I am inspired by all of your thoughtful and provocative comments to my last post and captivated by this idea that what we experience as freewill is not actually a quality of a human being, but a characteristic of the universe itself as embodied in a human being. As we explore what we know about evolution it seems clear that evolution has generally occurred in a direction that has led to the general increase in the range of freedom that can be expressed by the evolving forms of the universe.
Energy, atoms and molecules have very narrow ranges through which they can express creative freedom in response to circumstance. Energy and atoms can combine to form molecules and then molecules can form substances like water and minerals. These substances can in turn combine to form something as complex and varied as a planet.
When molecules advance to the point of forming living cells, the amount of creative freedom that can be expressed increases dramatically. Cells can combine into organisms, both plant and animal, that exhibit a much greater range of freedom to respond to circumstance and environment than any non-living combination of molecules or atoms. The development of the animal kingdom in particular demonstrates the tendency towards greater and greater creative freedom – dogs express a greater range of response than do tadpoles for instance. When Organisms develop nervous systems complex enough to create an abstract concept of self the potential for freedom of choice explodes.
Individuals who can recognize themselves as a “separate something” in the universe become capable of a degree of individuation and specialization that dramatically increases the efficiency through which they can organize into social structures. As societies of human beings become more efficient at meeting the basic needs of the individuals within them they create more freedom in the individuals to choose to act outside of the dictates of personal survival. Individuals liberated from survival necessity begin to pursue higher forms of cognition and understanding of themselves and the universe in which they exist. This higher understanding leads to increased freedom to respond to circumstance and environment.
So it seems that on the whole the relative degree of freedom that can be expressed through evolving forms in the universe tends to increase over time. I would like to propose a definition of Conscious Evolution based on this conception.
“Conscious Evolution is the deliberate development of: our understanding of the universe, our concept of ourselves, and the workings of the society in which we live, for the purpose of increasing the range of freedom of choice that can be expressed by the individuals in society.”
This is a conception of Conscious Evolution very much aligned with the philosophy of John Dewey who wrote extensively about Education, Democracy and Ethics all with the basic assumption that increase the opportunity for freedom of growth was the essential direction of goodness in the universe.