on humanism and environmental crisis

Archive for the ‘Explicit and implicit worldview’ Category

Why humanistic worldview?

Why the humanistic worldview is the best stance to survive the environmental crisis.

Amsterdam Declaration, Humanist Manifesto 2022 is such a concise and thoughtful document that we should start by quoting it.

1. Humanists strive to be ethical

  • We accept that morality is inherent to the human condition, grounded in the ability of living things to suffer and flourish, motivated by the benefits of helping and not harming, enabled by reason and compassion, and needing no source outside of humanity.
  • We affirm the worth and dignity of the individual and the right of every human to the greatest possible freedom and fullest possible development compatible with the rights of others. To these ends, we support peace, democracy, the rule of law, and universal legal human rights.
  • We reject all forms of racism and prejudice and the injustices that arise from them. We seek instead to promote the flourishing and fellowship of humanity in all its diversity and individuality.
  • We hold that personal liberty must be combined with a responsibility to society. A free person has duties to others, and we feel a duty of care to all of humanity, including future generations, and beyond this to all sentient beings.
  • We recognize that we are part of nature and accept our responsibility for the impact we have on the rest of the natural world.

2. Humanists strive to be rational

  • We are convinced that the solutions to the world’s problems lie in human reason and action. We advocate the application of science and free inquiry to these problems, remembering that while science provides the means, human values must define the ends. We seek to use science and technology to enhance human well-being, and never callously or destructively.

3. Humanists strive for fulfillment in their lives

  • We value all sources of individual joy and fulfillment that harm no other, and we believe that personal development through the cultivation of creative and ethical living is a lifelong undertaking.
  • We, therefore, treasure artistic creativity and imagination and recognize the transforming power of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts. We cherish the beauty of the natural world and its potential to bring wonder, awe, and tranquility. We appreciate individual and communal exertion in physical activity, and the scope it offers for comradeship and achievement. We esteem the quest for knowledge, and the humility, wisdom, and insight it bestows.

4. Humanism meets the widespread demand for a source of meaning and purpose to stand as an alternative to dogmatic religion, authoritarian nationalism, tribal sectarianism, and selfish nihilism

  • Though we believe that a commitment to human well-being is ageless, our particular opinions are not based on revelations fixed for all time. Humanists recognize that no one is infallible or omniscient and that knowledge of the world and of humankind can be won only through a continuing process of observation, learning, and rethinking.
  • For these reasons, we seek neither to avoid scrutiny nor to impose our view on all humanity. On the contrary, we are committed to the unfettered expression and exchange of ideas, and seek to cooperate with people of different beliefs who share our values, all in the cause of building a better world.
  • We are confident that humanity has the potential to solve the problems that confront us, through free inquiry, science, sympathy, and imagination in the furtherance of peace and human flourishing.
  • We call upon all who share these convictions to join us in this inspiring endeavor.

Nice, huh?

For the first time, stringing the line of past manifestos, this one uses the term “worldview”. It is a relief: “I am not a humanist, or not only a humanist, I just have a humanistic worldview. I can be many things at once, including a disappointed Catholic boy, deep in my guts.”

I am a humanist, I have a humanistic worldview. It is a big difference, isn’t it? Unlikely “being a Catholic versus Catholic worldview”, no humanist objects. 

With religion it is not enough – you need to be it!

While this manifesto is the most rational, intellectual, and objective description of humanism, at the same time it brings its origins, and motivation to the primordial instinct, and is “grounded in the ability of living things to suffer and flourish”. Our morality, instead of divine scriptures, comes straight from human nature, where else?

And religious people holler at this moment:” Aha*, Gotcha!” And: “ Which human nature? The morality of caveman? Or Marks’, or Lenin’s? God forbid!”

Really, can you sacrifice, and fight to defend “human nature”?

This is the crux (pardon the pun) of the matter. How can you base all your philosophy on something so elusive and controversial as human nature? No surprise that there are fewer humanists in the US than snake-handling and tongues-speaking fundamentalists.

So, first, make humanistic morality and purpose not so elusive:

It is actually much easier to have a humanistic worldview than the Declaration suggests: you just like humans more than corporations, more than the government, and more than the religious authority. The origins of human nature are not so elusive as neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, and paleoanthropology converging over the last few decades. Cooperation and altruism was the hallmark of the evolutionary developmental success of our ancestors over the last 8 million of years (and then of Homo sapiens). New data on language and on hypersociality point out that we are more interdependent than we ever dreamt of. This gives meaning and purpose: you need to be a little bit like an anti-establishment hero- do great things for people, against the authorities, monsters, demons ( including those inside you), and even gods. Fun.

Second, think about environmental disasters.

These days “humanist” actually means “eco-humanist”. 

Humanists see the world literally made by humans, messed up by humans, and with humans as the only resource and responsibility to fix it. In “” Shared reality” and “Hybrid mind and where does it come from”**, I described the details of constructing the world (I wanted to say “our World” or “the World as we see it” but it would suggest that there is another World somewhere. It is not.)

It is how nature made us, we are curious, resourceful, cooperative, and funny. It is a gift, we need to use it and duck again in the last minute before extinction.

The world is divided: the religious people on one side, the science on the other, also individualistic, the Aristotelian West on one side, and The East of Confucius and Buddha on the other. 

Religions are older than humanity and they help to live for billions of people. But they were made to make people passive, resigned with their ignorance and powerlessness (except in smothering heathens), awaiting a better afterlife. We need to fix the world now, be joyful, and teach nature new tricks.

The same with science: it teaches misanthropy, “ look around and sulk!”, “insignificant speck in gazillions of galaxies”” maybe this or that colorful gadget makes you feel better, maybe this pill?” Determinism tells us that everything has already been decided, so what is the point? 

As humanists, we know that we are children of the past but have to think about the future globally and we do not worry about science and religion much- we invented both quite recently. 

To fix the world, the first couple of questions have to be: “what’s wrong?” and “how come?”

The Religion says: we lost love ( or we do not understand /know how it is done). 

The science says: ( as always – long on facts, short on whys)

”We are like overcrowded lab rats, exhausted our resources and fighting each other”

No exit. 

Well, remember we are Houdini -like humanists. We have this trick in our sleeve: consciousness ( which is thinking, free will, memory, hopping from paradigm to paradigm, etc).

We fearlessly examine our past and boldly design the solution.

We need utopian social engineering combined with knowledge of the ancient past and the wisdom of religion and science.

There are two distinct modes of happiness: the first is related to material possessions and power, (which is also dependent on material possessions). The new red tricycle you always wanted, the rise, the promotion in the company’s hierarchy. The other type of happiness is listening to your favorite music, watching a sunset with a friend, and learning how to do mosaics. The first type is like sharing a pie, the more I get, somebody will get less of it. The other type is the opposite, the more I get the more others can get. The first is regulated by money, and the other depends on the quality of experience, the quality of relationships, and skills. The first inevitably requires using material resources, and the other is much more sustainable.

If we can change the proportions of those two types of happiness in society we could be really happier, freer, living with less valiance and with less inequality.

The good thing is that we cannot force this type of change- no Orwellian “happiness”.

Old people are difficult to change, but if we teach our children well change is possible. 

Actually, this type of change is underway. The program devised by French philosopher Frederic Lenoir and his team teaches children to be mindful and think critically. It is called “savoir etre, vivre ensemble( SEVE)”- learning how to be and how to live with others. The courses are offered in 6 francophone countries, the French Canadian version is closest to the US.

I don’t think, these programs are labeled as “humanism” but it looks non-materialistic and non-dogmatic. Let’s start something similar in the rest of the world.

UNESCO and pope Francis promote education for global citizenship and peace. It is not very popular in the United States because of political or religious overtones. Would SEVE be better accepted or “too much philosophy”?

*Aha- American Humanist Association.

** in my blog: ecohumanistlab.com.

More reading:

Eco-humanism, African cosmology and ubuntu:

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Michael-Eze-4/publication/321157259_Humanitati

Essays related to covid 19 and environmental crisis- opening for the new world?

Pope Francis’s “Laudato si” and the liberal agenda:

dium=store_panel&utm_campaign=moving_boldly

SEVE (savoir etre vivre ensemble)

https://www.helloasso.com/associations/seve-savoir-etre-et-vivre-ensemble

Rome conference or die

Part  1: The vision.

Part  2: The crisis of the human niche.

Part  3: The worldview and the crisis of the human niche.

Part  4: The role of evolution.

Part  5: The prehistory of mind and the crisis.

Part  6: The conference as a metaphor and the process.

Part  7: What we will teach – the vision of Experience Society.

Part 1: The Vision.

    When we observe the world, most events are circular in nature. The day and night, the seasons of the year, first marriage, second marriage, 

First coming, Second Coming, reincarnation.

     This is the natural source of popular and reassuring concepts;  “as it is worse, it will get better.. and worse again, after the drought there will be a flood, it is warmer, it will get cooler”.

Even in science, the cosmos is hugely circular and particle physics too. Glaciations, civilizations, and periods of war and peace come up and down. “ we are fine, we’ll be fine”.

    Not so fast, desafortunamente.

Evolution is one of the basic, and relatively newly discovered mechanisms in the universe that are not circular. 

Also thermodynamics II and expanding Universe.

Sure, Heraclitus pointed to the non-circular flow of the river, but then we’d found out about water circulating in the earth. Maybe you just need to find a bigger circle and “we’ll be fine”?.

What is “fine,” I ask, and I pick the smartest and best-informed people I can find. 

They would – uniformly, uniformly- say” I know it is bad, I do what I can locally, give money to charities, but it is going to be bad.” “ Not in our lifetime” they add sheepishly and walk away with just slightly bent shoulders, as if saying “I know, our children, hopefully, educated and with good jobs…”

There is a fierce battle to position ourselves to survive well forthcoming disasters, not unlike virtual reality video games. As in the game, the blood and corpses aren’t so disturbing if the people concerned were not even born yet, who will live ( and die) in far away countries (mostly imaginary) and even now dying in droves, poor and miserable and we learned to tolerate this fine.

The problem: the more we learn ( and we can not unlearn, and understanding is fun) the more realistic are these corpses. They soon acquire faces, maybe even names, and they start to stink, after they slowly die in front of our eyes. More charities? More steel bars in our windows?

I have a better solution and it comes from 50 years of working with children, studying worldviews, evolution, and the history of our minds.

   The only hope I see is creating a different type of people, actually, the type we use to be for the last 10 million years until the last 50 000 thousand years (0.5% or “December 31st “ of our species’ existence). 

The last surviving hominids, we almost got extinct before. We need again a Houdini trick, we need to shed the last 10 000 years of a thin slimy layer of greed and grabbing. We will retain symbolic thinking, and smart brains but avoid the destruction of the planet.

We are going to create Experience Society.

We are going to teach the new generation to live happily, peacefully, in partnership with other humans, other sentient beings, and the whole environment. 

How do teach them that?

It is what the Rome conference is all about.

We’ll start with infants, then expand to older and older children. 

Let me address some objections. 

  1. “You can not parent and teach something or some ways you are not. It is not what you say, but who you are.” Agree, it has to be bootstrapping and dealing with the chicken or egg ( literally) dilemma. But we can do, and all we can do is the best we can. Certainly, we can do better than we are doing now. And neuroscience and evolutionary anthropology have some good news for us.
  2. “How can you force others about such an intimate subject like parenting. Parents feel they know how to parent and will not listen to any ‘propaganda’”. Agree, that it will be difficult, but it is why we need a broad range of experts and authorities and wise men and women and maybe magicians. I am listening for solutions rather than for naysaying. But every year it became more and more clear that doing nothing will bring to our children unspeakable misery. We are talking about the happiness of your children, nothing less.
  3. “We’ll never agree on the curriculum”- different cultures and nations, different religions, different economies, different worldviews. Yes, I see it as an almost un-winning gambit, but, first, in the beginning, we are talking about parenting babies 0 to 12 months old! everybody wants babies to be happy. Second, psychologically, I see the possibility of some kind of “unity out of desperation”. ( covid-19 in Italy and the response to Putin’s aggression comes to mind.)

Immediately, I thought about Rome with: 

  1. Pope Francis being a good guy and the catholic church being, well, “catholic”, would be somewhere to start. Add Dalai Lama, some more religious leaders, spiritual leaders, maybe some presidents, and UN officials.
  2.  Media influencers, press, and activists for equality, global warming, for peace.
  3. Scientists: environmentalists of all kinds, philosophers, sociologists, economists, psychologists, developmental pediatricians, psychiatrists, anthropologists, and AI experts.
  4. Humanists: wise men and women from modern and ancient cultures, teachers, writers, poets, artists, and musicians.
  5. Pregnant mothers and their spouses, grandmothers, and grandfathers.
  6. Teenagers- possibly the primary target populations?

This is the vision, but there are still many elements we need to convince people about, not only convince, like “ ok, maybe, if you say so” but convince about urgency and gravity and famous “ so, what” or “so what, if no Rome conference?”

Parts 2-6. Convincing, before even starting. 

Part 2. We need to convince people that there is a crisis of the human niche. 

It is important to use the term niche instead of “environment”, “habitat” or, worse “ global warming” (a tiny part of the problem).  Modern and deep evolutionary understanding will be necessary. 

On a happier note, it will not be necessary to argue” whose fault”, is it “human-made” or “just a cycle”- because of the revolutionary and unusual nature of the solution.

Part 3. We need to convince people of a humanistic worldview. 

This has nothing to do with religious belief, spirituality is an important part of the conference. Neither is socialism in disguise (how we divide our material goods, according to capitalistic, socialistic, or communistic principles is still all about material goods). We need the humanistic worldview to know that we can die like died other hominids like Neanderthals died, and Sapiens almost died 50.000 years ago. We need to know that we made this civilization and on this base, on these shoulders, consciously, we can build a new one. And thrive and have fun.

Part 4. We need to convince people of the evolutionary mechanisms including strengthening niche, diversity, and complexity.

It is what species do to avoid extinction. Working to keep the niche strong and healthy. Examples are everywhere, even iconic Darwin’s finches. It is not circular! It is messed up because we messed it up, and until we won’t change our ways, it will get worse and worse. Remember what Einstein said about insanity? 

Part 5. We need to convince people about the hybrid nature of our minds. 

If we want to replicate the pre-linguistic value system with our modern, symbolic brains, we need to trust evolutionary realism and evolutionary neuroscience. The exciting research showing our brains mixing ancient algorithmic beings with language-powered symbolic thinking explained how we are the only hominid that survived. We manipulate this incredible system every day, more and more purposely, like with artificial intelligence, meditation, and psychopharmacology. So, we can stop killing the planet and ourselves.

Part 6. We need to convince people to embark on the project.

  Rome conference is perhaps just my armchair musing. It may be a metaphor for the project, a new conversation involving more people. Or it can end up being a real conference in Rome. 

This would involve an unheard amount of trust and goodwill, maybe desperation. We would need to trust developmental experts, parenting experts, our political leaders, holy men, trust people, and each other in general. ( Going to the moon was nothing compared to this request)

We would need to trust the process, the journey because we do not know the way it’d unfold, we’d have to learn from each other, and use imagination. 

We need to cross multiple barriers: east-west, religious-nonreligious, have-have not, truth -media.

Part  7: What we will teach – the vision of the Experience Society

This will be the subject of the conference. The whats and the hows.The curriculum for the starting but crucial segment- “parenting the infants” seems pretty easy to agree on. Lots of this is in Piaget, Spock, Montessori, and Waldorf programs. And a lot is common sense like the parents need to be present and mindful, the society needs to support the family. No media, no violence. The concept of blaming the materialism of the cavemen is new and startling. The conversation about the non-materialistic source of happiness is very new and very old at the same time.

***

The terrible and cruel truth is that if we fail to work on it now, we’ll be reduced to something similar, painful, fractured, 50 years from now. Possibly Neanderthals had a similar option: “change your lifestyle, your beliefs, your language, trust them”. And they are gone.  

Not all items of convincing are necessary to work for the conference, just this set of opinions makes everything fit together so well…

***

This is the overview of this concept. I am working on Parts 2-7 in the form of separate essays.

Invention of things

So many puzzles, one key.

Here are some examples of puzzles:

  1. The anthropic dilemma or fine-tuning. 
  2. What happened before the Big Bang? Or how Entropy 0 can change to non-0?
  3. Why did we not find any evidence of aliens?
  4. Where is the center of the Universe?
  5. Why are homo sapiens so much more complex than other animals?
  6. What was crucial in the human evolutionary leap?
  7. What was the evolutionary origin of human language?
  8. What was an evolutionary origin of materialism?
  9. What is the solution to our niche crisis?

The key: the event which occurred over a relatively short evolutionary time- probably several thousands of years, about 50,000 years ago in Africa or the Middle East. It involved one or at the most a couple of groups of ancient humans. 

     To continue the explanation or the description of the hypothesis- the key- we need to stop and insert an explanation. An explanation for the explanation? Yes, this sentence might need to be moved to the beginning of the essay, definitely can not be postponed. The explanation involves bootstrapping. ( A la Baron Munchausen) Explaining the working of the human brain with the human brain. Explaining the nature of reality using the language created by this reality. Explaining the complexity of the system using tools created within this system. It is why our explanation doesn’t explain what really happened, but how we continue to improve our explaining it. The best and the only thing we can do- is bootstrapping. It is obvious then that the nature of things reflects (or follows) the nature of our probing system. Mainly our brains but also other experimenting or probing machines. The results of probing depend and reflect the structure of the probe. 

       Another metaphor can be helpful: You look and you realize that the fur gloves you have worn for a long time are actually inside out. So, you flip it, put it on and it obviously works much better. The cold hand’s problem is solved. No repair, no surgery, no expense, just a fresh look- so simple, and the result is incredible.

     Now, back to the cavemen.  Well, the event I am going to describe carries similarities to several older events. We see these events as a cluster of extremely unlikely circumstances that occurred only once (an event can not be rarer than that). Like: Big Bang, creating solar/’planetary/earth system, creating life from no life systems, creating a nervous system to support nonrandom behavior, creating big brain social mammals in post dinosaurs niche. 

We also see our lives similarly- the nodes of unlike events and circumstances. I hypothesize that our brain creates in developing neural networks an important (nodal) but uncommon structure (few axons or dendrites) reflecting the structure of these outside- (niche) events. Or, if you reverse this concept, outside events reflect neural structures. ( the “glove hypothesis”- the glove corresponds to perceived reality, the brain is the hand inside the glove).

     Now, really back to cavemen. The unlikely cluster of events occurred circa 50,000 years ago. The horde which became our ancestors was migrating north under the pressure of bigger and stronger hominids. 

They had to outsmart them: by the level of cooperation and sophistication of communication. In migration, the children in the band were few and exceptionally precious. Many members took care of them, communication, talking back and forth was more intense, more social, and prolonged. Toddlers who started to talk were still being talked to and nolens volens listened to. Toddlers naturally: 1 ask questions, 2. ask for names of things. 

      Until then the communication had a lot of characteristics of animal communication.  When I read about the evolutionary origins of language, invariably linguists make it extremely complicated and jargon -saturated and missing evolutionary mechanisms. Communication is what the nervous system does, it was created to enable organisms to develop nonrandom behavior. So information from outside the system can benefit the system. This actually defines and creates “outside and inside”. The cells have their internal communication system, then when cells become “social” and create multicellular organisms- it opens new “outside”, and at last, when organisms become social- the concept of outside moves up to another level. The information which does not benefit the system- does not survive, the things it describes – do not exist. So the content of information is always the same: the descriptions of beneficial behaviors. You manage to remember it, you live, you manage to inherit it- your species niche expands. In archaic bacteria, it would be “move towards higher sugar concentration”, In bees- a dance directing other bees to flowers- in chimps- the details of organizing a rebellion against an alpha male. These descriptions might contain communications full of actions, places, objects, and animals but it is not language. They might contain stories, memories, emotions, and logical decisions but it is not language. Or, you may call it proto-language. Because of the crucial difference between that and human communication is really not linguistic. It’s ontological. These animals and early humans have the concept of reality described by Jacob Uexkull as Umwelt.  Their brains are full of beneficial behaviors. Nothing else. And beneficial behavior expands the species’ niche- usually but not always improving organisms’ survival and reproduction. It is impossible to manipulate this type of reality, the more complicated behaviors the more unwieldy it is to use them in different situations. The learning is painfully slow. Hominids hit the evolutionary wall, over the last 5 or 10 millions of years, they all died.

      Then, the miracle happened. The cluster of unlikely circumstances and events occurred. 

       The 15-month-old cave girl said: “daaaa’’ and pointed at the apple. ( She meant “ what is that, sis”?) It’s called “joined attention” . Her older sister answered: “an apple”. The older sister pulled the apple from the description of behavior- about how we find apples, which are good to eat, etc, etc. Then she stuck this apple into a brand new thing – reality. It was very small, beginning, just between the toddler and big sister, but they could manipulate it easier- “two apples, big apples, red apples” the endless uses of the THING. ( Notice that she mixed domains-or dimensions- the trick very often used with inventions, like a steam engine, gravity or double helix ) Paradoxically the reality which was starting to be socially shared opened the door for individuality. Budding modularity made recursive speech possible. In the Umwelt world, it was only me with my niche. 

      But now, or with a generation or two, with the invention of things, it was so easy, soon the whole family used more and more names, not as a part of the description of behaviors, but as building blocks of intergroup reality. Now the same story could be told in so many ways. How many fish do we need? Well, how many are coming for dinner?  You could talk about the quality of things and the quantity of things- the birth of abstraction and mathematics. And, after you talked about things- next big step- you could own them. And lack them.

     It probably took generations to populate the budding joint reality of the group with things. But modularity, later known as grammar, and recursiveness were the keys.

Now, an easy part, the puzzles.

  1. The anthropic dilemma or fine-tuning. It is true that many facts in the history of the cosmos, origins of Earth, and life on Earth are incredibly rare and improbable. The same can be said about evolutionary facts leading to modern humans. But if you examine the events leading to the creation of Saturn rings, or penguins, or squirrels, these are also incredibly rare and improbable. The measuring and exploring and assigning of probability occur within the same system. Chinese medicine does not see any brain- the probing and the result operate within the same system.

       2. What happened before Big Bang? Or how Entropy 0 can change to non-0?

Again, the time concept and Big Bang belong to the same system. The Universe began with Big Bang – they are all human-made concepts and if something was before we would not call it the beginning. Entropy occurs in time, and when there is time, there is non 0 Entropy. The time is defined by change, with change the order has to be imperfect -sooner or later.

       3. Why did we not find any evidence of aliens?

Aliens with gods and unicorns belong to human stories, as does the rest of the Universe. So, they do exist, inside our culture, like forest, fear, and Finland. And there is nothing outside, they are real inside this mind-boggling reality.

       4. Where is the center of the Universe?

The reality and the Universe were built during the evolutionary development of the nervous system. Every living organism has its center of reality inside the organism (well, how about ants or bees, do they share it??). Humans are an exception. They developed, starting about 50,000 years ago, shared reality. Their stories, which by and by become myths and then split into religions and science contained the notions of the center of the Universe, but ultimately these concepts and constructs are related to human intelligence. As long as we stay here on Earth, even if our science or religion points into a special part of heaven, I would assign the center to the person who points there, wouldn’t you?

       5. Why are homo sapiens so much more complex than other animals?

We invented things, language, and the Universe and it makes learning exponentially easier.

        6. What was crucial in the human evolutionary leap?

The invention of things and abstract thinking ca. 50,000 years ago.

        7. What was the evolutionary origin of human language?

Intragroup reality switch- from social and emotional sharing to language sharing to reality sharing to language modularity.

       8. What was an evolutionary origin of materialism?

The events described above, it is what made us modern humans and now it can kill us.

       9. What is the solution to our niche crisis?

Use an understanding of the evolutionary past to expand our niche by building a society based on experiential happiness. If we continue to try to be happy with material things we’ll run out of them and die out ( see details in the previous posts- esp. “niche crisis II”).

   

       

Niche crisis, Part 2, ” Materialists and Idealists”

 

Part 2

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 domination of things of our civilization. (The pollution-related to cars, trucks, and roads is not the problem, it’s the result, the problem is that we LOVE to drive, LOVE the power and feeling related to moving a big machine fast. The problem is not outside the culture but inside the culture) It started, I think, and I will talk about it later, from peculiar language development and now it is literally killing us. We can correct this, but in order to do that we need to start with the conversation, maybe even create a new language, a 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 domination of things had 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 Berkeley or Hegel had anything to do with the niche. The primordial sin of our civilization must be somewhere else. 
  2. If it was a sin, maybe the religions 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 – often understood as idealists vs materialists. But, no, all of them, fundamentalists, mystics, 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 a nice jacket or even sneakers.

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

– they are responsible for technology, corporations, gadgets, and consumerism.

-among the believers, the materialists are the worst: young Earth, literal interpretation of scriptures,  seeing beliefs as 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, Mother Teresa, Oprah and Albert Schweizer, etc, etc. We need to be like them, but we can’t.  Why? All of these famous idealists were driven, obsessed by humongous overwhelming ideas, usually not very happy, crazy overachievers, rather miserable “I will show them” people. 

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

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. It looks that it is not switching from materialist to idealist that is necessary- it would be impossible anyway.

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

These distinctions require thinking. Thinking and discussions and role-modeling. What is necessary and doable is noticing how indoctrinated we are by generations of automatic concepts of success, the meaning of life, and happiness. Things: a well-paying job, a good house, a 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.

If we explain to people that this dream is untenable, that the planet can not support it, that we have to give it up, to sacrifice our dream for the planet, and for others …. We’ll go nowhere. Tell the leaders, CEOs, generals, and clergy to relinquish the power to save the planet… we’ll go nowhere. Tell economist that capitalism needs to pivot and production of things and energy has to shrink and …we’ll go nowhere. 

What can we do? Dealing with things is so easy, the numbers are on their side.

Dealing with ideas, relationships, Unknown, feelings, even art, and literature – all require and benefit from critical thinking, shifting dimensions, using imagination ( some people talk about transformational education). Dealing with things do not… Things are: cheaper or more expensive, hotter or cooler, slower or faster – so easy to deal with, so inviting for the categories, divisions and … ownership. And it is literally how the hell broke loose.

And how did we get like that?  The evolution of the nervous systems and ethology will help here. Animals are not materialists, their brains are full of behaviors ( in the notebook of the observer, like Jane Goodall watching her chimpanzees), for them (say, chimpanzees) they are the 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 early humans. Hominids, also hunter-gatherers, lived in more or less egalitarian societies, where the leader, usually male, possessed very little, except for mates. 

     In our search for the origins of this worldview dysfunction or of materialism, I’d like to point to the two moments that were pivotal.  50 to 10 thousand years ago communication became a language. Animals and hominid’s “language” followed their world of experiences. It described behaviors (experiences), even sometimes complex ones like bees dance, crows teaching their children about bad people and butterflies astral navigation, but they were still behaviors. And then, at the toddler stage of our civilization, something happened to humans. And to humans only: see the interesting hypothesis of Dr.Hrdy (among others). I said “toddler” because, as a pediatrician, I observed the same magic hundreds and hundreds of times in the office and you might have seen it in your home. 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, 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.

 

    What was first, naming objects or materialistic society? I don’t know, but what is important is that it happened recently, so materialism is not in our genes ( neither are things, really, and their objectivity is perfectly questionable!) 

It is also possible that the” invention of things “ timing is not mere coincidence. Because it is the time ( 50 to 20 000 years ago, when we almost got extinct- about 10 thousand people left, or less!) when our egalitarian society could have changed. Maybe it was the pressure of a shrinking niche related to climate change, after the Toba volcano eruption and ice age. We behaved (we actually were) like cornered animals, we tried to survive against each other. With the rule of violence, fear, and anxiety our worldviews changed. We tried to get happy with things, so we learned to get high on power, violence, and control.  Interestingly, more or less at the same time we developed societies with haves and have nots, (Mesopotamia, Egypt, China), and having was better, and the things to have to be on the top were, well, things.

Our primordial “personality” stays dormant, waiting to be awakened… We need another renaissance chapter in our civilization. With our technology and advances in knowledge of the human mind, we can make a better renaissance than the original Italian One. A mixture of materialism, idealism, humanism, and all that is needed to take care of this planet. We can do it, but it will take the new conversation on being authentic, 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 – question belief, use the paradigm and language of their religion just for one, but all-important purpose – to question the world, to embrace the Mystery. To find the meaning, the worldview, the happiness. Well, not to find, to journey on finding it.

It is going to be a renaissance – the rebirth of the type of mind which made us human. We have it inside: the excitement and awe of the Unknown, the curiosity, joy, and imagination. Loving, playing, arguing, making fun and derision, showing others, and ourselves’ foolishness.  We’ll thrive on experiences instead of gadgets- we’ll treat them as assets, cherish them, and make them richer and richer as our complexity and intelligence grow.

This optimistic story does not need to be true. It would be reassuring and promising.  And I am asking for so little. Just start talking, open your mind, and imagine. Well, we are not completely off the hook- this new plan includes role-modeling, right? Somebody has to change first or at least start changing.  This conversation, this work will lead to a new curriculum, more on that unknown black hole in Part 3.

Niche crisis II

The initial version was published in December 2019, this is a new, expanded form.

Niche crisis or environmental crisis.

 Part 1. The Hypothesis and the chance.

I am convinced that the niche crisis is caused by a particular cognitive development at the dawn of our civilization. This early achievement turned out now to be our biggest problem. 

“Niche crisis“ is an unusual term so let me explain.

When we look at our world we see our environment. This term for me contains some cloaked feeling of entitlement, may even sound congratulatory. It doesn’t have a biology or cosmology sense. To me, it answers the question your good friend may ask over the beer: “how is life?” You tell him about our environment- not ideal, but our- loud music, stupid people, polluted air, etc, etc, And you wouldn’t answer: “Well, I am just becoming extinct”. 

If we want to talk about the crisis the ecologists would use the term “ecological niche” or simply “niche”. When we look at any species from outside the system, as an observer, that species has its niche – the resources, climate, food, other members of the species, predators, anything that influences its evolutionary fitness. Niche is species-specific- it describes the dynamic situation – niche’s strength- that any given species exists in at any given point in time. Not habitat, not ecology, not environment. It is why I prefer the term “niche crisis”. We will really need this “observer view” as we go along. Homo sapiens is the last surviving of twenty-six other hominids. The one that almost went extinct several times, the last only about 50 000 years ago ( if you forget the brink of the nuclear war in 1962). 

When the ship is sinking and there is water coming in we send a crew to pump the water out. The more the water is pouring in, the more bailing is needed, right? Obviously, no. We need to find the hole in the hull and 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.

And our niche, which pretty well fits geographically Planet Earth, is getting weaker again. Even if population growth is slowing down- “only” 9 billion 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, vulnerable consumers. And the just feeling of injustice and social conflicts fostered by our wonderful internet (people call it, I guess as a joke, – “global brain”) gets worse.

The ship is sinking, for sure, even if some of my gloomy images might be controversial, but not all of them, for goodness sake. And please don’t tell me “there is always a crisis” or about the Chinese-like “great wheel of history” or “nothing new under the sun” – or as Trump reacted to coronavirus: “ it’s nothing, just a virus, can’t see it”. I see millions and millions of good, smart, young people, who are “at the pumps”. Recycling, electric cars, solar panels, not eating meat, and planting trees, all these are heartwarming.

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

           Every species survives by expanding its niche. More food sources, more diverse habitats that the organisms can adapt to means more sex and more babies. The survival of the fittest works on the individual organisms’ and it’s family’s level, but only the sum of these changes determines the strength of the species’ niche. 

The ecological niche is all about the flow of energy which ultimately comes from the Sun. The stronger the niche the more energy the species absorbs and utilizes. The complexity increases creating stronger bodies, brains, and stronger social life. You noticed very “broad strokes”, I’m not explaining those mechanisms, just sketching them, but the only difference when we talk about the human’s niche is that the complexity is called the culture or civilization and the animal’s urge to survive and to mate is called the pursuit of happiness.

      And this is our ticket. We have to strengthen our niche otherwise we’ll become extinct. Our ticket is our culture- we are conscious, thinking, and observing our own demise. 

So, what is this cognitive achievement turned out to be a problem? It happened gradually between 100,000 to 10,000 years ago. The primitive communication grew into language. The description of behaviors became the description of reality, including the distinct material world. I will discuss this evolutionary process in detail in part 2. The new reality opened the world of things, of technology. The worldviews and the meaning of life changed. Now we have more shopping malls, more hotels, more toys and gadget factories, more airports and bombers. The image is of emotional regression – a bully sucking his thumb. To understand the situation we need to keep shifting the dimensions: from society to personal and back. We need to see that our civilization is the sum of millions of lives, their successes and failures, their loves and hatreds. We keep trying to be satisfied or happy or just less anxious (whatever is the thing we want!) by consuming the planet’s dwindling resources. Imagine that within the next ten years flying electric taxis will become very popular. In the language of cultural evolution, this means complexity and ability to adapt.

Until recently, such an invention would increase the strength of the human niche. Not anymore: more passengers, airports, parkings, services, businesses, more technology, more rat race, violence, and poverty. We have to pivot and we can do it. The thing we get from technology, call it happiness, call it power or security we have to learn to get from sustainable experiences. We can learn and teach it to our children- this is a matter of a new curriculum and of a new generation.

How can we do it? 

In the book “About time” Adam Frank describes how the evolution of humanity’s relation to time changed the world. This sense of time changed slowly over millennia. We learned and followed how time-related technology changed people’s minds and people’s minds created technology. It is how this civilization works: we see progress outside,- the same “progress” sits inside everyone’s brain, what each person knows, different depending on education, experience, and interests- and this builds the third, elusive“progress” that exists as a conversation (Werner Erhard’s jargon),  as Carl Jung’s our “collective unconscious” or simply as “culture”. This third “progress” is the one that creates our language, metaphors, and our mythology. 

Now we can, paradoxically, use technology against the technology abusing the Planet. With the new global conversation, we can change the language and mythology almost on the dime.

People’s lives will improve. The improvement will involve more and more people but the resources will be spared. The economies will shrink materially, but the access to and the use of carbon-neutral experiences will expand exponentially. This is the only way, otherwise, the suffering of millions will ensue. In my work on worldviews, I see human potential. I read these personal worldviews, 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. I have already hinted at the origins of materialism- will talk more about that. 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 the past- one 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 lives, 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!

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

My worldview

As I am embarking on the task of teaching how to write your worldview, I thought I need to publish my own. The answers to the unanswerable questions are short, like at the Philozophy.com. In that way they can serve as a brief note to yourself, a reminder. It is also easier to compare them with others and to discuss them.  Here you are:

 

1.How did the Universe begin?

 

My Universe began with my conception. As I am learning from others and my experiences, my world shifts, gets bigger and more complex.  Where my understanding ends, on that edge, reversing the arrow of time, there and then the Universe begins

 

  1. What is the Universe made of?

 

My Universe is built from my birth with my instincts, my experiences and the experiences of other people I learned from. It is also solid and real. Maybe there is a Nobody’s Universe, independent of our personal worlds, but I doubt it.

 

  1. What is the origin of good?

 

Eusocial hominids, using mirror neurons, created and genetically encoded altruism and friendship. Surviving evolved into the drive to cooperate and to understand. The wisdom -understanding- translates socially into good, true and beautiful

 

4.What is the origin of evil?

 

Survival instincts and natural selection. We supposed to grow up and transform fear and greed of the caveman into the understanding and wisdom. I guess, we need to work harder on that. Tempus fugit.

 

  1. Is there free will?

 

As I have built my world, I am responsible for it and for my actions, even if sometimes I don’t know what I am doing. I feel that I have many freedoms, but in the same time I realize that I am a part of the cosmic interdependent web of causality.

 

  1. What is the nature of the mind?

 

The Mind is a cluster of functions of the brain. Thinking and feeling create my experience while consciousness, memory, attention make possible of me being aware of the performing these very functions. It is a concept, like a joy or pain.

 

  1. How do you find happiness?

 

With effort and intention of love, curiosity and gratitude, the results exceed expectations. It is transient, subjective and trainable. Practice to become happiable- ready for happiness.

 

  1. How do you find truth?

 

Truth is relative and mythic. It is what has been working for long time and for many people as a human nature and it is civilization dependent. So, I am trying to find wise books and wise friends to trust and then to ask.

 

  1. What is the meaning of life?

 

Being curious, doing good and having fun. It is how I am trying to do projects bigger than me. Working with people makes it meaningful and significant and beautiful.

 

  1. What is the role of evolution?

 

The evolution is probably the most important algorithm human invented to understand the world. It tries to explain how simple organisms evolved in Time and how the level of entropy and complexity can be so uneven across all dimensions.

 

  1. What happens after death?

 

I will live in others. If one does good for the reward after death, one will not be rewarded, if one does good to avoid punishment, that is one’s punishment. The judgement? It occurs inside our heads. Immortality? Sure, what you sow, you reap.

 

  1. Who or What is God?

 

The animal and then human intelligences were built through the process of the evolution. It is an awesome system, which we are trying to understand, often heroic and Divine. Gods are the parts of human mythology, therefore a part of human nature.

 

  1. What is going to happen to humankind?

 

Miraculously we will understand our unity, stop fighting, stop overpopulating, stop wasting resources. We will see our relatedness as Love and Friendship between us. Only then we will build a better world. A piece of cake but we need to hurry.

 

  1. What Question is missing?

 

What is the human nature?