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Martin LeFevre: Beyond Misanthropy

Meditations - From Martin LeFevre in California

Beyond Misanthropy

A reader in New Zealand wrote to protest a recent column, saying, “You seem to think we are important in some way when we are really stupid beyond belief.”

Apart from the sad streak of misanthropy, the reader raises a question that’s worth examining. Are humans in any way more significant than hippos or hummingbirds in the cosmic scheme?

As I see it, an experiment is going on with us humans, one that probably has been repeated and is being repeated many times in our galaxy, much less the billions of galaxies that make up the universe.

The power to manipulate life, to exploit every facet of it down to the molecular and atomic level, is what ‘separates’ us from other species on this planet. I use the world separate in quotes because consciously removing ‘things’ from the whole is both the root of humankind’s adaptive power, and the source of our increasing fragmentation of the earth and alienation on it.

‘Higher thought’ carries with it the tendency toward enormous hubris, especially when the curve of science and technology becomes vertical. It’s instructive that the greatest intellect of the 20th century, Einstein, had a profound sense of humility and awe. “What separates me from most so-called atheists,” he said, “is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos.”

Even so, the very destructiveness by humankind toward other species, indeed, our increasing disruption of the natural order itself (within which we emerged), raises urgent questions about humankind’s place in the universe.

As Tim White, a paleo-anthropologist who co-directs in East Africa the most successful multi-disciplinary investigation to date into human origins and evolution, said, “Ironically, the world’s lone remaining species of bipedal primate is poised to go down in evolutionary history as the greatest biological eliminator of species diversity the planet has ever witnessed.”

At an unseen emotional level, many people believe the experiment is over, or that there never was one, just a random, mechanistic process of evolution devoid of any meaning except that which the human mind imagines. People see the mess that ‘man’ is making of things, and sense the dark and contracting future towards which humankind is plunging. They conclude there is no mystery, nothing before which to be humble or feel awe.

That is a sad reaction indeed, not only for the millions of individuals who feel that way, but also for human consciousness, which we all share. Still, if I feel there is an experiment going on with evolution, and that the human brain is both the focal point and potential co-participant in it, then it behooves me to explain it.

The evolution of symbolic thought is not just an adaptive strategy par excellence, enabling humans to remove and manipulate anything in the environment. It is also a necessary stage for conscious awareness, and at the same time the greatest impediment to the full realization of awareness.

When, in effortless and method-less meditation, the mind-as-thought is completely still, the brain is an instrument of extraordinary awareness. In the wordless, unfathomable depths of silent awareness, one comes into contact with sublimity beyond the individual brain; indeed one shares in creation.

The evolution of ‘higher thought’ gives us the capacity for conscious awareness, but at the same time it separates us from nature, and generates more and more internal and external noise, blocking out the sublime and the sacred.

I propose that wherever ‘higher thought’ evolves, it tends inexorably to produce greater and greater fragmentation, until and unless self-knowing yields sufficient insight into thought to produce a psychological revolution.

A potentially intelligent species like Homo sapiens can, like an individual, fail to come up to the mark, and drop like a dead leaf onto the pile of cosmic debris. It’s false comfort to think that an intelligent species may emerge in a few million years on earth and get things right. We are still here, and the experiment is not over. Indeed, it is just now coming to a head.

The human brain matters, not because humans are important, but because the brain contains the potential for co-creative awareness. The more we fragment the earth and alienate ourselves, the greater the pressure we put on ourselves to awaken that potential.

************

- 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: martinlefevre@sbcglobal.net. The author welcomes comments.

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