Social Darwinism

I’ve been reading lately about the strange and self-serving developments that followed Charles Darwin’s determinations of biological evolution. There were certain late 19th century thinkers that found it advantageous to apply the evolutionary theory to the social milieu: that the ‘fittest survivors’ referred to those most able to exploit the economic system, that material wealth meant social progress, and unimpeded pursuit of capital gains would lead to a better world, in the interests of which capital would not be wasted to shore up the least able, and, in fact, eugenic cleansing would provide a superior ultimate outcome.

In opposition or at least counter-point to such an hard-hearted position were those who saw man as a social animal, empathetic to his fellows and reliant on community to provide a reasonable, happy and successful life for all. These altruistic sorts saw social solidarity as evolutionary, naturally evolved over millennia, evidenced by primitive, tribal man whose very survival required social care and cooperation.

Anyway, the majority of folks found well-reasoned logic in both of these fairly divergent positions, the result being a populous which has since embraced philosophical contradictions between our natural propensity for empathy toward our fellows, our common humanity, and the conviction we’re not all equal, some of us being morally and intellectually superior.

We can only hope that, at some point in the not too distant future, recognition of our mental incapacities will be realized and we’ll come to our senses.

 

A Deeper Intuition

I’ve been reading that, in centuries past, some very bright and talented men held that within human nature an ‘inborn knowledge’ existed. But, what exactly this inner faculty was, wasn’t so easy to explain or necessarily easy for folks to recognize being housed as it was (and still is, I guess) within the subconscious. This innate psychic potential could, it was believed, foretell future events to those awakened to the ability, and numerous examples of just such occurrences were collected by the true believers, among whom was Johannes Kepler (the renowned 16th century mathematician) who also believed, along with numerous others, that each of us is under the influence of astrological movements that form our characters and behaviors and feed our psychic awareness.

So, before science gained the firm grasp on our sense of reality that it has today, explanations of why we feel, behave and act the way we do had firm bases in the occult. And, lest we dismiss these ideas too quickly we must admit that we do have déjà vu moments now and again and there are times when I’m hard pressed to explain the nature of my sudden psychic discomforts.

I have this nagging feeling I’ve traveled these same roads somehow, somewhere before.

A Sense of the Sacred

So, I was reading that the most hardened atheist more than likely has some sort of sense of the sacred. It may be in the remembrance and contemplation of a personal past experience or as an instance in time and space when an acute awareness of the efficacious natural world transcends the mere physical. I suppose there are all sorts of possibilities.

Anyway, after reading a very convincing tome suggesting the likelihood our universe came into existence from nothing: that’s no space and no matter for that matter and certainly no creative overseer, I’ve nevertheless come to realize a sense of the sacred is and always has been a part of my reality. As exciting as the new theories and discoveries in particle physics are I still, and suspect I always will, relish the enrichments I experience from a cool breeze on a warm summer’s day that often mean more, have a greater personal significance than can be explained by science.

As I sit here surrounded by nature, despite the potential distress the wood tick crawling up my pants leg may cause and the lack of potable water to quench my thirst and the ache in my back due to an unseen mud hole, the sacred, nevertheless is present.

A Universe from Nothing

So, particle physicists and cosmologists are theorizing that there are infinitesimal universes popping into and out of existence all the time and that these universes are occurring from nothing: no space, no particles, no gravitational fields, no electro-magnetism, no laws of nature: nada, zero. These universes, they theorize, are the result of quantum fluctuations of ‘virtual particles’ (here one nano-second, gone the next). And, the thinking goes, there is a very strong likelihood that the universe within which we live may very well be an inflated version of such a universe from nothing.

I must admit this is all pretty hard for me to grasp, has me wondering about what nothing is and isn’t, among other things. Does this mean, our universe having popped into existence, that it could suddenly pop out of existence as well? If it did would the resulting vacuum suck all and everything into a very large black hole only to reconfigure as a new universe: a mirror image of its former self?

I find these ideas pretty exciting and they have me wondering about what the quantum world will show us next. I imagine, though, theologians might not like the ideas very much.

The Impossibility of Becoming Self-less

The thinking seems to be these days among neuro-scientists and phenomenologists that the concept of Self is an artificial construct evolution has foisted upon us in the interest of fending off extinction. By providing a focus upon which to differentiate options for action, evolution has provided, over considerable time, the means to improve our potential for personal survival. I’m guessing things like:” is that Sabretooth Tiger looking at me thinking about a meal in which case “‘I’better think about reacting” and so forth, has developed and perpetuated the myth of the Self.

So, I guess there really is no ‘Self’ other than a concept our consciousness has found useful to limit possible choices in order to provide some bit of stability within our limited sensible abilities; which also means the ‘World’ our artificial ‘Self’ recognizes is but a tiny fraction of what is actual out there existing around us.

But our sense of Self, researchers assure us, is pretty much impossible to eradicate as enlightening as it might be to do so. We can, though, I suppose, think seriously about growing our world awareness through meditation which is, after all, a ‘Self’ subordinating enterprise.

Social Animals

It appears neuro-scientists, brain researchers, have determined that there’s an innate sensibility, a pre-language understanding that all humans and some other mammalian species have in common. The theory is that this sense of existential commonality could only have occurred after the evolutionary neural development process that first produced a ‘self-model’ or individual identity in our early ancestors and that through observation and mirroring their cave mates, social connectedness and empathy developed from which cultures and civilization followed.

So, I’m beginning to understand that what I am, who I understand myself to be, my personal identity is little more than a particular aspect of neural development no more or less significant in the greater stream of consciousness than the world experienced through my sensual awareness.

Along with the sense of personal identity I’ve inherited self-consciousness, moral second guessing and the anxieties that go along with the desire for social inclusion as well as all sorts of other desires that have a tendency to pre-occupy my consciousness, all of which temper the positives a bit.

One could romanticize, I suppose, that a step back on the evolutionary scale would offer a simpler mental engagement. At the very least social media wouldn’t be an issue.

 

And Then Nature Took Its Course

I’m being led to understand, through some quite credible readings, that it’s likely physiological variations, like elevated heart rate or shortness of breath or even a stubbed toe precede emotional states; which means, I guess, one might be more likely to develop romantic feelings for a jogging partner or feel an excessive animosity for an athletic opponent after spraining an ankle.

So, I was thinking about this after my bi-weekly exercise regimen the other day when it occurred to me that I did indeed feel a sense of bonding with and good will toward my companions, nothing romantic you understand, but a familial closeness with the good people in our group. Whether I would have developed those same feelings had our relationships developed as, say, library board members I don’t know but I do kind of doubt it. I suppose one could over-intellectualize the issue, debating which came first the heart palpitations or the feelings but better, I think, to just keep exercising and let nature take its course.

How Everything Inter-connects

So I’ve been reading that the idea of cause and effect is not a necessarily local process, one thing following another in a relatively straight forward manner related to time sequences and spatial proximity; that an occurrence in one place, at one time has ramifications not only for what universally will be but what has been throughout time as well.

I guess it all has to do with quantum physical theory, that subatomic entities exist simultaneously as two things, particles and waves and these most basic of material building blocks defy logical analysis, interacting non-locally with other entities, shifting what has and will occur as entropy moves them to action. Or something. But all of this leads to the absolutely mind-blowing idea that what I do right now, right here, affects everything that ever was, is or will be.

As counter-intuitive as this may seem there is certainly something enlightening about the idea. If I can realize my impact and connectedness in relation to the world around me and then act accordingly it can only be a good thing.

 

Common Sense

I’ve been reading, lately, a most intriguing perspective suggesting much of what our common sense tells us is inaccurate if not totally wrong. For one thing, so goes the thinking, consciousness must precede material existence. Which means, I guess, that when I’m unconscious not only does nothing outside of my dreams exist for me but the birds presently flitting about the feeder cease to exist altogether with my fall into unconsciousness.

Apparently the idea is that, since sub-atomic entities like electrons exist as both tangible particles and invisible waves simultaneously, at any given moment, what they actually are depends upon whether they’re being observed and if, when eyes are cast in their direction they are invisible waves one has to wonder about their very existence: electrons may be present when watched, absent when unobserved.

Which leads me to wonder whether or not the birds outside my window continue to exist after I doze off into one of my afternoon naps and then, when I wake, do the birds come back into existence or am I just seeing different birds. Anyway, if sub-atomic entities, of which the world consists, depend on an observer for their existence I guess it stands to reason that the presence of a conscious intelligence is required in order that there be a manifested world.

It all seems pretty counter-intuitive but, as I think about it, the notion of a world dependent on conscious awareness is pretty hard to disprove.

Easier Answers

According to the 19th century psychologist William James, man creates the world he inhabits. The path one takes, says Mr. James, may focus on ugliness or beauty, a man may choose to concentrate and relate to the Good or the Bad. The idea here is that faith is required: an acknowledgment of that which is beyond the empirical, outside the domain of scientific certitude: the realm of God and immortality.

Which seems to imply the need for perspective: that the natural world isn’t all there is, suggesting those in the ‘natural world only’ camp will have a much harder (impossible?) time maintaining an optimistic view of things, of remaining positive, of retaining and maintaining a high moral outlook.

On a personal level, to my mind, there is no doubt considerable energy is required, as our daily travails weigh upon us, to stay upbeat all of the time; even most of the time. Still, if it’s perspective it takes to stay on one’s preferred path I wonder if the only play is the metaphysical one. Mr. James suggests unless one is oblivious, we’ve already made our choice: skepticism in moral matters is an ally of immorality; who is not for is against, he says.

Answers to the big questions must have appeared much clearer back then.