on humanism and environmental crisis

Archive for the ‘materialism’ 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”).

   

       

Be the best?

Be the best?

 

Because of the niche crisis, I am thinking and writing a lot about materialism, its origin, and its effect on humanity.

 

I am obsessed with the notion that shifting dimensions is something very important in our thinking. Nolens volens American democrats (and I as one of them) were forced to do just that. 

From climate and health care suddenly COVID pandemic was all-important: and now- race.

The ability to shift dimensions is crucial for wise judgment. It is an element of critical thinking, there is no creativity without shifting dimensions. To do it you use imagination, historical, and global perspective. 

 In racism a doctrine selects a group of people, declares them inferior and then other people can use it for brutal advantage, sometimes for generations and generations. And a systemic injustice can persist because the critical thinking, shifting dimension, and perspective are so rare. 

  It is also difficult, requiring effort and training. 

And here the materialism comes back like an old stew. Living and thinking in the world of things offer incredible advantages. Modern school with an emphasis on technology and science is famously one dimensional. Auto mechanics and computer technology don’t require fluency in classical Greek. Actually, it is difficult to think where would you use this skill- still standard in European high school 100 years ago.

One dimensional thinking gives quick and high profit while fosters consumerism and inequality and racism. And it is a hallmark of free-market capitalism- profit is everything.

Fortunately, it is not in our genes, it started only 50, 000 years ago. Like poor people are not stupid- only taught to be poor for several generations, the same – CEOs and financial sharks are not bad and greedy- only taught for several generations to be the best you can be- measured by one dimension- your account. Neither group is happy- so the reversal is possible but it would take one or two generations. If we start now.

What is an alternative to materialism?

Evolutionary, before the invention of material culture and the language of material things- whichever came first- the world of primitive hominids, like animals, was populated with the more or less sophisticated descriptions of behaviors. Now, with our prodigious brains, we call it experiences. We can not completely eliminate material culture, but we can create a world where experiences are valued high and they, not things define the richness and qualities of our lives.

If you share a pie the more you take, the less is left for others. It is where we are. But if you share a beautiful sunset, the more you share, the richer and more fantastic is the experience. It is where we need to be. The experience, unlike the gadget you owe, depends on your input, your relationship you are in, your mood, your knowledge, and your imagination. It makes it difficult but it makes you really happy, content and peaceful. Makes your life examined and your children smiling. It is when you are the best- the quality of experience determines it.

 

And one more thing. It is sustainable, the switch would give us a glimmer of a chance of survival as a species.

Because our share of the pie is dwindling and it will continue to.

I know, we need a whole new conversation, the measuring system, a new language, institutions, and industries…the parents teaching love and relationships, the schools teaching critical thinking and multidimensional thinking. Teaching art, poetry music, and literature.

And who will do it, where is this broad coalition of courageous and hopeful people?

Same horde of cavemen 2

The same horde of cavemen 2

 

This essay describes the origin of materialism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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