We Must Evolve

Visual representation of the history of life on Earth as a spiral.

To better the world, humans need to be more intelligent and moral. We must evolve.

In the intellectual realm, we need to utilize technology to augment our intelligence (IA) by any means possible—including education, genetic engineering, biotechnology, and artificial intelligence (AI). We also need to use technology in the moral realm. This includes controversial techniques like implanting moral chips in our brains. What does making ourselves more moral entail? After reading, teaching, and writing about ethics for almost thirty years, it is clear that the answer to this question is controversial.

But I think the essence of morality lies in understanding the benefits of cooperation and the costs of ethical egoism. This is illuminated in the “prisoner’s dilemma (PD),” which reveals that we would all do better and none of us would do worse if we all cooperate. This insight also helps resolve the multi-person PD known as the “tragedy of the commons.” In this version of the dilemma, each acting in their apparent self-interest brings about disastrous consequences for the rest. The effects of situations with the structure of a PD resonates throughout the world in problems as diverse as insufficient public funding, to threats of environmental disaster and nuclear annihilation.

Of course, knowing that we all do better if we all cooperate is undermined by the fact that each does better individually if they do not cooperate regardless of what others do. (At least in the one-time version of the interaction; in the n-person game this solution is not clear.) Hobbes’ solution was coercive governmental power that ensured individuals complied with their agreements. Other solutions include disablement strategies where the non-cooperative move is eliminated. Ulysses having himself tied to the mast of his ship so as not to be seduced by the sirens is an example of disablement. It may be necessary to wire our brains or utilize other technologies so that we must cooperate.

Ideally increasing intelligence and morality would cross-fertilize. As we become more intelligent, we would recognize the rationality of morality.1  We would see that the benefits of mutual cooperation outweigh the benefits of non-cooperation. (This was Hobbes’ insight, we all do best avoiding the state of nature.) As we became more moral, we would understand the need for greater intelligence to assure our flourishing and survival. We would accept that increased intelligence is indispensable to a good future. Eventually, we would reach the higher states of being and consciousness so desired by transhumanists.

But then again we may destroy ourselves.


1. Assuming morality is rational. If it isn’t we’d need another approach such as engineering people to be more sympathetic. Or we could conclude that morality is for suckers and try to kill, imprison, torture or enslave everyone else, like psychopaths want to do.

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3 thoughts on “We Must Evolve

  1. The example of Ulysses is very distinct in that he made a voluntary, and conscious desicion to tie himself to the mast. If we are to implement a technology such as, a moral microchip, would it be immoral to force it on those that may not want it? If we were implanted with such a chip would we then refuse to implant those who would be required to have a chip because we would be eliminating their “free will”?

    Morality is extremely subjective. What someone of Islamic faith finds moral may be quite different than what an American finds moral.

    I agree that our species must continue to evolve if we are to sustain the species, and morality is a factor in that development but, how do we do it so that we are different than the Christian Right that consistently tries to inflict their “morality” on the rest of the country through legislation such as, prohibition of stem cell research. You and I may believe that they are on the wrong side of the morality argument but, they are within their rights to express their version of morality.

    You are absolutely right in surmising that if we all adhered to the Prisoner’s Dilemma and acted in a spirit of cooperation the world would be a better place. Unfortunately, the most effective way to create consensus is through coercion like, Hitler, Stalin, DeLay and Cheney.

    It seems to me that the best way to create a true “moral majority” (I’m really sorry I had to use that term) would be to cultivate a global culture of morality. A “morality chip” would most definitely be a quicker solution, I’m just not sure it would actually be a moral solution.

  2. We need to be more intelligent but less moral; morality needs to be replaced by situational ethics.

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