Representative excerpts

Please enjoy these representative excerpts from the book.

hands cosmic reaching cyborg

Future Evolution and Darwinism

 What startled Darwin’s European contemporaries was neither the idea of species change nor the possibility of humanity’s humble origin, but rather the vision of a seemingly purposeless process without a guiding hand toward preordained perfection. Without doubt, Darwin challenged some of the most basic beliefs in his society and perhaps today’s as well. But the real issue between Darwinists and creationists as I see it is whether the human species is part of a grand process or a deliberate one-off design—and whether novelty has continued to emerge freely and spontaneously in cosmic history. The crucial question now becomes: If novelty endlessly arises in the course of time, how can one be sure that humanity is the pinnacle of the entire cosmic evolutionary process? The evolutionary answer is: the human is no perfect being, and there could be better things ahead!  Compared with the 13.7- billion-year-old universe that contains at least billions of galaxies, our existence is of absolutely negligible magnitude, both physically and temporally. Humanity has yet to comprehend this implication and shift its attention from an inward-looking fatalist being to an outward looking, willful, autonomous becoming. (15)

Evolution as a Cosmic Process

What makes evolution such an elegant and powerful idea is that it explains how organized complexity can arise spontaneously from primeval simplicity… evolution is how the world functions and creates. Evolution is in fact a profound cosmic process, not just a theory of how biological species were originated and evolved; for evolution is the secret of how the structures of our brain are determined, how our immune system functions, how animals learn, how our habits and beliefs form, how languages and computer codes advance, how social organizations and institutions unfold, how cultures and civilizations develop, and how the universe operates in general. (18)

Technology and the Posthuman Future

Likewise, neuroscience, genetics, and nanotechnologies at their current stage of development merely enlarge the capacity for human action. They lay the foundation for the posthuman future but are not the true posthuman future. What we can accomplish with these new technologies is nothing to be sneezed at. In fact, what these technologies could bring is almost everything we are hoping for in ourselves—the conquering of aging and diseases, the ever-expanding opportunities to do creative arts and sciences, the development of more upbeat and compassionate temperaments, not to mention ever easier, cheaper, and more intense enjoyment of every conceivable sensory pleasure. The popular notion of a better human being—what you wish you and your children to be—depends on these new technologies to become reality: to make us healthier, more beautiful, more athletic, more intelligent, more creative, more pleasant, and many other “mores.” Making people better seems like making all our dreams true by today’s standards. But still, this is not it. (33-34)

The Transition to Posthumanity

The real posthuman transition will occur—nobody can predict when, where, and how it will arise—when there appears to be a new emphasis in our research and development efforts. The cutting- edge creative slogan will shift from “Think different” (referring to ourselves) to “Make it think differently” (from ourselves). The pioneering attitude will shift from “Create a better life” to “Create a different life.” Radically different! Rather than focusing on augmenting the brain’s cognitive abilities and the body’s sensory and mobile capacities, there will be a race to tinker with our limbic brain on the one hand, and to develop autonomous robotic beings on the other. Thus will begin the second phase of conscious evolution. It does not have to replace the first—human history may well continue to expand in the ways we have earlier noted. What this second phase does is open up an unlimited number of new dimensions. That new world will be the cosmic, rather than the human, frontier. (34)

Defining “CoBe” (the Cosmic Being of the Future)

In this book, I will refer to such a new mind as a Cosmic Being (or in abbreviated form, CoBe, which is also an abbreviation for “Could Be,” and shorthand for the NASA satellite Cosmic Background Explorer). More precisely, this term is reserved for the sentient beings that are on the cutting edge of cosmic evolution. This term should not be applied universally to all sentient beings at any evolutionary stage; obviously, most such individual beings will not play an active role in further cosmic evolution (just as most of humanity has not played an active role in the great discoveries and conscious leaps of the past). Thus, in my terminology, CoBe is the sentient being with the highest aspirations and capabilities at any given point of time during phase two of conscious evolution. (37)

God and Human Nature

This dual nature of God certainly mirrors our own nature. The coexistence of tribal anthropomorphism and a cosmically transcendent God in the Western religious tradition (and even in single belief systems and sets of scriptures) mirrors the coexistence of primitive instincts, moral sentiments, and higher consciousness in our mind. (63)

The Cosmic Process

The whole cosmic process is still unfolding, and proceeding in a grand style that is richer than any component of the whole, including humanity. With a rich interplay of chance, necessity, and historical contingency, it just seems to us like a messy, eventful, playful, exhilarating, unpredictable, unrepeatable striving to realize the cosmic potential, the Tao. Rarely steady and regular, it displays a wonderful mix of familiarities and shocks as we (and perhaps other intelligent beings) proceed. (89)

Seven Key Features of the Cosmos

I propose for your consideration seven key universal features of our cosmos. First and foremost, the universe exists as a singularity. Second, the universe is characterized by constant change. Third, the universe is governed by laws. Fourth, there is a general trend of growing complexity. Fifth, complexity can come out of simplicity. Sixth, nature’s structure is modular and hierarchical. And finally, the world is recognizable but not predictable for any finite being within the system. (100)

Unimaginable Potential

It is too early to make a call on human consciousness, but nothing in terms of natural laws or the history of the Cosmos that we know of can prevent it from continuing to evolve and to spawn higher beings. Life did not become interesting until the Cambrian period, and the human species did not become interesting until the Axial Age. Only humanity’s higher consciousness ponders where we come from and what it is all about. Still, as a form of intelligence, comparing the potential highest beings with the human mind is probably the equivalent of comparing the human mind to single-celled bacteria. In other words, there is unimaginable potential ahead. (102)

“The Cosmic Show”

It is important to keep in mind that what we discussed as “the view of the universe” is just tracing the upper solid surface of evolutionary complexity. That’s the most interesting and exciting stuff, but equally illuminating for the future are events that led nowhere and events that could have materialized but did not. If we were to acknowledge them, the sheer numbers of these cases of forgotten dead ends and bad luck would absolutely overwhelm the historical events that we can recall; but A. O. Lovejoy’s Principle of Plenitude, which asserts that whatever is possible ultimately will come into existence, appears to be the overarching theme of evolution. . .We have finished a sweeping view of the most salient characteristics of the Cosmic Show. The universe is unified yet modular, lawful yet playful, and messy yet directional. There are no individual miracles in this universe, yet the universe itself is a perpetual miracle. We have only glimpsed the bottomless well of the cosmic potential, yet it is already rich beyond description. (105)

Discovering the Greater Significance of Being Human

What is clear is that the universe has been generating novelty after novelty since the Big Bang. Given this salient fact, what can we say about the universe’s future possibilities? While we cannot infer the precise direction of future cosmic evolution, we can state with reasonable certainty that many more unprecedented and unimaginable novelties await. With so little certainty of specifics, what are we to do? We have already discussed our indispensable role in furthering evolutionary processes. However, we do not need to know what lies ahead before we can act and become participants in this great unfolding. Only when we act on our highest aspirations and potentials, consistent with our unquenchable enthusiasm and passion for innovation, can we discover the greater significance of being human. In that way, we are furthering not only human potential but cosmic potential—so that they become one and the same. And this has the highest value in the Mind of God (Tao). (116)

Darwin and Adaptability

Remember, there is nothing in Darwin’s theory that says “survival of the fittest” means “survival of the human”—that is, survival of human nature as we have known it to be until now. Darwin said the survivor may not be the strongest or the most intelligent, but the one most adapted to new conditions. (125)

Future Human Potentials

What the human species has done so far is trivial compared to the mind’s potential to experience and comprehend the entire universe and beyond. This is the critical difference between the Cosmic View and the traditional, inward-looking, and anthropocentric worldviews. No other form of life on Earth is capable of going beyond the self and striving for something grand, something immortal, something purely imagined. In short, the human mind is becoming the universe’s way of knowing itself and the engine for cosmic evolution. In conclusion, human significance must be placed in the context of its future potential rather than its present existence. (133)

Love and Hope

Love becomes itself the magic power that brings our potential into being. With hope, love surveys the open possibilities of history. With love, hope brings all things imagined into the light of the promises of God. In the words of Confucius: “We should never shy away from great responsibilities once we recognize them.” (当仁不让). . . True realization of our potential can be achieved only through conscious evolution beyond the human species. (133-134)

Unchanging Realities of Human Nature

Ultimately, the existential limit on human culture is any culture’s necessary preoccupation with dealing with human nature. I believe that this wisdom about the limits of culture emerged slowly in history. The most successful cultures tend to be those that adapt to the unchanging realities of human nature. Humankind cannot hope to change human nature by culture, nor can we design and construct new social norms and institutions at will and hope they will work and fulfill the visions of social engineers. (158)

Two Perspectives on “Humanness”

Given current knowledge, we can have two levels of understanding of “humanness.” From a narrow perspective, the human is a biological structure defined ultimately by the human genome; from a broader perspective, we are our consciousness, motivations, sentiments, and all the other human thoughts and behaviors. The former generates the latter, but the latter does not necessarily require the former.  Horses generate horsepower, but horsepower can also be generated by steam engines, gas turbines, or nuclear reactors. Newspapers give us news stories, but news stories can also be provided by radio, TV, or the Internet. Likewise, our prized human attributes can be (in the relatively near future) generated through entities that are different from human beings. (171)

Reframing Awareness with the Cosmic View

The only way to gain a full understanding of any phenomenon is to change the way we frame it: to step outside the whole enterprise and consider the possibility that our entire worldview is invalid. Likewise, the understanding of the Cosmic View, as we will argue in this chapter, requires one to step out of the whole enterprise of human life, to look beyond the individual’s pursuit of happiness and eternal bliss. Our higher consciousness is like a parachute—it only functions when open. (175)

The Cosmic View and Realizing Human Potential

Social and technological development has enabled more and more people to “jump” outside of their parochial viewpoints. However, the mind is not totally free. Higher perspectives usually do not have the upper hand. The greatest divide in our society today is not political, cultural, or religious—it is the conflict among perspectives. Acting on the highest perspective—the Cosmic View—is the key to realizing human potential. And it may require us to understand that the pursuit of human happiness, and of purely human-centered goals, cannot be the ultimate end. (177)

Decisions Made from Higher Consciousness

It is perhaps not a coincidence that the United States Constitution, America’s supreme law, relies primarily on a negative veto power just like the higher consciousness in the mind, which has to “decide” among competing motives and emotions the “right” thing to do. It is the Constitution that allows higher perspectives, for example, in giving the president the right to pardon any lawbreakers, thus vetoing the decisions of lesser institutions. In the famous exchange between the Navy lawyer Kaffee and Colonel Jessup in the 1992 movie A Few Good Men, Kaffee wanted “the truth”—what really happened that led to the death of a marine,” and Jessup replied, “You can’t handle the truth!”—the bigger reality of the military’s role in a nation. The court will handle the normal truth and may put the colonel in jail; but the larger truth, that of whether the nation needs someone like the colonel to defend itself, is up to the judgment of the president. In addition, the U.S. Constitution gives veto powers of one sort or another to each branch of government, not just the president, just as the conscious mind with a higher perspective would not always follow the “rational” line of thought. (191)

Serving the Process of Cosmic Creation

In light of the highest perspective, the Cosmic View, we should not worship humankind (and the natural environment that it depends on) as an end in itself. Each of us should be proud to say that I live my life not just for the sake of myself, my family, my community, my country, humanity, or even life on Earth. I live for the Cosmic Creation process because I recognize that I am born into that wonderful process and I can make a difference in it. (208-09)

Challenging Humanity with Bigger Problems

Transcending our narcissistic self-preoccupation is no pinched and dismal Malthusian vision of humanity’s place in the universe, but rather an expansive and optimistic outlook of human being. Humanity not only needs to have problems solved, but also needs to impose bigger and better problems upon itself as a challenge to its creative powers—for the benefit of the human spirit, our descendants, and the whole Creation. (209)

The Dilemma of Homo Erectus Is Like Ours

Let’s consider a hypothetical situation. If the last generations of Homo erectus knew they would produce the first of a new species whose superior mental capabilities would soon cause their own ultimate demise, they would almost certainly have taken steps to prevent that from happening if they had such power. That conscious decision would have been good for them—they were marvelous, intelligent creatures in their own right—but it would not have been in line with the higher purposes of cosmic evolution, which is to produce more and more sophisticated minds at this stage. (210)

Losing Oneself in a Greater Cause

One radical case of higher perspective is what the reflective and eternal eye sees: Personal happiness is what we want, but it cannot be our sole aim or ultimate goal. Most of the happiest people do not aim at personal ecstasy, just as most of the wealthiest people do not aim at getting rich, most successful entrepreneurs do not aim at their achievements, most highly profitable companies do not aim at maximizing profit, and most highly creative artists do not aim at becoming famous. The surest way to happiness is to lose oneself in a greater cause. (212)

The Cosmic Perspective Versus Human-centrism

Today, the greatest divide within humanity is not between different races, religions, or ideologies, nor is it between religious and secular, literate and illiterate, scientific and non-scientific beliefs. These debates tend to be disagreements within the same level of perspective. Instead, the greatest divide within humanity is the one between the open cosmic perspective versus a wide variety of forms of human-centric tunnel vision. (218)

Humanity is Not the Ultimate End

The human-centric camp’s goal is to protect humanity from “selfish and arrogant” advocates of technological evolution beyond humanity. But their seemingly moral high ground is an illusion. As I have indicated previously, and will discuss in the closing chapters of this book, the conviction that humankind should be the end of all ends actually rests on the Platonic myth of an unchanging Golden Age and the Eastern closed-ended perspective rooted in an isolated self-sufficient agrarian society. In contrast, the cosmic perspective that places humanity in a larger evolutionary process is built on the Western transcendent faith in Cosmic Creation and the Eastern realistic view of humanity. The core conviction of the Cosmic View is that nothing is permanent or absolute except the process itself. The very heart of the biblical story is not the promise of individual salvation after death, but God’s intention of growing His children and gradually letting them take responsibility for and control of the world they are born into. Far narrower perspectives, such as secular utilitarianism and scientific materialism, are not an adequate basis for evaluating humanity’s value in the grand scheme of things, since the scope of their understanding is limited to merely human self-interests. But I argue that humanity is not, and can never be, the ultimate end of Cosmic Creation, regardless of whether there is a purposeful Creator or not. (219)

What Role Are We Here to Play?

For the most part, we are here to play the role of human being, not God. We are members of the species we study and try to improve upon, and we live here and now, not in evolutionary time, where the individual is all but invisible. If we start identifying ourselves with the Eternal Designer and regarding the other human beings around us as dust on the lens, we shall qualify not for the throne of the universe but for the asylum. Those individuals who solely identify themselves with the universal life of the species, and regard the people around them as beneath their notice, are often those who are too lonely and timid to “jump in” to the messy stream of real life. Nevertheless, a cosmic perspective must be articulated as “the light on the hill” to close the tremendous gap that has opened up between our understanding of the universe and our parochial focus of attention on human life. We cannot really play God as some critics claim we should do (and after all, how can we, with such limited power?), but we can play with our God-endowed gifts and initiate the creation of gods, or what I call Cosmic Beings (CoBe), a new species on the frontier of cosmic evolution that is unimaginably powerful and creative. We will not only be “interfering with nature,” as we have always been doing here on Earth, but also be “disturbing the universe,” in Freeman Dyson’s words. Our “mind children” will be in better positions to know the true nature of the cosmos, but for us, it is perhaps best to maintain an agnostic position, as Darwin did in his mature age, because it is very hard to trust “a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal . . . (to draw) such grand conclusions.” (221)

Consciously Aligning with the Impulse of Evolution

With the birth of consciousness, a new phase of cosmic evolution is possible that can be significantly different from the past. The invention of the scientific method added focused purpose and rigor to the earlier tradition of trial-and-error-based technological development; in so doing, it greatly accelerated technological development and knowledge accumulation. In a similar way, the conscious mind—by utilizing the emerging methods of conscious evolution that we will examine in the coming pages—now adds new impetus to the ongoing cosmic evolutionary process by also injecting newfound purpose and focus, and likely accelerating its pace even further. In other words, evolution now has a selector: self-aware humans who choose to align with the impulse of evolution. By “conscious” I do not mean just normal human consciousness, in which we are aware of our own thoughts and being, but an awareness of cosmic history, natural laws, and humanity’s place in the ever-changing universe. (228)

Conscious Evolution: Design with a Purpose

Natural genetic evolution keeps an eye on being “fit” but never has any foresight for creating further evolution or optimal design. Directionless, it has relied on “lucky” accidents or random events to lead to further evolution (and at times further digression). The result is a genome or a brain that is far superior to “random” codes but is still messy and, in terms of performance, “just good enough.” Francis Crick once devised a possible genetic coding system so economical and free of error that, when experimentation showed it was not nature’s way, it was nevertheless called “the most elegant biological theory ever to be proposed and proved wrong.” In a similar way, conscious evolution adds an engineering element—design with a purpose—on top of the “natural” trial-and-error experimentations. Crick’s coding system, for example, might inspire designs for artificial life that are far superior to the natural ones. (233)

“Messiness” and the True Spirit of Evolution

Regardless of his personal motivation, Mao’s slogan “Let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend” reflects the true spirit of evolution. Despite the risk of serious damage, we badly need single-minded religious zealots, political fanatics, and scientific cranks who can sustain direction even with repeated setbacks and depressing disarray and turmoil. But of course, all the mavericks and eccentrics need to be balanced with humanists, skeptics, and agnostics who can provide an environment of pluralism, tolerance, and flexibility that enables the natural spread of successful ideas through imitation without losing independent judgment. It is the messy, yin-yang environment that proves to be most fruitful and sustainable over the long term. . . There is virtue in untidy rowdiness. A pluralistic ecosystem is usually one with stability and resiliency; a pluralistic human brain is highly flexible and intelligent; an interdisciplinary pluralistic research team has greater problem-solving power; and pluralistic human societies tend to be ones with coherence and energy despite apparent chaos and disarray. (248-249)

The Fragile Phase of Cosmic Evolution

One day intelligent beings will spread into galaxies and far-flung communities that can be separated by hard physical limits. But during the transition period, when all experiments are conducted on Earth or “within earshot,” we will likely face an extremely fragile phase of cosmic evolution. It is becoming nearly impossible to isolate the damaging impact of violent extremists on one hand and to escape the tyranny of the majority on the other. (253)

Evolution as “Creative Destruction”

Seen in this light, what is often missing in studies of the future is the basic understanding that evolution almost necessarily creates crises and reversals. Progress is only demonstrable when taken as a whole—as the full summation across all the individual actions and events during any period of time, a summation that is orders of magnitude greater in scope than any given individual efforts and actions themselves. . . . In summary, natural evolution is eventful, chaotic, rough, unclean, unbalanced—it is a storm of “creative destruction,” not a walk in the park. Conscious evolution will be full of unintended, unpredictable consequences as well, including calamities as well as magnificent, seemingly “miraculous” advances. Conscious evolution must follow the same strategy as natural evolution, only with more intensity and with the aid of Cosmic Vision. Going slow may be tactically correct at times but not strategically sound. To take new initiatives is to risk disaster, but to stand still is to render disaster inevitable. (266-267)