Can Evolution be Understood as a Conscious Process?


EXCERPT: . . . My approach is explored by considering Aristotelian Causal Categories, focusing on Final Cause. I then consider the possibility of understanding this question from an ‘internalist’ perspective. Organism ontogeny could be non-controversially viewed as finalistic. [...]

Adaptedness to local conditions was taken as the attractor in the logic of the basic Fisherian understanding of natural selection, although the currently predominant Dobzhanskian approach views selection as a continuing gene pool adjustment in the context of ever-changing environmental conditions. Clearly, a ‘moving’ target, is still logically an attractor — and is logically a final cause.

In order to examine the possibility that biological evolution may be viewed as a conscious process, one must define ‘consciousness’ appropriately. Upon Googling ‘consciousness,’ we find one major definitional attractor: the condition of being aware. While awareness is a reasonable definition of consciousness in many applications, it is unusable here, being too organism-based. Looking further at these definitions we find: “the moral consciousness of a nation.” Or “the state of being … responsive to one’s surroundings”. And there is Caroline Jones’s “ … consciousness as a much more diffuse participation in the energies of the universe”. If a collectivity may be conscious, it is freed from limitation to neural systems. If moral consciousness might be assigned to a nation, that means it is embodied in laws, valued behaviors and favored circumstances. Then, a population is, in Darwinian discourse, responsive to its surroundings.

Then we might ask: suppose we do view evolution as conscious, what would that tell us that we would otherwise not understand about evolution? Above I suggested that it might be held to entail directionality via final causation. [...] We now face the dichotomy between chance and choice. My perspective on this involves the ‘internalist’ discourse. Internally a system makes a choice; if apparent externally and not fitting some theoretical scheme, it appears to be random. Both things are ‘true’. Internalism attempts to understand a system from within, the inquirer being a part, and therefore unable to see itself as if from outside.

Internalism is modest in scope, being focused locally, as things are happening, and would be reported in the present progressive tense. Examples in serious discourse moving in the internalist direction have been Maturana and Varela’s ‘autopoiesis’, dialectics, phenomenology, operationalism in physics, second-order cybernetics, the ‘emic’ approach in anthropology, aspects of quantum mechanics.

[...] Then, might evolution be understood in an internalist mode? Might that be how we would locate its consciousness? Again, what difference would this make to our understanding of biological evolution?. Perhaps it could lead more of us to love its products more than we do? Might it allow us to anticipate some of its current trajectories in organisms that we relate to? And could that ultimately inform social or political policies?

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