you don't see them for lack of perspective!
I will argue that there are three basic conditions of human existence that portend what future, highly sapient humans might be like that will achieve truly sustainable eusociality. By sustainable I mean that the societies of these future humans will be able to live in balance with the Ecos and not generate the stress on the environment, nor use up natural resources in consumption that the current species of humans has achieved by its attempts to grow.
I've been reading two very interesting books with greatly overlapping subjects but examined from different perspectives. My method has been to interleave readings from each so as to compare and find the common themes. They are The Social Conquest of Earth by E.O. Wilson (2012) and Masters of the Planet: The Search for Human Origins by Ian Tattersall (2012). Both books cover the evolution of humans, essentially going back to the presumed last common ancestor of humans and chimps. Tattersall's interests lay in the evolution of the tribal structure the progression of species phenotypic forms, their distribution geographically, and the cultures of early humans up to the current species. Wilson's interest is in the development of social structures based on the biological basis of eusociality. Both examine how human intelligence and emotional aspects have evolved to strengthen the level of eusociality. Below I mention a third book that I had read some time ago, Frans de Waal's The Age of Empathy. de Waal studies great apes, particularly chimpanzees and bonobos. His observations of the differences in social order and dynamics between those two were interesting. In an earlier book, Our Inner Ape, he explored the relations between human social interactions and those of bonobos, but particularly the comparison of sexual behaviors between the latter and the former. Humans are more like bonobos in many aspects of sociality and sexuality, namely, the latter is somewhat decoupled from mere reproductive purposes. In humans the decoupling appears to be even more.
The three conditions I alluded to above emerged in my mind from these readings on the evolution of Homo sapiens. They are: Language and shared abstract thinking; Empathy, the sharing of feelings and emotions; and Pleurisexuality, the evolution of sex as a mechanism for sharing pleasure broadly between all members of a group, decoupled largely from its reproductive role.
The suggestion I am going to make is that humans currently are caught between opposing forces of evolutionarily older behaviors and these three that have been emerging in us. And that is what makes us neurotic. Ironically, the evolution of sapience, which is strongly linked to these three traits, created this dichotomous tension. It will take a further evolution of the strength of sapience which is the mental capacity to quell the more primitive influences and allow these mechanisms for increasing eusapience to dominate in future humans' behaviors. The future of human evolution may involve significant increases in these, and, hopefully, will lead to far less neurosis. Wiser people will accept the reality of how cooperativity can be strengthened by biological factors.
Let's take a closer look at these mechanisms.
Language and Abstract Thinking
In my working papers on sapience, in particular, The Evolution of Sapience I have made a link between the evolution of language facilities and the evolution of the hierarchical management system of the human brain and social structures, especially the aspect of strategic thinking (see also: Sapient Governance III - Strategic Management). In order for human groups to achieve strategic management there had to be a means of having very abstract concepts of time, place, and relations of other systems in the environment and sharing those concepts between members of the tribe. The mental facilities for having such abstractions represented in neural networks gave rise to the capacity of tool making that our ancestors developed. The capacity to share concepts through language made it possible to construct mental representations of complex relations very efficiently.
Since I have written extensively about these subjects in the above references series of working papers I will not recapitulate that work here. Instead I want to focus on the impact of language on sociality and increases in cooperativity. Our languages are evolving in sophistication as part of our cultural evolution. Everyone experiences the problems of semantics when several people are saying the same words but mean different things by them. People can argue about a subject simply by talking past one another. But in certain fields or disciplines there has emerged considerable refinement of what specific words mean and how they are to be used in constructing complex concepts. I speak, of course, of the various sciences where there has been increasing consensus regarding the meaning of words and sentences owing to the background of how those words are invented and used in the practice of science. This shows how language can contribute to increasing cooperation. Even scientists who are competing for grant money can agree on fundamentals and even cooperate in advancing the state of knowledge while seeming to be at each others' throats for publication priority.
In most other areas of life we tend to do OK most of the time. But as anyone who has gotten into a marital or familial dispute, or for that matter any kind of emotional dispute with anyone else knows language can fail. You can swear you meant one thing by something you said, but the other is failing to understand the intent, or what you really meant. This is partly a result of the inherent ambiguity that resides in much of language, especially in more complex constructs like sentences. So the facility of language for day-to-day interactions is still not sufficiently developed to support ordinary cooperativity to the extent we can imagine is possible, given the example of scientific communications. Here what matters is the further evolution of the human mind's capacity for more precise representation that comes with increasing capacity for systems thinking. From my writing on sapience you would find that both strategic and systems thinking are features of a comprehensive capacity to develop tacit knowledge of how the world, including other humans, works. Weakly developed systems thinking leads to fuzzy concepts and ambiguous meanings and that leads to ambiguous language skills.
The evolution of stronger sapience should lead to a better capacity to use language and actually understand one another. This has to lead to a higher capacity to achieve cooperation and solve problems (the right ones) cooperatively. It should lead to an ability to describe problems abstractly and still ensure the concepts are shared among members. It should allow members to share proposals and arguments for/against without talking past one another. There need not be any further evolution of the language facility itself, only an improvement in the mental representations that languages communicate. Much of this involves the representations of others' minds and beliefs. A more sapient mind would not harbor misconceptions about what someone else means by a phrase or word. If there were to be doubt, the simple solution is to ask questions until the meaning became clear. A sapient mind would be able to recognize that clarity when it emerged.
Empathy is the capacity to similarly experience (feel) another individuals emotional states (affective empathy) and to recognize how that other must feel (cognitive empathy). At a conscious level we perceive that other person's condition and think about it. Coupled with moral judgement, an individual may be strongly motivated to comfort someone in pain or congratulate someone who has just accomplished something great. In other words we behave in highly socially beneficial ways as a result of the interpersonal connection empathy provides us.
Between spoken language and “body” language it should be clear that we humans have a fantastic capacity for understanding what is going on in our fellow beings, often even when the other might be trying to hide it. There is something about our brains that is pushing us to become entrained in the inner life of our fellow beings. Neuroscience is starting to examine this phenomenon inside living brains.
There is a growing interest in a neuronal network system in the brain called mirror neurons. These neurons are involved in brain activities both when the individual performs an action and when that individual observes another individual performing the same or similar action. Thus the term ‘mirror’ It has been hypothesized that this neuronal subsystem is responsible for mental understanding of others' actions and intentions and may be the basis for empathetic thinking. The scientific jury is still deliberating on these ideas. But it should be clear that there is something going on in neural networks that shows relatively narrow tuning of activity correlated with specific actions on the part of the actor and those observing the actor. My own suspicion is that mirror neurons are not directly responsible for encoding these actions, but rather are active as a result of the activation of specific mental models (in the neural medium) that entail the synchronized firing of a large network of representations of all of the relevant attributes of the action. Since most of those attributes are likely to be external to the actor, but observed and recorded as part of the action, when the actor observes these attributes applying as a different actor than themselves goes through the action, then it is not surprising that specific neurons, participating in that learned network, should differentially fire. In other words these so-called mirror neurons do not cause action-features learning but are merely an effect of that learning having occurred. In my own version of neural network coding this would be no different than what happens when we learn concepts. Concepts are encoded in relatively isolated networks that receive input from the various low-level features that constitute the attributes of the concept. See my working paper on The Neuroscience of Sapience. Search for the section titled: Representing Concepts in Neural Networks. In my view concepts are concepts, and everything that we encode, no matter what level of complexity, is simply a concept.
The important thing to recognize is that our brains are capable of seeing others go through actions that our own internal representations of us going through those same actions generate internal activations of the concept models and cause us to “virtually” experience them. There is no fundamental reason why this should not be true of emotionally-tagged actions, like making facial expressions relating to an emotional state, as well as simpler motor actions (where most of the work on mirror neurons has been done). This being the case we see that the brain has a built in mechanism for making strong emotional connections between individuals.
Humans have evolved the highest level of empathy of any mammal and any of the great apes (de Waal, 2009; Wilson, 2012). Wilson notes that empathy and altruistic tendencies are at the root of eusociality in humans. According to Wilson, et. al, these mental capacities were under very strong selective pressures during the rise of Homo sapiens. The nature of the selection mechanism is multi-level, but with the main emphasis on group selection wherein cooperation within a group led to more successful exploitation of the environment and thus more successful competition with other groups that sought the same resources. Given the emerging picture of humans as living in small tribal communities of hunter-gatherers that required large territories for support, it is not hard to picture this arrangement favoring mental development that promoted empathy and desires to help one's fellow tribesperson.
In my working papers I describe the relations between moral sentiment and affect (see The Components of Sapience Explained). Empathy comes from our deep motivation to connect with and understand one another. It is biologically determined though it comes in different levels of strength. Narcissists, extreme libertarians, and extreme sociopaths may have very little, even no empathetic feelings for their fellow beings. Facultative care-givers, on the other hand, tend to be highly empathetic. Sufficiently strong empathetic feelings provide the motivation (desire and drive) to cooperate with our fellows. Empathetic feelings can promote communalism (as opposed to individualism) but is also at the root of the us-vs-them thinking that leads to between-group conflict. This is what is left over from our evolutionary past.
Nevertheless, we see that we humans have been able to expand the circle of what we mean by 'we'. We did evolve a capacity to include those who we originally considered outsiders as members of our group. We've witnessed groups coalesce, nation states form, and so many other forms of strangers becoming neighbors if not brothers that leads us to think that empathy itself has been subject to positive selection and has thus increased as the world seemed to shrink.
In any case, it will have to evolve further so that the ‘them’ category shrinks to nothing. Sapience allows us to view strangers as potential allies and to think we understand what they are thinking and feeling. Eusapience must involve having strong empathetic feelings for everyone with whom an individual comes in contact. Increase in empathy increases the desire to cooperate for mutual benefit, necessary for eusociality to be dominant in a human species.
Warning: what follows may come as a shock or even as offensive to some readers. We take the subject of sex and sexual behaviors for granted. We assume that what we do now, in terms of things like marriage (pair bonding), courtship, etc. are normal behaviors for our species. That is why it has been so hard to shift the currents away from a strict social norm of heterosexuality to allow recognition of homosexuality as natural and allow that same-sex marriage should be recognized. That most recent shift in the currents shows that the truth will out! We need to reexamine our socially-constructed assumptions about the whole subject of sexuality. The evidence for a completely different understanding has been building and must now be examined anew.
Has it ever occurred to you that it is awfully strange that we humans are so obsessed with sex? With one known exception, we are the only mammals that engage in sex regardless of the ovulation state of the female. Other animals are not really obsessed with sex except in mating seasons. The exception is interesting. It is not really obsessed with sex either because it freely practices sexual behaviors with abandon. That is the animal that is thought to be our closest living relative, the Bonobo. (Pan paniscus) Bonobos, or pygmy chimps, use sex as a socializing way to reduce tension, minimize aggression, and, apparently, to just have fun. Moreover, the sex they practice is plurisexual, that is it can be homosexual, heterosexual, oral, and group. It has even been reported that a few bonobo brothers and sisters practiced incest though it is not known if pregnancies resulted. The only assumed taboo seems to be mothers do not have sex with adult sons. They even have sex with members of other tribes and do not seem to engage in the same kind of aggressions between groups that are common in the standard chimpanzees. These are animals in their natural habitat who have evolved the use of sex as a means to reach social harmony. And, to repeat, they are our closest cousins! We shared a common ancestor that may have very well been similarly pleurisexual.
Not only are humans obsessed with sex in what seems an unnatural, or at least an unhealthy way, they are obsessive about the sexual lives of their fellow humans. What week passes without blasting news stories about how some prominent politician or celebrity has been caught with their pants down (homo, hetero, or some combination thereof)? How much news time did Bill Clinton's transgression against sexual norms take up, let alone the obsessions of the Republican members of congress? How much political energy has gone into the supposed moral questions revolving around same-sex marriage, or abortion, or sex education. As a species we are completely dominated by sexuality, our own as individuals, and that of everyone else around us. And it is a deeply conflicted obsession for many.
What is sexual deviance? There really isn't a clear cut definition that, say, the psychology community can agree on. Pornography abounds because there is a massive audience for it. Homosexuality and bisexuality abound. Pedophilia abounds, apparently, even among classes of people who have sworn off sex. And what makes some people so obsessed with making sure others don't practice what they consider deviant sex? Homophobia and the hate it generates are a case in point. Could it be that homophobes are simply suffering deep anxieties about their own sexuality? Might many people who are so vociferous about the evil of being gay are simply suffering from subconscious guilt at having found someone of their own sex, at sometime in their lives, attractive?
Put simply, human beings are caught in a struggle between two conflicting urges when it comes to sex. On the one hand we evolved, in our small tribes, to form pair bonds, males and females, long enough to rear offspring to the point they were autonomous, say ten to fifteen years (see below for the differences between us and bonobos). The bonding was not based on what we today call “love”, though it obviously includes many forms and levels of affection. It was simply the only practical arrangement. The way our species and their predecessors occupied the land, along with the need to nurture children for many years, mandated a certain amount of male-female affinity and group selection strengthened the tendency. Tribes were small and some evidence now suggests that the exchange of females for mating purposes were problematic given the territorial ranges and group separations that made contact between groups infrequent. Recent evidence based on deformities in skulls that resemble those that occur in inbred populations have suggested that incest may have been more common in early humans simply because our numbers were so few and groups were sparsely distributed in Southern Africa. Mating for extended time has always been a difficult but necessary behavioral trait. The real question is, does this mean mating for life is a biological given? The frequency of divorces in western societies suggests we should not assume it is.
What if our genes for sexual behavior are more bonobo-like than we would have imagined given our current cultural state of affairs. We all take this state of affairs (marriage being the primary sanctioned mode for sex and child bearing) as the biological norm, but if that were the case why all of the extra-marital affairs and high divorce rates? Prior to the agricultural revolution it is possible that humans were far more like bonobos with respect to sexuality than we see today. Exclusive mating for life may not have been our natural proclivity. It is useful while rearing children, but even today it is by no means a biological dictum. A large fraction of our fictional “stories” involve sexual treacheries as posed against a background of the assumed notion of marriage. The latter is actually a fairly recent social norm which I suspect arose more to reinforce the stability of the emerging agrarian-based states than as a natural biological function. How else do you explain the fact that we tell ourselves fairy tales of fidelity but practice infidelity, often on a whim. We are not just inconsistent. We are deeply conflicted. How many marriages end in divorce? How many end because of an infidelity? How many end because of a desire for a change? The numbers seem to make it clear that biologically-speaking, we are not a bond-for-life species.
Bonobos do not have the same problems that we have associated with child rearing, namely the long development periods for youngsters, that requires male-female pairing. Bonobos reach autonomy in just a few years. Plus they are born able to cling to their mother's fur and have a certain amount of self-sufficiency from an early age. Mother bonobos are not as restricted from foraging and other necessary living behaviors as are human mothers during their children's infancies. Human mothers, on the other hand, require more assistance from mates and extended family members (the grandmother hypothesis is illustrative). It is likely that pair-bonding for the duration of family rearing evolved in the genus Homo in response to the need for longer development periods for children. So various biological mechanisms, such as oxytocin release from kissing and fondling, as well as hidden ovulation and female willingness to have sex outside of an estrous cycle (heat in most mammals) evolved to reinforce male bonding to females for this purpose. But it does not mean that the possibly older proclivity for sex outside that bond was submerged or lost. In fact, the modern patterns of infidelity simply point to the fact that they were not. Humans are still easily tempted to have sexual liaisons outside of any pair bond and this is true for both males and females, though presumably in different proportions.
What if marriage and life-long pair bonding are merely recent cultural inventions that do not conform to our basic biology but reflect an imposed belief thought needed to pacify males and maintain the social order. What if our current turmoil roiling around our sexual proclivities is just the exposure of our basic biological nature attempting to break out of this artificial enclosure. The sexual revolution of the 1960s, the apparent freedom with which teenagers today “hook up”, the rising number of pregnancies out of wedlock, and the rising numbers of non-married co-occupying couples in Western societies may be telling us something about ourselves to which we might want to pay attention.
Let's suppose another theory. Suppose that humans really are not biologically predestined to heterosexual, pair-bonding for life unions. What if we are inherently much more like bonobos than we imagined? It would certainly help explain an awful lot about our obsessions and mental conflicts. On the one hand we have invented a social construct called marriage seeking social stability through nuclear families extending for the lives of the partners. On the other we are deeply inclined to enjoy sex for its own sake as a way of forming many different kinds of interpersonal bonds (and I am not talking about anonymous one-night stands here). Is it possible that we are simply witnessing the results of this conflict between a social norm, invented as a response to the settled lifestyle of agrarian societies, and a biological proclivity, evolved to enhance social cohesiveness. The current human species is, indeed, caught in a tragic nexus of evolutionary forces if this is so.
On the other hand, suppose that along with an increase in empathetic consciousness and refinements in our language capacity to share knowledge we also evolved a greater capacity to use sexuality in the same way the bonobos do. What if the proclivities we see in humans today are simply part of the on-going emergence of greater plurisexuality that would allow people to enjoy one another's company in infinitely more intimate and physically rewarding ways with no hang-ups whatsoever? What if everybody were capable of loving everybody else without jealousy or persecution or coercion? And in light of a higher level of sapience people were wise enough to use this gift to achieve greater social cohesion and cooperation?
The current human species lives in a hell of sexual tensions that exhaust our energies and provoke behaviors that are inhumane. Bonobos do not live thusly. The argument that the future evolution of humans will once again be dependent on strong socialization both within and between groups may very well favor plurisexuality as a norm in behavior because of its potential to strengthen the bonds of caring between individuals.
An additional benefit of evolution in this direction is the near complete uncoupling of sex from reproduction that might be achieved. Sex for fun and stabilizing relations has been at the heart of the movement promoting birth control. People today want to be able to have as much sex as they desire without suffering the consequences of unwanted pregnancies. If we accept that this is just one more indication that we share some propensities with bonobos regarding the use of sex for social bonding then the question is why shouldn't it run to the (bio)logical conclusion that sex need not be about procreation as a primary function. Indeed, this possibility may be a solution to the problem of population control. Imagine a eusapient society in which children were conceived on purpose and only when the group deemed it appropriate, i.e. to replace those that had died. At such times the role of pair-bonding for purposes of child rearing might prove to contribute to the fitness of the species. Parents could bond for the time it takes to rear a single offspring, perhaps not with the ferocious singularity that our practices promote, but with a genuine fondness for each other as they share the work of bringing up a child. This offers the potential for controlling population size and with that the opening into maintaining a sustainable society in balance with nature.
How a eusapient society might decide on who should be eligible for procreation is another opportunity for a process I have called social selection, the practice that we already are seeing in our species of making semi-conscious decisions about who should mate with whom. Some societies have long practiced arranged marriages within classes or castes. In this manner, parents and society are conspiring to produce the ‘best’ offspring based on social criteria. So our species is already behaviorally practicing social selection now (and no one calls it eugenics!). A future eusapient species might couple the notion of population control with the desire for the best outcome of matings by choosing those individuals that are among the best of their kind. By uncoupling sexual attraction from determining mating pairs, the society is free to pursue such a program that ensures that every child that is born is highly likely to be a good ‘specimen’! It is an opportunity.
The Evolution of Eusociality in Humans
Social selection coupled with population size control as described above puts humans squarely within the definition of eusociality that Wilson put forth. In other eusocial animals reproductive rights are given up by all classes but one in order to ensure that work gets done and the presumed genetic continuity of the group. This is described as altruism (though of a purely mechanical sort) and had been believed to be the basis of eusociality evolution (see Wikipedia: Altruism, Evolutionary Explanation). It is certainly true that some form of reproductive rights relinquishing among members of a group is found in eusocial groups. For example in wild dogs the alpha female will kill any other pups not her own in her pack, reserving the right to be the principle reproducer for the pack until she is too old, killed, or taken down by some of her rivals. In humans everybody has babies, or at least is not particularly prevented from doing so, with the possible exception of eunuchs. With social selection and limitations on when and who gets to reproduce it is altogether possible that this will act as a similar mechanism to what we see in other eusocial animals which would then reinforce the further selection for eusociality in the future.
We are already highly social. We already evolved to be eusocial-like if not eusocial in fact. But there is something yet missing. Still, too much of our interactions are based on competition where cooperation might actually be better for us and our world. Think of the difference between capitalism as currently practiced, based as it is on the an unconstrained profit motive, and non-profit organizations (including some ordinary businesses) that seek only to produce a product or service that helps society and sells that only at cost. The latter are generally not operating on cut-throat principles. Consider a world in which all social organizations operated on the principles of cooperation and through higher sapiences wise coordination. Imagine if people develop superior communications and thinking skills to help facilitate cooperation. Imagine if people can strongly feel what their fellow beings are feeling and are motivated to use that understanding to help one another. Imagine if people so enjoy one another's company by being freely loving as they feel to be that they carry those feelings of warmth into all aspects of life. Would those people not lead happier lives? Would they not be potentially more productive of the things they really need to live?
According to group selection theory, groups succeeded because of intra-group cooperation and coordination (by the wise elders). Inter-group competition was a result of the standard evolutionary principle that all life will attempt to expand (grow) if not constrained by higher-order coordination mechanisms (e.g. hierarchical controls that keep cells from growing beyond a certain size or individuals from doing the same). A growing number of groups, due to a growing population, had to compete for limited resources. But if everyone in the species is part of the same group (just as every cell in your body — micro-biota and parasites excluded — are part of the same body) and that group (population) is under regulations against unconstrained growth, then the further evolution of the species depends on exogenous factors and social selection to adapt to those factors. We don't need to compete with other members of our species to survive and evolution depends on how our gene pool adapts to the larger world as it changes.
I'm not a believer in omega points or singularities as final targets of the evolutionary process. I have stated that my belief is that as long as there is excess free energy available and flowing through a system, that system will continue to evolve toward higher organization. Thus it is unlikely that we could say what a final configuration for life, including what kind of species humans might “end up as”, but what I have argued here is that it might be possible to get a glimpse of what the next step along the path might look like. I'm not making predictions but casting out a possible scenario. Luck may yet be the deciding factor. There could be a planet-killer asteroid with Earth's name written on it. Nevertheless, if we really claim to be even minimally sapient and sentient and understanding of evolution, do we not owe it to ourselves to consider the possibilities for the future. And if we see something that seems like progress toward a more harmonious Ecos (the kind that existed before humans broke the symmetry) should we not actively pursue the path implied?
I'm sure many readers will continue to adhere to the conventional wisdom that the loss of fossil fuel energy and climate change (the double whammy) will reduce mankind to his Olduvai status. Others will remain convinced that humans will go extinct, plain and simple (and should by some reckoning). But others may see the possibilities of which I have written. Maybe they don't quite agree with some of my more unconventional suggestions (e.g. pluerisexuality) but basically hold out an optimistic view for the future of mankind, that is, a new kind of mankind. For those I ask, what might you do to help nudge us into that future? My standard opinion is that learning and practicing permaculture (and possibly some hunter-gatherer ways) and helping others who seem to be aware of the real state of the world learn these skills will certainly contribute to there being some future population for selection to work on. Knowing how to find the basics of life will become far more valuable in the long run than purely intellectual understanding of what the future might be.
For my own part, however, I think the intellectual aspects of life are important and necessary in the long run. The knowledge we have worked so hard to gain cannot just be tossed away as so much garbage. We worked too hard to get it. And we paid a dear price for it. Therefore I continue to work on ideas for compressing and encapsulating knowledge of systems science in such a way that it will be preserved long into the future against a day when humans may emerge from more primitive technologies to a new, more wise, exploration of nature and science. Some of you may have heard about recent advances in encoding and retrieving text in DNA molecules which is something I had been considering for a while now. DNA is a highly stable molecule even in its natural state (especially when bound in protective proteins and RNAs in chromosomes). We can now design molecular structures that further enhance that stability making it theoretically possible to store DNA encoded knowledge for many thousands of years. What I envision is a compressed form of “seed” knowledge encoded much like a self-extracting application file such that under the right conditions the language of systems science will unfold to enhance the intuitive systems thinking that eusapient beings would possess.
Look. At my age it is OK to tinker and dream about good possibilities, and hope that I stay in the realm of feasibility! Perhaps my kind readers will provide corrective feedback when I venture too far outside that realm. We can't break any laws of nature, but we sure can have an impact on how those laws shape the future.
 Nihilism as a philosophical position rejects this notion, holding that life really is meaningless, the result of mere chance. Often associated with Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher, (but sometimes wrongly attributed to him as a proponent - his thoughts on the matter were quite complex) who famously said “God is dead.” He saw those that adopted a nihilistic view had lost faith in a theistic god who, according to most religious views, but particularly Christianity, was the origin of morality and meaning. For those who mistakenly conceived of evolution as a purely random process — the prevailing concept at the time — there was no alternative but to think the evolution of human life a totally pointless, purely chance happening. While nihilism got some purchase as a philosophical perspective it also resulted in many people who succumbed to the notion falling into depression and despair, giving the common perception of nihilists as gloomy types. Today we would recognize this as a psychological problem. It would be hard to say whether people who are prone to clinical depression are prone to falling into the sway of nihilism, or people who start following the logical path of nihilism simply are led to the obsessive state that triggers depression is unknown. Perhaps its both. In any case, a strong belief in nihilistic ideas is seen as a sickness of mind. The majority of people cling to religious beliefs in order to avoid the conundrum entirely. A few of us look for meaning in the patterns of evolution that definitely show it to be progressive.
 Another term that may have bearing on the understanding of evolution is Earnst Mayr's use of teleomatic to describe ‘automatic’ process that seem to have a purpose or end goal. I have been writing about what I call auto-organization as part of a larger view of evolution. Auto-organization deals with the way that entities (from quarks to people to galaxies) form interactive associations (networks) through forces and/or flows (by chance of proximity) that then are tested by whatever environmental competitive forces pertain. Stable, strongly coupled interactions persist in that kind of selection while weaker interactions are disrupted returning the components to the pool of potential interactors. When the interactions persist a new larger entity emerges from the process. In my view a distinction between teleonomic and teleomatic serves to describe certain details, but I consider the latter as a sub-category of the former. A universal principle of evolution involves chance interactions (e.g. phenotypic variations) being tested for stability by the embedding environment (e.g. selection). With aging the most fit entities are those that do persist. Biological evolution merely adds the mechanism of reproduction of the pattern (genotype) to amplify the process but is not fundamentally different.
 From the Wikipedia article about Pinker's (2011) book:
The phrase "the better angels of our nature" stems from the last words of Lincoln's first inaugural address. Pinker uses the phrase as a metaphor reflecting four specific human traits: self-control, empathy, morality, and reason.
 This is not a term currently in the dictionary! It is a word I invented to be descriptive of the nature of the form of sexuality as seems to be the case for humans and bonobos.
 Autism, for example, is one of a number of mental deficiencies in which normal emotional connecting is not occurring.
 The term paraphilia refers to what many would consider sexual deviant behaviors, of many kinds. However different cultures at different times have stricter or looser definitions of what is included under this term. That human beings as biological creatures even have to name and define a term like this is indicative of deep mental conflicts.
 Another interesting aspect of bonobo society is that the females tend to be the more dominant sex with respect to group governance. I don't suppose anyone has noticed that in our species women are emerging as having more power in this regard. I suspect that stronger female influence and plurisexuality are linked biologically but this is just speculation at this stage.
Catton, W. R. (2009). Bottleneck: Humanity's Impending Impasse, Xlibris Corporation.
de Waal, F. (2009). The Age of Empathy, Harmony Books, New York.
Marean, C.W. (2010). “When the Sea Saved Humanity”, Scientific American 303, 54 - 61
Pinker, S. (2011). The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Viking, New York.
Potter, V. R. (1971). Bioethics: Bridge to the Future, Prentice-Hall, New York.
Tattersall, I. (2012). Masters of the Planet: The Search for Human Origins, Palgrave MacMillan, New York.
Wilson, E.O. (2012). The Social Conquest of Earth, Liveright Publishing Corporation, New York.
For a larger bibliographic selection of books on consciousness, evolution of mind, and other related topics see Bibliography