Darwinian, or what I call biological evolution, has become one of the most powerful narratives and theories in terms of life in general, and of course human life. From evolutionary psychology to evolutionary economics and a plethora of other disciplines and usages, the basic idea of evolution has been applied everywhere. Its explanatory power ensures this will continue.
I do not dispute the power of this notion of evolution as it applies to life and everything that flows from it. I am not here to discuss biological evolution. There is little question that it is a powerful idea that explains a good deal. Evolution is hardly a completed theory, as if anything ever can be. I am not going to involve myself with the disputes and questions still facing biological evolution. I accept and embrace it as a useful theory that increases our understanding of biological processes including, at least to some extent, all the activities that humans participate in and occupy us.
Biological evolution is ultimately concerned with fitness – the ability to reproduce and pass on the elements of information to other people and to subsequent generations. Richard Dawkins, one of the most passionate advocates for the implications of biological evolution and the mindless march of information packets, extends the notion of fitness to ideas in the form of memes. It all still comes down to survival and fitness to pass on that information to others, and most importantly to future generations so that the information lives on in time.
Dawkins speaks of memes as units of cultural expression. Like genes, he sees them as mindlessly propagating and working to survive in a human host so that the successful memes, like the successful genes, work behind the scenes to make their human host more successful in reproduction and the spreading of those genes and memes. Dawkins is perhaps the most elemental in his notion of evolution – it’s always about fitness to survive and reproduce.
From the perspective of biological evolution, we are each here to pass along the information contained in our genes to subsequent generations to preserve that information. The value of the information is contained in its ability to produce fitness in the carriers of that information – each one of us – so that we can survive to pass that information along. The information is altered as fitness requires or rewards.
In the most extreme version of this story, the purpose of the information is to propagate that information – there is no higher purpose. In this version, everything that humans do, feel, experience, and think about is simply a byproduct of this process, or it supports the process in some way. It all comes down to fitness and survival. In the process of evolution, including the information and the containers in which it is found, from viruses and bacteria to humans, the information and the carriers of that information change to enhance their fitness and ability to pass on that information. Biological evolution is simply in service to that information and its preservation and is blind to any higher purpose. The information required to survive and reproduce is the coin of the realm and everything is in service to that.
I accept biological evolution, but not as being anywhere near complete nor sufficient to explain life, let alone human life. Biological evolution is ultimately all about survival, but I see that as only buying each one of us a ticket. It can in no way be considered the journey. The purpose of biological evolution is to keep producing tickets for life to embark upon the journey that I call deep evolution. This is the ultimate goal and purpose of life. Life is not survival, but is deep evolution – the expansion of consciousness, complexity, and novelty.
Deep evolution is related to biological evolution in many ways, but biological evolution is only a small part of deep evolution – necessary, but not sufficient. Biological evolution or survival is just the ticket, but deep evolution is the ride, that makes the ticket valuable.
Deep evolution is all about deeper meaning. In many ways, biological evolution, on its own terms, has no meaning apart from the circular directive that it carries on for its own sake. Humans have explored deeper meanings in life since recorded history, and well before, based on evidence like the art found in deep caves in France, from tens of thousands of years ago. It can be argued by those who stress biological evolution that everything humans do can be reduced to the survival enhancement imperative – even art and love. This becomes an argument at the level of axioms or first principles. At this level, no argument can ever be sufficient. The only thing you can do is to consider the evidence arising from those first principles and essentially work backward to determine your conclusions about those first principles.
For me, deep evolution and the deepest meaning of life beyond basic survival is axiomatic. I have gone down the road of accepting the opposite starting point and found it barren, essentially denying life and meaning. We all must decide for ourselves – each one of us as individuals. No outside authority can answer such a fundamental question for anyone else.
I will end this summary of deep evolution by giving credit to the two thinkers who I believe are most critical in understanding the position in which humanity now finds itself, as well as for the way forward.
Carl Jung explored and worked to integrate the broadest and deepest examination of humanity and our psyches from the perspective of meaning and deep evolution, as I use and define the latter term.
Jung touched on many critical ideas and subjects, but there is another great and important thinker who is now exploring the greatest challenge that we as humans face right now in our deep evolution. Jung inevitably covered the same terrain, but they used somewhat different language and I will try to unite their thinking as well as extending it.
Iain McGilchrist is the author of one of the most important books I have ever read – The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. His thesis is much too important and complex to be described briefly, but I will try here. He makes clear the greatest challenge we face right now for our own survival as well as the health of the psyche of each one of us.
He shows that each one of us are of two minds – the left and right hemispheres. This is not the pop psychology that claims that our left brain is the logical and rational one, while the right is the emotional and artistic one. His ideas of the divide between the two hemispheres are much more subtle and complex. McGilchrist makes a compelling argument, backed by a tremendous amount of science and research, that each hemisphere participates in all aspects of human thought and action, but that each one has a very different perspective.
The left hemisphere is the one dedicated to a narrower analytical view that does value logic, rationality and science in the process of reductionist thinking. It is invaluable and serves us well in our thinking, but it is has significant limitations. Above all, the left hemisphere is very prone to ignoring and denying its limitations. The left hemisphere is the emissary or servant to the right hemisphere, but in our modern culture and in many of us, the left brain sees itself as the master- the ultimately true and most valuable perspective in thought and action.
The right hemisphere is more open and holistic. It is much more dedicated to the larger picture and perspective that is often lost and distorted by the left hemisphere. The right hemisphere is more interested in the whole, in life and in living things, while the left is more concerned with tools, the parts of the whole in isolation, and with non-living things.
Both hemispheres are vital to a fully functioning human and society, but modernity elevates the left hemisphere to act as the master and McGilchrist makes a compelling case that this inversion of power and perspective is at the heart of our problems. I could not agree more. Nothing of the left hemisphere is to be ignored or denied, but it is the right hemisphere that gives us the truer and more human perspective on our lives and the reality before us. The right hemisphere is the rightful master of our minds and the processes involved in our mental life, which translate into and directly determine our existential life.
Jung explored the perspectives of the right hemisphere throughout history without explicitly describing them as such. McGilchrist’s genius is that he makes clear the issue before us and I find his ideas make sense of much of Jung’s ideas as well as virtually every aspect of our life in the modern world.
I was coming to similar conclusions on my own, but McGilchrist and his ideas have crystalized all this in my mind. I was getting the sense of this issue, but full credit goes to McGilchrist for making them explicit and much more powerful. I use different terms to describe these perspectives – ones that fit with much of Jung’s ideas. I term the perspective or world instantiated in the left hemisphere as Logos and that of the right hemisphere as Eros. I am using these terms in a much broader context than the ones they usually refer to. I do think they are more useful however, and more evocative of the reality and metaphors contained by the left and right hemispheres and the writings of Jung and McGilchrist as well as those of many others.
There is overlap of course – all boundaries are fuzzy and undetermined, but they remain useful.
I believe that the ascendancy of the left hemisphere or Logos was inevitable and necessary for the deep evolution of our species, culture and of our psyches, but that this dominance of the left hemisphere, of Logos, has gone too far and for too long. We are being overwhelmed and imperiled by Logos that is dominating Eros at the expense of our lives and the health of our psyches, of our culture and of our species.
I think this lens of Eros and Logos is the one that reveals the truth of our greatest challenges not only to survive, but to expand and enrich our consciousness, as individuals and as a species. I share the great concerns expressed by both Jung and McGilchrist and my goal is to explore and reveal the possibilities that lay before us. Logos is our servant and Eros is our master. The solutions will not be simple, nor are they obvious or even understandable at this time, but the central problem must be recognized and faced. Eros must rise and I am hopeful that it is doing just that and that it will continue to do so. The left hemisphere and Logos does not willingly give up its dominance – not out of malice but out of ignorance and blindness to the greater whole of reality. Logos cannot see what it cannot see and that is why Eros must rise to correct the errors and limitations of Logos. This process must occur in each one of us first and foremost in order for it to spread to the culture and our species.
I want to contribute to this process of healing and the restoration of balance and health in our psyches. I believe it is fundamental to our deep evolution – the ride and the journey that we are all part of. We are both agents of deep evolution and embedded in it. The way forward requires Eros to resume its position as master, with Logos as a vital and necessary servant and emissary.