on humanism and environmental crisis

Archive for the ‘Inventions’ Category

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”).

   

       

Big Question #13: What is going to happen to the mankind?

“You are a child of the Universe, no less than the tree and stars: you have a right to be here.  And whether or not it is clear for you, no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should ” Desiderata.

Subquestions and everyday relevance

  • What is going to happen to your grand-grandchildren?
  • Where are we going? What is your prediction or model of the future?
  • Imagine the year 2050.
  • Can we save ourselves?
  • Can somebody else save us?  How?

It is only recently that we talk about the future constantly. Also, your future can be easily limited to your family life, but if you think about the future of your grandchildren you automatically relate it to the whole mankind… The modern notion of things changing and even newer of “trending”, combined with the idea that we can influence the future made this question really an everyday topic. Global markets, geopolitical trends, global warming- from the esoteric become the cafeteria’s daily…For example the idea of the “lawn 2050 competition”-  how will our grandchildren live and what will they like, what criteria would they list? will they be rather techie/nerdy or social/new-agey or paleo/survival types?

How to work on the answer to the Question #13

I am somewhat fixated on the year 2050. Not so close, not too far, just right… to be concerned and scared. Our grandchildren will be grown ups. If nothing happens, the life on Earth will be rather difficult. If something happens I think it can be divided into three categories: 1 Incredible new technology, 2. Some kind of Armageddon- the game changer. 3. The massive change in our worldview, the change from within.

An example by Kaukab Naseer: ” Immediate future will be androids, evolving into one connected mind, which will be the God of distant future creating and guiding life forms.”

View more answers on Philozophy.com

Psychotherapy

Working on this question broadens your perspective, gives you different look on the daily nuisances. For those excitedly self-centered it helps to look around and see others.

Homo historicus, or the musings on the humanists’ agenda

Exploring the human nature from the evolutionary perspective.

This is the core, this is who we are. These are the biological restraints one can not escape.The human nature is the topic of many books by the famous scientists and philosophers: Darwin, E.O.Wilson, Teilhard de Chardin, Jacob Bronowski to name a few. Some of these books like “ The Tangled Wing” or “Incomplete Nature” declare by their titles the mixed feelings we humans have about our nature, but our past and the future is the source of our values, our intelligence, and our concerns. Deep understanding of the evolutionary mechanisms is the base of our worldviews.

Recognizing the values of the ancestors and teachers

This the origin, this is where we come from. Exploring the human nature leads obviously to great respect and love to our parents,( we share the genetic and epigenetic traits) our ancestors and teachers. Equally important is the relationship with our children and our students. As we live our lives, we learn, we figure things out, we teach and we show by the example.

Acknowledging being the most complex, curious, empathic and individualistic species on Earth  ( I believe: in the Universe).

During the last one 100 000 years, our species went on hyperdrive: The brain complexity and social complexity went into the positive feedback loop. This resulted in the characteristics of the species which we see and categorize now as curiosity, empathy, and competition/cooperation traits. Our major tool is the communication skills which grew exponentially and parallel to the social and the brain development. The ability to share our personal worlds allowed for the creation of technology, the consciousness, and the critical thinking.

Belief in free will and personal growth

The evolution teaches us that we build our world since birth until our death. The same is with animals, they try to survive, try to be better than their ancestors, because only these survive, mediocrity dies out. Along comes human evolution and transforms animal survival into the human attempt to understand and to make sense. It creates art, stories, mythology and science.Thes biological and historical facts make us responsible for our lives and believing in the free will. This humanistic responsibility to work on your personal world makes the belief in the free will an obvious part of the humanist mind.( Strange as it seems, it makes the opposite camp made of unusual bedfellows: the free will is very questionable both for the hardcore materialists with their determinism and for the pious religious people depending on the Almighty). This responsibility also makes the personal practice and personal growth a natural demand and sometimes fun. This part is not unlike Sartre’s principle of becoming.

Exploring the human nature in your personal relationships and in society

All the above makes a humanist a very individualistic creature. We think and feel for ourselves, we hate only a few things- the mob is one of them.  The healthy competition makes us trying to be the best we can be. The cooperation in the society works through skills to love, to create friendships and to be grateful. Also to be playful, funny and happiable (able and trying to be happy). All the goody-goody characteristic of the humanists and the humanitarians come naturally, as a part of exploring the human nature. We see the other human in everybody we meet, we believe in the democracy, equality for races, women, gay etc. Of course, we worry about overpopulation, violence, the depletion of natural resources, of habitats, all that. We seek an elusive balance in the society between competition and cooperation. We believe that the work on the personal growth leads to the more sophisticated values, above money, power, and sex. The peace, beauty, and harmony come to mind, these would align well with the survival of the homo sapiens as the meaning of life.

We recognize the dark side of human nature. We all sometimes behave like animals or worse. The diversity and competition feed fear and greed, the work is never done, the work on “shadow” in each of us.

Embracing all myths as a source of wisdom and cultural diversity.

We think that all children are the humanists until taught fear/nationalism and fear/religion. We think that most of the naturally normal people remain humanists for the rest of their life. They follow naturally guts and instincts of the human nature but some, on the top, follow the belief in the Divine, according to their particular Myth. We believe that all the Myths, from most ancient to most modern, are created by human intelligence and they are true, as they teach us the valuable wisdom and lessons. Thus, everybody can practice any religion, but should not force this on others. Make sure that everybody has the same freedom (as per UN charter of human rights) and that include the members of the family and community, especially in the lower position of power. One’s religious practices should not override or interfere with the local customs and lifestyle.

The Humanists’ Quest: To create our own, new myth.

This is  the only one new myth we need, and we need it desperately: The survival of the Homo sapiens. Can a small, unlikely, unwilling and confused group of people create a shift in the Universe, like a magic power of the old time heroes ?

The plan

Define the Humanists positively: we are the members of the human species, with the free will and evolutionary created human intelligence, which defines and creates our worldview. We are a curious and a hyper-social species and we are learning how to combine competition and cooperation to survive as a species. We have a famously grand pedigree of learners: the mammals, the apes, and the best learner – homo sapiens. All our DNA is full of ultimate skills in figuring things out, our instincts, the senses and, recently, our civilizations.

This means that all children, until indoctrinated, are humanists, and later are still humanists plus some extra beliefs. It also means that the mythology is a form of learning, a tool to grow up. There is little objection to that, regarding ancient myths, like Sisyphus or Prometheus or Noah and the Deluge. But we should treat more modern myths, in the same way, the way to learn from them and to grow up through them, including the myths of Jesus and of Mahomet, of Kremlin, of Mao, of the Wall Street and of the Supercollider .

In this way, since pre-history, we are basically all humanists. The religious people are the humanists too, they are extra-humanists, they believe in some supernatural intelligence, but we see this as a myth, true, useful, but just a myth, as the hundreds of other myths. Getting huff and puff about it is really primitive and killing people for it is just ridiculous .

French people say “if you resist, it persists”, the Taoists say “the Master leads doing nothing and the people are led not feeling it”. Let’s bring all strange folks to the human folds, let’s start exploring the way of the empathy and cooperation and try to avoid the annihilation. What can a minute group of Humanists do, few in number, vaguely defined  (mostly by the negation of something which does not exist (sic!), with no political or moral force?

For Goodness sake – literally- and for the sake of our grandchildren, we have to reinvent ourselves.