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Sub-Humans, Humans, and Human Beings

Meditations (Spirituality - From Martin LeFevre in California

Sub-Humans, Humans, and Human Beings

New findings and nuanced theories have been coming out recently regarding the clash in Europe between Neanderthals and the first fully modern humans, the Cro Magnons, tens of thousands of years ago. These findings speak of the last great breakthrough in human evolution, highlight the darkest impulses in human nature, and point to the next, urgently required leap in consciousness.

When the Cro Magnons encountered the Neanderthals in Europe over 40,000 years ago, it was a clash between the primal human consciousness, which had existed for hundreds of thousands of years, and modern human consciousness. Undoubtedly there was conflict, just as there has been between groups of Homo sapiens ever since.

After all, throughout history when Homo sapiens encounter unfamiliar groups, they most often were (and still are) perceived as sub-human. Imagine then what an encounter between humans and actual sub-humans must have been like!

It’s important to realize, and remember, that Cro Magnons were every bit as smart, and human, as we are. Indeed, they may well have been smarter and more human, if smarts are measured by the ability to master new environments, and humanness pertains to social and emotional richness.

A leap in consciousness occurred in East Africa about 100,000 years ago, a breakthrough in cognitive ability that enabled much more complex and varied languages and cultures, sophisticated art and music, and rapidly expanding knowledge and technology.

Neanderthals, who were not part of this leap, became the ultimate ‘other.’ Whatever humans are capable of doing to each other since the beginning of ‘civilization’ (by believing other groups as less than human, or not human at all), Cro Magnons were capable of doing to the Neanderthals.

Neanderthals were keenly adapted, if cognitively, culturally, and technologically primitive humans, capable of bringing down the largest animals. After being the only human species in Europe for tens of thousands of years, what would the encounter with modern humans have seemed like to them? Meeting modern humans would have been as overwhelming to Neanderthals as if brainy humanoids with much superior technology landed on earth now.

Human evolution is like the bifurcating branches of a tree. The juncture where the descendents of the Neanderthals split from the rest of the human line occurred nearly half a million years ago in Africa.

When glaciers descended upon Europe and Asia, the proto-humans living there evolved adaptations for colder climates, including short, massive limbs, and huge chests and noses. Neanderthal brains also increased in size, and actually became larger than our own, though their cognitive and linguistic abilities were not as advanced as modern humans.

Ian Tattersall is the Curator at the Department of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and the author of “The Last Human—A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans.” He says “if there is one single thing that distinguishes [modern] humans from all other life forms, living or extinct, it is the capacity for symbolic thought, the ability to generate complex mental symbols and to manipulate them into new combinations.”

When symbolic thought emerged, so too did complex language, diverse cultures, art and music, and the rapid expansion of knowledge and technology. Neanderthals were human, but they didn’t have our cognitive ability. All modern humans, including the Cro Magnon people in Europe, did, and do.

It is this increased cognitive ability that eventually allowed humans to domesticate plants and animals during the Agricultural Revolution, to replace the ox and horse with the steam engine and automobile during the Industrial Revolution, and replicate thought- consciousness during the Computer Revolution.

Until recently, there were many indigenous people who did not follow this path of ‘development,’ and yet they maintained highly complex cultures, and amassed tremendous knowledge about their environments. They were, and are, fully ‘modern humans.’ Indeed, in a deeper sense, the Agricultural, Industrial, and Computer Revolutions have made us less human, not more, because indigenous people had a relationship with nature that prevented the hubris of thought from overtaking them.

All Homo sapiens possess the same basic capacity for ‘higher thought.’ And it is the capacity for symbolic thought, untutored and unrestrained by insight into its nature and place, which is causing humankind to fragment the earth, and us, to the breaking point.

Symbolic thought is the basis of consciousness as we know it, arising from the storehouse of experience and memory. But there is another kind of consciousness altogether, arising from mindfulness and quiescence, which people throughout the ages have experienced to some degree.

This kind of consciousness, which I’m not setting up as another dualism (because the negation of thought-consciousness opens the door to insight-consciousness), does not rest on or arise from symbols and memory.

Thought-consciousness has reached the limits of accumulation in the human mind and heart, and the limits of fragmentation of earth and its ecosystems.
Therefore the way ahead is not through more knowledge, scientific or otherwise, but through negation and non-accumulative learning based on self-knowing.

Homo sapiens’ existential crisis, and its resolution, are now firstly and consciously within each one of us, not in some version of the primal pattern of ‘us vs. them.’ The vast, endarkening, and suffocating material of human consciousness can and must ignite, and begin to light the way for the emergence of veritably a new species of human being.


- 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: The author welcomes comments.

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