on humanism and environmental crisis

Same horde of cavemen 2

The same horde of cavemen 2

 

This essay describes the origin of materialism.

This is interesting but to talk about it we need to make two pretty bold assumptions.

  1. In the evolutionary past, our ancestors were not materialistic- otherwise, we couldn’t talk about “the origin”. Even with the notions that “there is a jungle out there” and “survival of the fittest” the animals do not have the concept of ownership or greed. Their world is the world of behaviors not the world of things. The deeper back we look, this becomes more and more obvious. But it is also true for higher animals and true for early humans and for hunter-gatherers. We shared what we’d got, “feast or famine”, there was nothing to keep.

  2. We have to think about what type of event or change, in which domain, can be a candidate for the ‘trigger”. The brain scientists and paleontologists agree that there must have been a huge leap in development. Many agree that the language made the crucial difference. Other candidates are better tools, extra rich food, and the time to rest and chat, and walking on two feet (bipedality). To me, the history of humanity shows that we usually progress by the change in the mind and then the environment changes accordingly.

         Now, I have no evidence that my hypothesis is true, but it agrees with everything I know about linguistics, child development, early human history, and evolution.

         So, the time is about 50,000 years ago.

In Africa, the hominid experiment continues, over the last 2- 3 million years there were several subspecies of homo- some branches died out in  Africa, some migrated all over the world but eventually all of them (neanderthal and Denisovan will go soon) died out.

       A small group of survivors, the smartest and more fiercely cooperating than other groups are facing more challenges, after Mnt. Tuba eruption  (~66,000 years ago) it is dark, people are hungry and cold. But at the same time, their tools are getting better and they communicate better and better. They slowly migrate north pushed out by bigger and stronger and multiplying faster more primitive hominids. Their number is dwindling, will they reach salmon-rich Mediterranean rivers in time?

       Their babies are few, migration takes a toll on mothers and babies. The whole group takes care of them, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, even brothers, and uncles. Prosocial babies get the best care, they smile, bubble, and play. It is so much to learn now, even in the second year of life they require a lot of care, they spend a lot (comparing to the past and to other groups), a lot of time with adults.

       Their language, even being more rich and sophisticated than other groups, still has a lot of characteristics of animal communications. Remember- the animal brain is created for one sole purpose: to communicate- between sensory and muscles first ( lizard brain), then we add the neurotransmitters and old nuclei ( mammals), then here and there the social systems evolve -and the communications “spillover” to the other organisms of the community. But the content of these communications ( thus the content of the brains) is still the same back to the bacteria: helping organisms make nonrandom choices- that’s it. The brains are the “libraries” of THE DESCRIPTIONS OF USEFUL BEHAVIORS. Other fluff will not get inherited, the competition is tough, the brain tissue is a very, very costly luxury.

In the higher, so-called “eusocial” societies these descriptions can be amazing- bee dance, birds’ astral navigation, chimps coalition forming, elephant’s memories, parrots discussing future menus. But their nature is still the same – all brains have the same functional structure- even if the content is hugely different.

       This creates a “perfect storm scenario”. Suddenly, a little 18-month-old cave-girl comes up to her father, points to the apple, and asks: “What’s that, Daddy?” She asked for the NAME!. The apple’s link to the description of the behavior has been severed, carved out. Better than any deity, from nothing she created something- the thing. As a pediatrician I know little kids well, they are smart, they know emotions, family, their likes, and their needs. They play, they vie for adult attention and they name things. And if an adult listened- suddenly the apple exists separately from eating. (Actually “eating” doesn’t exist per se?). There is no looking back!  The advantages of things! Unlike “eating”-you can have 2 or 4 apples, bigger and smaller, more or less ripe- they do exist. Suddenly your mind manipulates the things around you with ease- like new toys or juggling new skills. From now- on.

The materialism or “The Universe of Things” over the next millennia opened the door for technology, economy, power, and violence. I guess our horde of cavemen made it to the Mediterranean…

Post scriptum: Over the time their language acquired also other important elements ( named much, much later):

     – the concept of reality- the things- what you touch, smell and kick- are steady, unchangeable, real,  while the rest – not so.

      – the concept of “I, you”, and people versus the rest of the Universe, (hence the grammar- my nemesis.)- future “self” or ”soul” or “consciousness”.

      – the concept of Unknown- “figuring things out“ will remain the human’s hallmark of his modus operandi, his pride, joy, awe, and fear. This will be future Religion, Philosophy, and Science.

Post post scriptum : How about “story”? The story is all it is. Much older than things, as old as art, as joy and pain. (also in human development- it is “older-” 4-month-old does peek-a-boo!)

 

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