The Meaning of Life: Conscious Evolution

June 24th, 2005 by Steve Pavlina

In this final post in the Meaning of Life Series, I’ll attempt to present a broader view of why personal development is so important and why I believe that investing in your own growth is the best investment you can make.

Conscious Evolution

When I used the word “evolution” to describe my world view, I was not using the word in the biological sense of natural selection, breeding, and mutation. A few people seemed to get stuck on that term. I was using the broader definition of evolution: a process in which something passes by degrees to a different stage, especially a more advanced or mature stage (source = Wordnet).

This includes the evolution of thought, society, knowledge, and the capabilities of life — the evolution of the noosphere moreso than of the biosphere. The noosphere is our collective knowledge and wisdom, and today it “evolves” far faster than any biological entities. In fact, the ongoing biological evolution of human beings is so slow as to be virtually irrelevant compared to the rate at which the noosphere is evolving. Our biology has evolved little in the past 1000 years, but our technology, knowledge, and culture have evolved massively.

So when I said I wanted to serve the process of evolution, I did not mean it in the biological sense — biological evolution is too slow and has become largely irrelevant. If the biological evolution of humans does continue, it is likely to occur by choice, not as a result of ongoing breeding and mutation over eons. But what matters most right now is the evolution of the noosphere.

What About The Biosphere Though?

I agree that the planet is in bad shape environmentally. But we can’t afford to wait for biological evolution to fix these problems. If we do that, humans will almost certainly become extinct before we have the chance to evolve into something better. Some experts assert that the environment is in such bad shape that we won’t make it to the end of this century… that the destructive processes we’ve put in motion may already be irreversible, even if we we were to immediately start doing everything we could to correct them.

Ignoring these problems isn’t a viable option, but I also think that attacking these problems directly is doomed to failure. There are already people doing that now, but they seem to be making little progress. They may slow the rate of decay a bit, but they’re nowhere near reversing it. There’s too much resistance, and by the time the resistance can be effectively overcome, we’ll be way past the point of no return.

Consider something as simple as diet. The environmental consequences of the Standard American Diet are severe — to say it wastes resources and pollutes the environment is a gross understatement. The U.S. government subsidizes most of it, which hides the true costs. It takes 18 times as much land to grow the food for someone eating the SAD diet compared to someone eating a vegan-plant based diet. If someone eating the SAD diet were to eat vegan for just one day, they’d save more water than they would by not showering for a year. Your decision to eat a burger for dinner is not merely a health choice — it’s an environmental and political one as well. In fact, virtually anything you might do environmentally or politically in your lifetime is irrelevant compared to the simple decision of what to eat each day. You could devote your entire life to Greenpeace, and it will only amount to a puny fraction of what you’d accomplish by living as a resource-guzzling playboy who happens to be vegetarian.

And yet, so few people are aware of the long-range consequences of what they do because their “knowledge” is fed to them by marketers. They buy into the social context instead of thinking for themselves. People make billions off the SAD diet, and it doesn’t hurt them financially if you want to plant a few trees on the side or clean up some trash to feel good about yourself, as long as you keep downing the burgers. But try to attack the diet that makes them rich, and they’ll drown you in marketing until you submit.

I could write about this stuff all day, but it’s already been written. The average person will simply avoid it, and to the degree it does get read, it will only be resisted or ignored. People must have the wherewithal to seek it out because they really want to know what’s going on. But so few people currently have the courage and discipline to do that.

I don’t see the solution as spending more time and energy attacking such problems directly. If I attempt that, I’ll only be outmarketed by those with a massive financial stake in perpetuating the current belief system, however false it may be. I could spend my whole life attacking smoking, for instance, but in the end it won’t make much difference — I might convince a fair number of people to quit, but many more will become smokers, and many who do quit will simply adopt a substitute vice. So overall there won’t be much impact. My resistance will simply be met with stronger resistance. Force will fail.

So What’s the Solution?

The best solution I can think of is to work on human awareness itself, to help more people see the benefits and navigate the obstacles in pursuing their own conscious growth. I don’t think this requires a change in our biology but rather a shift in the noosphere. I think we already have the biological capabilities necessary to fix the problems of this planet if they’re fixable at all, but we currently lack the awareness, discipline, and courage as a species to step up and take personal responsibility for doing what is right. Most people would rather live an illusion than spend time thinking about the best possible contribution they could make with their lives. But I think I can help change that. A good number of people seem to be reaching similar conclusions.

I figure that over the course of my lifetime, the absolute best thing I can do is to implant and strengthen the seed of conscious personal growth into the noosphere, in cooperation with other people who have similar missions.

Human beings have so much untapped capacity it’s ridiculous. If we can edge up the realization of this capacity and raise the average level of awareness of human beings, then more people will “wake up” and start living with greater consciousness and courage. They’ll begin to drop destructive habits and adopt more positive ones. They’ll start to define a meaningful purpose for their lives, and along the way they’ll encourage others to do the same. They’ll stop living in fear of their own shadow and obsessing over trivialities. And these “upgraded” human beings, living more consciously and courageously, will have a far better chance of solving the greatest problems of humanity and of successfully managing the greatest risks that threaten us.

My mission then is to encourage and assist people in pursuing their conscious growth, to help them find a path away from a life of quiet desperation and towards a life of courage, purpose, and responsibility. I have not been able to think of any better contribution I could make with my life than this.

For me this mission is deeply intertwined with the pursuit of my own personal growth. By working on myself, I increase my capacity to help others. And by helping others to become more conscious and conscientious, I build an environment that reinforces my own growth and which helps to insulate me from the forces that threaten to suck me back down into low-awareness living.

Right now I’m manifesting this mission in the form of articles, blog entries, and an upcoming book. Over the next decade I expect to extend it across a variety of different media: articles, books, audio programs, speeches, seminars, etc. Beyond that I envision putting together a formal organization of some kind to help people grow more consciously and to upgrade their courage, discipline, and awareness, and also to serve as an outlet for people who wish to team up with others who have similar missions.

One challenge is figuring out how to live within the current noosphere while working to change it. You have to rely on the current economic system to provide for your basic needs. My solution thus far has been to systematize and automate my income as much as possible, so I have the freedom to pursue higher level projects without having to invest too much time and energy in making a living. I have a few other ideas that should improve that situation even more.

I don’t really see the solving of social/global problems as the primary end though. I think that’s mainly a side effect of the pursuit of growth, not the purpose of growth itself. I see the pursuit of greater courage, consciousness, and conscience as an end in itself. However, such pursuits will solve many problems along the way, and often this is easier than attacking such problems directly. For example, you can attack problems like being overweight, being addicted to smoking, and having unsatisfying relationships and make very little progress across the board. But if you work on developing your courage, awareness, and self-discipline, these problems will solve themselves — in fact, they’ll become almost trivially easy.

Investing in your own growth is the best investment you can make. Don’t think for a minute that it’s a selfish pursuit. Quite the contrary — it is in fact the best thing you can do to help others. If you feel you are not contributing much with your life right now, don’t beat yourself up about it or deny what you could become if you were only strong enough. Instead, turn inward and work on yourself until you become the kind of person on the inside who automatically expresses good as a manifestation of who you are.

Conquer your fear, and the rest is easy.


This post is part six of a six-part series on the meaning of life:
Part 1: Intro
Part 2: How Shall We Live?
Part 3: Discover Your Purpose
Part 4: From Purpose to Action
Part 5: Transitioning
Part 6: Conscious Evolution


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