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Does Evolution Have An Intrinsic Intent?

In deeper states of meditation, there comes something totally beyond words. For lack of a better word, call it benediction. Can only the human brain bring the benediction on this planet?

Or do some whales, for example, have the awareness that a human being does when negation in meditation completely quiets memory and thought, and ends time?

The non-drug-induced altered states of mind I’m referring to have nothing to do with staring at a wall, or watching one’s breath, or concentrating the mind in any way. I’ve come to feel they are much more real than normal states of consciousness, which increasingly feel to me like dreams do when you first wake up.

Though the universe undeniably has a general direction, involving greater levels of complexity and order, it’s dangerous to speak of evolution having a ‘higher purpose.’ Teleology has been a tar pit.

Even so, and setting aside fanciful imaginings of extraterrestrial intelligences manipulating human evolution, or with absurd ideas like the universe being a fantastically complex computer simulation program (embraced by technologists like Elon Musk), is there an intrinsic intelligence operating in the universe?

William D. Hamilton, one of the greatest biologists of the 20th century, made a comment in passing 25 years ago that spoke to this question. Hamilton said: “I’m quite open to the view that there is some kind of ultimate good which is of a religious nature — that we just have to look beyond what the evolutionary theory tells us and accept promptings of what ultimate good is, coming from some other source.”

As a contemplative given to so-called mystical experiences since my teens, and as a philosopher that pursued questions along these lines also since my teens, the mainstreaming of Hamilton’s quote, which I read a few days ago, is a hopeful sign. Perhaps one’s insights may receive what philosophers call ‘a fair and sympathetic hearing’ in my lifetime after all.

When Hamilton was asked whether there was some kind of ‘transcendental purpose’ that we humans are generally oblivious to, he replied, “Yes, yes.” Then he rather went off the rails however, and began speaking about how “Planet Earth in our solar system is a kind of zoo for extraterrestrial beings who dwell out there somewhere.”

At 18, after having an explosive, emotionally perceived insight into the illusory nature of the observer (a trick of thought, subconsciously and continuously separating itself from itself), and experiencing the seamless wholeness of nature, a question took hold in me.

Given that nature and the universe unfolds in seamless order and wholeness, how is that nature evolved a creature, ‘man,’ which operates in exactly

the opposite way, with increasing division, fragmentation and disorder?

The idea that ‘there’s some point to life on earth that emanates from something that is in some sense beyond it’ raises not only the question of cosmic purpose, but compels one to ask what is meant by ‘life on earth emanating from something beyond it.’

A purpose implies a reason something is done or exists, as well as an objective, a goal, an end. This in turn implies that there is something or someone that has this purpose and goal. However what if so-called purpose (I prefer the phrase, intrinsic intent) is inextricably part of evolution itself?

That is, just as evolution may have a ‘higher purpose’ while still being driven by natural selection, so too it may unfold without any kind of separate agency by aliens or God.

The biggest hurdle to pondering the question of evolutionary purpose comes from the idea that doing so means ‘embracing the possibility of supernatural beings or, at the very least, of immaterial factors that lie beyond scientific measurement.’

But is there really any difference between ‘supernatural beings,’ and alien intelligences manipulating human development? And why is saying that there are ‘factors that lie beyond scientific measurement’ seen as synonymous with spewing supernatural nonsense?

It seems science has become the only arbiter of truth. Taken as such, science becomes indistinguishable a religion.

The worst thing you can do is be seen as ‘surrendering your credentials as a modern, scientifically minded kind of person.’ But there’s an uncomfortable realization for the scientifically minded ponderers of evolutionary purpose. Alien and simulation hypotheses are God hypotheses! They just substitute incomprehensibly advanced aliens or computer programmers for a transcendent God or immanent intelligence.

Scientific measurement is not the be all and end all. There may be intrinsic intent in evolution without extrinsic creation and guidance.

Finally, technological advance cannot be equated with the question of intrinsic intent in evolution. Indeed, the more technology advances outwardly, the more humans appear to be regressing inwardly.

Martin LeFevre

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