How Value is a Reality that Has Been Emergent with Evolution

[This is an excerpt from the piece in the “Fateful Step” series titled “Realities that Emerge with the Evolution of the Experiential Realm.”


This present piece will attempt to establish the reality and importance of two more of those dimensions of the human world that are not adequately recognized in the contemporary secular worldview.

Namely, the reality and importance

  • of the “Dimension of Value,” and
  • of “the Spiritual Dimension.”

As will become clear, these two dimensions have much in common:

They are both emergent realities—dimensions of reality that did not exist at all, and that then came into being through the evolutionary process.

Both became real through the emergence of creatures that evolved to have certain experiential capabilities and tendencies.

Those experiential capabilities are selected for because of their survival-enhancing consequences.

It is therefore costly if people understand their world through a worldview that deprives those dimensions of their proper life-serving power because of a failure to recognize their reality and importance.

It is confusion embedded in the secular worldview about things like “objectivity,” and “reality” that results in those two dimensions getting short-changed in parts of our contemporary culture. It is a current of  thought in which if something isn’t “out there,” it isn’t real.

But our experience is real, and properly recognizing what that experience signifies is an essential part of the task of developing our secular worldview so that the destructive forces at work in our world can more effectively be fought and defeated by people empowered by the full strength of their moral and spiritual passions.

The Reality of Value

Perhaps the source of the confusion in our contemporary secular culture about the connection between “objectivity” and “reality” is due to how science – with its objectivity, its investigation of the world from the outside – has proved so powerfully successful in illuminating so much about reality.

Perhaps that’s what has led a lot of people to think that whatever can’t be found “outside” isn’t really real.

But that fundamentally leaves out some of the most important aspects of our reality — crucial dimensions that are real because we experience them.

Like Value.

It’s worth revisiting the argument regarding the reality of value presented previously in How Civilization Inevitably Gives Rise to a “Battle between Good and Evil. It bears repeating not just because of its importance in addressing the moral relativism that is a widespread current in contemporary thinking. But especially in this present context of how important dimensions of reality come into being through the realm of experience – when our experiential realm has been shaped by an evolutionary process that consistently chooses what serves survival over what does not.

In some currents in our secular culture, Value is regarded as “merely subjective.” Reduced to “just a matter of opinion.” You can’t find Value in the cosmos, viewed objectively – so goes the argument — and so it cannot be real.

That way of thinking about Value significantly weakens the ability of the secular culture to muster the power of moral passion. Which is a high cost to pay for a way of thinking that is built upon a logical error: for that reduction in the status of Value shows confusion about both what Value can mean, and what it must mean.

In a lifeless universe, nothing can have Value, because there’s nothing and no one for whom anything is “better” or “worse” than anything else. If there’s nothing to whom anything matters, then it doesn’t – it can’t — matter even if whole worlds are destroyed.

But as soon as there are sentient beings who experience some things as better and some as worse, Value comes into existence. Once there are creatures for whom some experiences are welcome and some experienced negatively, some more fulfilling and some harder to bear, it begins to matter what happens.

That experiential foundation of Value quite naturally will emerge as an effective strategy for Life’s unfolding. Once there are living things of sufficient complexity, there will be creatures that will divide their experiences into those they are motivated to seek out, and those to avoid. And such an evaluative framework will naturally evolve as the fruit of a selective process that sifts through what has proven life-serving or life-destroying in creatures’ ancestral past.

Value, as sentient creatures like humans experience it, denotes both what has objectively tended to be the path to survival and what has subjectively been experienced as Good.

Which means that creatures like humans (but not only humans) have an inborn system of values. And this inborn system of values – however we imagine it to be – is a real part of our creaturely nature. It is grounded in the experiential realm (as value must be). And it serves the vital purpose of motivating us to do what has served the task of survival.

Which means that this inborn system of values is, in some comprehensive way, structured according to life-serving criteria. Value is an important means by which Life defeats death.

It’s true that we’ve undergone a major transformation in the circumstances of our lives since the period when our human ancestors did the great majority of their evolving, most recently as hunter-gatherers. Even at that hunting-gathering stage, though we had become cultural animals, the way of life in which our species evolved was fundamentally continuous with our origins as primate bands.

Civilization changed all that. It wasn’t culture, but civilization that marked the major point of discontinuity in the history of our species’ societies—with transformations in size, structure, means of subsistence. These transformations of the circumstances of human life had implications for the strategies required for human survival.

But, despite the changes wrought in our lives by civilization, it seems that the basic nature of the Human Good – as founded in the experiential realm of us sentient creatures — would have remained the same: human thriving and experiential fulfillment.

And some basic ingredients for our thriving and fulfillment seem pretty certain to have been there all along, and remain still.

If what was fulfilling when we were evolving as hunter-gatherers included a human world where there was peace and not conflict, love and not hate, kindness and not cruelty, intrapsychic harmony and not a psyche at war with itself, etc., it would seem likely that the same basic ingredients would make our lives experientially better and not worse in the changed circumstances of civilization.

Human thriving and fulfillment define the domain of Value, and that domain deserves all the respect we can muster. Value is not only real, it is one of the most important parts of our reality.

The recent history of America – in which Liberal America has lost much ground to “a coherent force that consistently works to make things worse” (and democracy has lost much ground to fascism) – shows how dangerous it is to weaken the power of the moral passions with a worldview that diminishes the status we afford to Value. That illogical belief system (“merely subjective”) weakens the Force of the Good when confronted with something that acts like “a Force of Evil.”

Value matters.

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