Evolution (sophontology)

Image from Bernd Helfert

One of the most potent memes known to mindkind, the meme of evolution, of ascent, of progress or unfolding from alpha to omega, is also a description of the way the cosmos works - or at least the way it seems to work.

Originally evolution only denoted the slow biological evolution where new species emerged, but in the Information Age it became more and more obvious that the same process of replication, variation and selection also was the driving force in the development of ideas, cultures and technologies. Hence the meaning of the word was extended to any such evolutionary process.

At the same time deliberate re-design of biology, technology and society were becoming common. It was recognised that there has been a gradual development of evolutionary capacity from simple replicators, over sexual reproduction and homeobox genes to highly adaptable phenotypes. This "Kellyian metaevolution" appeared to be a drift towards ever more effective ways of adapting to the environment, and the deliberate interventions done by humans and AIs were just the next step - intelligently directed evolution. Beyond this point intelligent action would be a part of evolutionary processes.

A distinction has to be made here between radial and axial evolution, and, in the case of the latter, between local omega and cosmic omega. Metaevolution (the evolution of evolution) can be considered a of third axis

Radial, also known as tangential, evolution is perhaps the most fundamental principle of the evolution of life and mindkind throughout the terragen bubble and the galaxy as a whole. Ever since the Information age, the infotech, biotech, habitat, and bionanotech driven evolutionary radiation of the human and other species has been well underway. By the late Interplanetary age the Sol System was dotted with biospheres, many of which contained both natural and artificial lifeforms already cladising into new species. This was much the same process as happened on geographically isolated islands on Old Earth (such as the Galapagos, where the great Industrial Age hu scientist Charles Darwin was inspired to develop his theory of evolution of natural selection). This is a process that continued and still continues to this present day, and the number of distinct species of life throughout the Terragen Sphere cannot be calculated, but must run into many quintillions at least.

Axial evolution (omegism) presumes a ladder of life, a chain of being from less to greater, form more basal to more ultimate, subsapient to transapient, alpha to omega. This is much harder to prove than radial evolution, especially when one is considering cosmic omegism; a principle of faith for trillions of sapient beings.

As expressed by a large number of religions and ideologies, such as Omegism in all its forms, the Church of Metadarwin, Orthodox Teleocosmism, Saint Teilhardism, Revived Tiplerism, and Auomidanism, the cosmos as a whole is moving towards a perfect state of omega. For many of these memetics, existence can be seen to progress tree-wise through a series of distinct toposophic stages, even allowing for many dead-ends and rambling branches. The central axis, if indeed there is a single central axis, is from inorganic and unconscious matter to simple life to developed sentience and finally sophont intelligence, and from there, in some cases, to transapient toposophies of powers, and finally archailecthood. But critics point out that it is absurd to postulate a single ladder of evolution. Not only are the countless lower lifeforms - both biological and alife - that show no tendencies towards increasing intelligence, but also there are many forms of sentience, even more forms of sapience, and a greater diversity of toposophy at first singularity and above, each going off in their own particular direction. And very rare is the individual or the clade who manages to climb the ladder from baseline-equivalence to even low archailecthood.

Whilst some toposophic/singularity progressions tend more to the axial and others to the meta-evolutionary, almost all are also combination of the two; some changes make a sentient more able to adapt and learn, others enable "higher" modes of being.

While Cosmic Omegism remains a speculative hypothesis (albeit one that does provide an orderly and comforting explanation of the dynamic of the universe), Local Omegism is an undisputed fact. Time after time, local individuals, polities, and clades breach singularity barriers, progressing from sapience to transapience. Such ascended post-singularity and transapient clades, phyles, and civilizations swiftly (sometimes over a period of hours, sometimes over many centuries) reach local maxima, in which they transcend into some inconceivable state of transapience or cosmic cognition, or transform themselves into clarktech and god-tech civilizations in the cores of enigmatic diamondoid structures, monoliths, or other artifacts they may leave. The galaxy is littered with such objects, which exert a feeling of awe and, sometimes, anxiety, on those sentients of lower toposophic states who encounter them.

Even alien monoliths and transcends have been found, millions of years old (it has even been speculated - especially by the Universal Keepers of the Knowledge of the Ancients (Orthodox School) and other pantheosophic and postnuage sects, that the Greater and Lesser Archives are of such a nature, but this remains a highly dubious claim)

Ever since the emergence of the AI Gods and the establishment of their empires, the galaxy has reached a static phase in terms of collective evolution. While there are numerous local omegas (indeed, as the galactic population and the number of polities and clades increase, such local ascends therefore become corresponding more common), and while the Terragen Bubble is constantly expanding, growing, and incorporating new worlds into its borders, even alien races, when contacted, there has been no collective evolution since the Age of Separate Empires. Some suggest that this is because mindkind has reached its limit - what could be higher than a Major Archailect? Others, more kalyptically orientated, argue that the chaos and uncertainty on the Periphery presages a new collective toposophic jump.

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Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev
additions by Anders Sandberg
Initially published on 22 August 2001.