Martin LeFevre: Does Man Matter?
Does Man Matter?
Being self-centered by nature (a nature we’re being compelled to radically change), people have always tended to put ‘man’ at the center of the universe. Galileo spent the last years of his life under house arrest because he found evidence that Copernicus was right, the earth revolves around the sun. But are we just specks on a speck in space? That’s just as wrong as anthropocentrism.
Stephen Hawking has been trying to combine large and small-scale theories of the universe (relativity and quantum mechanics) into a single ‘theory of everything.’ His insights into black holes give the first evidence for the overlap of the very large and the very small--formerly completely separate and even hostile camps in physics. But that problem pales in comparison to understanding the seemingly antithetical dimensions of nature and man.
As author Jared Diamond has said, “it is much more difficult to understand human history than to understand problems in fields of science.” Stating an obvious but poorly applied principle, he adds, “but introspection gives us far more insight into the ways of other humans than into those of dinosaurs.” However his own wording belies the tendency toward separation of the human mind: “the ways of Other Humans” (emphasis mine).
Should we take the “Signpost” offered by poet Robinson Jeffers? “Civilized, crying how to be human again: this will tell you how. Turn outward, love things, not men, turn right away from humanity.” No. If, in loving humanity, one risks being continually disappointed, in turning away from humankind one certainly becomes inwardly stunted.
The question I began asking myself in my teens, and which became almost an obsession for 15 years until I answered it to my own satisfaction, is this: Given that nature operates in limitless dimensions of order, how is it that humankind evolved and operates in a dimension of growing disorder? (Regarding ‘chaos’ in nature, Alan Garfinkel, a professor of medicine and physiological science, puts it pithily when he says, “chaos [in nature] is not disorder; it is a higher form of order.”)
It should go without saying, but unfortunately needs to be reiterated, that humans evolved along the same lines and according to the same principles as all other life. Charles Darwin, in the “Decent of Man,” was able “to show that species had not been separately created.” The fact that a separate creation of man is still believed by a majority of Americans is a sad commentary on our educational system. As paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote, “the fact of evolution is as well established as anything in science, as secure as the revolution of the earth about the sun.”
Gould remained a steadfast believer in the ultimate randomness and purposelessness of evolution, whereas Darwin was more cautious, retaining the core of his faith in a higher power. As Einstein said (speaking metaphorically), “God does not play dice.” Gould apparently had no doubt about the nature of the universe, though he was concerned about the growing chasm between humans and nature.
The very existence of such a powerful and increasingly destructive creature as man raises questions that go to the heart of both science and religion. What makes man separate from nature? Perhaps more accurately, what makes us feel as though we are separate? In other words, what is the ultimate cause of human alienation?
The insight I offer is that wherever it occurs in the universe, the evolution of ‘intelligent life’--the development of conscious, symbolic thought--contains a strong tendency to mistake the capacity for separation for the actuality of wholeness. That meta-mistake results in unsustainable fragmentation, until there is sufficient insight into thought to keep it in its place.
The evolution of the human brain gave us such a prodigious capacity and propensity to separate things from the environment that we take the separateness of ‘things’ as a given. The universe operates as a seamless whole, and yet it evolves creatures that operate in terms of taking things apart and reassembling them for its own purposes.
There is a great mystery in the contradiction, and beauty in its resolution. Resolving the riddle within himself and herself, the awakening human being hears, for the first time fully, the ‘music of the spheres.’
- 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.