Several days ago I managed to catch up with my friend and evolutionary philosopher John Stewart who I have no doubt will someday be considered one of the great thinkers of his time. During our discussion that evening in the lobby of the Holiday Inn on Spencer Street of all places, I happen to mention to him my thoughts on reading the Bible with an Evolutionary Eye which I subsequently put into a more coherent form and recently published. I recall us having previously spoken about this in a similar context about Rapppaport’s Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity and my related piece on The Logic of Spiritual Evolution. From memory, he was then speaking about humanity’s stages of alignment with evolutionary dynamics in terms of an unconcious pre-rational alignment phase of myth and religion, a conscious rational phase characterized by the dismantling of said myths and a subsequent post-rational – or trans-rational as Wilber would call it – phase of conscious alignment with evolutionary dynamics. For some reason I thought that there was a fully formed and developed concept associated with this line of though – possibly by Bateson. However John assured me that there was not and that those were entirely his ideas on the matter. Unfortunately John was not interested at the time to fully develop that train of thought and suggested that I give it a shot which I will attempt to do in this article.

To understand the genealogy of my thoughts a bit better it helps to remember that I came from a staunchly atheistic/rational perspective when I stumbled on Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near in early 2005 which subsequently inspired my to write my philosophical science fiction novel Jame5 – A Tale of God and Evil in which I concerned myself with the problem of friendly AI. Back then I was so atheistic in fact, that I presented all my family members with a copy of The God Delusion for Christmas 2006. That was about half way through writing Jame5 which I published in late 2007. Only very slowly did I back away from the atheistic perspective after further development of my ideas in late 2007 and early 2008 led me to discover that core principles of evolutionarily advantageous belief systems very closely resemble the core concepts of major world religions. This opened the floodgates and I started to devour dozens of books on religion and spirituality until finally feeling that I could not systematically progress my research much further without risking becoming utterly incomprehensible by mainstream academia.

At that point I had moved from China to Singapore, met my lovely wife Grace and essentially failed to get a coin related information services web 2.0 startup off the ground. Brilliant concept. Good execution. Could not have hoped for a better partner. But I was naive in terms of believing that a great idea and hard work is enough to make it big. Marketing people – that is what it is all about. But I digress. So there I was in late 2009, early 2010 in Singapore. About to get married and what do I do? I apply for a place in a Graduate Diploma in Arts at he University of Melbourne. What could possibly go wrong? So, on a hunch I moved my young family to Melbourne. No job. By now well in my 30s. Taking a $25,000 course in Anthropology and Social Theory, plus rent, plus expenses for a year, with no idea what to do with it afterwards or what I would get out of it. Oh boy – what a gold mine that was!

I discovered and became intimately familiar with Rappaport, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Kant, Focault, Derrida, Deleuze and many many others and got incredibly lucky in having the absolute pleasure of meeting Douglas Lewis as lecturer in his brilliant anthropology of religion class. By mid 2011 I knew that Schopenhauer and Nietzsche were in essence evolutionary philosophers, that the postmodernists essentially misread Nietzsche and that a re-examination of Nietzsche’s concept of life in light of a contemporary understanding of evolutionary dynamics plus a healthy dose of my own ideas had the potential to completely unravel postmodern philosophy and show the path to a philosophy of appreciation for life filled with meaning and purpose.

At the end of my Graduate Diploma I was however faced with a predicament. In my view the global financial crisis of 2008 was merely sedated by a heavy dose of financial stimulus and that it was only a matter of time until ever-increasing doses would eventually lead to an overdose and an even greater crisis. All of that on the background of existing on a visa that should we lose it required a 4 week transcontinental relocation. But where to? Back to China? How and why? Back to Singapore? No thanks. Burma being the North Korea of south-east Asia did not make that very attractive either and me not having lived in Germany for the past 30 odd years did not exactly cause great excitement in us as well. Australia seemed like the way to go. So I searched for and got employed by FrontLine Stores Australia which enabled me to get permanent residency after some time giving me and my wife the stability to finally grow some roots in a multicultural, English-speaking country nicely tucked away from what I expect might go badly wrong globally over the coming years. By now we are living off grid on a 10 acre property 30 minutes south of Ballarat and loving it.

All of the above is meant to show that I moved from a pre-rational mind until I was in my early teens, to a rational mind until I was in my mid thirties to a trans-rational mind today. However I realize now that none of these labels really fit very well. Was Aquinas pre-rational? Well, in a sense I guess he was, but he certainly was not irrational in his Summa Theologica. As James Frazer writes in The Golden Bough about the reason in magic among the ‘savages’:

“Crude and false as that philosophy may seem to us, it would be unjust to deny it the merit of logical consistency. […] The flaw–and it is a fatal one–of the system lies not in its reasoning, but in its premises; in its conception of the nature of life, not in any irrelevancy of the conclusions which it draws from that conception.”

The problem lies not with lacking rationality but more with the set of assumptions or axioms from which one develops ones ideas and understanding. Likewise the only major rational philosopher strictly speaking was Immanuel Kant who himself was rather religious and who’s philosophy was almost immediately opposed by the romantics. Further understanding Nietzsche, Goedel and Derrida the very idea of rationality per se becomes suspect if not entirely unattainable. Derrida’s ‘method’ of deconstruction basically is the literary critical equivalent of Goedel’s incompleteness theorem by demonstrating that all but the most trivial arguments unravel due to contradictions internal to their very gramatological structure. All of these counter rational issues and we have not even yet touched the ‘trans-rational’ modes of thought yet. The lesswrong crowd, dead set on ‘refining the art of rationality’, by the way is still miles away from even understanding these problems – let alone addressing them.

On the other hand one does not suddenly become utterly incoherent when talking about ‘trans-rational’ thinking. We can still discern ideas and arguments as good or valid. Likewise notions of everything, even logic and physics, being but a flimsy social construct is clearly utter nonsense. So we are faced with the fact of ‘rational’ elements in so-called ‘pre-rational’ modes of thought, with ‘non-rational’ modes of thought in ‘rational’ modes of thinking and ‘rational’ elements in ‘trans-rational’ modes of thought. In fact all of these three stages contain elements and realizations of rational as well as non-rational modes of thought. The whole concept of pre/trans-rationalism is clearly not very useful. What other terms do we have? How about ‘evolution’?

The term ‘evolutionary philosophy’ seems like a great idea. However major ‘evolutionary’ thinkers such as Cohen and Dowd tend to use the term in a developmental sense. ‘This is where we came from and that is where we are going’. Well, maybe. But what I am trying to do here is to arrive at a deep understanding of evolutionary dynamics and the facilitation of as close of an alignment as possible with them to ensure we and our descendants not only stay in the existential game but reach our maximum potential. This is a conscious process of cultural evolution much closer to the Lamarckian idea of evolution of directed change and adaptation than the Darwinian one of chance change and natural selection. Conscious, goal oriented design and creation led by deep understanding are integral parts of this philosophy with room for random chance and evolvability for sure, but not as a design philosophy in the form of e.g. genetic algorithms.

Returning to the three stages and their respective characteristics:

  1. True unconscious evolution of myth, religion, belief and culture driven by chance change and natural selection.
  2. Unconscious dismantling of evolved, adaptive belief systems through conscious reason, Nietzschean philosophy as well Derridaian deconstruction.
  3. Conscious construction of systems of social organization and modes of thought towards an ever more closely alignment with evolutionary dynamics.

The three stages could consequently be called evolutionary, deconstructing and constructive.

These stages are not too dissimilar from the four stages of competence. However in the sense of cultural adaptiveness starting from the very early human groups, over first a highly adaptive unconsciously evolved cultural system and then to a fully deconstructed cultural system to a fully realized constructivist society these stages would go as following:

  1. Unconsciously unaligned (with evolutionary dynamics)
  2. Unconsciously aligned (evolved)
  3. (Un)consciously unaligned (deconstructive)
  4. Consciously aligned (constructivist)

Understandably humans would make the transition from 1. to 2. only as long as they do not entirely violate the conditions of their existence through a rocky and contingent process of evolutionary ascent along the lines of Singer‘s Expanding Circle and Armstrong’s The Great Transformation mentioned earlier. Followed by a process of Enlightenment culminating in the realization of and conscious alignment with evolutionary dynamics. Alignment with evolutionary dynamics over time charting alignment on the y and time on the x-axis would result in a sine wave like graphic beginning to the left with 1. ascending and leveling off at the peak of 2. and a steady decline and leveling off over the course of 3. with the right tail of the wave extending upward and upward starting from 4 into the future.

The respective realization of the maxima and minima of the wave would always be reserved for only a precious few realizing the full impact of their philosophy. Be that the mystics of the various religions over time for the peak of 2. or the elite literary critics on the trough of 3. Additional the individuals members of a society could be plotted along the full spectrum of the wave at any given time. The sociopathic petty criminal towards the very left the Dalai Lama possibly close to the peak of 2. and the avantgarde of literary criticism of various universities at the trough of 3. I would hardly consider myself scratching the slow ascent of 4. Much more work is ahead than behind us and we might not make it at all.

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