on humanism and environmental crisis

Archive for the ‘origin of self’ Category

Danka’s Self

    This new essay is similar to the “Last Neanderthal” – it has a narrative, a story, and an explanation of the allegory. That is a philosophical and extremely controversial part. It is actually a continuation of the thought experiment, as it assumes that events from the previous essay- the story- actually had happened, and -again- assumes that my interpretation of them is correct.

 Let me remind you and summarize the story. 

The time is about 50, 000 years ago, somewhere in Europe. Neanderthals are on the brink of extinction, and we follow the fate of one of them. The cold and hunger killed the last two members of Adam’s family, his wife, and his son. They did not have modern language or the ability to start a fire, but otherwise, they were very smart and strong.

  Adam is rescued by Old Woman from the Homo Sapiens tribe and nursed to health by Eve the Beautiful. Adam saves the little girl from the lethal attack of a saber-tooth tiger. This little girl, Eve’s 5-year-old sister, Adam and Eve are creating a shared communication system that (my hypothesis) is growing into Language, Self, and Reality. ( “You called it apple”- it was the first hypothetical sentence understood by these 3 people, it contained: “you called” – the agent, the person, “it”- the thing-perception, sensory firing, a  piece of the old behavioral code, with its name:  “apple”.)

   To continue this thought experiment, we moved 10 years forward. The three people who started to use agents and simple objects in communication were bonded by a prototype of a social unit: the shared magic of childhood, love, and of desperate will to communicate. In ten years this group grew and their shared vocabulary rapidly expanded. Summers were warmer and there were a lot of fish in the river and berries in the forest and babies in the tribe. Adam and Eve had 3 children Mel 8, Fiona 6 and Sophie 4. The” little girl” is now 15 years old and has the name.


‘My name is Danka, but people call me Dancer. I love to dance. I play the flute, the horn, and drums. I made my instruments with my Uncle Adam’s help and I taught myself to play. 

I go fishing and pick fruit with others, but I am busier and busier with my music.  When I sing and dance the world around me changes. 

My family and others from the tribe come to listen to my stories and to dance with me. Mel, my 8-year-old nephew can play the drums well, but only I can play flute and horn well.

 The stories come to me, I do not know where from, they just come.

Sometimes they come from my dreams and memories of winter and fighting with tigers, and sometimes from flowers and jumping fish. I am teaching kids how to sing and dance and about flowers and animals and seasons.

   Lake Cave Summer Feast is coming up. 

Each year before the midsummer Full Moon young people go to the cave. It is a difficult trip, it takes three days of hiking through treacherous mountains and into the cave. You need to be brave and curious and strong to get there. Last year was my first year, but this year I will lead my people. 

Eve tells me:

“Danka, to make a strong drink we need special berries from the Western  Forest. Take my kids to help you, but be careful, other people live in the West.”

I run like a wind, light and happy and strong.”

 “Who needs the berries

   We need the berries

We find the berries 

    In jungle!

We pick the berries

Magical berries

The sweetest berries 

That dangle!.”


Eve’s three kids follow bellowed Auntie, trying to catch up with her, laughing and tumbling. Mel, Fiona, and little Sophia just 4 years old.

Danka runs and sings her song “who need the berries”. On the “jungle” and “dangle” she jumps very high, landing on both feet into a deep squat.

Other kids are tripping, trying to mimic her.

Then she skips, then she twirls, still running, three kids after her in the narrow path among giant acacias and prickly raspberry bushes.

Mel is the drummer. He beats the rhythm with his left hand hitting his leather bag. This is not easy because, on his right shoulder, he carries his weapon, a 5 feet long spear. He is also an expert thrower, ready to protect the girls against any danger.

“ But,” he laughs,” all the animals will run away scared from Danka’s singing and jumping”

As soon as he finished his thought he noticed a movement of a shadow among the trees.

Then there is a strange, terrible roar. He has never heard anything like that before.


He is ready to kill it.

“ As soon as I see his chest- the beast is dead- whatever it is”- Mel killed a bear and hyena before.

He sees the huge hairy head in the bushes.

“It is mine”, his right arm takes back, and the hips and torso recoil like an enormous spring.

“Wait, wait”- whispers Danka-and he stops at the last moment.

The “beast” jumps out, under the big head there are blond curls and a boy’s laughing face with the funniest brown dots all over it, but most on the nose. 

“What’s your name?!” Danka yells.

But he runs away and he is fast, waving with his “beast” head.

Danka laughs “ Mel, make sure you do not kill silly boys, it was a close call”

She likes this boy. A trickster. She remembers him from the last year, in the cave, he was really small and skinny then. But she remembers the laughter, the freckles, and the funny shadows he made with his hands across the fire in the cave.

 “I hope to see him again next week- if he is not killed by somebody by mistake”- she sighs and smiles.

Next week she will lead her tribe’s youth to Cave Lake. They will eat mushrooms and drink magic foods and potions and then they will dance.

She will dance with them, but her dance is different.

Eve worries about her little sister. 

“ Danka, you’re too much, you just don’t care, you just sing and dance, how can I protect you? Elders are not happy.  Big Man’s older son wants you to be his woman. It is an honor to our family”.

Danka doesn’t care for Big Heavy Max.

Eve sighs and hugs her sister. “Be careful, but when you find the boy you like, go for him”

Danka laughs “ I will, sis”, she twirls with her, then runs away singing and skipping: “I will, Oo-oh, I will, Oo-oh , how I reeeeally will!”

Old women and Eve send them off. About two dozen of young people, boys and girls run away from the village. They run towards the Northern Forest and The Mountain. They carry food and drink and wood for fire and they run. They run for hours and hours, then they sleep for a few hours and they run again. Exhausted, and excited thy see The Mountain. And they find the small mountain lake and the cave on the shore. Danka leads her people into the sacred chamber. There are other young people from other villages. 

They are exhausted after a long run but they start a fire and then the drums call them to dance. Their dance is powerful, it sounds like a jungle, like a waterfall and thunder. It sounds like a buffalo stampede or the lion’s kill.

The drinks and food are served by girls, and boys do more dancing and showing off their skills, jumping over fire, and wrestling.

 Soon nobody remembers that they are tired and the dance, shouting and competition becomes more fierce.

 Then Danka jumps out, climbs the elevated flat stone, and blows her horn.

She sees the boy with freckles. And the boy sees her.

She wails and she signs. They understand some but not all words. 

But it is so different, so beautiful. They never heard anything like this: she sings the story.  She shows it, and dances and sings it. They know it, they see it. It is about the buffalo hunt. But also about one hunter- it’s a boy, or is it a buffalo? And he is pierced by the spear, and he falls. He is killed. 

The woman, yes, they see the woman who loved him, she runs and embraces the dead man. 

They scream and then stop and there is silence. The woman, The Dancer, shows how “she lifts the dead body”, and the bloody head mask stays on the ground.

They hold their breath, stunned.

She plays the flute: how beautiful the boy is now and how she loves him.

And then she carries his bloody body and begs and cries.

Wow, she is talking to Sun and Moon, she begs Them- “bring him back for me”.

And they see; that death is final and the only way to be together with her love is..

Is to die. She falls. There is silence. And then… she wakes up, she rubs her eyes- was all this but a dream??

The boy with freckles  runs to her and shakes her,  he wants to tell her: ”I understood, it was me, and it was not!”

Will she understand? He knows what to do.

Andy, ( he has a name now) takes her to his secret place in the cave.

He makes fire- he shows the same story with his hands and shadows on the cave’s wall. He takes her hands in his hands and makes her hands show the boy with a big beast head.

She understands! He says “AAN- DY” She repeats, laughs, and points to him “Andy”. Then he makes shadows of young women.  “She dances”. He looks at her and she says: “DAN-KA”, he repeats: “Danka”.

Their hands do not part, they stay together. They slowly quit wrestling and showing shadows, but start showing young bodies what they want. 

 After they made love, hands still together, they fall asleep, and the campfire’s red ashes glow slowly dying away.

Andy wakes up and a tiny ray of sun lits the stone wall where they played with shadows. Was it a dream? No. He sees a beautiful woman happily sleeping next to him. He gently frees himself from her embrace, gets up, and stretches.

Then he brings the paint they used to make hands prints-thousands of handprints, generations after generations- time signatures, nothing more.

In his head, he still has Danka’s story. In his disheveled, half-woken head.  He shakes his blond curls, curses quietly, and starts painting. 

The world disappears and the pictures come alive on the stone wall.

It is hours later when he looks behind his shoulders.

She is awake, sitting, looking at him and at the paintings, smiling.

She starts to sway into slow, dance-like moves. She sings sweetly and quietly. 

“Andy, Danka, Aaaandy,

Playing by the fire, 

We live and love and liiii-ve,

And then we die.


The real language i.e. the communication between people as a sine qua non for the experience. Shared (?”selfed”?) narrative, music, and visual art as the simple beginning of our reality.

What is an Agent or SELF? All words have human origins. It means that at some point in time, there was a social agreement (usually unconscious) between some humans about a word and its meaning. Because of these social and pragmatic origins, over time these agreements shifted and shifted. I expect that about the word and meaning of say “an apple,” there was no need for much shifting, but such concepts like self or consciousness or soul or ego the agreements shift and shift and for every discussion, it is very wise to renew the such agreement. 

How about attaching “participants, selves or agents” ( “self” as the common language equivalent of “I” and “you” and “he/she”,  while using “agent” to denote “action of an observer”) to the concept of experience? 

Self and experience. 

Self experiences an experience. To have experience is to have self. No self, no experience. Simple and elegant. Again, it harks to the origins: we use language for conversations. That’s what makes an experience. Each conversation has agents (selves), content, and context. But context can only be described by additional conversations. How about the events that look like experiences? Pre-linguistic music, images, emotions, dreams, animal behaviors? Remember the last Neanderthal from my story? He was hungry, dying, and grieving the death of his son. But, by the will of the omniscient author, he had no language yet, then no self, no experiences. (of course- the author and readers- did experience that). He was using his sophisticated instinctual system to survive. Later on, with the magic of love, childhood, and translation, he, the Beautiful and Little Girl acquired the socially shared first word- “apple’ with its meaning of red round fruit (the first thing!). So, later on, he could try to explain his past, using his budding language and self to describe past experiences. It is a dramatic fictional illustration of a hypothetical event. But we live with hybrid minds. Your anger is a mixture of primordial, instinctual sensations and all language/self-saturated memories and concepts. Also: Your awe, love, headache, and friendship. Any difference between conversation and experience? Not much: more emphasis on “from you to me” versus “me with me”- both are social and “selfed”- i.e. language-loaded.

This agreement would also help with understanding, among other mysteries of the universe, our hybrid mind. 

The old part makes almost all nervous system, similar to animals, octopuses, and all. Peripheral nerves, autonomic nerves, whole brain with all myriads of codes, and algorithms. This old mind led us to get more and more complicated through the perils and challenges of evolution, it contains all mechanisms to survive, to outwit others, all instincts and gut feelings, altruism and competition, and anger and love.

It creates a sophisticated world, with emotions and feelings but this world belongs only to this organism. It is not shared and it doesn’t have things. It is extremely difficult to imagine such a being. All feelings and drives but nobody to feel and be driven. All fear, trembling but without anybody to fear. 

And then Homo Sapiens invented language. I described possible scenarios. Most likely I am wrong, but it helps with imagining the process. It started with sharing simple sentences like “I called it apple”

Strange, it had an agent, “self”
But no emotions, no value. The “stone” or “buffalo” is not good or bad. Revolutionary, it had things. The incredible advantage of things over the old system ”behaviors” is that they can be easily controlled! They practically “ask” to be controlled. The “self” controlling “a thing”: the consciousness is born.

The new ( maybe 50.000 years old?) system propelled Homo Sapiens to where we are now. The shared material world was controlled. Greed was born and it challenged more and more evolutionary-developed altruism. This is the core and deep origin of our environmental and social disasters. 

It also points toward the only way we can reverse this.