Directionality in evolution is the great verboten but we have to wonder if it isn’t hidden in plain sight. The teleology (in a form we can’t depict easily in detail) is obvious behind the disguise: two levels at work, one a larger driver of evolution, and a second operating more randomly to test forms against nature in the small. The latter gives the appearance that evolution is random, but we have to suspect otherwise.
From the Cambrian to the era of Primates seems a short progression compared to the far longer period of one-celled organisms since the dawn of life. We seem to confront precisely the kind of pattern, expanded to a larger scale, that we have seen with the eonic effect, a basic directionality on two levels in the course of development. It is the collation of the two levels that confuses us. This is the great heresy of evolutionary progress, but we suspect the obvious, an evolutionary ratchet effect, and our perspective suggests ‘stepping progression’ would be a better word, in the sense of an effect reaching new successive plateaus where microevolution takes over. This approach preempts the fallacies of teleology by keeping the different levels of action distinct, although directionality in the final analysis is a brand of teleology, save only that we make no statements about a telos, instead looking at the relative motions of successive steps. S. J. Gould, always so critical of the idea of progress, suggested nonetheless the right framework, that of punctuated equilibrium. That idea, however, is not the same as that of natural selection, and should be taken in a generalized and minimal sense, as a descriptive patterning of evidence. In fact this stepping progression is visible at all stages of evolution, from the first step of the origin of life, to the Cambrian, and the emergence of man. We should consider one further such stage, on a tentative basis: