Purpose of evolution is evolving


If the work we do creates our cities, and if, as individuals, we lose our sense of purpose in our work, so do our cities.  If we lose track of where we are going, then the very cities we build that support us on our journey have lost track too.

Last week I started to post “book bits” from Chapter 5 – Destination Alive or Adrift, with these key questions:

  • What is the role of ‘purpose’ in a city?
  • What makes a city alive?
  • How can we tell when we are adrift?
  • How does the purpose of our individual work connect to the purpose of the city?
  • How, exactly, does our work matter?
Before diving into these questions, a quick touch on purpose and its relationship to evolution.

The work we do is powered by improvement, what we are aiming for when we “scratch the itch”, when we choose to look for ways to fix what is bothering us, or what could simply be better.  We have a drive to improve the quality of our lives. Steve McIntosh, in his new book Evolution’s Purpose, sheds some light on this phenomenon.

We are moved to improve our conditions and this takes place in a self-other dialectic:

…as we are moved to make things better, we inevitably encounter the ever-present dialectic of self and other, which shows up whenever we set out to improve our conditions (p. 154).

We pursue self-improvement and give to wider community:

…our ability to grow and continuousely make things better is predicated on the pursuit of both self-improvement and the giving of ourselves to the larger community (p. 154).

An evolutionary influence is at work:

…as we increasingly experience and understand this developmental impetus, we can perhaps sense that we are encountering an ancient and even sacred influence.  This is an evolutionary impulse, the ultimate source of creativity in the universe (p. 155).

McIntosh makes the case that “grow and thrive as individuals over the long term, we not only have to take care of ourselves, we also have to provide service to something larger than ourselves (p. 154).”  The dialectic between what our current state and the one we desire, akrasia, takes place with another critical dialectic, that of the relationship between individuals and the collective.

The role of science and philosophy, and even spirituality, are explored at length by McIntosh. I refer anyone interested in the argument that evolution has a purpose to McIntosh’s work; it is well laid out.

For this post, it suffices to note that evolution has a purpose of some kind that is co-created by the agency of humanity. Since cities are our creation, they are part of this dynamic. In fact, one of the forms of the individual-collective dialectic described by McIntosh is the relationship between citizen and city.

As we dive into exploring the destination of our city journey, this realization, by McIntosh, is essential:

… as we are moved by evolution, as we growing our ability to experience and create intrinsic value, we come to see how the purpose of evolution itself is still evolving – it cannot be discerned with finality because it is still in the process of being determined by the beings whose choices are required for its creation (emphasis mine, p. 161).

We don’t know where exactly we are going, but we have a hand in where we are going. We don’t know exactly where we will go with our cities, but we have a hand in where they will take us.

Where do we choose to go?

If our work shapes where we go, what work do we choose?



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This post forms part of Chapter 5 – Destination Alive or Adrift, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Click here for an overview of Chapters 4-7 (Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence). Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.

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