Walks of Mind
Illuminating What Goes on in our Mind
Please enjoy reading this walk. It has been
created by John Cochrane for your interest and, hopefully, benefit.
So That's What Life is About
The Evolution of God Theory
©John Cochrane 2005-2006
And now for something completely different.
This is a tongue-in-cheek walk, a walk of speculation rather than observation or experience. It is a walk that I have visited and amused myself with for many years and have sometimes wanted to leave in the past and sometimes wanted to disprove and deny, but it has stuck with me.
Although this is, in terms of words, one of the shortest it is also highly ambitious in terms of the concepts covered.
The walk starts with a look at evolution, as we do in other walks, but this time we are going to be looking at evolution in a very different way. The walk comes back to look at our personal mind, but from a completely new direction.
It started when I was perhaps 15 or 16, with a very simple observation and a very simple idea. As part of a biology experiment at my school I had collected some insects from under a small log in the woods and had them safe in an aquarium tank for later study (along with their log). I had recorded what I had caught, I knew how many of each type of animal I had in the tank. However, the very next day when I went to check on my charges something odd had happened; some of the insects had gone missing.
It took me some time to check possible escape routes and to check that they had not hidden themselves in the dirt floor or in the log. The truth though was undeniable, some of the insects had been eaten by some of the others. As far as I could determine, it was the beetles that had eaten the centipedes, though this deduction is not particularly important to what follows. It got me thinking; why and how had one type of scavenger/predator been able to wipe out a whole population of another scavenger/predator so quickly in the tank (which was reasonably big) when they seemed to coexist happily enough in the wild?
What I had created was a small example of ‘natural’ selection in process. I had created a changed environment and put a number of coexisting species together and some had survived and some had not. So, did that mean that the beetles were fitter than the centipedes in this particular environment? I didn’t think so, the species were too different for me to compare directly, even in a simplified environment. I could not bring myself to judge that beetles were a ‘superior’ species to centipedes or necessarily ‘fitter’ for life.
Of course, survival of the fittest would not work in any evolutionary sense in such a simple case, and particularly where there was no chance for evolution to actually occur. But, if the concept of survival of the fittest did not seem to be working here I began to wonder where it actually would work. Survival of the biggest, or survival of the hungriest, or survival of the most-heavily-armoured seemed more appropriate rules for my unintended experiment, but in the wider world beetles and centipedes both survived in large numbers, so any alternative rule, if true, must break down as the environment size and diversity increases.
I began to wonder what would happen if my tank were bigger and I had more life-forms in the tank and if I could leave the experiment for longer.
What would happen if I could put an almost infinite number of types of plant and animal into a tank and just leave them to themselves? Presumably after I came back I would find that some species would no longer exist, some would be flourishing, and some would be evolving. And if I left them for a longer time then presumably there would be another change, with extinctions and creations and successes and failures. Perhaps this would just continue forever in some form of constant state of change, or some form of cyclical evolution. Or perhaps a steady-state would be reached where evolution effectively came to an end and a ‘natural balance’ was achieved, or perhaps over a long enough period the number of species would fall but the individuals would become increasingly sophisticated.
My thoughts went on: What would lead to one species surviving and another not? If two animals were very similar what would make the difference? If both were equally strong, equally robust, equally ‘fit’ for survival in their environment, what would happen? Would they continue to exist together until one of them evolved in some new way or until some natural disaster gave one an edge?
Once I looked at the situation in this particular way it seemed there was just one simple answer. The survivor species would be the species that was most competitive. With two otherwise identical species, as soon as one of the species evolved the will to compete it would make itself the surviving species. Survival, and hence continued evolution, would go to the most competitive. And, as soon as a competitive species exists, as soon as one species adopts competition as a way of living, all other species will be doomed to become non-survivors, unless they too become competitive. In fact it seems pretty obvious that a competitive species will be able to out-survive physically stronger and ‘fitter’ opponents. It is not survival of the fittest that is important in this simple case, it is survival of the most competitive.
After a period of time in the tank, all the surviving species would be competitors. All the non-competitive species would become non-survivors. No matter what physical evolutions had occurred, the prime attribute that the survivors would have would be that of competitiveness. The evolution of fitness for purpose only comes as a consequence of competitiveness.
Even in an environment where there is no direct competition for resource, a species that becomes competitive will tend to kill off the others. As soon as competitiveness is evolved it will become the dominant survival trait.
Survival of the Competitive
OK, so now I have a tank of competing species. What will happen in my thought-experiment tank now?
Now there is not just a semi-random interaction between similar species living with limited resources but there is an active ingredient of competition. It may be too much to say that evolution will become purposeful but it seems to me that those types of evolutionary change that support more effective competition will become more noticeable. The development of strength and teeth and armour and poison sap and flexibility and mobility will speed up. In effect life in the tank will become life on a never-ending battleground.
From the perspective of an individual species, the way to survive comes through the defeat, the total eradication, of all other competitive species. The most important purpose in life becomes the purpose to survive. All other possible life purposes that a species can have will by now have either died out with their non-competitive bearers or will have become subordinated to the prime purpose of survival. This is the ‘kill or be killed’ stage of selection where only the most competitive will show up in the survivor list.
Of course, in a complex environment there are many possibilities for survival, many niches, many stalemate situations, many co-dependencies, and so on. These will allow many different species to survive whilst competing. Evolution will introduce cooperative behaviour within a species and between species. Evolution will introduce intelligence and reasoning. Evolution will introduce self-sacrifice.
But still, despite complexity and sophistication and adaptation, the primary purpose of a species (not necessarily of individuals) will remain to survive through competition. The one and only way to guarantee survival is to remove all possible competition, it is to continue to compete. And again, so long as even just one species follows this route then all others must too.
In a broad sense, evolution of life is not about survival of the fittest, it is driven by the rule of survival of the most competitive.
The Purpose of Life
The development of intelligence introduces some changes. It is true that intelligent species will have the ability to compete more effectively and in ways that completely change the outcomes of competition. Human beings are an obvious example of a physically weak species that can use intelligence to defeat, and eradicate, many other species that are bigger, faster, sharper, more poisonous, more numerous.
Intelligence also brings a brand new opportunity, an opportunity to re-examine the underlying competitive purpose. Perhaps it is possible to survive without completely eradicating all competitors?
However, intelligence also brings the potential to use evolution in a direct and purposeful way, to enhance competitiveness. And the same fundamental rule still applies, when one (intelligent) species chooses to compete then the others must too. If one intelligent species uses evolution to further its own ability to compete, and thus survive, others must do the same.
And so we get to the final questions: How can this process be completed? How can a species become an ultimate survivor?
The task of survival for an intelligent species becomes the task of out-competing all other intelligent species, both those that are known and those that are unknown, and those that are unknown include those that are remote in distance and those that may evolve over time. The ultimate survivor must become able to survive in extremes of physical environment, must find ways to influence and control all other species, must become able to exploit cooperation and must be resistant to self-destruction. The ultimate survivor must acquire and use knowledge.
And there it is. The purpose of life is to evolve an all-knowing, all-capable, all-doing survivor species. But there is a simpler way of stating this: The purpose of life is to create God.
This end result of my thought experiment about animals left in a tank came as something of a surprise to me, it was not what I expected. And the ‘tank’ is obviously not just an enclosed vessel of some kind, it is the universe at large where an apparently limitless opportunity exists for life to start and evolution to happen. This result was not just the abstract thought I had started with, it was becoming important to my whole belief system.
As I grew up my peers and I argued from time to time about creation coming from God or through a random event followed by a process called evolution. The theory of evolution, in my child-understanding, seemed to deny God, or at least to question the role of God in creation. And yet here I had the opposite, an evolution theory that gives an apparently logical proof of God.
And since that time, I have been unable to spot any fundamental flaw in my logic. Where life happens then life will evolve. Where life evolves then competition will appear. When competition appears then only the ultimate competitor will survive and so the purpose of life becomes a purpose to create God. I have also found out later in life that others also hold this to be a purpose of life, though they have arrived at this through theological or philosophical roots.
But what of God? What about life where God already exists and has created life? As far as I can think it through, this makes no difference. God may have all sorts of purposes and intentions. God may have created life and an environment that includes evolution for a specific purpose, but the purpose of life remains – to create god (in this case another god, or gods, or to define a part of God).
There’s more though. Lot’s of threads of thought come out of this and I shall briefly follow just a couple of them. This is where the thinking gets, how shall I put it, interesting?
Strategies for Survival
Once intelligence becomes available as a means to guide or enhance competitive survival a whole range of new strategies appear.
Firstly come individual behaviour policies. These would first show up as instinctive and automatic behaviour patterns in species that we do not necessarily regard as ‘intelligent’. Sophisticated communal behaviour is hard-wired into the comparatively simple nervous systems of insects, and perhaps all mobile animals. These simple nervous systems are conceptually the same as those that have continued to evolve into the brains of sophisticated animals showing cooperative behaviour, as most mammals and birds do today, as presumably do reptiles and fish though fewer examples spring to my mind.
Much of this collection of walks is concerned with the automatic and semi-automatic behaviour that has come from primitive beginnings and is still part of our ‘intelligent’ mind. The hard-wired circuits are still there responding to stimuli, promoting feelings, and eliciting thoughts.
The development of a conscious and thoughtful intelligence goes beyond this however. With some form of decision-making capability, behaviour policies that support survival move beyond those that simply support individuals to survive. Thought gives the opportunity for individuals of a species to communicate with each other and, through this, to agree to cooperate.
This is the vital next stage that is introduced by conscious intelligence compared to the unconscious instinct-based mind. Through agreed cooperative behaviour a species can enhance the overall survival of the species in a spectacular way. Agreed cooperation creates a society of individuals where those individuals work towards a common goal.
The common goal of an intelligent cooperating species will continue to be the original goal of survival of the species though now the role of the individual will change slightly. The individual will become more valuable as a knowledge gatherer than a sole-survivor. The work that individuals do in contribution to the survival of their species will basically be the gathering of knowledge. And, of course, this is ALL knowledge, not just certain types of knowledge. It will include military, biological, physical, tactical, sociological, psychological, and religious knowledge as well as research and wild speculation. As the value of specific knowledge cannot be predicted, ALL knowledge must be gathered, absorbed, and made accessible, not just for now but for all possible futures.
Knowledge also gives the potential to plan evolution. Planned evolution can include all the standard science fiction predictions of evolved physical form, evolved mental capabilities, combined biological and non-biological developments, use of nanobots, artificial intelligence, and so on. The purpose being to achieve the maximum survival chance for groups and individuals in all environments and an increased species capability to gather knowledge.
The ability to store, assimilate, and make use of knowledge implies the development of a hugely increased capability of mind, the evolution of a super-mind. It seems inevitable that a species will pass into a phase at some point of evolving a single centralised ‘consciousness’ and that at that point it will become that consciousness that takes over the role of survival. Whether it is a shared/group consciousness, a super-brain, or a super-computer, the single consciousness will become the most important element of the species to preserve. So, our knowledgeable, and still competing, species will evolve in some form into the equivalent of very knowledgeable individual super-minds.
However the on-going gathering of new knowledge and the searching out of new experience implies a requirement for diversity in the activities of individuals within a species, and the more individuals in the more diverse situations the better. This apparent conflict of requirements implies to me that any self-respecting proto-god will have to evolve both a centralised ‘higher’ mind and also a dispersed mind made up of cooperating individuals. The competitive species will go through a phase of god-like intelligence actively still gathering knowledge through the efforts of individuals.
Some form of direct communication will be needed, to feed information from knowledge gatherers to the higher mind and to pass particularly useful survival information out to gatherers. This would presumably have to be something that works like our concept of telepathy, or a physical passing of memories, or perhaps just the use of specialist knowledge-harvesters (librarians) and sharers (teachers).
In order to gather ALL knowledge, some of the ‘cooperating’ individuals must be set up with no knowledge of their ‘higher’ side. If these ‘free’ individuals are to explore and learn in ways that the rest of the proto-god cannot, they must also be unaware of the means of communication used to harvest their knowledge.
This is taking us into created worlds and created species. The line of thought has brought us almost full circle. Just as the purpose of life is to create god, at some point a purpose of a god will be to create life.
And what about competing gods? It seems a fair assumption that given a nearly limitless universe a number of species will be busily evolving higher minds and dispersed minds, all attempting to out-knowledge each other. Obvious strategies that these species will adopt will include trading knowledge and merging to combine knowledge. Another strategy will be to spy, to steal knowledge from competitors. Even competitors who are inferior by far may be worth preserving as possible sources of further knowledge.
Some knowledge theft will be by direct conquest and some will be through secret means. In both cases, and particularly when taking knowledge secretly, one proto-god will have to tap into the communications of another. By listening in to the knowledge gathering of a competitor a proto-god will get knowledge for free! And because this strategy is so obvious all proto-gods will expect their own communications to be subject to attack. Secrecy, misdirection, lies, the spreading of fear and doubt, false knowledge, and so on will all become important means of defence to any self-respecting proto-god.
A particular case is with those ‘free’ individuals who supposedly know nothing about their ‘higher’ mind. One level of protection to build in to these individuals, even though they are denied knowledge of their own ability to communicate, would be a simple rule system to make sure that they only communicate with the real ‘higher’ mind and not with some other spying mind. They would be given a concept of OK communication and of non-OK communication that wouldn’t seem to be about communication at all. This is pretty much a definition of ‘good’ communication and ‘evil’ communication. It is OK to commune with the one true ‘god’ but absolutely not-OK to commune with false gods.
Time to take a breath. This thinking about strategies to gather knowledge seems to be paralleling descriptions of the evolution of religious belief. Hierarchies of competing gods, control of knowledge, ‘free’ individual consciousness and the identification of a true god and the importance of identifying evil. This takes us into areas of philosophy and theology, if not philosophical fantasy and paranoia, where I have no intention of going and I lack the background and knowledge to progress.
I followed through to this point to raise a particular question: If life is to evolve into God, and there are likely to be stages on that evolutionary route where proto-gods will exist who have god-like capabilities, and these proto-gods will evolve further and merge with or absorb each other to become a single survivor, perhaps still with separated ‘free’ minds, where on that evolutionary path are we? Are we right at the very beginning where intelligence first gets going, or are we part of a ‘higher’ intelligence that has us held incommunicado, or are we a final product of evolution, or has God created a new purpose for her continued existence and we are part of that? It is a tantalising thought that there may be ways of finding out, ways of gathering that particular piece of knowledge.
Personally I find the concept of competition being the primary motivation behind advanced evolution a scary one. I do not want to be part of something that is dedicated simply to survival and competition. I am part of a society that uses competition at commercial levels and at a political level in ways that I find personally unacceptable and the idea that that is all there is to life is an idea I do not want to entertain. Thankfully there is a get-out. Intelligence not only gives us the ability to compete much more effectively, it also gives us the ability to choose our larger life purposes. As individuals, as groups, societies, and as a species we have the ability to move beyond simple competition. We may never be able to remove ourselves from a competitive environment but we can choose our own destiny beyond the simple necessity to compete to survive.
The principle of survival of the most competitive has a more direct and tangible impact on us as individuals however. The competitive nature of a particular species, humans for example, must show as a tendency in behaviour. Indeed, competitiveness is a well-recognised feature of human behaviour and does indeed seem to explain why we have been so extraordinarily successful as a species. Competitiveness can also be seen in other species, though perhaps not as strongly as in humans where we use our intelligence and reasoning capabilities to make the most of our competitive nature whilst also minimising risk.
Competitiveness is essentially an aggressive behaviour pattern that will, I believe, act on top of the most basic behaviours that we have already identified of love (to engage constructively with life), fear (to disengage), and anger (to engage destructively). Competitiveness will most likely show as an increased tendency to resort to anger and a reduced tendency to act out of fear. Competitiveness will show as increased risk-taking and violence that goes beyond the needs of survival. These are exactly the traits that are often associated with humanity.
There will be limits, of course. Competitiveness will only work where the additional risks involved do not threaten survival of the species. An overly-aggressive species, a purely psychopathic species, will behave foolishly as individuals and die out through mutual murder and distrust. A highly cooperative species that becomes overly aggressive is likely to destroy its own habitat and thus fail.
Competitiveness acts to some extent in a contrary way to the basic drives that support survival and so successful competitiveness will need to be limited at times when survival is tough but will be beneficial at those times when survival is easier. This implies to me that successful competitiveness will be variable from individual to individual within a species and will perhaps be triggered by circumstance. This is just what we see in humans.
I’d expect a successful competitive species to be an early coloniser of new land. I’d expect a successful competitive species to recover relatively quickly after extended periods of drought and to be able to take advantage of diverse habitats. I’d expect a successful competitive species to be a generalist. Again, these are exactly the traits that are often associated with humanity.
As individuals, our inherited competitiveness may show as a tendency to believe that we must face up to adversity and must take advantage of situations to the maximum. We will tend to believe that others are a threat and that we have to strive for perfection in all that we do. And again, these are exactly the traits that are often associated with humanity.
As individuals I believe that we experience the influence of competitiveness most directly through our own personal beliefs. When our competitiveness is active then we will tend to make use of anger in its various forms to act out behaviour that is basically confrontational and risk-taking.
Yet again, the knowledge that this is what is going on for us also gives us the potential to change, the potential to choose. Competitiveness that shows, for example, as a non-conscious belief that life is against us and hence act out behaviour that is overly challenging to those around us, can be modified just as can any other deep belief. We can modify our experience of life and our behaviour to match the environment that we find ourselves in.
In this walk we have seen how a chance encounter with a tank of hapless insects leads to a new expression of that old law of evolution; evolution favours survival of the most competitive.
Competitive evolution will logically result in the development of intelligence and knowledge and the ultimate survivor will be the one that becomes all-knowing, all-capable, all-controlling. The ultimate survivor will become a god and, until God chooses otherwise, the single purpose of life can only be to produce that god.
As individual members of an intelligent species we are directly involved in that process, though we do not know at what point.
As intelligent individuals in a competitive environment we have the ability to choose our own life purposes and to cooperate on how we go about our continued evolution as a species.
As individuals living our own lives we can detect signs that we are being influenced by a competitive tendency as inappropriate risk-taking and anger. We can learn how this plays out for us as individuals by exposing our deep beliefs and change by actively rooting out those beliefs.