The evolutionary strategies Humanity has used so far — natural selction, genetic modifcations, mental modeling — have succeeded in helping us achieve results we find individually desirable, but will only take our species so far.
This paper by Evolutionary Biologist John Stewart asserts that those strategies will not get humanity over the evolutionary hurdles our species is currently facing.
If we pursue evolution only to the extent that it satifies individuals’ wants and needs and not the good of the Human Race, humanity may very well become extinct. How does humanity move past the pervasive problems that set our internal motivation systems at odds with our own evolutionary interests?
Stweart, in his book “Evolution’s Arrow: The Direction of Evolution and the Future of Humanity,” expands on the thesis in the above paper and asserts that spiritual practice is the evolutionary strategy which will give us the nudge past the standoff between what individuals want and what’s good for us as a whole:
“The world’s major religious systems all advocate the development of an ability to free onesself from particular emotional responses, desires, and motivations.”
The idea being that developing such a capacity is the next great evolutionary trick we need to learn as a species.
(Hmmm. I grew up learning that evolution and religion were supposed to be at odds with one another. This is interesting.)
And so the next day I was reading in Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy and he was talking about athletes and soldiers. Both are trained to sublimate their personal desires to the overall objective of the group to the point of enduring pain, suffering, and even death. This is just like the saint, the spiritual person, except that
The aim of spiritual training is to make people become selfless in every circumstance of life, while the aim of military training is to make them selfless in very special circumstances and in relation to only certain classes of human beings. (p. 44)
And so selfless, spiritual people may be the badass evolutionary soldiers upon whom the future of our species depends.
I want to be an evolutionary soldier when I grow up.