Exploring the Meaning of Conscious Evolution


An excerpt from Conscious Evolution by Barbara Marx Hubbard

Conscious evolution as a worldview began to emerge in the latter half of the twentieth century because of scientific, social, and technological abilities that have given us the power to affect the evolution of life on Earth. Conscious evolution is a metadiscipline; the purpose of this metadiscipline is to learn how to be responsible for the ethical guidance of our evolution. It is a quest to understand the processes of developmental change, to identify inherent values for the purpose of learning how to cooperate with these processes toward chosen and positive futures, both near term and long range.

It is important to realize how radically new the concept of conscious evolution is. As an emerging worldview, it only became more broadly recognized in the 1960s, because the primary conditions that brought it into existence are themselves only that recent. This newness explains why it has not yet been incorporated into our academic, political, and religious worldviews.

There are three new elements vital to conscious evolution. I call them “the three Cs”: new cosmology, new crises, and new capacities.

New Cosmology: The First C
Our understanding of cosmogenesis has brought forth a new vision of all creation. In the mid-1960s two scientists, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, identified background radiation from the original moment of creation — the big bang — and were able to extrapolate backward in time to those first instants of creation. “What they were hearing was nothing less than the vibration of the birth of the universe,” wrote Richard Elliott Friedman in The Disappearance of God: A Divine Mystery.1

Anyone born before the 1960s was not educated in the crucial new idea that the physical universe had a beginning in time, has been evolving for billions of years, and is still evolving now through us as well as throughout the entire cosmos. When I went to college in the early 1950s, I was told that the frontiers of knowledge had been mostly closed. Neither our new creation story nor the new worldview was even considered at that time.

The importance of the new cosmology is that we recognize the universe has a history and a direction and, therefore, so do we. It reinforces the new story. The metapattern that connects everything is involved not only in living systems but in the entire process of creation. The universe has been evolving in time toward ever-more-complex systems with ever-greater freedom and consciousness. There has been a cosmological phase, from the big bang to the first cell; a biological phase, from the first cell to the first human; a noological phase, from the first human to us. And now, we are entering a cocreative phase, when human life becomes consciously coevolutionary with nature.

The idea that there is a history to everything is a fundamental component in conscious evolution. It reinforces our desire to evolve in history rather than purely metaphysically, or in another afterworld, yet helps us see the future not as more of the same, but as radically new and self-transcending, fulfilling our deepest aspirations for transformation. It gives us long-range visions not only of our past, billions of years ago, but of our future, which is estimated to continue hundreds of billions of years beyond our lifetimes.

New Crises: The Second C
Our new crises are another vital element to conscious evolution, especially the environmental crisis. From the perspective of the new story, this complex crisis can be understood as a natural but dangerous stage in the birth process of a universal humanity.

We are undergoing the shift in a planetary “birth” of the next era of evolution. As we have already seen, what worked before will now destroy us. We must rapidly stop doing what we have done so successfully — building, populating, polluting, and using up nonrenewable resources to survive. We did not know that any of this was wrong, dangerous, or self-centered. Now we realize that cataclysms have wiped out whole species: 98 percent of all species became extinct before humans appeared. But never before did a species know ahead of time that it might self-destruct and that it had an option to do something about it. Now we are shifting from reactive response to proactive choice. Our crisis is an evolutionary driver awakening us to the necessity and opportunity to choose a future commensurate with our potential and to take responsibility for our actions.

I believe that collectively, we do know how to coordinate ourselves as a whole, how to handle our waste, shift to renewable resources, and awaken to our unique, new roles in the maturation of our species. If the crisis is natural, so is the response.

The newness of the crisis means, however, that no existing leaders or institutions in the current top-down political, religious, and corporate structures can train us. No team is waiting at the end of the birth canal, as far as we know! The process of awakening comes from our deeper and more intuitive knowing combined with scientific understanding. This is why I call us Generation One, the first on this Earth to face evolution or extinction as a species together.

New Capacities: The Third C
Our new capacities — powers now available to us, such as biotechnology, nuclear power, nanotechnology, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, artificial life, and space development — are radical evolutionary capacities that are potentially dangerous in our current state of self-centered consciousness. From our present perspective they may seem unnatural, and indeed they are. Yet, if we consider our needs at the next stage of evolution — as a universal species — these may be precisely the abilities we require to survive and grow in the extended physical environment of outer space, and in the expanded consciousness environment of inner space.

In a biological organism, for example, capacities that are lethal in the womb are vital in the world. So our extraordinary new powers, which can be deadly to us in our current stage of self-centeredness and planet-boundedness, may be natural for us at the next stage of cosmic consciousness and universal life.

Because we fear the danger of misusing our new technologies in the present, we must not prematurely destroy them. Rather, we should see ahead to their possible use at the next stage of evolution and guide their application toward the emancipation of our evolutionary potential rather than attempting the impossible task of stopping knowledge and preserving the status quo. We must remember that the nature of nature is to transform — especially when nature hits a crisis of limits.

From the perspective of the three Cs, we can see that the new cosmology can be interpreted as the story of the birth of a universal humanity, that our new crises are the results of our natural evolutionary process, and that our new capacities are the growing powers of a young, universal species — all barely one generation old.

Futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard is a prolific educator and author of seven books, including a revised and updated edition of her seminal work Conscious Evolution. She is an evolutionary thinker who believes that global change happens when we work collectively and selflessly for the greater good. Visit her online at www.evolve.org.

Excerpted from the book, Conscious Evolution. Copyright © 2015 by Barbara Marx Hubbard. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com.