Freedom Expanded: Book 1––The New Biology
Part 8:7 Consciousness
Part 8:7A What is consciousness?
The subject of consciousness and how we have had to live in denial of what it means was briefly discussed in Part 4:4C—the contents of which will be used again here to commence this more complete description of the nature of consciousness.
Anyone who has searched the term ‘consciousness’ will have found it to be a subject cloaked with mystery and confusion, but there is a very good reason for this, and it is not because consciousness is an impenetrably complex subject, as we are often told—it is because it raises the unbearable issue of the human condition.
The truth is, the subject of consciousness brings our mind so quickly into contact with the unbearably depressing issue of the human condition that ‘consciousness’ has become synonymous with—indeed code for—the problem of the human condition. Indeed, in his book Complexity, the science writer Roger Lewin described the great difficulty humans have had trying to ‘illuminate the phenomena of consciousness’ as ‘a tough challenge…perhaps the toughest of all’ (1993, p.153 of 208). To illustrate the nature and extent of the difficulty, Lewin relayed the philosopher René Descartes’ own disturbed reaction when he tried to ‘contemplate consciousness’: ‘So serious are the doubts into which I have been thrown…that I can neither put them out of my mind nor see any way of resolving them. It feels as if I have fallen unexpectedly into a deep whirlpool which tumbles me around so that I can neither stand on the bottom nor swim up to the top’ (p.154). Yes, consciousness has indeed been a fearful subject to face!
As mentioned, there have been two very good reasons why the subject of consciousness raised the unbearable issue of the human condition and therefore why examination of it led to such a fearful, all-our-moorings-taken-from-under-us, ‘deep whirlpool’ of terrible depression for humans.
The first reason is that trying to think about consciousness meant trying to understand what—when we humans are the only fully conscious, reasoning, intelligent, extraordinarily clever, ‘can-get-a-man-on-the-Moon’ animal—is so intelligent and clever about being so competitive, selfish and aggressive, in fact, so ruthlessly competitive, brutal and even murderous, that human life has become all but unbearable and we have nearly destroyed our own planet?! Even beginning to vaguely contemplate the nature of our human situation has been too dangerous for upset humans; indeed, merely asking the obvious initial question of ‘What makes humans unique?’ has been a ‘no-go zone’ because clearly what is so unique about us humans is that we are conscious, but thinking about that was a slippery slope as it quickly raised the depressing question: ‘Well, if we are such a clever species why do we treat each other and our planet so appallingly?’
Any thinking about the nature of our conscious intellect invariably brought us into contact with the unbearable conclusion that it was the most destructive force the world has ever known. Yes, that our fully conscious, reasoning, intelligent, insightful, aware, knowing, understanding human mind has, it seems, unconsciously, irrationally, unintelligently, unthinkingly, indifferently, uncaringly and stupidly almost destroyed the whole planet we live on, and also brought human existence to a state of unbearably lonely, alienated, egocentricity-crazed, aggressive, hateful dysfunctionality, has been an extremely confronting matter to think about. No wonder, as it says in Genesis in the Bible, having taken the ‘fruit’ ‘from the tree of…knowledge’ (3:3, 2:17) that was ‘desirable for gaining wisdom’ (3:6)—that is, having become fully conscious, thinking, knowledge-finding beings—we humans became so destructively behaved, so apparently lacking in ‘wisdom’, that we seemingly deserved to be condemned and ‘banished…from the Garden of Eden’ (3:23) as defiling, unworthy, evil beings! While our intellect is surely the culminating achievement of the grand experiment in nature that we call life, it also appeared to be the most destructive and thus seemingly evil force to ever have appeared on Earth. Our conscious mind appeared to be to blame for all the devastation and human suffering in the world! Instead of being wonderful, our conscious mind appeared to be the plague of the planet! That is how ‘serious are the doubts’ that thinking about consciousness produced within us!
Our previous inability to explain the dichotomy of being the most clever and brilliant but also the most apparently destructive and stupid animal on the planet has meant that we humans have understandably been extremely insecure and defensive about our supposedly wonderful intellect.
The second reason why the subject of consciousness has been so unbearably depressing to confront was because thinking about the nature of consciousness quickly brought us into contact with the unbearably depressing truth of Integrative Meaning. The explanation of what consciousness actually is will reveal the problem, because as we will see, while consciousness itself is actually a simple and obvious phenomenon to explain, its meaning has very confronting implications.
Humans can be distinguished from other animals by the fact we are fully conscious; that is, sufficiently able to understand and thus manage the relationship between cause and effect to wrest management of our lives from our instincts—and even to reflect upon our existence, specifically the problem of our immensely upset human condition that wresting management from our instincts brought about.
This consciousness is a product of the nerve-based learning system’s ability to remember, for it is memory that allows understanding of cause and effect to develop. To elaborate, nerves were originally developed as connections for the coordination of movement in multicellular animals. An incidental by-product of the development of nerves was that of memory. The actual mechanism by which nerves are able to store impressions is not yet fully understood although we know it involves chemical processes. What is important is that nerves do have the capacity for memory because once you have memory you have the ability to develop understanding of cause and effect.
Nerves have the ability to remember past events, compare them with current events and identify regularly occurring experiences. This knowledge of, or insight into, what has commonly occurred in the past enables the mind to predict what is likely to occur in the future and to adjust behaviour accordingly. Thus, the nerve-based learning system (unlike the gene-based learning system) can associate information, reason how experiences are related, learn to understand and become CONSCIOUS of the relationship of events that occur through time.
In the brain, nerve information recordings of experiences (memories) are examined for their relationship with each other. To understand how the brain makes these comparisons, think of the brain as a vast network of nerve pathways onto which incoming experiences are recorded or inscribed, each on a particular path within that network. Where different experiences share the same information, their pathways overlap. For example, long before we understood the force of gravity we had learnt that if we let go of an object it would invariably drop to the ground. The value of recording information as a pathway in a network is that it allows related aspects of experience to be physically related. In fact, the area in our brain where information is related is called the ‘association cortex’. Where parts of an experience are the same they share the same pathway, and where they differ their pathways differ or diverge. All the nerve cells in the brain are interconnected, so with sufficient input of experiences onto a nerve network of sufficient size, similarities or consistencies in experience show up as well-used pathways, pathways that have become highways. (It has been found that in the vast convolutions of our brain’s cortex there are about eight billion nerve cells with ten times that number of interconnecting dendrites which, if laid end to end, would stretch at least from Earth to the Moon and back.)
An ‘idea’ represents the moment information is associated in the brain. Incoming information could reinforce a highway, slightly modify it or add an association (an idea) between two highways, dramatically simplifying that particular network of developing consistencies to create a new and simpler interpretation of that information. For example, the most important relationship between different types of fruit is their edibility. Elsewhere the brain has recognised that the main relationship connecting experiences with living things is that they appear to try to stay alive, at least for a period of time. Suddenly it ‘sees’ or deduces (‘tumbles’ to the idea or association or abstraction) a possible connection between eating and staying alive which, with further experience and thought, becomes reinforced as ‘seemingly’ correct. ‘Eating’ is now channelled onto the ‘staying alive’ highway. Subsequent thought would try to deduce the significance of ‘staying alive’ and, beyond that, compare the importance of selfishness and selflessness. Ultimately the brain would arrive at the truth of Integrative Meaning.
The process of forgetting would also play a part in understanding the relationship between experiences. Since duration of nerve memory is related to use, our strongest memories will be of those highways, those experiences that have the greatest relativity. Our experiences not only become related or associated in the brain, they also become concentrated because the brain gradually forgets or discards inconsistencies or irregularities between experiences. Forgetting serves to cleanse the network of less consistently occurring information, preventing it from becoming cluttered with meaningless (non-insightful) information.
Our language development took the same path as the development of understanding. Commonly occurring arrangements of matter and commonly occurring events were identified (became clear or stood out). Eventually all the main objects and events became identified and, as language emerged, named. For example, we named those regularly occurring arrangements of matter with wings ‘birds’ and what they did as ‘flying’.
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, leading all the way to the deduction of the meaning of all experience, which is to order or integrate matter.
Thus consciousness is the ability to understand the relationship of events sufficiently well to effectively manage and manipulate those events. For example, chimpanzees demonstrate consciousness when they effectively reason that by placing boxes one on top of the other they can create a stack that they can then climb upon to reach a banana tied to the roof of their cage. Consciousness is when the mind becomes effective, able to understand how experiences are related. It is the point at which the confusion of incoming information clears, starts to fit together or make sense and the mind becomes master of change.
It should be pointed out that it is one thing to be able to stack boxes to reach bananas—to manage immediate events—but quite another to manage events over the long term, to be secure managers of the world. In fact, as explained in Part 3:11, infancy is when we develop sufficient consciousness to recognise that we are at the centre of the changing array of experiences around us. We become aware of the concept of ‘I’ or self, which is what bonobos and the other great apes are capable of. Infancy is also when we discover conscious free will, the power to manage events. Childhood is when we revel in this free will, ‘play’ or experiment with it, while adolescence is when we encounter both the sobering responsibility of free will and the agonising identity crisis brought about by the dilemma of the human condition, the question of whether or not we are meaningful beings.
As has been pointed out, consciousness has been a difficult subject for humans to investigate, not because of the practical difficulties involved in understanding how our brain works, as we’re often told, but because we did not want to know how it worked. While we couldn’t explain our upset state of the human condition we had to avoid admitting too clearly how the brain functions because admitting information could be associated and simplified—admitting to insight—was only a short step away from realising the ultimate insight, which is the integrative theme or meaning or purpose or direction of existence, which in turn immediately confronted us with our own inconsistency with that meaning.
Yes, to admit to Integrative Meaning meant having to face the fact that our competitive and aggressive behaviour is seemingly totally at odds with the integrative direction of life, no less. The development and maintenance of the order of matter requires that the parts of developing wholes cooperate not compete. Integrative meaning confronts us squarely with our divisive human condition. Better to evade the existence of purpose in the first place by avoiding the possibility that information could be associated, refined and simplified. It is the same reason we sidestepped the term ‘genetic refinement’ for the process of the genetic refinement of the integration of matter on Earth, preferring instead the much vaguer term, ‘genetics’. We had to evade the possibility of the refinement of information in all its forms because admitting that information could be simplified or refined was admitting to an ultimate refinement or law, confronting us with our inconsistency with that law, namely with the law of Integrative Meaning.
In fact, we have avoided not only the idea of meaningfulness but also any deep, meaningful thinking that might lead to confrontation with Integrative Meaning, against which we had no defence. Ensuring deeper insights remained elusive saved us from exposure but in the process buried the truth. As a result, we became extremely superficial in our thinking, masters of not thinking; in short, alienated beings.
Demonstrating our masterful evasion of the nature of consciousness we used words like ‘conscious’, ‘intelligent’, ‘understanding’, ‘reason’ and ‘insight’ regularly without ever actually identifying what we are conscious of, intelligent about, understanding, reasoning or having an insight into, which is how events or experiences are related. The conventional obscure, evasive definition of intelligence is ‘the ability to think abstractly’. The other imprecise, obscure, evasive phrase used whenever we wanted to refer to the uniqueness of our intelligence without actually saying what our conscious, understanding, insightful intelligence is, was to say that ‘We are the species that is able to reflect upon itself.’ So to name the area of the brain that associates and simplifies information as the ‘association cortex’ was, in fact, a slip of our evasive guard. Of course, when we weren’t ‘on our guard’ against exposure few would deny that information can be associated, simplified and meaning found. In fact, most of us would say we do it every day of our lives—if we didn’t, we wouldn’t have a word for ‘insight’. That is the amazing aspect about our denial of anything that brings the dilemma of the human condition into focus: it is not unusual for us humans to accept an idea up to a point, but as soon as it starts to lead to a confronting conclusion, pretend it doesn’t exist—and do so without batting an eyelid.
We see this practice of admitting a truth up to a point then evading it at work with the issue of the human condition as a whole. For instance, we recognise that most illnesses are psychosomatic, and we talk a great deal about people’s psychoses without allowing ourselves to consider what we are actually admitting. As explained in Part 3:8, ‘psychosis’ literally means ‘soul-illness’, derived as it is from psyche meaning ‘soul’, and osis, which means ‘abnormal state or condition’. Similarly, ‘psychiatry’ literally means ‘soul-healing’, derived as it is from psyche meaning ‘soul’ and iatreia, which means ‘healing’. In using these terms, we are actually admitting that our soul has been hurt or upset by our intellect, because the only aspect that has changed in our species to cause us humans to become psychotic or soul-destroyed is our conscious reasoning state. The elements involved in the human condition are in our language yet, as was documented in Parts 4:6 to 4:9, we have mostly failed to recognise them.
To illustrate how we avoided acknowledging the fundamental ability of the brain to associate and reduce information to essentials (and thus be forced to deduce the integrative meaning or theme or purpose in experience), take the following case from my files of a Newsweek magazine cover story (7 Feb. 1987). While the title and subject of the nine-page article raised the crucial question of ‘How the brain works’, the author referred to the association capability of the brain in such a garbled way it was effectively buried: ‘Productive thought requires not just the rules of logic but a wealth of experience and background information, plus the ability to generalise and interpret new experiences using that information.’ The ‘ability to generalise’ is the ability to associate information, but the meaning is all but lost in the sentence.
In case it is thought this ‘garbled’ description may have been due to poor expression rather than deliberate evasion on the part of the author, it should be pointed out that apart from a mention of ‘chunking or grouping of similar memories together’ and one unavoidable mention of the ‘association cortex’, there is no other reference to the brain’s fundamental ability to associate information. The entire nine-page article, on how our brain works, hangs on this one inept sentence. If we are not intending to be evasive then it is not difficult to clearly describe the mind’s ability to associate information, as demonstrated in the next paragraph.
Our ability to evade the truth has never been completely successful—if we looked long and hard enough it would always slip out from under our guard somewhere. (Indeed, this whole book is illustrated with quotes from people who momentarily exposed the truth. While each of these quotes was undoubtedly only intended as a bearable flash of honesty, I have hauled them all out and assembled them together as an avalanche of truth to evidence the full truth, now that it has been safely found.) For instance, in a one-page Newsweek article (9 Aug. 1982) that dealt with a slightly less sensitive (that is, less confronting) subject than the human brain and was possibly therefore not written as cautiously as the aforementioned cover story, the guard was dropped and the truth exposed. Referring to the development of a ‘superbrain’ mechanical computer (sometimes referred to as the fifth generation computer), the article stated the following (the underlinings are my emphasis): ‘We’ll be trying to set up in the machine an associative memory like the one in the human brain…Instead of giving each piece of information a numerical address in the computer’s memory, the new system would tag it with an equation that shows its relationship to other pieces of information…The objective is a machine that can memorise images and store them by association…Our ideal…is to create a computer that programs itself…that will have the capacity to “learn” on its own…to organise that knowledge for its own use [like the human brain can].’ Remember Rod Quantock’s comment that ‘Thinking can get you into terrible downwards spirals of doubt’? Well thinking about thinking could do that too.
Incidentally, should such an information-relating computer be developed, it would soon deduce the theme of integration in changing events. Indeed, its operation would be based upon integration and the development of order. If the biological understanding of the human condition was not found before this occurred humans would have been left dangerously exposed to criticism of our divisive state. To quote another Newsweek story on computers: ‘Mankind has long been…frightened by the prospect of creating machines that think’ (4 July 1983).
Our evasion and denial is often obviously false and yet we believed it, because we had to. For instance, in the case of Integrative Meaning, we are surrounded by examples of integration everywhere—every object we look at is a hierarchy of ordered matter, testament to the development of order of matter—and yet we deny it. Just like mechanistic science couldn’t even provide a definition for two of humanity’s most commonly used and important words/concepts—‘love’ and ‘soul’. The hypocrisy inherent in denial is palpable yet understandable.
In summary, ‘insight’ was the term given to the nerve highways, the correlation our brain made of the consistencies or regularities it found between events through time. Once humans could deduce these insights—these laws governing events in time past—we were in a position to predict or anticipate the likely turn of events. We could learn to understand what happened through time. Our intellect could deduce or distil the purpose to existence or the design inherent in change in information; it could learn the predictable regularities or common features in experience.
This description of consciousness is so obvious and straight forward it really does beg the question: ‘Why was it not explained to us by science, why weren’t we taught this at school?’ As now explained, there were two very good reasons: firstly, the issue of our conscious intelligent mind raises the unbearable self-realisation, ‘Well, if I’m so cleverly insightful why do I have to be so destructively selfish, angry, egocentric, competitive and aggressive; if I’m so smart that I can manage cause and effect why can’t I manage it in a way that is not so mean and indifferent to others; why, if I am such a brilliantly intelligent person, am I such an angry, distressed and self-absorbed monster?’ The second reason we have been so insecure about consciousness was because explaining the nature of consciousness quickly brought us into contact with the unbearably depressing truth of Integrative Meaning.
An appropriate definition of ‘consciousness’ is ‘the ability to make sense of experience’. Applying such a definition, however, immediately highlights the problem with the issue of consciousness, for due to the depressing implications humans haven’t wanted to ‘make sense of experience’, in particular recognise the truth of Integrative Meaning. To ask people to look into the issue of consciousness was to expect them to confront the issue of their own less than ideal, human-condition-afflicted state. The issue of consciousness is tantamount to the issue of the human condition, which humans have found virtually impossible to accept and confront. Indeed, as has been mentioned, ‘consciousness’ has become a relatively safe, ‘keep-at-arms-length’ code word for the issue of the human condition.
It was such a short step from thinking about how consciousness is concerned with making sense of experience to thinking about having to make sense of our own behaviour and life, that it was far better to leave the whole issue of what consciousness actually is completely alone. Again, when Descartes tried to ‘contemplate consciousness’ it caused him such fearful depression that he said, ‘It feels as if I have fallen unexpectedly into a deep whirlpool which tumbles me around so that I can neither stand on the bottom nor swim up to the top’! In his book Complexity, Roger Lewin records an interview he conducted with the philosopher Colin McGinn in which McGinn said, ‘an understanding of consciousness is beyond the reach of the human mind…complete cognitive openness is not guaranteed for human beings and it should not be expected…an understanding of [consciousness] is simply closed to us…because consciousness fundamentally is a subjective experience’ (p.167). As explained, mechanistic science is not holistic, it cannot deal with the ‘subjective experience’, namely the experience of the human condition. The biologist Charles Birch referred to the effects of this limitation when he said, ‘[mechanistic] science can’t deal with subjectivity…what we were all taught in universities is pretty much a dead end’. Yes, mechanistic science has presented us with virtually no truthful analysis of what our most distinguishing characteristic, which is our fully conscious intelligent state, actually is and yet, as we have seen, the explanation is both simple and obvious. R.D. Laing acknowledged both the importance of the issue of consciousness (the human condition), and how truly difficult a ‘realm’ it has been for humans to study when he wrote, ‘The requirement of the present, the failure of the past, is the same: to provide a thoroughly self-conscious and self-critical human account of man…Our alienation goes to the roots. The realization of this is the essential springboard for any serious reflection on any aspect of present inter-human life [pp.11-12 of 156] …We respect the voyager, the explorer, the climber, the space man. It makes far more sense to me as a valid project—indeed, as a desperately urgently required project for our time—to explore the inner space and time of consciousness. Perhaps this is one of the few things that still make sense in our historical context. We are so out of touch with this realm [so in denial of the issue of the human condition] that many people can now argue seriously that it does not exist. It is very small wonder that it is perilous indeed to explore such a lost realm [p.105]’ (The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise, 1967).
Just as the debate over the question of God, meaning and purpose became evasively focused away onto the irrelevant issue of whether God has been destroyed by science’s ability to explain the origins of the universe, the debate about consciousness has likewise become evasively focused away onto spurious questions like ‘How do we know we are conscious?’ and ‘How do we know other people are conscious?’ The inhibiting subjective issue of the human condition aside, surely the real questions about consciousness are, ‘What is consciousness?’ and ‘Why and how did it develop in humans?’
In Part 3:8, when the concept of Resignation was explained, it was described how when upset humans were around 14 years of age they tried to face down the issue of the imperfection of their behaviour—the issue of the human condition—and found it a suicidally depressing exercise. As Carl Jung said, ‘When it [our ‘shadow’, the negative aspects of ourselves] appears…it is quite within the bounds of possibility for a man to recognize the relative evil of his nature, but it is a rare and shattering experience for him to gaze into the face of absolute evil.’ To avoid subjecting themselves to that ‘shattering experience’ ever again, adolescents decided to resign themselves to never revisiting the issue. In fact, every moment thereafter was spent carefully avoiding any encounter with the subject. And not only did adolescents avoid the issue of the human condition when they resigned, they also contrived a positive way of viewing themselves. Unable to refute the negative they could only counter it, by focusing on, emphasising and developing whatever positive view of themselves they could find, create or develop. They found a way to not only avoid confronting—a way to block out or deny—the issue of the human condition, but also a way to convince themselves that they were the opposite of flawed and corrupted and seemingly ‘the face of absolute evil’. The upset human race became ego-centric, consciously centred or focused or preoccupied with finding ways to reinforce themselves, ways to feel good about themselves.
We can visualise the situation by imagining a room, with one end containing all manner of depressing truths about the lives and world of resigned humans, and the other end a few positive aspects about themselves. Well, not surprisingly, resigned humans chose to live entirely at the end of the room where they could be surrounded by those few positives. And not only did they stay jammed right up against the wall at that positive end, as removed as humanly possible from any negative truths, they made sure they stood with their nose flat against the wall so they couldn’t even see the other side of the room. That is how narrow and limited the existence of a resigned human has been. The upset, resigned mind has been fixated on a few positives about themselves while blocking out a whole ‘room’—in fact, a whole universe—of subjects and thoughts and awarenesses. In this light, we can appreciate the accuracy of Plato’s analogy of humans living imprisoned deep underground in a cave where all they could see were shadowy illusions of the real world. As mentioned in Part 3:11B, Resignation is a form of autism, a form of extreme detachment from the real, true world; recall Winnicott’s description of autism as ‘a highly sophisticated defence organization. What we see is invulnerability…The child carries round the (lost) memory of unthinkable anxiety, and the illness is a complex mental structure insuring against recurrence of the conditions of the unthinkable anxiety.’
This ‘jammed-down-one-end-of-the-room’ description of how the upset, resigned human race has had to live in denial of the whole issue of the human condition also applies to the aspect of the human condition that involves our species’ apparently mean, selfish, aggressive and destructive, reasoning, self-managing conscious intelligence. Unless we were exceptionally free of upset behaviour, exceptionally loved and nurtured in our infancy and childhood and thus secure in self, thinking truthfully about what consciousness is was only ever going to raise the question of why aren’t we cognisant of change and insightful enough to behave in an ideal way? To avoid raising those depressing questions the upset, resigned-to-living-in-denial-of-the-human-condition human race avoided any truthful analysis of what consciousness actually is. And not only that, we shifted our focus entirely away from the issue of what consciousness is onto any positives we could muster up about our intellect. We focused on telling ourselves that our intellect is a brilliant talent, capable of inventing a machine to take man to the Moon. To cope with the whole issue of the goodness or otherwise of our intellect we maximised all the positive aspects about our intellect and minimised all the negative aspects, with the best method of minimising the negatives being simply not to think about and acknowledge what the nature of conscious intelligence really is. We learnt to just say ‘I’m smart’ and not allow our thinking about the nature of intelligence to travel beyond that assertion.
For instance, we measured people for their level of mental cleverness with IQ tests and formed societies for the most mentally clever, such as Mensa. We created game shows that glorified those with the best memories for mundane, superficial facts or for successfully spelling words or completing sums. We only allowed people into university who had high IQs and could pass exams that tested for a person’s intellectual brilliance, never for their soulful soundness. We tested children for their ability to remember endless streams of ridiculously superficial and meaningless facts such as Queen Isabella the 5th married King Arnold the 12th in 1522 and together they fought The War Of The Old Donkey Poo In Outer Mongolia in 1591, or something like that, etc, etc—never asking the real questions of why there were kings and queens and poor people—selfishness, inequality and indifference to others—and why humans fought and killed others in wars. Ours was an escapist, evasive intellectual world, not a sound, soulful instinctual world. The emphasis was entirely on intellectual brilliance, not on soulful soundness. We never measured people for how alienated, mentally dead they were, or for the speed at which their minds could block out confronting truth, or the speed at which they could override their instinctive moral sense and exploit others, or for how mentally insecure and thus egocentrically self-preoccupied and thus indifferent to others they were. Nor did we measure for how non-upset or innocent or sound or alienation-free people were. We only stressed how smart we were, never how corrupted and destructive our intellect was. And it wasn’t as though we didn’t know who was soul-corrupted, upset and alienated and who was relatively innocent; to ignore, deny, repress and, in the extreme, persecute to the point even, in the case of Christ, of crucifying innocence, as we have done because we found their honest, truthful innocent soundness too confronting, we had to first be able to recognise it. It would have been as easy—indeed, probably much easier—to design exams that tested a person’s level of alienation or soundness or soulfulness quotient, their SQ, than it was to design exams that tested their intelligence quotient, or IQ.
The truth is, our intelligence has been an extremely insecure and defensive entity. It has been an instrument of dishonest denial, not an instrument of honest thoughtfulness. It has been preoccupied with escapist, superficial, alienated intellectualism, not with confronting, penetrating, truthful, thoughtful instinctualism. Such has been the human condition—a mess of mental lies, delusions and artificiality, a trash heap of superficiality, where everyone has lived jammed into a tiny dark corner of the real world, unable to go anywhere near that real and true world that radiates in every direction away from that dark corner. Plato’s analogy is even better—he had us living deep underground in a dark cave, hidden away from a whole world of flooding sunlight.
In approximately 1601 the playwright William Shakespeare summed up the core dilemma of our species’ condition when he had his character Hamlet honestly exclaim, ‘What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not me’ (Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 2). Yes, we have been ‘like a god’ in our intellectual capacity for ‘apprehension’ (which is our capacity to consciously understand cause and effect and be insightful) and yet we have also been capable of behaving in such an ‘un-Godly’ way as to be an ‘[un]delight[ful]’, ‘quintessence of dust’, nasty ‘piece of work’. If we substitute the personal ‘I’ for the general ‘man’ in Shakespeare’s quote it becomes very clear why we haven’t gone down the road of thought that Shakespeare so honestly travelled—‘What a piece of work am I! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet I am this quintessence of dust. I don’t take any delight in myself at all.’ In essence, ‘I really am a nasty piece of work.’
Thank goodness we can at last explain the human condition and bring all this terribly debilitating denial to an end forever.