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PDF Version Ego, and Our Egocentric Lives
Written by Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith, 2011
The great questions about ego and our egocentric lives are:
- ‘What is ego?’
- ‘Why are we humans so egocentric that our competitive selfishness and aggression has all but destroyed the world?’
- ‘Can our ego ever be satisfied at some fundamental level so that we humans no longer have to be egocentric and preoccupied trying to prove ourselves all the time?’
The truth is, all these questions relate to an even deeper question:
- ‘Will we humans ever find the reconciling, redeeming and thus psychologically rehabilitating understanding of our seemingly-imperfect, competitive, selfish and aggressive egocentric HUMAN CONDITION?’
The astonishing answer to that question of questions is:
- ‘Yes, biology is now at last able to provide the dreamed-of, reconciling, exonerating and thus egocentricity-subsiding, HUMAN-RACE-TRANSFORMING biological explanation of the human condition!’ (And it should be mentioned that this explanation of our species’ deeply psychologically troubled condition is not the psychosis-avoiding, trivialising, dishonest account of it that the biologist E.O. Wilson has put forward in his theory of Eusociality, but the psychosis-addressing-and-solving, real explanation of it.)
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines ‘ego’ as ‘the conscious thinking self’, so the question of ‘what is the ego?’ is really the question of ‘what is the conscious thinking self?’—in fact, ‘what is consciousness?’
To very briefly answer this question, nerves were originally developed for the coordination of movement in animals, but, once developed, their ability to store impressions—which is what we refer to as ‘memory’—gave rise to the potential to develop understanding of cause and effect. If you can remember past events, you can compare them with current events and identify regularly occurring experiences. This knowledge of, or insight into, what has commonly occurred in the past enables you to predict what is likely to happen in the future and to adjust your behaviour accordingly. Page 86 of
PDF Version Once insights into the nature of change are put into effect, the self-modified behaviour starts to provide feedback, refining the insights further. Predictions are compared with outcomes and so on. Much developed, and such refinement occurred in the human brain, nerves can sufficiently associate information to reason how experiences are related, learn to understand and become CONSCIOUS of, or aware of, or intelligent about, the relationship between events that occur through time. Thus , which again is our conscious thinking self or ego, means being sufficiently aware of how experiences are related to attempt to manage change from a basis of understanding.
What is so significant about this process is that once our nerve-based learning system became sufficiently developed for us to become conscious and able to effectively manage events, our conscious thinking self or ego was then in a position to wrest control from our gene-based learning system’s instincts, which, up until then, had been controlling our lives. Basically, once our self-adjusting, conscious thinking self or ego emerged it was capable of taking over the management of our lives from the we had acquired through the natural selection of genetic traits that adapted us to our .
HOWEVER, it was at this juncture, when our conscious intellect challenged our instincts for control, that a terrible battle broke out between our instincts and intellect, the effect of which we have historically referred to as the HUMAN CONDITION—our less-than-ideal, seemingly-imperfect, ‘good-and-evil’-afflicted, even corrupted or ‘fallen’ competitive, selfish and aggressive egocentric behaviour.
How this angry, egocentric and alienated human condition emerged has been the great outstanding question in biology, and the question that had to be solved if the human race was to survive. Indeed, even E.O. Wilson once conceded that ‘The human condition is the most important frontier of the natural sciences’ (Consilience, 1998, p.298)—despite later trivialising this ‘most important frontier’ with his own psychosis-avoiding, dishonest ‘explanation’ of it.
Unable—until now—to truthfully explain our competitive, selfish and aggressive egocentric HUMAN CONDITION we justified it with all manner of false excuses, but, most wonderfully, biology is finally able to provide the clarifying, psychosis-addressing-and-solving, truthful, real explanation of the human condition—a redeeming, relieving and thus healing explanation that brings about the complete TRANSFORMATION of the human race, ending our angry, ego-embattled, egocentric and alienated condition forever!
The famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung was forever saying that ‘wholeness for humans depends on the ability to own their own shadow’ because he recognised that only finding understanding of our dark, competitive, selfish and aggressive egocentric side could end our underlying insecurity about our fundamental goodness and worth as humans and, in so doing, make us ‘whole’. In the interim, however, while this understanding was still to be found, we understandably invented excuses to justify our species’ seemingly-imperfect, egocentric competitive, selfish and aggressive behaviour—the main one being that we have savage animal instincts that make us fight and compete for food, shelter, territory and a mate. Of course, this ‘explanation’, which has been put forward in the biological theories of Social Darwinism, Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, Multilevel Selection and E.O. Wilson’s Eusociality and basically argues that ‘genes are competitive and selfish and that’s why we are’, can’t be the real explanation for our divisive competitive, selfish and aggressive egocentric behaviour. Firstly, it overlooks the fact that our human Page 87 of
PDF Version behaviour involves our unique fully conscious thinking mind or ego. Descriptions like egocentric, arrogant, deluded, artificial, hateful, mean, immoral, alienated, etc, all imply a consciousness-derived, psychological dimension to our behaviour. The real issue—the psychological problem in our thinking minds that we have suffered from—is the dilemma of our human condition, the issue of our species’ ‘good-and-evil’-afflicted, less-than-ideal, ego-embattled/ egocentric state. We humans suffer from a consciousness-derived, psychological HUMAN CONDITION, not an instinct-controlled animal condition—our condition is unique to us fully conscious humans. (A brief description of the theories of Social Darwinism, Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, Multilevel Selection and Eusociality that blame our divisive behaviour on savage instincts rather than on a consciousness-derived psychosis is presented in the in this, The Book of Real Answers to Everything!, with the provided in the freely-available, online book Freedom: Expanded Book 1.)
The second reason the savage-instincts-in-us excuse can’t possibly be the real explanation for our divisive, selfish and aggressive behaviour is that it overlooks the fact that we humans have altruistic, cooperative, moral instincts—what we recognise as our ‘’—and these moral instincts in us are not derived from reciprocity, from situations where you only do something for others in return for a benefit from them, as Evolutionary Psychologists would have us believe. And nor are they derived from warring with other groups of humans as advocates of the theory of Eusociality would have us believe. No, we have an unconditionally selfless, fully altruistic, truly loving, universally-considerate-of-others-not-competitive-with-other-groups, genuinely moral conscience. Our original instinctive state was the opposite of being competitive, selfish and aggressive: it was fully cooperative, selfless and loving. (How we humans acquired unconditionally selfless moral instincts when it would seem that an unconditionally selfless, fully altruistic trait is going to self-eliminate and thus not ever be able to become established in a species is briefly explained in the above-mentioned , and more fully explained in —however, the point being made here is that the savage-instincts-in-us excuse is completely inconsistent with the fact that we have genuine and entirely moral instincts, NOT savage instincts. Charles Darwin recognised the difference in our moral nature when he said that ‘the moral sense affords the best and highest distinction between man and the lower animals’ (The Descent of Man, 1871, p.495).)
So, what is this truthful, human-condition-addressing rather than human-condition-avoiding, biological explanation of our species’ present seemingly-imperfect, competitive, selfish and aggressive egocentric behaviour? To answer this question, we need to look more closely at what happened when the self-adjusting conscious thinking self or ego emerged in the presence of already established instinctive behavioural orientations.
When our conscious mind or ego emerged it was neither suitable nor sustainable for it to be orientated by instincts—it had to find understanding to operate effectively and fulfil its great potential to manage life. However, when the conscious mind or ego began to exert itself and experiment in the management of life from a basis of understanding, in effect challenging the role of the already established instinctual self, a battle unavoidably broke out between the instinctive self and the newer conscious, intelligent self.
Our intellect began to experiment in understanding as the only means of discovering the correct and incorrect understandings for managing existence, but the instincts—being in effect ‘unaware’ or ‘ignorant’ of the intellect’s need to carry out these experiments—‘opposed’ any understanding-produced deviations from the established instinctive Page 88 of
PDF Version orientations: they ‘criticised’ and ‘tried to stop’ the conscious mind’s necessary search for knowledge. To illustrate the situation, imagine what would happen if we put a fully conscious mind on the head of a migrating bird. The bird is following an instinctive flight path acquired over thousands of generations of natural selection, but it now has a conscious mind that needs to understand how to behave, and the only way it can acquire that understanding is by experimenting in understanding—for example, thinking, ‘I’ll fly down to that island and have a rest.’ But such a deviation from the migratory flight path would naturally result in the instincts resisting the deviation, leaving the conscious intellect in a serious dilemma: if it obeys its instincts it will not feel ‘criticised’ by its instincts but neither will it find knowledge. Obviously, the intellect could not afford to give in to the instincts, and unable to understand and thus explain why its experiments in self-adjustment were necessary, the intellect/ego had no way of refuting the implicit criticism from the instincts even though it knew it was unjust. Until the conscious mind found the redeeming understanding of why it had to defy the instincts (namely the scientific understanding of the difference in the way genes and nerves process information, that one is an orientating learning system while the other is an insightful learning system), the intellect/ego was left having to endure a psychologically distressed, upset condition, with no choice but to defy that opposition from the instincts. The only forms of defiance available to the intellect/ego were to attack the instincts’ unjust criticism, try to deny or block from its mind the instincts’ unjust criticism, and attempt to prove the instincts’ unjust criticism wrong. In short—and to return to our human situation because we were the species that acquired the fully conscious mind—the psychologically upset angry, alienated and egocentric human-condition-afflicted state appeared. Our ego became ego-centric—it became ‘centred’ or preoccupied or focused on the need to justify itself. We became self-centred or selfish, preoccupied with aggressively competing for opportunities to prove we are good and not bad—we unavoidably became selfish, aggressive and competitive.
What is so exonerating, rehabilitating and healing about this explanation of the human condition is that we can finally appreciate that there was a very good reason for our angry, alienated and egocentric behaviour—in fact, we can now see why we have not just been ego-centric, but ego-infuriated, even ego-gone-mad-with-murderous-anger for having to live with so much unjust criticism. We can now see that the conscious thinking self or ego was NOT the evil villain it has so long been portrayed as—such as in the Bible where Adam and Eve are demonised and ‘banished…from the Garden of Eden’ (Gen. 3:23) of our original innocent, all-loving, moral state for taking the ‘fruit…from the tree of knowledge’ (ibid. 3:3, 2:17). No, science has finally enabled us to lift the so-called ‘burden of guilt’ from the human race; in fact, to understand that we thinking, ‘knowledge’-finding, conscious humans are actually nothing less than the heroes of the story of life on Earth! This is because our fully conscious mind is surely nature’s greatest invention and to have had to endure the torture of being unjustly condemned as evil for so long (the anthropological evidence indicates we humans have been fully conscious for some two million years) must make us the absolute heroes of the story of life on Earth.
And BEST OF ALL, because this explanation of the human condition is redeeming and thus rehabilitating, all our upset angry, egocentric and alienated behaviour now subsides, bringing about the complete TRANSFORMATION OF THE HUMAN RACE—and importantly, understanding of the human condition doesn’t condone ‘bad’ behaviour, it heals and by so doing ends it. From being competitive, selfish and aggressive, humans return to being Page 89 of
PDF Version cooperative, selfless and loving. Our round of departure has ended. The poet T.S. Eliot wonderfully articulated our species’ journey from an original innocent, yet ignorant, state, to a psychologically upset ‘fallen’, corrupted state, and back to an uncorrupted, but this time enlightened, state when he wrote, ‘We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time’ (Little Gidding, 1942).
Finding the exonerating, redeeming understanding of our dark, troubled, psychologically upset, human-condition-afflicted existence finally enables the human race to be healed and thus TRANSFORMED—it makes us ‘whole’ again, as Jung said it would. Yes, from being ego-centric the human race now becomes ego-redeemed, ego-satisfied and ego-at-peace. To quote Professor Harry Prosen, a former president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association, on this dreamed-of, greatest of all breakthroughs in science: ‘I have no doubt this biological explanation of the human condition is the holy grail of insight we have sought for the psychological rehabilitation of the human race’ (FREEDOM, 2016, Introduction).