Conscious Evolution: Our Challenge for Survival


"Our biological evolution is, for all practical purposes, at its end. There will be no further biological evolution without human ‘conscious evolution.’ And this may not happen without first an understanding of what our consciousness is, what it was originally designed to do, and where the points of possible change may be.”

—Robert Ornstein, The Psychology of Consciousness



There is now a wealth of physiological and psychological data on the mechanics of consciousness, such as our sensory selection system and linear experience of time. Scientists know how these mechanics evolved for survival and how they limit and distort our perception, contributing to the seemingly intractable problems in the modern world: misdirection of effort in medicine and education; ecological shortsightedness; propensity to brainwashing; the constant failure to understand people from different parts of the world.


In our highly secularised world, we are prone to identify these mechanics as the sum total of our human nature. But we know they are not. Modern research also points to more “advanced” capacities in our nature — capacities often associated with the brain’s right hemisphere such as context formation, intuition, or “whole-patterned” thought. Though latent or less developed, these capacities are in evidence at the very heart of human creativity. They are reflected in our art, literature, music, scientific inspiration — even in the gravity-defying moves of a skilled basketball player.


Recognising the pitfalls in our automatic “default” mindset and the need to train more advanced capacities are not new themes in human history. We find them in myths and stories that recur in all times and cultures, in the core insights of the world’s great religions, in the writings of great thinkers such as Plato and El Ghazzali.


The gift of modern science has been an expanded framework for taking charge of our own evolution — for creative, focused application of new and traditional insights to education, health care, communication, resource planning, and international relations. What we do with this gift may well be the key to our continued survival.