Evolution, or order of process, is more than just a paradigm for the biological domain; it is a view of how a totality that hangs together in all of its interactive processes moves. This dynamic totality spans a vast spectrum from subatomic processes to social and further on to noetic (mental and psychic) processes.
For self-transcendent systems, Being falls together with Becoming. In this perspective, life becomes a much broader concept than just survival, adaptation, and homeostasis: it constitutes the creative joy of reaching out, of risking and winning, of differentiating and forming new relations at many levels, of recognizing and expressing wholeness in every living system. Creativity becomes self-realization in a systemic context. In the evolutionary stream, we all carry and are carried at the same time.
A deeper understanding of natural (contrasted to engineering) systems reveals positive feedback as one of the intrinsic characteristics by which many natural systems—from atoms to galaxies, cells to organisms, social systems to whole populations, single concepts to cognitive systems and whole languages—manage to live and evolve.
The history of ecosystems and the whole biosystem may be viewed as an aspect of multifold phylogenesis. In the human world, there is a very strong two-way interaction in the much faster processes of technological intervention in the environment, and the conditioning of man by his technologically changed living space. Such a large-scale feedback interaction in the human world now seems to demand a shift from the one-way causal concept of energy-pushing technology (changing the environment) to the mutual-causal concept of a cybernetic technology—recycling, tapping natural energy flows (hydropower, solar and tidal energy) instead of liberating energy stored in fossil or nuclear fuel, biological production processes beyond agriculture, and so forth.
The correlation between human behavior and the physical environment corresponds to just one out of many levels of human existence. Similar two-way correlations prevail at the level of the social, the cultural, and generally also the spiritual environment. Human evolution is both unfolding of an inherent dynamic potential, and correlation with many levels of dynamic environment which, in their totality, fall together with universal evolution.
Conscious learning, characteristic of self-reflective consciousness or apperception, may be viewed as the multiple feedback interactions in the ternary system formed by consciousness, the environment, and a memory or storage system which may be termed the “appreciated world” and which, of course, is itself part of consciousness.
Superconscious learning provides a sense of direction for cultural and mankind processes by “illuminating” the process from the far end in terms of guiding images.
In the energy band and under conditions conductive to the types of macroorganization found in biological life, the laws of physics become accentuated in particular ways by a hierarchy of coordinative levels ranging from dissipative structures at the molecular level and within cells to bio-organisms, societies, ecosystems, and beyond. Even “mind” may now perhaps be understood as a higher-level coordination of the same processes which, at other levels, appear as “matter;” thus a duality vanishes that has long haunted Western thought.
In-formation, or phylogenetic history frozen into syntactically ordered form (such as genetic code, a social law, or a work of art) is “brought to life,” or placed in a time perspective, by in-struction from a higher level of coordination (bringing into play semantics, or the functional relations of a space-time structure to its environment); the result is in-tuition, or learning from within by re-ligio (connecting through a space-time continuum to one’s own origin.)
Gestalt perception, in this view, is then not restricted to the brain, but a function of the organism as a whole. Mind starts looking like an ecosystem.
I have described the “waves of organization” which successively enter the human world, orchestrating it ever more fully. Out of the struggle of the individual for physical survival grew social systems which, in turn, made it possible to organize physical relations in a conscious approach, involving human design. Out of the struggle within and between social systems grew cultures which, in turn, provided an ethical roof beneath which to organize social relations in a consciously designed way. Out of the struggle within and between cultures—a struggle of images which man holds of himself, of life styles and world views—grows in our time a feeling for the wholeness of the global mankind process.
“Survival of the species” is a trivial equilibrium view. A nonequilibrium view would emphasize the creative, outgoing—and joyful—aspect of life and place mankind learning in perspective as part of superordinate, more universal learning processes.
As functional learning adapts man to his physical environment, conscious learning adapts the physical environment to man (mainly by means of technology). As conscious learning adapts man to his social environment, superconscious learning of the type we experience at present in a widely shared way (through guiding images, values, and ethics) adapts the social environment to man; and as superconscious learning adapts man to his cultural environment, perhaps a higher mode of superconscious learning will make the cultural environment a matter of human and social design, too. Thus, we may speak of a metaevolution of biogenetic, sociogenetic, and noögenetic mechanisms—of an evolution of modes of evolution, or of learning how to learn better.
If successive stages of environment become correlated with man in a two-way process, man himself becomes an expanding concept. Looked at in this way, evolution may then also be understood in terms of an expanding multilevel process concept of self-transcendence—or, viewed as a totality, as an overall process of self-attunement of an evolution which becomes ever more fully self-reflective, conscious of its own unfolding.
Linear genetic development is gradually overtaken by epigenetic development through intersystemic exchange, emphasized already in higher animals and dominant in human sociogenesis, and even more so in noögenesis—until, in our time, mankind is setting out to reflect on itself for the first time in a global and total way. Hand in hand with this metaevolution goes a vast increase in indeterminacy or, as we may now call it, open potential, free will—or simply openness.
I have argued that we may soon see a dynamic play of cultural pluralism unfolding on the substrate of a more uniform social fabric, thus reversing the traditional control hierarchy. “Life-style laboratories” such as Berkeley, California, or Boulder, Colorado, seem to herald such an enhanced balance among the levels of evolutionary self-attunement. With it, the semiautonomous thrust of technological change may gradually subside and a greater flexibility become introduced at all levels simultaneously. Of course, such a multilevel process can then no longer be controlled in the same strict cybernetic terms—it has simply to be lived.
Rather than the conscious design of specific cultural regimes and smooth transitions toward them, the beginnings of cultural design, or the conscious adaptation of the cultural environment to man—the next step in the correlation between man and his multilevel environment—will be characterized by the design of a metaregime of balanced transformations, more or less in permanence. Such a metaregime may also signify the unconscious beginnings of man’s correlation with a yet further level of environment, namely, mankind-at-large.
A most important example may be recognized in the study of optimal design of sociotechnological systems and institutions. If such systems are driven too far in size, complexity, and scope, they tend to deteriorate by every measure, even in terms of simple cost-benefit relations; e.g., traveling by car in traffic-congested cities may cost more time than walking.
Superconsciousness is understood here as that transpersonal aspect of total consciousness through which we share in group, cultural, and mankind processes—or even universal evolution.
The feedback link between consciousness and superconsciousness gives rise to “inner experiential learning” or “tuning-in” to the dynamics of metasystems transcending man and his immediate environment.
[Roland Fischer] views life on Earth as “a single event, exponentially receding and proceeding in time.” This unity of life is symbolized by an exponential (logarithmic) spiral of time on which are ordered “adaptive events of increasingly efficient utilization of energy as well as increasingly rapid time rate of change.”