Meditations: A New Theory of Human Nature, Pt. 2
A New Theory of Human Nature, Pt. 2
My last column began with the silly debate about the validity of evolution in the USA, and then evolved into a discussion of a proposed new theory of human nature. In this piece, I want to explore what a transmutation in the human brain would mean, and how attention to the movement of thought could bring it about.
My basic premise is that 'higher thought' (i.e. symbolic or conscious thought) is inherently separative. Conscious thought is essentially an adaptation par excellence that allows humans to remove 'things' from the environment, and manipulate them in a countless number of ways.
The hominid brain gradually became more and more capable of removing things, generating symbols, storing information, and communicating increasing knowledge to succeeding generations. At some point, perhaps with the evolution of modern humans some 100,000 years ago, a breakthrough occurred, and consciousness as we know it was born.
The problem with 'higher thought' is its tendency to mistake its separations for actuality, and to psychological separate (that is, divide). That was OK as long as humans lived close to nature, and had a lot of room for error. But now, as corporate globalization threatens the viability of life on Earth, and "the sole remaining superpower" divides the world into "you're either with us or against us," it's time for radical change. (Selfishness, power, domination, and mass manipulation also grow when thought-consciousness is primary.)
From an evolutionary perspective, how did we get into this mess? Without a deep and abiding insight into thought's nature, which changes the emotional perception of our place in the world, thought inevitably produces more and more division and fragmentation, until an implacable ecological crisis ensues. With globalization, there is no way back to a more balanced time, nor can the few remaining pockets of local control be preserved and protected from the juggernaut. The only way ahead is transmutation, which, ironically, is being driven by the self-made crisis.
Scientists say that the human brain is the most complex system that nature has devised on this planet. Philosophers say that ours is a problem solving brain. Certainly thought conceives or creates problems, and then solves them. Even pure science can be viewed as problem solving -- posing the right questions about phenomena in order to solve how things work in nature.
But is this all the human brain is, a problem solving mechanism? Then what about the problem that symbolic thought poses to the planet and itself? Humankind is decimating species at a rate comparable to the great extinctions caused by asteroids. How and why could evolution make such a mistake?
Like the Sorcerer's apprentice, thought cannot stop separating, dividing, fragmenting. That's why many ancient traditions speak of quieting the mind. The plethora of meditation practices and techniques seek to bring about a stillness of the mind, and with it wholeness and peace. But all techniques and methods are themselves the product of thought, as are beliefs and religions.
So is the human brain merely the consciousness that thought produces? Or does it have another capacity altogether? Indeed, the brain has a tremendous capacity for awareness, with which, paradoxically, the evolution of thought endowed us!
That points to the root of the tremendous riddle that is divisive-minded 'Man,' and to the possible resolution that is the whole human being. The word 'mistake' is somewhat rhetorical on my part, a different way to think about the human condition. In one sense, the 'mistake' of humankind isn't ours, but evolutions', since the tendency toward division and fragmentation is inherent in the evolution of 'higher thought.'
Is the evolution of conscious thought, though it carries the risk of fragmenting the planet all to hell, a necessary stage for the emergence of another order of consciousness, based on awareness and attention rather than symbol and memory? Clearly, the evolution of the quantum leap which is conscious thought, though it appears at this juncture to be a monumental mistake, gave the brain the raw material (literally, the gray matter) for infinite awareness.
In terms of evolution, a million years is like a minute to us. The hominid brain first began to unconsciously extract and manipulate 'things' in the environment about three million years ago, when the first durable tools were conceived. That began the path to conscious thought.
A threshold of consciousness was crossed, many paleo-anthropologists believe, with the progenitors in Africa of Cro Magnons some 100,000 years ago, which allowed diverse cultures, art, and probably fully articulated language to emerge. Given that symbolic thought contains within it the inherent tendency toward division and fragmentation, and that the present ecological, spiritual, economic, political, and cultural crisis is the extreme expression of this tendency, then only a breakthrough into another kind of consciousness altogether can liberate us.
Humans are creatures of words and images, and mediate experience through symbols. In the meditative state however, words fall silent and symbols fall away. In complete awareness, the brain is simply still and awake, and thought assumes its rightful place.
That is to say, when the brain becomes deeply aware of and attentive to the movement of thought, undivided observation acts on thought, halting it. The entire cognitive apparatus in the brain falls silent, and remembering, associating, and even recognizing cease. One sees anew, and there is a restoration of innocence in the 'immaculate perception,' which is deeply regenerative to the brain and body.
Insight affects the brain--not just the software, but the hardware as well. Therefore a deepening insight into the nature of thought, through self-knowing, is indispensable to the resolution of the crisis of consciousness. Taking time daily to simply observe the movement of the mind transforms thought-consciousness, and provides the entry point for the individual (literally, undivided person) into another order of consciousness altogether.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.