Beyond The Human Condition
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Print Edition Foreword
by Tim Macartney-Snape
CHARLES DARWIN’S The Origin of Species (1859) was one of the great milestones in the heroic journey of human ideas. In retrospect, Darwin’s theory was a very simple concept to grasp, even though it was not thought of until well after one of the giants of science, Isaac Newton, had invented calculus and worked out, almost perfectly, the laws of motion and the movement of the planets. While Newton’s ideas helped us to begin understanding the physical world, we had to wait for Darwin’s ideas on evolution to begin understanding how life on Earth developed into the complex array of organisms that exists today. With an understanding of the basic idea that evolution is a genetic learning process (nature’s ‘trial and error’ method if you like, where organisms are refined and improved through their genes), that evolutionary change happens slowly and by using our subsequent knowledge to interpret the fossilised remains of prehistoric life forms, we have finally found ourselves in a position to begin understanding our own origins.
This is indeed a triumph for the mind. For all recorded history we have struggled to find meaning in our existence, inventing elaborate stories to explain our origins. Rational Page 10 of
Print Edition thinking and its product, science, have brought us a long way from when we recorded our myths on the walls of caves. Science has been a great winnower of superstition, but its mechanistic approach has had the effect of excluding us from the explanations that I believe we needed and set out to find in the first place.
Is our thirst for meaning without justification or is there some hidden meaning to life? Jeremy Griffith deals with this question in these pages and in his main work, Free: The End of The Human Condition.
Jeremy may well be ahead of his time because his explanations lead to a great shift in the way we think. As for our need for his ideas, they may have arrived only in the nick of time. A handful of physicists, mathematicians and a few experimental scientists are beginning to hint that evidence suggests a purpose in the development of life. This is very bold indeed for as you will see as you read on, there are real problems with the scientific mind accepting this notion.
The science of life, biology, will generally deny any teleological or purposeful explanations for life and although many biologists hold religious beliefs, there has been no true, sound, scientific effort to solve the mystery of the mind’s obsession for meaning. There has been little effort to interpret our moral codes. In fact despite the vast inroads made by the mind into the uncharted territory of the universe, we still know very little about ourselves, about our psychological development and the functioning of our ‘on-board necktop computer’.
The human mind is capable of unsurpassed sensitivity to our planet. This becomes abundantly clear to me when I react to things I find beautiful in nature such as a flower or a mountain landscape. Despite suffering from lack of oxygen it was vividly clear to me when, after struggling up the north face of Mt Everest in 1984, I arrived at the summit to view a world bathed in the rosy glow of the setting sun and felt an almost incandescent warmth and love towards our planet. ThisPage 11 of
Print Edition sensitivity is clearly shown in our expression of wonder at natural beauty reflected in our art, music and poetry and is probably clearest of all when examining unconditional love. This emotion is so intense it seems to transcend explanation, making it even more inaccessible to scientific scrutiny.
Despite our great sensitivity and propensity for love and perception of goodness, there is also a dark side to our history: an equal propensity for evil. We are undoubtedly the most ferocious and destructive force and the cruellest animal that has ever lived on this planet. To say that we have outgrown this by the process of civilisation is in my view, untrue. One only needs to look at the recent wars in the Persian Gulf to see that 10,000 years of civilisation have done little to curb our anger, aggression and cruelty. That region is the cradle of civilisation yet from an overview of our behaviour, all that has changed is the means by which we express our anger. It is true I think that the civilising process has taught us control but it seems to have done nothing to alter our nature. The person who appreciates Michelangelo’s art is still capable of murder.
This duality of good and evil, the essence of the human condition, has no doubt perplexed humanity from the dawn of the process we call thinking. It is only now, by virtue of what we have learnt about the mechanisms of evolution and human prehistory, that we can at last hope to reach an understanding. I believe the reader will discover in these pages as I have, that Jeremy Griffith has indeed achieved this understanding. Perhaps even more astonishing is that he brings us the realisation that the duality of human nature, the good and evil, is part of an essential process in the long journey to this remarkable understanding.
As the mind used scientific enquiry to develop an understanding of our world, we put it successfully to work in the cause of goodness by stamping out untold misery and suffering in humanity. Diseases were cured, life made longer and healthier and transport and communications werePage 12 of
Print Edition miraculously improved. Science has brought great comfort to millions of people. Similarly, it has also been harnessed to commit new and hitherto undreamt of miseries in the cause of evil. Despite having come so far, the question of the origin of our ‘evil’ side remains more urgent than ever. Will we, as a species, always have the propensity to create atrocities such as the holocaust and the bombing of Hiroshima, or is this merely a phase in human development which has to be overcome in the process of our evolution?
From this fundamental question a host of other increasingly urgent questions arise which must concern anyone with a broad view of the human situation.
Why, if we are as sensitive as our emotions and art indicate, do we seem not to care that we are out of balance with the planet we ‘grew up’ on?
Why do we create so much ugliness and surround ourselves with vulgarity that is so removed from what is classically accepted as beautiful?
Why can’t we halt the alarming change we are making to our life-giving atmosphere by the profligate burning of fossil fuels, the destruction of tropical forests and the depletion of the ozone layer?
Why can’t we control our burgeoning population that will surely, unless we act immediately, lead to our destruction?
Why do we gear our economic systems and consumption patterns to growth when we live in a world where the limits to growth are obvious and are speeding up to confront us head-on with an almighty crash?
If we bring war and the countless other afflictions caused by human greed and ambition into the picture we very quickly have to start putting up our thought barriers. Without these barriers we could not cope in the ever increasing pace of modern life. One of the great afflictions of our time is our inability to see the reality of our predicament, yet it is that very ability to cling to the positive that has kept us afloatPage 13 of
Print Edition in a sea of doubt. But the time has come when we must confront reality and face the real problem, the cause of our capacity for evil.
Certainly many noble efforts are made by many people to try to redress the balance. The environment and human rights movements are examples. Surely though, trying to save whales trapped in the Arctic ice and to stop the ozone hole growing is merely plugging the valves when the real problem is the pressure of our upset nature. We have been grappling with the symptoms of our often destructive, insensitive, egotistical and aggressive nature rather than with its psychological cause. The fundamental problem on earth is our upset state or condition, not the expressions of it. The greatest challenge we face is not to escape into the solar system carrying with us the human condition but to use our minds to alleviate our condition, thus clearing the way for a saner, healthier, more stable future.
It was not until I studied biology at university that I fully realised that our genus Homo is the product of around 2 million years of evolution and that our primate ancestors were evolving for around 10 million years before that. In our most refined forms as Homo sapiens and Homo sapiens sapiens, we have been around for nearly half a million years. For more than 99 per cent of that time we lived as hunter-gatherers. It is only in the past 10,000 years, merely 0.5 per cent of Homo’s existence, that we have led a settled lifestyle. Evolution is an imperceptibly slow process and those 10,000 years are but a few seconds on development’s clock. Most of our refinement to what we are today was geared to perfecting us for life in the open, plenty of exercise, an 80 per cent vegetarian diet, and most important of all, living cooperatively in groups. Just by recognising those facts and trying to practise those dietary, physical and social patterns and trying to put them into a modern context we would immediately solve many of our current problems. Why isn’t that taught in school?
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Print Edition The main question however is: why in the process of civilisation and the acquisition of knowledge did we lose our affinity with our natural surroundings and each other?
When renowned author Sir Laurens van der Post made a television documentary about the few remaining Bushmen of the Kalahari, the people most closely related to our hunter-gatherer forebears, world wide response was overwhelming. (This primitive, relatively innocent race once thrived all over southern Africa but was exterminated in all areas except the Kalahari desert, first by more sophisticated black races and later by even more sophisticated white races.) Many people, including myself, found the Bushmen endearing and could relate to their natural way of life, which we have lost in the civilising process. Their social structure of an extended, happy family and their spontaneous sense of fun and happiness were perhaps the most touching of all and exemplified qualities that we lack in our modern age.
Similarly, the simple folk who live in Nepal’s lush and rugged foothills have appealed to me since I first visited that country. Unlike the Bushmen, these people are not at a stone age stage of development, but by virtue of their isolation and difficult living conditions, they exhibit a comparative innocence that we have lost. Most people I know who have been in contact with them react in the same way: somewhere deep inside a chord of wonder is struck and they cling to it as something very valuable.
The inevitable question is why are these qualities, so alive in the primitive and so deeply felt and revered by us, so suppressed in us today? Jeremy Griffith answers this question unequivocally in these pages. We have had to follow the path we have taken for a very good reason. An inevitable part of the great search for understanding was that we had to depart from an ideal state in order to gain a profound understanding of it. The search ends with Jeremy’s revelations.
In their book New Mind, New World (1989), Paul Ehrlich and Robert Ornstein proposed that we fail to think globallyPage 15 of
Print Edition because our evolutionary (i.e. hunter-gatherer) circumstances make us most capable of responding to our familiar and immediate surroundings and so we respond more positively to a child being stuck in a well than to the fact that thousands of children are dying from malnutrition every day. That may be partially true but it can’t be the full truth. If it is, why is the human race as a whole so alienated from the wilderness it grew up in, why do we huddle in cities and deny the world that was our original home?
If you accept the concept that evolution always leads to a more successful ‘model’ for the prevailing conditions, then on a superficial level you might conclude that perhaps we are slowly becoming better. Here we should halt to briefly explore what we mean by ‘better’ and indeed, ‘goodness’. Jeremy’s convincing definition that I think most people would agree with is that, as a basic foundation for life, order is imperative and therefore order rather than chaos is the framework for a better, more meaningful life and that the ultimate state of goodness would be a state of universal love. These, to put it one way, are the consistent and universal social ideals: they have been determined separately by most of the great civilisations and religions in history.
So to get back to evolution; if we were slowly evolving towards a ‘better’ state, universal love and order rather than chaos would be the ultimate goal. Looking at the present evidence it quickly becomes clear that although we may appear to be becoming more civilised, or to put it another way, learning to subdue our badness or ‘upset’ as Jeremy calls it, we are merely bottling it up. Instead of being blatant, taking the form of mass genocide for instance, our upset is becoming manifest in more subtle ways — through the disintegration of family life, psychoses, drug abuse, crime, insensitivity to the environment, etc. We do not appear to be succeeding! No wonder we look at our fellow humans in the Kalahari and the Himalaya with a sense of longing.
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Print Edition Why, after knowing the perfect social ideals for thousands of years, have we not been able to achieve them? The answer is not in our physical evolution that has brought us so far, but in what went on in our heads when we first became conscious, and the ensuing evolution of our ideas. Those ideas incorporate much of what science has discovered about the process of the development of life. For very valid reasons that Jeremy explains clearly, we have evaded putting the evidence together and finding the fundamental understanding that we need. Remarkably, Jeremy has brought the evidence together and most importantly, he explains that the terrible part of humanity’s journey has been an unavoidable and necessary evil.
To put it simply, Jeremy Griffith reveals that the human condition developed when our conscious mind emerged, some 2 million years ago. At that time, a battle began between the conscious mind and our instinctive self that could only be resolved through an understanding of the difference between consciousness and instinct. The conflict arose because the conscious mind is a memory-association-based learning system, which means it is insightful or understanding, whereas instincts are derived from the genetically-based learning system, which is not insightful.
Jeremy explains how, by the time the conscious mind emerged, we had already acquired an instinctive orientation to the ‘ideal’ of being cooperative or of creating greater order. Of course this was not a conscious understanding of that ideal. The battle began when the conscious mind embarked on the necessary voyage to find understanding of that ideal and everything else in life. Unavoidably and tragically, the instinctive self ‘criticised’ the search because it was not able to recognise and tolerate the misunderstandings and mistakes that the conscious mind made while trying to find reasons for everything. To find understanding, the conscious mind had to defy the ignorant criticism levelled at it by the instinctive self. Our egocentricity is the expression of our embattled conscious thinking selves.
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Print Edition This necessary battle to defy our instinctive self or soul and find understanding left us angry, egocentric and alienated. Being insecure, being unable to refute the criticism with explanation of why these mistakes were necessary, we coped by attacking the criticism, by trying to prove it wrong and by blocking it out or repressing it. Becoming upset was inevitable while we lacked the defence for our mistakes. We had to endure becoming upset if we were to understand why we had to make mistakes. It follows that having discovered why we had to make mistakes, our upset ‘human nature’ — our anger, egocentricity and alienation — can subside. Understanding what happened in our species’ development — and the rehabilitation that automatically follows it — is the real or profound solution to the pressure on earth caused by our insecure, upset and destructive nature.
Finding that understanding took the combined effort of humanity 2 million years! It involved not only Charles Darwin with his revolutionary ideas, but people like Carnot, Kelvin and Clausius and the Laws of Thermodynamics. It involved Ilya Prigogine discovering the ‘Second Path’ of the Second Law of Thermodynamics (also termed ‘negative entropy’) in which systems of matter in disequilibrium integrate instead of disintegrating and so develop larger and more stable wholes or greater order. It involved Watson and Crick who made the fantastic breakthrough in determining the structure of DNA, the molecular carrier of genetic information. It involved the work of people like Drs Louis and Mary Leakey, pioneers in palaeoanthropology. In fact in one way or another it involved all of humanity.
Jeremy Griffith’s concepts are without doubt confronting. I cannot caution the reader too strongly that there will be incredulity then discomfort when you begin to realise the depths to which this information takes us, but you must be strong because to go beyond the human condition requires us to go through those depths which have hitherto been forbidden territory. The total relief from our condition thatPage 18 of
Print Edition awaits us on the other side makes the struggle well worth while, if not imperative.
When I think of the depth of uncharted territory in our mind I am reminded of a favourite quote of Sir Laurens van der Post (from Gerard Manley Hopkins): ‘O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall Frightful, sheer, no-man fathomed.’ Having at last been safely guided through this region of our repressed self or psyche most of us will be fearfully numbed at first, but the momentum of reason will carry us through this inevitable phase of the reconciling process.
At last we have the knowledge that will allow us to triumphantly climb from the dark depths of our searching on to the uplands of our ideals which it has been our destiny to reach.
The proof of any idea depends on its ability to explain the situation it applies to. For me, Jeremy’s explanations have clarified so much that was inexplicable about myself and what goes on in the world. It is like having mist lift from country you’ve never seen in clear weather. Our age old reliance on faith and belief is over now that we know our direction. Our new-found understanding brings such relief and beauty that it makes the wonder we once bestowed upon mystery appear trivial. Even though we are unable to change ourselves immediately, we can participate in the new order right from the start by recognising the truth and supporting it without reproach or guilt.
In time there will be elaborations written and spoken about Jeremy Griffith’s concepts. I believe that eventually, more words of importance will be spoken and written about them than about any others — ever. Eventually everyone will understand them, perhaps not for a few generations, but the sooner we all come to terms with them the richer and more exciting our lives will be and the sooner we will bring about a real repair of our planet.