John Stewart’s, “The Meaning of Life in an Evolving Cosmos”

John Stewart is a member of the Evolution, Complexity and Cognition Research Group at The Free University of Brussels, and the author of: Evolution’s Arrow: the direction of evolution and the future of humanity. In his essay “The Meaning of Life In A Developing Universe,” he argues that evolution and meaning should be understood together.

Evolution has produced an organism that has begun to model and understand cosmic evolution, as well as the possible future evolution of life. The models reveal that there is a trajectory to evolution, specifically the increasing scales over which living processes evolve into organized cooperatives. For example, molecular processes were organized into cells; cells into organisms; and human organisms into families, bands, tribes, cities, and nations. Evolution favors cooperation because of the advantages bestowed upon organized cooperatives; in turn larger cooperatives have a greater ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Uninterrupted, this should lead to global and interstellar cooperatives, with a concomitant increase in intelligence that would eventually lead to a nearly omnipotent command of matter and energy.

While the trajectory of evolution has moved largely of its own accord, at some point it will probably continue only if we direct or steer it—an act Stewart calls intentional evolution. Intelligent beings such as ourselves must be committed to intentionally directing evolution, driving the development of life and intelligence even though our ultimate destination is unknown. This transition, from passive recipient to active participator must be taken in order to further evolve. “If humanity goes on to complete this great evolutionary transition, we will have embraced a role that provides meaning and purpose for our existence.”[i]

Summary – The meaning of life is to direct evolution to new heights.


[i] John Stewart, “The Meaning of Life In A Developing Universe,”, 14.

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