Robert Wright (1957 – ) is a journalist, and prize-winning author of books about evolutionary psychology, science, religion, and game theory. He is a graduate of Princeton University, where he has taught courses on the evolution of religion.
In Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, Wright argues that biological and cultural evolution are shaped and directed primarily by non-zero-sumness—a concept in game theory that describes situations where both parties involved in an interaction can gain something. (As opposed to zero-sum games where one party’s gain is the other party’s loss, that is, the sum is zero.) As a result of the interactions between individuals in non-zero sum situations, increasingly complex information-processing individuals who cooperate more readily with each other emerge, implying that we are here because of a process that made the evolution of intelligent beings likely. As the complexity of individuals and societies increases, their ability to reap the rewards of cooperation increases, thus perpetuating further cooperation and developmental complexity.
Most of Wright’s book summarizes the biological and cultural development which follows almost by necessity from non-zero sum interactions. However, at the end of his book, Wright intimates that we may be on the threshold of developing a global consciousness along the lines suggested by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a thinker we will discuss later. This leads him to wonder if there is any spiritual or moral directionality in evolution, and ultimately to the question of whether such progress is connected with the meaning of life. The connection, as Wright sees it, resides in the fact that consciousness imparts meaning.
A strictly empirical analysis of both organic and cultural evolution … reveals a world with direction—a direction suggestive of purpose … Life on earth was, from the beginning, a machine for generating meaning and then deepening it, a machine that created the potential for good and began to fulfill it.[i]
Summary – An analysis of biological and cultural evolution suggest a purposeful direction toward more meaning and goodness.
[i] Robert Wright, Non-Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny (New York: Vintage, 2001), 331