I do not believe that we have finished evolving. And by that, I do not mean that we will continue to make ever more sophisticated machines and intelligent computers, even as we unlock our genetic code and use our biotechnologies to reshape the human form as we once bred new strains of cattle and sheep. We have placed much too great a faith in our technology. Although we will always reach out to new technologies, as our hands naturally do toward pebbles and shells by the seashore, the idea that the technologies of our civilized life have put an end to our biological evolution—that “Man” is a finished product—is almost certainly wrong.
It seems to be just the opposite. In the 10,000 years since our ancestors settled down to farm the land, in the few thousand years in which they built great civilizations, the pressures of this new way of life have caused human evolution to actually accelerate. The rate at which genes are being positively selected to engender in us new features and forms has increased as much as a hundredfold. Two genes linked to brain size are rapidly evolving. Perhaps others will change the way our brain interconnects with itself, thus changing the way we think, act, and feel.
What other natural forces work transformations deep inside us? Humanity keeps discovering whole new worlds. Without, in only five centuries, we have gone from thinking that the earth formed the center of the universe to gazing through our telescopes and identifying countless new galaxies in an unimaginably vast cosmos of which we are only the tiniest speck. Within, the first scientists to peer through microscopes felt shocked to behold bacteria swarming through our blood and other tissues. They later saw viruses infecting those bacteria in entire ecologies of life living inside life. We do not know all there is to know about life. We have not yet marveled deeply enough at life’s essential miracle.
How, we should ask ourselves, do the seemingly soulless elements of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, zinc, iron, and all the others organize themselves into a fully conscious human being? How does matter manage to move itself? Could it be that an indwelling consciousness makes up the stuff of all things? Could this consciousness somehow animate the whole grand ecology of evolution, from the forming of the first stars to the creation of human beings who look out at the universe’s glittering constellations in wonder? Could consciousness somehow embrace itself, folding back on itself, in a new and natural technology of the soul?
If it could, this would give new meaning to Nietzsche’s insight that: “The highest art is self–creation.”
Could we, really, shape our own evolution with the full force of our consciousness, even as we might exert our will to reach out and mold a lump of clay into a graceful sculpture? What is consciousness, really? What does it mean to be human?