on humanism and environmental crisis

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 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.

 

Writing it down

Writing it down

In The Republic, the utopian society created by Plato is supposed to eliminate poets. The poetry represented the oral culture, the social communication system  where the messages were bound to the messenger and the social function. Plato ideas opened road to the one of the biggest inventions of the mankind : the literacy. The poets were the symbol of oral culture, subjective, emotional, community based. By introducing the ideas of literacy , Plato’s new society was supposed to be more objective, analytic, individuality based. What followed was the birth of Information, the message which is the thing, can be stored, interpreted, modified and multiplied.

Well, this has been happening over last 3000 years, a blink of the eye in the evolutionary time.

It is why we live in the world of information ( and dis -information), but we still think the way the caveman did.

Everything you know about yourself, your all mental structures, the values and purposes live in your world as if the literacy revolution would have not happened. The memories, the worries, the opinion are all in the oral or even pre-linguistic form.

It is why the working on the writing down your personal worldview is so awkward, difficult and “unnatural” but also so important. Your personal worldview is truly transformative work, you will change how you think about yourself but even more importantly how you live in society.

 

And if following the celebrities many people will do it, the world would become more rational and thoughtful- more mature.

My 2018 Humanist Manifesto

My 2018  Humanist Manifesto

 

There is confusion and no consensus regarding who we are.

We are good people concerned with dire problem of humanity and trusting human nature being up to handle them.

We are responsible for this planet and to save it we have to stop fighting and put all our minds and hearts into the survival of our species and our environment.

The old “liberty, equality and fraternity” will lead to cooperation and democratic societies. The diversity is the base of our strength, not a reason to fight. These include nationalities ,religions, ethnic minorities, life styles, sexes, skin colors, education, wealth and worldviews.

We humanists explore human’s three major strengths – our hope against terrible odds of societal regression and extinction .

1. We have the ability to communicate, share our knowledge, love, empathy, and suffering.

2. We use the wisdom and achievements of the past, the mythology and science, to handle the problems of the present.(homo historicus)

3. We are curious, imaginative and intelligent with the passion for the success and happiness

We trust wisdom of religions but we distrust the magic part of religions.

We trust technology of science but we distrust materialistic philosophy of many scientists.

We trust evolution and progress but we distrust modern culture of material greed and violence.

We believe that all these principles are consistent with evolutionary built human nature, its intellectual, emotional and social characteristics.

We cherish beauty, art, music, humor and critical thinking – teaching them to our children is our main goal.

We believe in transcendent and sacred:

  1. The Mother and the Child ( the life, the birth)- our Christmas or Winter Solstice Holiday.
  2. The Love for the family, the friendship and the happiness- our Thanksgiving Holidays
  3. The ancestors and the peaceful death (completion)- our All Saints Day
  4. Human suffering and life -our Easter or Spring Holidays.
  5. The Love for Nature and animals – our vegetarian Harvest Holidays.
  6. The love for democracy, equality and societal transcendent bond- our Independence Holiday

These are the examples coming from the european, christian traditions, and while for muslim, jewish, african and asian people the names and dates will change – the sacred will remain.

If you too hold these part of human culture sacred, if you share these values -you are a humanist.

Notes and explanation from an evolutionary humanist.

You may replace the term “sacred” with the “important” but then the question arises “how important”. I like the term sacred because it emphasize the fact that we are idealists and we not afraid of concept and values that we can not fully understand or explain. These values are from the evolutionary perspective older than the concepts of personalised deity as animal, the sun, the omnipotent person. The confirmation of that sequence comes from anthropology, mythology, eastern philosophies and the interfaith movements.

How much are we ready to fight and sacrifice for these values? It differs from person to person but we should  never be violent or should the conflict dehumanise the opponent.

We also cringe in front of the concepts of “savior”, “creator” and “fatherland” as they, in our opinion, decrease the chances for saving our species and to create a peaceful and happy world.

     We observe this world and as observers it feels that we are the most complex system, but any other observer, like a whale or a squirrel would have the same feeling (without language and self reflection). On the other hand the concept of complexity is pure human invention, so even without language this comparison doesn’t make sense.( the same with the concepts of intelligence, magnificence, power or wisdom).

     The concept of intelligence in our understanding is related to the complexity of logical networks -biological or artificial. The artificial intelligence is still the human intelligence, no matter how much self learning it can accomplish unless we’d learn how to teach robots of the depth of our evolutionary past or the subconsciousness. The non-human intelligence to develop would have to repeat exactly eons of earth environment changes, the niches twists and turns and consequently repeat the exact  our pattern of the evolution which seems impossible. These concepts are species specific, Umwelt -specific. It is why breeding is so rare across the species. And in traditional human societies the cousins are the best mates , “the closest to share my world”.

I think that this concept of humanism works the best with the evolutionary theory and the theory of the evolutionary reality.