Sunday, October 10, 2010

Introduction, Part Three


So what is the root cause of our extraordinary abilities, our conflicts, our achievements, our confusion, and our inability to understand ourselves and our own motives? The fundamental fact of human history (and prehistory, for that matter) as I see it is that some of the species within the primate order began to evolve consciousness, and in some of the hominids this proved so biologically useful as a survival mechanism that its development accelerated almost exponentially. Humans, therefore, had this amazing capability, one that set them above all other animals. But they didn't realize they had it, and they didn’t know what it was. (And in truth, how could they have?) They didn't realize for countless millennia that what they automatically considered to be reality was actually a version of reality, that the information pouring into their senses was being filtered and organized by the most complex organic phenomenon in the known Universe, our brains. Only now are we beginning to grasp something of the almost frightening complexity of human consciousness. We still have difficulty even defining the term consciousness, much less understanding more than a fraction of its ramifications.

Our consciousness's complexity and intricacy are the sources of much of our ideology, major components of our psychology, the origin of our faiths (perhaps), our philosophies, what we believe we understand about the world, and much (though not all) of our behavior. Since humans do not fully grasp their own minds, they are less in control of events than they believe they are. I contend that people do not completely understand their own motives. I further contend that this poorly understood and inadequately controlled mental reality accounts for the bizarre, tortuous ways in which human society has developed and in which human history has unfolded. The unbelievable complexity of the human world and the daunting problems we face are exactly what we might have expected from a species whose members are more at the mercy of randomness than they would like to admit, a species whose members are inherently incapable of grasping the wholeness of their own reality, and a species whose members are driven by internal thoughts and instincts that they cannot fully understand.

So as I see it, human social reality at any given moment is the sum total of all the consequences of all the incompletely understood actions of all the humans who have ever acted, combined with the effects, throughout our time on this planet, of the forces, influences, events, and unconscious actions of the natural world. This reality has been shaped in many ways by laws of probability and quantum uncertainty that are as yet only partially grasped.

Therefore, I see history as the story of how the genus Homo has grappled with the nature of consciousness. We have tended (in general) to assume that we know what we're doing and where we're going.

We don’t.


So I wonder if we can hold this moment, the eternal present, in our hands. And I want to know a great many other things as well.

Can we see at least the faint outlines of that which truly is, or can we see only its reflections?

Can we know our origins …

our place …

our future…


Can we understand that all that has been has made all that is now?

Can we hope to know, at least in part, how we have come to be where we are in the story of our time on this planet?

Can we accept cosmic anonymity, irrelevance, and insignificance?

Can we bear the possibility that we are orphans in the Universe?

Can we reconcile ourselves to the life we must live, a life where we cannot be certain, and yet must act?

Since I cannot be you, and you cannot be me, can we ever really know each other’s meaning?

Even now, at this very instant, are you and I in contact?

Can we look into the infinity of mirrors that is the self contemplating the self, and not be overwhelmed by it?

Is there a self at all, or is there only a continuous stream of feeling and thought?

And finally, can we say that which cannot be said, see what is hidden from our sight, and capture that which recedes inexorably away from us?

We are locked in the cage of humanity until the end of our time. Reality is forever out of our grasp.

And yet, I stretch out my hands anyway. I can do nothing else.

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