on humanism and environmental crisis


Materialists and Idealists


In the first part of this essay I made some bold hypotheses and ended up with outrageous promises.

I will repeat then: The niche crisis is in itself not a problem, it is just an inevitable result. Therefore to handle it we have to find the cause. I think that the cause, broadly speaking, is the cognitive dysfunction of our civilization. We can correct this, but in order to do that we need to start with the conversation, maybe even create a new language, new set of metaphors and mythology. This is part 2. 

Part 3 will start the conversation about the promises of the new beautiful world.

I thought that this cognitive dysfunction has to do with the eternal distinction between materialists and idealists. 

I checked a few philosophy texts, some psychology sources and of course: Google. It all left me befuddled. Nothing fitted the bill. 

  1. The philosophy was as always useless; neither early materialists like Democritus and Thales, or late like Marx and Engels were really materialistic, nor idealists like Plato or Hegel were helpful. The primordial sin of our civilization must be somewhere else. 
  2. If it is a sin, maybe the religion would do the trick? Oh, I don’t mean the trick they do with humanity for the last 50 000 years. I mean the elusive distinction of believers vs nonbelievers- i.e. idealists vs materialists. But, no, all of them, fundamentalists, atheists, humanists, all of them want to be good and all are greedy and all want their kids to be successful.
  3. Big psychology- Myer-Briggs tests and others- and folk psychology tell me : materialists are bad (that’s for sure) and unhappy.

-they give babies coca-cola instead of milk.

-they murder to steal money or nice jacket or even sneakers.

-their science is wrong: Newtonian, solid brick and mortar , not relativity and “observer’s Universe”.

– they are behind technology, corporations, gadgets and consumerism.

-among the believers, the materialists are the worst: literal scriptures, real and factual, sacred rights, holy wars and xenophobia.

So, idealists must be good: they live frugally, don’t eat meat, like theater and poetry, hiking, nature, meditation, praying and dancing.


Mahatma Gandhi, Princess Diana, Oprah and Albert Schweizer- 

We need to be like them, but we can’t , why?

All of these famous idealists were driven, obsessed by a humongous overwhelming ideas, usually not very happy, crazy overachievers, rather miserable “I will show them” people. 

We all good normal people cannot be like them, do we actually want our children to be like that?

The research shows that typical materialists and famous rich materialists were not so happy and if they were happy it was the idealist part of them which did it.  Like philanthropy of Rockefeller and Gates. And making material achievements a priority in life actually make self expression and good relationships more difficult.

So, we want our children (and ourselves) to be happy first. Then we have to find the way to be happy without hurting the planet.

These distinctions require thinking. Thinking and discussions and role-modeling.  It looks that it is not switching from materialist to idealist that is necessary- it  would be impossible anyway.

What is necessary and doable is noticing how indoctrinated we are by generations of automatic concepts of success, meaning of life and happiness. Well paying job, good house, fast car and a pretty woman. It is a very one sided picture of the American Dream, which is actually a dream of most of the people in the world.

And how did we get like that?  Evolution and ethology ou secours ! Animals are not materialists, their brains are full of behaviors( for the observer, like Jane Goodall watching her chimpanzees),for them ( say, chimpanzees) they are experiences. The trick is to avoid bad experiences like pain, hunger or fear and maximize good experiences- satiation, control, safety even belonging. Not much different than us, humans. Hominids, also hunter-gatherers, lived in more or less egalitarian societies, where the leader, usually male, possessed very little, except for mates. 

    50 to 10 thousand years ago communication became language. In our search for the origins of materialism, there was one moment that was pivotal. Animals and hominid’s “language” follow their world of experiences. It describes behaviors (experiences), even sometimes complex ones like bees dance, crows teaching children about bad people and butterflies astral navigation, still behaviors. And then, at the toddler stage of our civilization, something happened to humans. I said “toddler” because, as a pediatrician, I observed the same magic hundreds and hundreds of times. A 15 month old human infant is a pretty complex being. She can talk a little, but she understands a lot, she knows her surroundings, she even mastered the skill called “object permanence”. She knows pretty much how the world around  works, what is anger and fear and sadness, the hunger and the bliss of cuddling with mom. But, your dog or even a crow in your yard can do all of these. And then, out of blue, your child will point to the pineapple on the table: “What’s that , Daddy?”

And an abyss opened, a huge difference between humanity and all known sentient and artificial beings. Only humans can ask for the name of an object not related to any function or behavior.


   Interestingly, more or less at the same time we developed society with haves and have nots, and having was better, and the thing to have to be on the top were, well, things. What was first, naming objects or materialistic society? I don’t know, but what is important is that it happened recently, materialism is not in our genes. 

     We need another renaissance chapter in our civilization. With our technology and advances in knowing the human mind we can make a better renaissance than the original Italian One. A mixture of materialism, idealism, humanism and all what is needed to take care of this planet. We can do it, but it will take new conversation on being authentic, on working on one’s personal unique worldview and on creating unique , personal mythology. James P. Carse in the “The religious case against belief” argues for this conversation, for questioning. It is what the real religious people ( read: happy, authentic, mature) do- reject belief, use the paradigm and language of their religion just for one, but all important purpose – to question the world. To find the meaning, the worldview, the happiness. Well, not to find, to journey on finding it.


     This conversation, this work will lead to a new curriculum, more on that unknown black hole in Part 3.

Niche crisis II

Initial version published in December 2019, this is new, expanded form.



Niche crisis.


Part 1. Niche crisis is caused by our cognitive dysfunction.


When the ship is sinking and there is water in its bottom we send crew to pump the water out. The more the water is pouring in, the more pumping is needed, right? Obviously, no. We need to find the hole in the hulk, repair it and it is how we save the ship and ourselves.

I believe that the ship is sinking and we are busy at the pumps.


When you look at your world you see your environment. But when you look from outside, as an observer, at any species, it has its niche – the resources, climate, food, other members of the species, predators, anything that influences its evolutionary fitness. It is why I prefer the term “niche crisis”.

We need this “observer” look, seeing ourselves as species, the last surviving of six other hominids. The one which got almost extinct several times, last one only 50 000 years ago ( if you forget 1962 ). And our niche, which pretty well fits Planet Earth, is getting weaker again. Even if population growth is slowing down- only 9 billions by 2050, the number of people pulled out of poverty/subsistence life into the “consumer’s  circle” is growing rapidly and I hope will continue to grow. So, the resources like clean air, diverse forests, clean water, good soil, fish and plankton-rich oceans are dwindling, especially for these new consumers. And the just feeling of injustice and social conflicts fostered by our wonderful global brain gets worse.

  So, the ship is sinking, for sure, even if some of my gloomy pictures might be controversial, but not all of them, for goodness sake. And there is no “time as usual” or chinese “wheel theory” as evidenced by millions and millions of good, young, smart people, who are “at the pumps”. Recycling, electric cars, solar panels, vegetarianism, planting trees, all these are heartwarming.

    Let’s keep pumping, as a compromise, and to feel good and keep troops morale high, but we have to find and repair the hole. Find the crisis cause while trying to slow down the disastrous results

 For the last 30 years I have been studying evolution and for the last 10 years I have been studying people’s personal  worldviews. 

    This part comes from a textbook of evolution, so if you don’t believe in evolution, you can switch to intelligent design text or just prey. Historically this maneuver has a lot of sense, but if you feel intellectually adventurous- here it is. 

     Every species survives by expanding its niche. More food sources, more diversity of the environment which the organisms can adapt to means more babies and more sex. The stronger the niche the more energy from the sun the species absorbs and utilises. This energy during the evolutionary mechanisms  is transformed into complexity, creating stronger bodies, brains and stronger social life. You noticed very broad strokes, but the only difference for humans is that the complexity is called the culture or civilization and the animal’s urge to survive and to mate is called wanting to be happy. 


      And this is our ticket. We have to strengthen our niche otherwise we’ll get extinct.

Our ticket is our culture- we are conscious, thinking, observing our own demise.

We have to pivot and we can do it. We can’t keep attempting to be happy by getting complexity (strength of the niche)from consuming the planet’s dwindling resources. We can figure out how to be happy by getting different types of complexity. We can learn and teach our children- this is a matter of a generation, of a new curriculum.


People’s lives will improve. The improvement will involve more and more people and the resources will be spared. The economies will shrink materially, but the acces and the use of carbon neutral experiences will expand exponentially. This is the only way, otherwise the suffering of millions will ensue. The human capacity is apparent from my work on the worldviews. I read them, work with them and I am amazed: everybody writes about peace, meaningful relationships and love of nature and beauty. We have to follow our idealistic worldviews. We want this, we just need to be taught how to get it. What for Teilhard de Chardin  was a nebulous Omega Point (literally pie in the sky) for us might be a desperate survival maneuver.


There will be two complementary essays – the sequels to this one. 

Part 2 : Materialists and idealists. I will attempt to find them, find them now and find them in the past. Where did they come from and where did they go?

Part 3 : I will look into the future, into a new curriculum to build a new society. This utopia is unlike well known, worn and failed  utopias of spiritual and moral perfection. We will teach our children,( and grass root movement sprouts already everywhere,) to be happy without abusing the planet. Their life, in contrast to the prediction for the year 2050, will be more exciting and rich than ours. They will have more than we have, but no more gadgets or power. They will have more love and friendship. More creativity, fun, discovery and beauty.

 They will be idealists.

Open letter to all humanists.

This is an open letter to all humanists and this is a great majority of all humans. Most of them do not realize that they are humanists. I want to bring this fact to the open : the King is Naked! The term and the meaning of humanism has been hijacked. Most of us are rational, educated and concerned with human problems( including personal, family and tribe problems). But many of us are still working on the childhood fears of the unknown. We think that if we stick to material, scientific or scriptural, “factual” Universe – we will be safe and if we manage to suppress and deny the unknown- we would win.

It is why in my town of Chattanooga, Tennessee,  a group of 20 or 30 ex-baptists or ex-catholics (like me) huddle every month for the Humanist Assembly meeting. It is how we try to handle the fear of the unknown. Next door in hundreds of churches, few synagogues and mosques hundreds of thousands faithfuls respond to this group by desperate or happy clinging to the religious way to handle the unknown.

The more we resist, the more they persist. But we are the species created by evolution! Like in every species, handling unknown is an essential part of survival. Every stupid animal knows it. Cavemen knew it, medieval men knew it-see all these cathedrals- the renaissance men knew it- read Shakespeare!  The imagination, the art, the poetry and the divine- they are all part of the unknown and of the beautiful and awesome human nature, human myth. Also the competition, arrogance, naivety and cruelty – you pick, literally.

The origin of species was described 250 years ago, but it is not in our bones yet, not in our deep, deep worldview.

Get it! Celebrate the unity of man, his creativity and achievements. Not a second too early. Stop fighting! Instead, try to understand and work together on our fears, on the fears of each of us. The ship is sinking (remember The Tempest?), we are the last hominids remaining. Our ancestors survived  several threats of extinction and almost extinction. The scientism like religions make us tiny, helpless, divided and..wrong. The evolutionary thinking shows clearly how over millions of years we created and named all we can see. We can, this time not by luck, but by reason, duck, sneak out and survive again.

Humanists of the world unite!




I am reading “Genesis” by E.O. Wilson. I love him for the last forty years since I read “Sociobiology”one of the first books in English , while working in The Gambia and learning about the West. Then ” Consilience” and then “On Human Nature”- he is the closest to the mentor- virtual mentor- I never had a “real” one.

Now, putting together my notes, (I have actually finished the book), I see this text in triplicate. I see Wilson’s problem, similar to modern human’s problem, similar to evolutionary trick which created homo sapiens.

Wilson knows more than any human I know, mostly about ants and other insects, some about other animals, and humans. But he is a hard nose materialist, scientist numb and deaf  to the language of unknown.

The same with modern humans, we forgot how to evolutionary benefit from two languages we have learn, one- the language of science, Newtonian logic, materialism and money. Other – the language of divine, poetry, love and empathy. To survive we have to combine both, tertium non datur.

It was the trick which created us, we have to use it again to survive.

The insight came in two steps. First i was reading about  ants , wasp ant termites ( the cousins of cockroaches!) They built eusociality, incredible empires with the intricate system of members programmed to forgo own benefits for the mother queen. These were genetic traits, they strengthened the colony expressed by members instinct and  pheromones and neurotransmitters. But at what a cost !- the cost of rarity- the more formidable these societies are – the fewer of them exist. And this is the evolutionary  no- no, the dead end. With rarity you have no chances for diversity- thats it, finito.

My old concepts of mechanisms of evolution helped me with the second step.


The evolution works  via diversity, complexity and the third element, how to call it? – biomass?  or sheer number of organisms, amount of energy absorbed. All three interrelated, all increase the chances of species survival.

The diversity- a major genetic system is preserved at the expense of he minor variations (skin color) producing phenotypes still interbreeding but improving species niche, energy intake.

The complexity- A. the quality of the description of the behavior to be encoded or remembered. the quality of organism’s Umwelt, the system of senses, memories and feelings- it is what we call- outside World.

B.  sociality, system of competition versus cooperation, group selection, the texture of relationships, altruistic group beats selfish group (  David Sloane Wilson)- working for some ants, wasps bees, termites and hominids.

The number, size of the niche, biomass- balances the cost of above elements increases the chances of rare and difficult things to occur.  More often than not it fails and species is extinct, despite being the “good prospects”- the Neanderthals, the dinosaurs, the whales ( almost extinct).

Each route , as we see is expensive, so wouldn’t be just peachy to combine all?

Quite a few systems combines  3 of 4 ways to survive, but the problem was that the tools for complexity- A. and B. -they compete.  A uses vision, sound, ultrasound to describe Umwelt, B. uses chemicals (pheromones), neurotransmitters , electricity- (chakras??) and other senses- smell, and touch. Evolutionary dead end.

Only humans  developed system of combining all 4 elements within one noncompeting but self enhancing system.

It happens when the description of the Umwelt  (A) had to include the description of the elements of (B) eusociality.  Unidirectional communications – orders, warnings, grooming, dominance, even stories did not need to use so much of the “shortcuts” or “grammar”. The Theory of Mind- sure, animals have it, your dog knows  well what you think, but when the toddler tells his friend: “you do it” and the friend answers , “no, you do it”, this is language.

Only when the mother started to teach this ( above) more and more complicated material to  older and older infant the switch occurred. The infant responded IN LANGUAGE, the oxitocin, the love, however you call it, precluded her from ignoring the invention of the communications reciprocity, the relationship did it, and the rest is  history.

To repeat, there is the chance, small chance, in our dwindling niche, for us not to ignore similar situation. To survive (again, remember last 10 000 sapiens leaving Africa?) we need to combine the language of the Umwelt  description, science, materialism with the language of eusociality –  unknown (poetry or spirituality), experience,  empathy.





Niche crisis

Niche crisis (this essay has new, expanded version as Niche crisis II)


This species is on the brink of extinction. Each species survival relays on the quality of its niche. The resilience of the species depends on ability to adapt to environmental changes. The organisms, members of a species, use energy to build size of the niche , diversity and complexity. 

 Human’s niche is shrinking , diversity is dwindling and the complexity is built to drive these processes  instead of protecting niche and diversity. Quality of life is rapidly decreasing: people are frightened, worried, angry, impoverished physically, emotionally and intellectually.

  This happened before to many other species and they were extinct, including all six species of earlier humans.

  But only our species can observe this happening. 

Can we use this unique fact to  reverse the trend?


I will never know, my children might, my grandchildren will know for sure.


To survive we need stop fighting- we need to conquer out tribalism, nationalism and religious divides.


To survive we need recognise our unity as a species, as a group of fellow travellers on the same leaking boat, develop friendships, admiration to each other and learn how to cooperate.


To survive we have to quit being materialistic, learn ourselves   and teach our children from the crib to cherish and be happy with experiences not with things, 


To survive we need to shrink our world population and our economies, develop new education system with emphasis on humanities, art, music , theater and philosophy.

Earth Charter

Ecohumanist Lab officially endorses Earth Charter. Everybody should too, we are a sinking ship and we have to unite under the guidance of UN and science to save this wonderful but still foolish species of Homo Sapiens.



          I think we, humans and other beings on Earth, are in the center of the Universe. We are in the center of our Universe and this is the only Universe that exists. It is important to ponder this as if it is really so, it brings a lot of the responsibility to us, humans, as the squirrels and dolphins , as pretty and smart they are, they won’t help much.

As a philosopher, I think that the solution for the present pickle will come from the maturing of the human mind rather than from more successes in the technology. As would Einstein put it -“no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

     An idea that we are in the center of the Universe seems like the fine place to start from! The argument usually involves astronomy and physics . The theologians, after the setbacks handed by Copernicus, Darwin and raging capitalism are trying to side with science to regain some respectability. They are conspicuously absent from the fry.

       But I am a pediatrician, for Goodness Sake!

Well, for the last 50 years I was playing with babies. I was watching them, talked to them and studied their development. I was studied the similarities and the differences in their thinking and feeling as compared to primates and other simpler animals. And the idea of us being the center of the Universe came straight from the evolutionary neuroscience and developmental pediatrics.

Every behavior that benefits an organism’s evolution has to be communicated and encoded.  The speed of the evolution is uneven. The traits/ behaviors which relay on body changes are slow, but the ones relaying on communication are fast.  The more complex, the  smarter you get, the faster  you get even smarter. Your brain is  better, your society is more complex, you communicate faster.  Your brain, your synapses evolving on the neck-break speed starting to get shortcuts. When you start communicating with shortcuts, these are words. So you start to relay  on them, there is more and more to teach an infant, which become smarter and smarter.  Soon they become speakers, for these exchanges you need  grammar and then language. So these communications which started with the simple descriptions of a beneficial behavior (swim towards warmth) now name actions, feelings, reasons and most amazing – THINGS. We teach infants these words and they see them as independant of communication , independent from language.

      Every animal’s brain evolved to fine tune this animal’s behavior in given environment. To perceive, to see, to understand, to adapt, this for an animal is the same thing. It is what an animal does, without splitting it into categories. The animal’s world  (Nagel’s “What it is like to be a bat” will not tell you much…) is very different that mine and yours. It is not subjective and it is not objective- there is no self to make this distinction. It is obviously dependent on the observer (the animal itself), made by the animal’s peculiar, primitive perception and memory, but it is out there. Birds’ migration shows that they can coordinate complex actions, but the sharing is automatic, not via intentional communications. So, the animal’s world is outside, around the each animal, built mostly over the eons of the evolutionary time, with just a little of it built during the life of the animal- to allow for diversity beneficial for the species survival, the world of behaviors. Even if the evolution created homo sapiens with the vastly improved brain, the communications ability, and thinking skills, each of us still builds his or hers personal world, with the Universe getting bigger and bigger around us. So, again, an young infant, with minimal activity of cortex, the human baby has the world out there, instinctual and emotional. But, unlike the animals, human infant rapidly activates upper limbic centers and prefrontal cortexes. The rich social communications add to the world of behaviors two new worlds: the world of language and the world of things. The world of behaviors enables the world of language, the world of language enables the world of things, but there is a huge difference between the first and the last two of them. The world of behaviors (shared with the animals) surrounds each baby, (each animal ) making, her own Universe (Umwelt) but the worlds of language and things are shared with other human beings, they feel like floating outside and independent of us! This transition happens around 6 to 9 month of age in infants, this make them cranky and confused, they can’t sleep, suddenly clinging to mom. Psychologists call this the development of the object permanence, I call it losing of the object impermanence, or even better – entering from My Universe into the strange Universe which is Nobody’s- it is just there.


     Now imagine 7 billion personal worlds all mingled, shared, interconnected. Then add 14 billions of the mom’s and dad’s worlds which were the base of the each of our personal worlds, add all the ancestors’ worlds, further and further back in time.  All sentient beings contributed to the process of building subsequent generations of personal worlds.

  Space, time and other dimensions are products of this complex masterpiece. The main function of the evolving animal’s nervous system is to create understanding, in other words -the cognition (the way for control). And this works through categorizing, naming, creating semantic shortcuts, the metaphors.

According to the Gaia hypothesis, kind of similar to my philosophy, the interconnected sentient beings create super intelligence, like interconnected neurons and dendrites, create the conscious brain. To me, these connections  between humans are mostly related to ancestors via genes and culture via instincts and the core of human nature. These connections make possible for each of us to become conscious and create a meaningful world.

During the last 80 years, science and philosophy are grappling with the explanation of the observed vs observer dilemma. From Bohr and Einstein to Maturana and Varela and Thompson , the concept of observer-built reality is gaining ground. See also Archibald John Wheeler’s Participatory Universe and Anthropic principle debates.

And, of course, about 100 000 years ago, the culture and the technology for the practical reasons developed “the agreement universe” so we could hunt the mastodon or build the bridge or a spaceship. The other names for this are “nobody’s universe” or “reality”.


My world which is interconnected with 7 billions of “you’s” and it was built by our ancestors and the ancestors of ancestors down to the beginning of life..

You are in the exactly same situation, these are all assets we have, and if we are not extremely careful, we are going to blow them out in the nuclear holocaust. Or starve slowly, take your pick.

After the last human dies, a computer in some deep bunker will still continue to churn out data revealing new “discovery” based on Cosmic Microwave Background measurements.

 But it will be no CMB, this term will become completely meaningless. And it will not matter whether the report is in English, Arabic or Chinese. If there is nobody to read it, there is no CMB, period.

Really, see- “micro” means nothing, “wave” means nothing, “back” means nothing – there is no front so can not be back, there is no “ground” and no “cosmic”.

OK, you say “ let’s continue this story, and in a million years, the aliens discover this planet and this computer printout”… Not so fast: you can not discover anything if there is no concept of “discovery”. There are no years if there is no spring and winter, and if nobody is born and dies , the time is meaningless and useless. Without the human, there is even no story.

Yes. We are the center of the Universe.

    We are the only observers of the world. Naturally the world is fine tuned for humans (the Anthropic Problem) if they invented the measurements accordingly. And while animals’ world of behaviors occurs in time and space, only the humans with their worlds of language and things named them and are aware of them. We also invented the science that tells us, that we live as a tiny, insignificant specs, on the small planet, on the periphery of the remote galaxy, with the huge, cold, unknown cosmos around us. Some scientists are trying to cheers us up, like Primack and Abrams in “The view from the center of the Universe” and Tom Yulsman in “Origins”. They made it worse, their wishy -washy argument and wishful thinking goes from reassurance that our size is just right (sic!) to the hope that future science will alleviate our wretchedness to stating that the Universe does not have the center, therefore we can not be off it.

But while the scientists still ( and will forever ) argue, this should not make us feel like the insignificant specs, excused to be helpless and small, waiting for the creator to help us, please!

We are at the center of human experience, as we are building personal and interconnected worlds, the Universe consists of. We are responsible for it and every of us 7 billion, matters.