Chapter 11. Evo Devo Foresight: Unpredictable and Predictable Futuress

Universal Development: A Hidden Actor in Universal Change

Curiosity – A Discover Channel television series.

Curiosity – A Discover Channel television series.

As an example of where our public understanding of developmentalism (universal development) is today, let me recommend a Discovery Channel video on evolution, Mankind Rising (2012), available for $1.99 at YouTube. This is Season 2, Episode 8 of the Discovery Channel series Curiosity,five-year, multi-million dollar initiative to explore fundamental questions and mysteries of science, technology, and society, in sixty episodes.


Curiosity – A Discover Channel television series

Mankind Rising considers the question “How did we get here?” It tells the journey of humanity from the cooling of life’s nursery, Earth, 4 billion years ago, the emergence of the first cell, perhaps 3.8 billion years ago, to Homo erectus, anatomically modern humans, 1.8 million years ago. It does this in one 43 minute time-lapsed computer animation, the first time life’s history has had such a treatment, as far as I know. The animation is primitive, but it keeps your interest in the story. And what an amazing story it is.

Homo habilis, the first tool users.

Homo habilis, the first tool users.

In the program we get to see the rise of the first tool users, Homo habilis, 4 million years ago, in a dramatic sequence where an early human strikes one rock against another and is fascinated to discover a sharp rock in his hands. Progressively better tool use, starting with H. habilis’ ability to hold sharp rocks and clubs and use them imitatively in groups to defend against other animals and to hunt, is one of the original “human” events. Being able to collectively throw rocks with our prehensile arms and opposable thumbs, at ninety miles an hour toward potential predators (Chimpanzees can do this, but poorly and noncollectively), and to use clubs for defense up close, as Homo habilis presumably did, would immediately make him the dominant animal on the savannah. We no longer needed to be bigger, stronger, faster, or tougher. Just smarter. The fossil record clearly shows that jaguars regularly dined on our ancestors, Australopithecus, four and three million years ago, whenever we came down out of the trees. We are reminded of Thomas Carlyle’s lovely quotation: “We are tool-using animals. Without tools, we are nothing. With tools, we are all.”

Richard Wrangham in Catching Fire (2010) tells how an additional energy-delivering tool, fire taming and cooking, again used imitatively in groups, was another key human-developing event. Taming fire allowed us to move digestion of food outside our bodies into our environments, and with hunting gave us regular access to meat, a very high-quality energy and nutrition source. These two developments promoted social specialization for things like hunting, gathering, moving, shelter, and defense. From Homo habilis to H. sapiens, our brain size more than doubled, from 600 to 1500 cc, over a magic period of just 1.7 million years.

We may have begun with pack hunting by ambush, which chimpanzees do today, and then graduated to persistence hunting, or running down our prey, sometimes in combination with setting fires to flush out our prey. We primates sweat across our entire bodies, not just through our mouths like other mammals. Humans have developed our sweating and cooling ability the best of all primates by far. As a result, two or three of us working together can actually run to heat exhaustion any animals that can’t sweat, if we hunt them in the mid-day sun.  Some peoples persistence hunt even today, as seen in this amazing seven minute Life on Earth clip of San Bushmen running down a Kudu antelope in the Kalahari desert.

Mankind Rising ends with Homo erectus (“human upright”), possibly the first language-using humans, 1.8 million years ago. Gestural and oral language was of course another clever way to grow our intelligence and simulation ability. We don’t yet have fossil evidence that Homo erectus’s larynx was anatomically modern, but there are indirect arguments. Language, both a socially imitative behavior and a fundamental tool for information encoding and processing, was very likely the final technology needed to push our species from the animal to the human level.

In my view, the best definition of humanity is any social species that gains the ability to use technology to continually become something more than their biological selves, on any planet you care to mention, and regardless of the specific technologies first used. In other words, all humans are transhumanists, by definition, whether they recognize it consciously or not. Continually becoming something different and hopefully better, using technologies of all types, is what we do.

We began a process of accelerating social complexification, rapidly distancing us from our biological origins, as social and technological learning occur so much faster than biological-genetic learning. We become a species with both progressively greater mind (rationality, intellect, curiosity, innovation) and greater heart (emotion, empathy, love, morality), the two core kinds of intelligence.

We can use the developmentalist perspective to predict that the first collaborative fire-tamers and club and rock-users on any Earth-like planet in the universe must soon thereafter become its dominant species, as there are so many paths to further adaptiveness from the powerful developmental duo of creative tool use and socially imitative behavior.

In Developmentalism, certain Universal forms and functions are statistically fated to emerge, as in biological development.

In Developmentalism, certain Universal forms and functions are statistically fated to emerge, as in biological development.

Unfortunately, there are serious shortcomings to Mankind Rising as an educational device. The show’s narrative, and the theory it represents, are the standard one-sided, dogmatically-presented story of life’s evolution (the modern synthesis), with no hint of life’s development (the extended synthesis, still being worked out today. This is a very 20th century perspective, and we hope to see it replaced by universal evolutionary development sometime in the next generation.

As a result, it treats humanity’s history as one big series of unpredictable accidents. This is the perspective of universal evolutionism, also called “Universal Darwinism” ”, which considers random selection to be the only process in universal change, ignoring the possibility of universal development. In evolutionism, all the great emergence events are told as happening randomly and contingently. The show even makes the extreme claim that life itself emerged “against the laws of probability.” The emergence of humanlike animals is also presented as a stroke of blind luck, because the K-T meteorite wiped out our predators, the dinosaurs.

All of this is true in part, only from one set of perspectives, that of the individual, organism, or individual event. In other words this story, and evolutionism in general, is a dangerously incomplete half-truth. When we look at the same events from the perspective of the universal system, the environment, or distributions of events over time, many particular forms and functions appear physically predetermined to emerge, just the opposite of the story evolutionists tell us.

Evo devo offers a very different universe story. Recall our example of the river, and now consider two additional complex systems, two snowflakes, and two genetically identical biological twins. Each example will work well. Most of what happens to these systems up close, at the molecular scale, is randomly, contingently, unpredictably different.

Each Snowflake is Evolutionarily Unique, and Developmentally the Same

Each Snowflake is Evolutionarily Unique,
and Developmentally the Same

But look at these systems from across the room, taking a system or environmental perspective, and you see that they achieve many of the same developmental endpoints over time. All rivers flow from source to sink. Every snowflake’s hexagonal structure is developmentally predetermined, constrained by the way water forms hydrogen bonds as it freezes. Perhaps most astoundingly, the two genetically identical twins will arrive at the same body and facial structure and many of the same personality traits years later, constrained by the organism’s developmental genes and their shared environment.The microstructure of each snowflake is unpredictably different as it emerges. Likewise, the microstructure of all the twin’s organs, including their brain, fingerprints, and many other molecular features are as different as the designs of two snowflakes. Up close, almost everything looks evolutionary (randomly and contingently symmetry breaking, exploring a tree of diversification).

In universal development, just as in biological development, the convergence on standard and future-predictable forms and functions occurs because of the special initial conditions (physical laws, or “genes”) of our universe, the time constancy and environmental sameness (isotropy) of that physical law throughout the universe’s internal environment, and perhaps also due to invariant features of its external environment, a poorly-understood place physicists call the multiverse. For each complex system, both evolutionary uniqueness and developmental sameness can be seen, depending on your perspective.

Let’s take a closer look now at how developmental convergence occurs, and see some examples of it, to understand what is still missing from our modern view of universal change.

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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