“Ultimately, evolutionary values will be perceived and defined and will provide the basis for human values.” — Jonas Salk
The accumulated and integrated gains in science, technology and human culture have generated a new period of evolution, the postgenetic era.
In postgenetic evolution, the accelerating expansion of our species’ knowledge base has taken humanity beyond being mere DNA-transport vehicles. We now have the capacity to consciously build on evolution’s engineering by multiple means:
1) We can manipulate DNA.
2) We can manipulate culture, affecting gene expression.
3) We can manipulate cultural selection (the aggregate of our cultural choices across numerous domains), significantly affecting natural selection.
Complexity and Coding
Coding appears elemental to the evolutionary process of complexification. For example, the advent of the genetic code increased complexity on Earth.
Humans have consistently added coding to help navigate increases in cultural complexity. Cultural coding seems to have evolved along the following lines. Moral sentiments such as justice, sharing and revenge, embedded in the genetic code, were in play in early human tribal groupings. These sentiments provided the foundation for moral codes that evolved in the tribal cultures of hunter-gatherers, followed by religious codes that sought to attribute causative agents to various events like floods, good and bad hunts and disease.
The development of agriculture accelerated cultural complexification with the formation of larger population aggregates like villages and towns, prompting the generation of religious moral coding. As cultural complexity continued with the expansion of technology and trade, legal coding and later, software coding, were added.
With our exponentially expanding population and technology, we’ve reached another level of cultural complexity with considerable impact on natural selection. Our current cultural coding does not account for this impact. I’m arguing that we need to add a new level of coding: a postgenetic code.
Reality seems to be, simultaneously, noun and verb and simultaneously information and processor of information. For example, an apple is a particular information set and simultaneously, continuously processes the information of its interaction with other information sets such as water, minerals and stomach acids.
Coding is information that can generate the formation of other distinct information sets and simultaneously, accelerates the processing of information among information sets.
For example, the legal code that murder is a punishable cultural offense (a legal code built on top of genetic, moral and religious codes that view murder as a negative event) can generate the formation of additional information sets like witness interviews and a trial. That the legal code of murder is in place accelerates the processing of information on how to proceed with “murder information.” The killer is sought. There isn’t a town meeting asking if killing is bad or if something should be done about the murder. That information has already been processed and is inherent in the code.
Our species has begun to significantly alter its relationship with DNA and natural selection. A postgenetic code can help us navigate this new level of complexity by establishing goal, value, and operational criteria for these rapidly evolving relationships. A postgenetic code would be an over-arching code that utilizes and integrates genetic, social, moral, religious, legal and software codes within it, while adding to them.
For example, establishing a range for the Earth’s carrying capacity of humans might be part of a postgenetic code, given that our numbers increasingly impact both natural and cultural selection. We need to, where applicable, have a new code that adds strength to our previous codes in overriding or at least tempering some of our genetic coding.
And, yes, with respect to population, we’re already taking action via methods like contraceptives and family planning, but these are not tied into a cohesive, well-articulated code consciously integrated with cultural and natural selection. Hence these steps, while important, are not particularly effective in generating a sustainable carrying capacity. A postgenetic code could accelerate sustainable action on manifold fronts such as population, species extinction, climate change and weapons of mass destruction.
A postgenetic code would augment our ability to navigate the exponentially accelerating complexification found across the increasingly integrated domains of cultural, technological and biological evolution by providing us with a structured, standardized-yet-evolving, pan-cultural, selection-based orientation to reality.
As the evolution of the cultural, technological and biological domains continues and the membranes of the nation-state (and the individual human-state) become more integrated and permeable, a postgenetic code would serve as a values-and-goals point of reference, assisting and accelerating the movement from the DNA-generated individual-state and nation-state self-interests to a more functional and adaptive comprehension of our mutual and global selection-based interests. Perhaps, perhaps not.
The development of a postgenetic code is an attempt to provide a structural basis for identifying, creating and accelerating the implementation of positive variations of cultural selection, while acknowledging the current limits of such selection due to the nature and complexity of human beings, our manifold forms of culture and the limits of our understanding of the still greater, all-encompassing complexity we call reality.
Acknowledging and accepting our species’ engagement with the postgenetic era is adaptive and, I submit, necessary for our well being . . . unless that big meteor hits.
Adapt baby, adapt.