Monday, February 05, 2018


Parallel and sometimes entwined with the ideas of “deep time” is a concept that starts history with the “big bang” of the birth of the universe and finally unfolds through aeons to human beings now, but then implies a whole lot more to come after.  Contemporary research into that last little trace that is “us” is powerful in a way people haven’t really grasped yet.  It is not the death of God that we worry about — though we think it is — but rather the death of an illusion that “anthro” is the point, the goal, the pinnacle of everything so far.

This new research returns us to the earth, the “humus” that gives “humans” their name.  It also returns us to “humility”.  We are emergences from the soil that thinly wraps the planet, but made possible in the beginning by the sea, our pulsing womb.   It's not always noble or pretty. 

(This is a vid of an orc being born — or excreted.  It’s a good example of something being made so concrete that we believe it.)

One-celled “animals” separate from the matrix, then more complex creatures, then becoming bi-lateral (two-sided in mirror fashion), growing a notochord on the dividing line, that hardens and becomes jointed which makes possible the extension of four arms/legs/fins of the tetrapod, the protected status of one big nervous strand inside the vertebrae, and then the development of a knob at the top of that spine, protected by a bony skull.  Everything after that builds on structure that allows the emergence of new abilities, like movement through the environment and thoughtful sorting of what one encounters on that pilgrimage.

It is socio-economic in the sense of needing to get enough to eat, needing to find partners in the project of reproduction, needing a community.  If these fail, the creature dies.  If they succeed, more abilities will emerge through interaction, an increase in numbers, response to each other.  In time, the jump to culture will enable ideas to move from one person to another through time so that they can accumulate instead of being lost.  

Emergence is a source of variation which is the key to evolution.  Some phenomena (and creatures) will do better than others and may give rise to new variations or collapse formerly suitable versions.  Being aware and reflective means that humans can move or change their environment or compensate some way.  These strategies also evolve for the same reasons.

Now to look at the equipment for human thought and environmental interaction.  Until now, this was only perceptible by speculation.  A person would sit quietly and introspect, trying to see his welling up of thoughts in action.  One of the early discoveries was that a lot goes on that cannot be accessed by navel-gazing.  

Sometimes another person (therapist, novelist, artist, mom and dad and sibs) can see the actions that result and suggest patterns.  The MRI, the fMRI, studies of people with split brains (going back to the bilateral development of bodies), studies of trauma survivors, and cleverly devised events that test for results that might reveal causes, have all revealed quite a lot.  Even more eye-opening have been electron microscopic vids of nerves doing things in live creatures and ingenious studies of how individual cells work, since humans are basically cooperative communities of cells supporting each other by specializing.  The research and consolidation of results is moving almost too quickly for a person to follow.  This afternoon I’ll be watching these vids in hopes of upgrading my own knowledge, even as I know there is a lot more out there.  I have accepted two ideas:  one is that institutions are simply attempts to build a “skin” or boundary that makes sense to a socioeconomic class so they can manage their lives in a confusing welter of change.  The other is that today’s conviction is tomorrow’s mistake, and though humans have a very strong drive to hold things in sameness and dependability, there are times when it’s nearly impossible to do.  We are driven out of our assumptions.  A template that imposes suffering, destruction, and diminishment MUST be destroyed and will call out attempts to destroy it, find alternatives, innovate.  I take it that we are in such a time now.

Apart from institutions, which are rather like creatures, there is an enormous sea of experiences out there, interstitially surging among the institutions.  They are rooted in the experience of gestating (new perceptions coming “on-line” as the organic capacities bud and bloom) and birth, plus the first three years of life which can be seen as the last stage of gestation.  The experiences of learning to walk, talk, separate and acquire are what build personality, which amounts to one’s theory of the world which determines how to interact in this socioeconomic institutions of family.  Success means a good match and support for continuing.

In a sense, gestation/learning should go on lifelong.  If the institutions of a culture allow that to happen (childhood school, courting and sexual awakening, moral and skill learning in jobs, and so on).  There are luring rewards in the sensation of growing and increased success in living.  Towards the end of the life-arc, this slows down but is augmented by reflection, consolidation.  Then institutions can become vital as support and valuing.  Cultures and institutions at all political levels will determine the outcome.  Factors that slow, stop, punish continuous learning and consolidation will erode and fail.

Consider Japan which has ever-increasing proportions of aged people and is investing in compensations.  No matter how effective these efforts, soon there will be many deaths.  How will they interpret that?  What will be the consequences for the young?  (I choose this example because the consequences of homelessness killing our people in the streets is too hard to contemplate and merely makes institutions harden.)

Much of this is coded, not by DNA but by money.  If money allows the poisoning of the environment, the starvation of whole nations, the death of the babies of the “Other” or the incarceration of huge numbers, then the culture is damaged and may wither and die.  Disease becomes part of the forces for change.  The fossil record suggests that there have been maybe two hundred versions of hominins.  All but one have died out, eventual misfits.

More recent versions of hominin leave material culture artifacts rather than their own bones.  Maybe books, maybe versions of bowls and forks, maybe deliberate art, maybe only the outline of houses and cities emptied by drought, disease, institutions that imploded on themselves.

By now brains have developed the capacity to exchange eye-beams with other humans in order to understand the being of the other.  Communication on both the individual basis, and as a worldwide population, is a growing edge of culture and a way to mix DNA across continents.  The internet throws physical presence aside, and yet allows those eye-beams of empathy.  Many wise people think this is the growing edge of evolution, the elegant and complex capacities that began with the new code of a new conception.  How far it will expand depends upon variation and — so far — can evade institutions.

No comments: