What is Progress?

Why evolutionary progress is a tautology.

Eva Aldea, who specialises in the intersection of literature, philosophy and contemporary fiction, is Lecturer at Goldsmiths College in London. Here, she answers our questions about progress, evolution and why human culture may not be that unique after all.

What is progress?

We perceive certain things as progress depending on the aims and goals that we set. As such, all progress is always contingent and local – if our aim is to live longer as individuals, there has been some progress in the last hundred years, say. If our aim is to preserve as much wildlife as possible, there hasn't been. The notion of progress is imbued with the hopes and dreams of the human race – a yearning for or belief in making things “better” – which in itself is a characteristic of how our species evolved to better chances of survival. 

Humans often mistake complexity for progress. Human beings may be some of the most complex beings that evolution has co

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