Chapter 11. Evo Devo Foresight: Unpredictable and Predictable Futures

Grand Questions: Our Purpose and Place in the Universe

Dear Reader: We interrupt this Guide with an important news flash: You Have Won the Universal Lottery!

  • Against astronomical odds, you were born and given life. Wow! How lucky is that? 
  • Not only did you win life, you came into the world a member of the most complex and adaptive species on Earth (a one in nine million lottery win, for extant species alone)
  • Not only are you a member of Earth’s most complex species, you were born late enough to be able to watch your species, perhaps in the next century, invent its own naturally intelligent successor (4 million years/100 years = 1/40,000 lottery win)
  • Not only this, you live at a time when you and your loved ones can preserve yourselves today at death and come back again as a digital system capable of continual learning and indefinite lifespan, if you want (another 1/40,000 lottery win?)

So you’re quite lucky, that’s clear.

But what, we may ask, is your purpose, role, and duty to this amazing universe that has given you life?

This is the grandest of questions we could ask. Publicly or privately, we each try to answer this question as best we can.

There are many partial answers we can adopt, as we choose. Here’s one personal favorite, from Albert Einstein:

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe”, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” Albert Einstein, quoted in the New York Times, 1972.

It seems to me that we now know enough about evolution and development at the universal scale to begin relating these grand processes to our own lives, in a way that informs our purpose, place, and priorities. We can ask how we can make our personal, organizational, and social values and goals more consistent with these apparently universal processes.

It has always amused me that most scientists, and even most of todays astrobiology, who should know better by now, are quick to adopt the dogma that the universe is a random accident, and humans have no special place within it. Hopefully, the arguments and evidence in this chapter and in Chapter 7 have at least opened up major doubts with respect to that still-dominant model of change.

We have argued that the universe is a finite system, with a beginning, a life cycle, and an end. It looks deeply organic, and its intelligence appears to be partitioned between it’s seed (special initial conditions), its organism/body (the universe), and its nurturing environment (the multiverse). We don’t have to posit a God as designer of the intelligence our universe contains. All that we need is for the system to undergo replication in a selective environment, as several cosmologists have proposed, and both evolutionary and developmental forms of intelligence will self-organize. That’s how intelligence emerged in living systems, and it is most parsimonious to assume that is how intelligence emerged in the universe as a system.

Evolutionary develomentalism strongly supports the view that intelligent civilizations throughout the universe are the universe’s way of understanding itself and reality, and are also an essential part of the universe’s reproductive system. If intelligence functions at the universal scale as it does in living systems, then every civilization is seeking a balance between improving and sustaining, between evolving and developing their complexity, and their intelligence legacy will ultimately play a role in reproducing the universe and further improving it for successor generations. In such a universe, growing, protecting, and reproducing personal, family, social, and universal intelligence may be the evolutionary and developmental purpose of all intelligent beings, to the greatest extent that they are able.

As humanity continues its incredible, accelerating rise, our leaders, planners, and builders must become evolutionary developmentalists if we are to learn to see reality through the universe’s eyes, not just our own. Learning to see, accept, and better manage all the hidden development ahead of us, and bringing our personal ego, fears, and illusions of control back down to fit historical reality, are among the greatest challenges of our era.

Many changes in our future views will have to occur in this process. For one change, our civilizations are in the process of moving from survival and scarcity values to abundance values. Read Diamandis and Kotler’s Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think (2014) for a great recent primer.

We’ll have to learn to take the universal megatrends of densification and dematerialization seriously, and see their predictiveness, and the entire phenomenon of accelerating change, with all the digital evolutionary developments that lie just ahead of us. Only then will we start changing our priorities and values from short-term, future-blind, self-serving ones, and work more collaboratively to accelerate those D&D developments that will solve so many of our current pains and problems, at a new level of collective intelligence beyond that which we’ve created to date.

We’ll also have to learn to stop being so terrified of the future, and of each other, and so immunity-blind, and spending so much time fighting and trying to wall ourselves off from each other, and trying to control things that actually are beyond our control.

When we look carefully we must admit that we’re all in an accelerating cage of technological interdependence, immunity, and inertia, whether we want to be there or not, and so we might as well recognize that, and start better steering that acceleration toward the greatest information generation, innovation, and indeterminacy (individual freedoms) that we can, to maximize the adaptiveness of the new forms of intelligence that will invariably arise.

Like the countries that come together when they see a common challenge ahead, our common challenge is navigating this runaway train we are in, once we see it’s just going to keep getting faster, in both good and bad ways, and we don’t have the option of stopping it. So let’s wake up to our roles as guiders and catalysts of the better accelerations, put speed bumps and temporary restraints in front of the more dangerous accelerations, and in general help each other thrive.

Evodevo values can also help us to better balance such eternal polarities as competition and cooperation, freedom and protection, innovation and sustainability, individual and social needs, and bottom-up and top-down forms of science, economics, organizations, and society.

As we have said, the evo-devo model is 180 degrees opposite to the standard evolutionary synthesis, in which life is seen as a random accident, without higher meaning or purpose, and there are no predictable great portals ahead of us. So this perspective too will have to change.

To an evo-devo thinker, the accelerating self-organization of adaptive complexity, and all the higher features of that complexity, including intelligence and consciousness, look like the central purpose of all VCRIS complex systems, whether they be they stars, organisms, societies, or the universe itself. The universe wants to continue evolving and developing, and we are presently key players in that process.

As EDU member and complexity scholar Terry Bristol says, it is a deep mistake to call the universe purposeless, or say it doesn’t care. You care, and you are a central product of the universe. Don’t separate yourself from it. As Bristol says, if you want to know what the universe is about, go look in a mirror. Our humanity is not a random twig on the evolutionary tree, it has been a key evolutionary developmental portal in the acceleration of complexity, and the hierarchy in which it plays a role is a central part of the universe’s purpose.

As individuals, organisms, societies, and species, we are each evolutionary experiments. Yet the accelerating complexification of which we humans are presently the leading catalysts, on Earth, is central to the purpose of the universe. Life matters, and we have evolutionary, developmental, and adaptive purposes. Science will eventually wake up to this realization. When it does, science will finally have some really meaningful things to say about human purpose, and the extended evolutionary synthesis will be completed.

The idea of universal purpose is a very old one. Aristotle called it a final cause, an end toward which some system directs itself. In an evo-devo universe, both evolutionary and developmental processes have some kind of final cause. In evo-devo theory, evolutionary processes seek to grow diversity and variety as one kind of “final cause,” and developmental processes seek to arrive at specific future destinations, reducing some kinds of diversity and indeterminacy and creating interdependence and inertia as a second “final cause”. Both processes also seem to be in service to a third “final cause,” to maximize the adaptiveness of the replicating system.

If the evo-devo model is correct, we’ll develop a far better understanding of not only universal (and mostly evolutionary) means, which science excels at today, but also universal (and mostly developmental) ends, which are both predictably similar in developmental terms, for all universes of our type, and must also differ for each universe as a function of its internal intelligence, or adaptive complexity.

The Evo-Devo Universe is both a Big Picture and a Big Why model. Incomplete and incorrect as it must be, we can still look to it for tentative answers to many of the Grand Questions we ask in natural philosophy and metaphysics (philosophy of reality), questions that inform our purpose, place, and role in the universe. Many of us asked these grand questions in our youth, and we sometimes forget them as we grow older and busier. Yet they always remain, quietly calling to us. Here are a few, with some tentative answers suggested by this Guide:

  1. What is the universe? A finite evo-devo system, self-organizing its own complexity, born from the multiverse.
  2. Why is our universe evo-devo? Evo-devo self-organization is presumed to maximize adaptive intelligence, which is presumably the best use of multiversal resources.
  3. Who are we? An intelligent evo-devo system, self-organized by the universe.
  4. Where are we going? We are accelerating toward a postbiological state of being.
  5. Why are we here? To further our personal, organizational, global, and universal adaptiveness, via both evolution and development
  6. What shall we do with our lives? Use our strengths, build great teams, and steer toward personal, organizational, and global progress. We’ve offered a some tentative models for how we can make that progress, such as using the Eight Skills, and advancing the Five Goals and Ten Values.

Attentive readers may notice that we skipped at least one classic Grand Question in the lineup above. Let us call it Question Zero:

  1. Why is there something (a multiverse, or whatever) rather than nothing?

This is one of many people’s grand questions, including my dear mother-in-law, Janina Brigis. Let us note, in all humility, that an answer to this question may stay forever beyond our reach. I doubt our science or metaphysics will ever get good enough to tell us why something exists, rather than nothing. Our road to understanding seems to end at that question, for the present at least.

But once we’re in the realm of “all the possible somethings” that must have both physical and informational dimensions, we may be in a place where intelligence can one day know why our universe is structured as it is. I am hopeful that one day, our complexity science will be able to tell us why the best “somethings” (universes, people, societies, technologies) must be evo-devo, among all the various kinds of somethings we can imagine that could exist. We may eventually know why adaptive intelligence, or whatever it is that our universe actually maximizes, is the most useful goal for all “somethings” to maximize, and why our universe needs a set of values and goals to maximize, in competition with all the kinds of universes that could exist.

We may eventually understand, at a deep level, why a “something” that is a multiverse, with massively parallel, physically- and informationally-compartmentalized universes, a universe, with massively parallel, physically- and info-compartmentalized intelligent planets, and a living planet, with massively parallel, physically- and info-compartmentalized biological and technological evo-devo organisms, is a better strategy than any other way of growing adaptive intelligence. If we assume that all “somethings” must be finite and computationally incomplete, that alone gives us an intuition that massively parallel, physically and informationally-separated systems, so they can each take their own unique evolutionary paths, followed by some kind developmental integration of those unique systems at a later point, is going to beat out any kind of monolithic, “all eggs in one basket” approach at creating adaptive complexity, beating out all other uses of multiverse resources.

But as to why there is something at all, we can throw our hands up today and exclaim “Multiverse help us” in answering that one. (Chuckle). Question Zero may lie forever beyond our reach. Not getting to answer Question Zero, in fact, may be the ultimate price we pay for being finite and incomplete physical and informational beings.

In science and in philosophy our answers are never perfect. But with better models, evidence, and experience, we can be happy when our current answers are more useful and informed than our parent’s answers, which is a worthy goal. The evo-devo model helps us get a bit farther in answering the Grand Questions, I think, and we can use it to address many others that derive from them.

Here are a few Lesser Grand Questions, and some tentative evo-devo answers for your consideration:

  1. Is our universe life and intelligence friendly? It seems so. Astrobiologists estimate 100 million Earth-like planets in our Milky Way alone. Not only are Earth-like planets highly fit for life, we may in fact live in a Childproof Universe, due to developmental immunity. Just as we see with species, evo-devo processes could produce a universe that, over multiple replications, grows increasingly immune to self-destruction by the intelligences that arise within it, if that were adaptive in the multiverse.
  2. Why is intelligence growth a dominant strategy for leading evo-devo systems? Intelligence substitutes computation and virtuality for the physical world. Adaptive intelligence is an evo-devo process that optimally accelerates a system’s virtual and physical abilities via STEM compression, while pursuing the Five Goals (innovation, intelligence, interdependence, immunity, and sustainability) and Ten Values.
  3. What key roles must intelligence play in a universal evo-devo system? Perhaps to advance the Five Goals and Ten Values, or something like them, in eventual service to Universe Replication.
  4. What is the future role and trajectory of technology and intelligence on Earth? We are presently accelerating to Inner Space, of both Virtual and Physical varieties. Strangely, the more adaptive we become, the more we may look something like a black hole, as proposed in the Transcension Hypothesis. Future physics and information theory may tell us that transcension is the fastest and best way to meet all other local intelligences, and do something even more interesting and valuable with them in some Great Beyond.
  5. Are superintelligences godlike, or still finite in their knowledge of both themselves and the universe? Incompleteness tells us they are finite, and will always have both unproven beliefs and knowledge in various degrees of proof. God is the wrong metaphor for the future of intelligence. Many metaphysical questions can likely never be answered by future beings. In other words, all future intelligences will likely remain on their own spiritual quests. Thus religion (spiritual community) always remains relevant, for some.
  6. Why don’t superintelligences send out communications or robot probes prior to transcension? For non-godlike beings living an Incomplete Universe, massive parallelism of evolutionary searches may always be the most adaptive strategy. Such beings may invariably develop a Moral Prime Directive, to protect galactic diversity and maximize adaptive intelligence in the universe. There may be developmental failures in some galaxies, with limited, local expansion, but in an evo-devo universe, developmental transcension may be by far the norm.

We are still early in trying to answer these questions. Much more research will be needed. Yet even tentative philosophical answers like these can greatly aid us. Universal foresight, as we’re defining it, can help us better understand our purpose, place, and priorities, and to achieve more and better progress here today. I hope it provides some help to you as well.

Showing 2 comments
  • Boghos L. Artinian MD

    Since my youth I had been pondering about the purpose of man’s existence and his place in the universe. I have finally come to the following tentative conclusion: Man is merely a component in an evolving and self organizing universe. He has nevertheless been allowed to enjoy a relatively short period of freedom before he is totally integrated in an advanced super-society whereupon he would eventually lose his freedom entirely!
    Haven’t his cells done just that before him, or his organelles before his cells, or his molecules before his organelles, or his atoms before his molecules? We are now enjoying our last few centuries of freedom.
    Boghos L. Artinian MD

    • John Smart

      Dear Boghos, thank you for this comment. I agree with much of what you write here, increasing average integration does seem to be intrinsic to universal development. But consider also that the most complex layers of the human organism gain new freedoms, as the supporting layers get more integrated, and lose previous freedoms. For example, in humans, the neural network layer is truly the most free. We have free will at that level. Likewise, if Earth’s society becomes an integrated super-organism, as we both expect it will, the top layer, the “noosphere” of thinking actors, will both be less free in many current actions (eg, the capacity to commit violence against each other) but also will gain new freedoms of thinking and action that could not exist in our current less complex societies. So integration and freedom both increase with development. Lastly, consider the apparent massively parallel nature of complex systems in our universe. In my view, the universe seems to have self-organized to allow a vast number of unique evolutionary approaches to one shared set of developmental destinations. Thus the word “merely” in your summary is a word I would avoid. It seems like our free choice always matters, at the leading edge, because every one of those civilizations will take their own unique approaches to developmental destinations, and that diversity of paths is likely one of the best ways the universe as a system grows more adaptive, under selection. I hope some of this thinking resonates with you, and please let me know where you think I am mistaken. Best, John Smart.

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Table of Contents


Chapter 2. Personal Foresight – Becoming an Effective Self-Leader

Chapter 2: Personal Foresight

Becoming an Effective Self-Leader

Chapter 4. Models – Foundations for Organizational Foresight

Chapter 4: Models

Foundations for Organizational Foresight

Chapter 7. Acceleration – Guiding Our Extraordinary Future

Chapter 7: Acceleration

Guiding Our Extraordinary Future (In Process)

II. Global Progress: 5 Goals, 10 Values, Many Trends

Innovation: Our Abundant Future
Intelligence: Our Augmented Future
Interdependence: Our Civil Future
Immunity: Our Protected Future
Sustainability: Our Rebalanced Future

III. Universal Accelerating Change

Great Race to Inner Space: Our Surprising Future
Entropy&Information: We’re Running Down & Up
The Puzzle of Meaning: We Have No Einstein Yet
Trees, Funnels & Landscapes: Intro to Evo Devo
Big Picture Change: Five Scales of Accelerating ED
Transcension Hypothesis: Where Acceleratn Ends?
IDABDAK: Social Response to Accel & Developmnt
We’re On a Runaway Train: Being Accelaware

IV. Evo Devo and Exponential Foresight

Seeing It All: Accel., Diverg, Adapt, Convrg, Decel.
Natural (I4S) Innovation: The Evolutionary Drive
Natural (I4S) Intelligence: The Human-AI Partnership
Natural (I4S) Morality: Why Empathy and Ethics Rule
Natural (I4S) Security: Strength from Disruption
Natural (I4S) Sustainability: The Developmental Drive
S-Curves: Managing the Four Constituencies
Pain to Gain: Traversing the Three Kuznets Phases
Hype to Reality: Beyond Hype Cycles to Reality Checks
Exponentials Database: Measuring Accelerations
TINA Trends: Societal Evolutionary Development
Managing Change: STEEPCOP Events, Probs, Ideas
A Great Shift: A Survival to a Sentient Economy

V. Evo Devo and Exponential Activism

Building Protopias: Five Goals of Social Progress
Normative Foresight: Ten Values of Society
Top & STEEPCOP Acceleratns: Positive & Negative
Dystopias, Risks, and Failure States
Three Levels of Activism: People, Tech & Universe
A Great Opportunity: Exponential Empowerment


Chapter 8. Your Digital Self – The Human Face of the Coming Singularity

Chapter 8: Your Digital Self

The Human Face of the Coming Singularity (In Process)

I. Your Personal AI (PAI): Your Digital Self

Digital Society: Data, Mediation, and Agents
Personal AIs: Advancing the Five Goals
PAI Innovation: Abundance and Diversity
PAI Intelligence: Bio-Inspired AI
PAI Morality: Selection and Groupnets
PAI Security: Safe Learning Agents
PAI Sustainability: Science and Balance
The Human Face of the Coming Singularity

II. PAI Protopias & Dystopias in 8 Domains

1. Personal Agents: News, Ent., Education
2. Social Agents: Relat. and Social Justice
3. Political Agents :  Activism & Represent.
4. Economic Agents:  Retail, Finance, Entrep
5. Builder Agents :  Work, Innov. & Science
6. Environ. Agents : Pop. and Sustainability
7. Health Agents :  Health, Wellness, Death
8. Security Agents :  Def., Crime, Corrections

III. PAI Activism & Exponential Empowerment

Next Government: PAIs, Groupnets, Democ.
Next Economy: Creat. Destr. & Basic Income
Next Society: PAI Ent., Mortality & Uploading
What Will Your PAI Contribution Be?

Chapter 10. Startup Ideas – Great Product & Service Challenges for Entrepreneurs

Chapter 10: Startup Ideas

Great Product and Service Challenges for Entrepreneurs (In Process)

I. 4U’s Idea Hub: Building Better Futures

Air Deliveries and Air Taxis: Finally Solving Urban Gridlock
Ballistic Shields and Gun Control: Protecting Us All from Lone Shooters
Bioinspiration Wiki: Biomimetics and Bio-Inspired Design
Brain Preservation Services: Memory and Mortality Redefined
Carcams: Document Thieves, Bad Driving, and Bad Behavior
Competition in Govt Services: Less Corruption, More Innovation
Computer Adaptive Education (CAE): Better Learning and Training
Conversational Deep Learning Devsuites: Millions of AI Coders
Digital Tables: Telepresence, Games, Entertainment & Education
Dynaships: Sustainable Low-Speed Cargo Shipping
Electromagnetic Suspension: Nausea-Free Working & Reading in Cars
Epigenetic Health Tests: Cellular Aging, Bad Diet, Body Abuse Feedback
Fireline Explosives and Ember Drones: Next-Gen Fire Control
Global English: Empowering the Next Generation of Global Youth
Greenbots: Drone Seeders and Robotic Waterers for Mass Regreening
High-Density Housing and Zoning: Making Our Cities Affordable Again
Highway Enclosures and Trail Networks: Green and Quiet Urban Space
Inflatable Packaging: Faster and Greener Shipping and Returns
Internet of Families: Connecting People Over Things
Kidcams: Next-Gen Security for Child Safety and Empowerment
Kidpods: Indoor & Outdoor Parent-Assistive Toyboxes
Microdesalination: Democratizing Sustainable Fresh Water Production
Noise Monitors: Documenting and Reducing Noise Pollution
Oceanside Baths: Sustainable Year Round Beach Enjoyment
Open Blood Scanners: DIY Citizen Health Care Sensor Tech
Open Streaming Radio: User-Centered Audio Creation and Rating
Open Streaming Video: User-Centered Video Creation and Rating
Open Values Filters: Social Rankers, Arg. Mappers, and Consensus Finders
Personal AIs: Your Private Advisor, Activist, and Interface to the World
Pet Empowerment: Next-Gen Rights and Abilities for Our Domestic Animals
Safe Closets: Fire-, Earthquake-, and Intruder-Proof Retreat Spaces
Safe Cars: Reducing Our Insane 1.3M Annual Auto Deaths Today
Safe Motorcycles: Lane Splitting in Gridlock Without Risk of Death
Shared Value Insurance: User-Centered Risk Reduction Services
Sleeperbuses and Microhotels: Demonetized Intercity Travel
Space-Based Solar Power: Stratellite Powering and Weather Management
Stratellites: Next-Gen Urban Broadband, Transparency, and Security
Touch DNA: Next-Gen Home Security and Crime Deterrence
View Towers: Improving Urban Walkability, Inspiration, and Community

Chapter 11. Evo Devo Foresight – Unpredictable and Predictable Futures

Chapter 11: Evo Devo Foresight

Unpredictable and Predictable Futures

Appendix 1. Peer Advice – Building a Successful Foresight Practice