Nothing is currently holding the evolution of the human race back as much as a largely unseen constriction within human culture – namely the idea that human thought is extraneous to evolution.
But when thinking from within that constriction, any credible role for mind appears odd; modern culture with its belief in the value of science sees evolution as only a biological or genetic process. With mind being effectively banished from accepted theories of evolution, any notion that cultural ideas could hold back evolution has no intellectual framework.
This is nonetheless a bizarre stance given that mainstream evolutionary thinking views the development of the human brain as accommodating uniquely human faculties such as complex speech and conceptualization of the world. Does evolutionary science really not consider that these developments have impacted our ability to survive and multiply? Are we only to examine mind through physiological perspectives of the brain in manners denying relevance to actual thoughts and ideas? Does the development of our technological civilizations not prove the workings of the human mind to be massively important?
It may be contentious to equate the brain with mind, but this is not the primary ground on which science dismisses the role of mind. Generally speaking, our age of scientism values deterministic views over competing notions of freewill – a position that renders the impulsive and fickle behavior of the mind bothersome. And as with any belief system whose most passionate adherents blind themselves to its weaknesses, science tends to obsess with its capabilities and obfuscate its limitations. Hence, mind – being subjective and often unpredictable – must therefore be denied real meaning within an intellectual climate obsessed with objectivity and demonstrable laws. But however difficult it might be for science to accommodate mind, consciousness, and human thought, it is willful stupidity to simply ignore whatever dimension such things signify.
Despite the obvious huge global impact of human thinking and culture, any notion our actual thoughts play a meaningful role in our evolutionary trajectory is rarely if ever entertained. And this is so, even when many human pursuits from fashion to politics, or from publicity to religion are heavily involved in engineering human behavior by influencing the mind. Does the behavior of a species really have no effect on its ability to survive? The idea seems monstrous – especially as regards the complex behaviors of homo sapiens.
The fact is many increasingly consider the survival of our species as threatened by our own behavior – particularly our continual preparedness for global warfare, and our reckless destruction of the biosphere. Did the human mind not play a key role in developing all the technology behind these threats? Decisions to destroy ourselves through warfare are obviously formed in the mind. Not only does it seem foolish in light of such truths to dismiss mind as a key evolutionary element, it also seems dangerous.
The counter argument that mind cannot be observed to impact the gene pool is an argument delimiting some preferred boundaries for evolutionary science, rather than understanding how reality works. It is easy to indulge intellectually in such matters, and maybe there is some value in keeping the genetic perspective separate from what might be considered the psychological dimension, but to pretend that biology and human ideas exist in separate universes is fantasy.
Although NOR (Non-Objective Reality) arguments might criticize science’s subliminal and ironically religious stance as regards what ideas can be culturally expressed without ridicule, the real failure in this matter is the science culture’s unwillingness to do cross-discipline joined-up thinking. In the case of evolution, this disconnect is nonetheless somewhat excusable given that humans alone appear to have crossed some evolutionary boundary as yet poorly understood. Mind within the evolution of other species appears to have a highly constrained role in comparison to its technologically explosive role in humans.
Compared to humans, other species seem constrained by a general inability to plan the manipulation of their environments. They of course know how to exploit those environments to obtain their basic needs and would immediately die out if not, but they seem to act almost entirely on a rather instinctive and visceral level. In contrast, human minds have developed a form of conceptualization allowing them to cognitively deconstruct and reconstruct reality in a highly symbolic and abstract manner. And through the use of language and other cognitive tools to record and share symbolic forms of knowledge, human cognitive skills exhibit a uniquely cumulative aspect in which each generation adds to the recorded knowledge of all previous ones.
The fact is human development is probably more deeply entangled with mental activity than is the case with any other species, and this is a progressive trend amidst today’s increasingly convoluted societies – environments founded heavily on human ideas and demanding more and more of the individual in terms of cognitive processing.
As regards culture, it is sobering to reflect that if in one instant all learned human knowledge was erased from our minds, we might still be healthy breathing organisms, but we would immediately revert mentally to pre stone-age capabilities – without adults even knowing what to show the young in terms of a survival strategy. Even relearning by reading our books of knowledge would be troublesome, given reading is itself a learned skill.
Life in every age since the dawn of technology has required specialized human knowledge and skills, whereas other species have not burdened themselves with any need to adapt to changing technologies. Outside the human world, there seems little dependence on abstract knowledge; other species do not spend decades being educated in order to simply integrate with their societies. And they do not endeavor perpetually to advance those societies in manners requiring more and more learned adaptation. But whatever criticisms may be leveled at human civilization and technology in general, these things have obviously been central to the exploding populations of humans now spread across the planet.
Any notion the human mind and its culture can be dismissed as evolutionary factors is therefore only meaningful within a debate that knowingly chooses to restrict its scope to biology. And even then, isolating mind from biology is a dubiously divisive approach, given the brain is most definitely a biological organ.
It has been said of the human mind that it is the most dangerous entity in existence for its proven ability to turn nature’s most lethal forces against whatever or whoever it chooses – a position nonetheless failing to acknowledge additional dangers stemming from the human mind’s somewhat unintended but rapacious assault on the planet’s environment. From an evolutionary perspective, this can all be portrayed as a situation in which evolution may be overshooting itself by providing a species with a too-powerful advantage. Our sophisticated processes of cognitive abstraction plus all the technological capabilities they enable is the main backdrop to all our main existential threats.
By relentlessly pushing those capabilities further and further, we have in fact produced tangible evidence that evolution is not some inherently good process favoring humans. Instead, the current human dilemma can be seen as revealing evolution to be a dispassionate and even ruthless affair – coldly indifferent to its own mistakes. In terms of which species survive, we might do well to realize it has no friends.
Humans may have been gifted with amazing powers unseen elsewhere in nature, but it is folly to imagine we are somehow superior. Evolution has not yet gifted us with the intelligence to understand just how dangerous we truly are, or how to master our lethal powers such that we do not prove our own undoing.
A new evolutionary direction
Science and the objective perspective embody dangers inherent within determinism. As long as we see the human condition as some sort of rule-based external matter to be clinically analyzed in manners denying our active roles, we dismiss our ability to directly alter the human trajectory through mind. We fail to take the quantum leap of critically examining troublesome aspects of our dangerous evolution. It is in any case thoroughly stupid to acknowledge how profoundly the human mind has impacted the human trajectory, and at the same time dismiss the subjective experience of consciousness and thoughts as determinants of that trajectory.
Viewed more positively, we are perhaps living on the edge of a cultural breakthrough – an awakening in which we will no longer uncritically accept ideas that our social reality has an unbending character determined by culturally imagined constraints such as human nature and historical example – ideas deeply embedded in so-called objective thinking.
Nobody ever solved problems by insisting behavior must conform to the behavior that caused those problems. And yet supposed sciences such as sociology effectively do just that: they seek to frame the past as defining the limits of what is possible in the future. More generally, modern culture tacitly adopts this same stance in convincing us of some inability to look over our shoulder and actually learn from our past mistakes. As is said, the only real mistake is the one we do not learn from. Current culture is therefore heavily – albeit unwittingly – tuned to systematically repeating its own mistakes, as opposed to learning from them. Hence, our intractably troubled social reality is entirely to be expected.
The ultimate fate of homo sapiens may well depend on their finding the courage to honestly interrogate their uniquely developed minds and their complex cultures. For the time being, most worldviews see our future development as determined by a hodgepodge of conventional concepts – from economic priorities to constrained views of human psychology, and from geopolitical power games to a supposed need for yet more technology. But a curious observation as regards this overall mindset is that it effectively sees our future as controlled by uniquely human areas of activity – almost as if we had conspired to curtail our own possibilities, and succeeded. Of course, if there is any truth in that idea, the jail within which we are held is unreal inasmuch as it is literally a figment of the human mind. This is a perfectly explicable view.
In terms of population-controlling belief systems such as nationalism, monetarism, religions, politics and scientific perspectives, such a notion of confining the mind is thoroughly comprehensible; it is only by propagating set ideas to replace independent thinking that minds can be coerced into supporting these belief systems. Indoctrination is the standard and even respectable stratagem – invariably deploying a deterministic narrative in order that the relevant belief system appears crystallized and unshakable in its doctrinal stance.
History reflects that skepticism, circumspection and honest admissions of limited insight rarely won out against the theatrical displays of ideologues and demagogues expounding silly absolutist ideas. Frightened minds are more attracted to confident liars than to truth-tellers highlighting the ugly fact that their fears are being exploited.
Failure to culturally assimilate such basic psychological truths in manners capable of transcending them might well be the ultimate undoing of our oddly evolved species.
We can nonetheless reason that current culture is largely driven and dominated by desires to manage and manipulate the minds of others through forms of propaganda, indoctrination and the denial of self-determination and freedom. Truth becomes incidental. But the result is so effectively subtle that most will deny any of this is going on. After all, it is perfectly viable to indoctrinate people to believe they are in fact free and not indoctrinated – the ideal goal of whoever wishes to take social trickery to its limit. In short, culture operates with a good degree of brainwashing and deception – a fact habitually concealed in the interests of successfully duping others.
Of course, the psychology by which this process operates in everyday life is deeply subliminal and masked by layers of internalized social protocols allowing each of us to rationalize our actions as socially beneficial – part of the overall scam being our convincing of one another that we are basically good citizens. But it is not necessary to see ourselves as inherently evil individuals to simply acknowledge that knowing how to manipulate the minds of others is a clandestine skill we all deploy in manners generally suppressed by mainstream cultural ideas.
In seeing such realities the mind can progressively understand how highly complex societies do not generally operate in the individual’s personal interests; they are structured around various hierarchical structures exploiting people’s minds by whatever means prove effective.
Dividing people against themselves, playing on their fears, pretending one has their interests at heart, assuring them of future wealth, promising them technological or metaphysical miracles, voicing concern for democracy or human rights – the list of ruses by which the mind can be taken in is long.
When all who grab social power by tricking others into subservience with such nonsense are no longer able to practice their craftiness, then we will see responsible minds and cultures that do not scapegoat human nature and external forces as supposed causes of human ills, whilst routinely crushing the value of true critical thinking and subjective insights. The true causes of human ills are very arguably nothing more than the success with which subterfuge employed by the human mind denies any such subterfuge exists. In short, we make fools of one another.
Only when we find the courage to realize that homo sapiens are effectively nothing more than an evolutionary experiment – perilously close to going wrong – will meaningful progress occur. Only then will we enjoy a cultural era that understands evolutionary thinking and thought itself in critical but more beneficial manners, rather than as tools for narrow-minded personal gain – often based on follow-the-leader thinking. Only then will the evolution of abstract human thought have transcended its troublesome puberty to achieve maturity – but of course, only provided it grows up before its reckless youth is its undoing.