The Story of Civilization, Part Two

I’ve been recently learning from a very well researched tome that the reasons for the discrepancy in the development of civilizations, over time, around the world, was, contrary to popular opinion, the result of factors that had little or nothing to do with human capabilities.

The so-called cradle of civilization, the fertile crescent in the near east which was the location of the earliest known significant civil progress had the benefits of a variety of domestic-able food plants and large animals which provided the means to create sedentary communities able to diversify energies toward technological developments: a considerable head-start on the rest of the world.

So called backward peoples like the Australian Aborigines remained hunter/ gatherers into modern times because, to a great extent, the lands they occupy don’t accommodate farming and the indigenous fauna isn’t domestic-able. The knowledge these people have acquired, though, makes it possible for them to thrive in an exceedingly harsh environment.

It would appear that humankind has survived to this point in time through a common intelligence and adaptability. Now, if we can all just recognize our mutual worth perhaps we can survive a bit longer.

 

 

 

How to Solve the World’s Problems Part One

I’ve been reading a very interesting assessment of the religious conflicts that have been fomenting around the world these days (well, actually, religious conflicts may be the lone absolute all civilizations have realized ad infinitum).

The problem, that has developed into terroristic behaviors according to my very credible source, is disenfranchisement: a lack of opportunity to voice grievances by participating in a political dialogue. Giving marginalized peoples the opportunity to be part of the legitimate social/political structure has been shown to reduce extremist behaviors and even groups with fairly hostile inclinations, people who view non-believers as apostate or heretical, will, given the opportunity, most likely work within a legitimate structure.

So, perhaps, rather than preparing for a cosmic war, opening dialogue, developing mutual trust, bringing the outliers into the fold is a superior philosophical stance. Besides, who can really know which side God is on?

 

 

The Story of Civilization, Part One

I’ve been reading that after the Big Bang, as life emerged, along with the amoebic beginnings of plants and animals, viruses began their evolutionary development. Then, much later on, as animals became domesticated by the first farmers, cows, pigs and such became hosts to booming viral colonies which had realized living animal cells were a great promoter of the viral life-style. (The animals, of course, being less than discriminating consumers of water, were readily available for viral habitation). Soon, these early viruses found their way to human hosts. The early farmers being unwary, often invited their domesticated animals into their abodes, which, it’s pretty obvious, wasn’t so good for mankind.

In fact, early epidemics of measles, plague, small pox, influenza and such wiped out large populations, the survivors having the genetic wherewithal to  pass on immunity to their progeny. So, to jump ahead a few millennia, the early farmers became explorers, sailing the globe seeking peoples to conquer and exploit, a task made considerably easier as they passed on the aforementioned deadly diseases to folks without immunity.

This whole scenario rather points out the geographic advantages (animals to domesticate and such) of the earliest farmers, who, on the positive side passed on their immunities to most of us. Still, it would seem to be sensible to keep a reasonable distance from the family dog: he/she may not kill you but knowing what the animal is inclined to eat and drink, disease is in the offing.  And, I don’t know about you but I’m getting a flu shot.

Our Primitive Brains

I’ve been reading that a significant part of the reason for our contemporary intellectual disconnectedness is due to our primitive brains: that our brains evolved to deal with empirical issues like finding food and avoiding predators and social skills like recognizing malevolence and benevolence and working with others for mutual benefit.

The problem seems to be that our pragmatic brain isn’t yet equipped to deal with the abstract knowledge science is providing these days leading to a denial by more than a few folks of the legitimacy of discoveries we could be benefitting from regarding ecological health, stem-cell cures and the nature and fragility of the universe.

Our primitive intuitive natures lead us to global warming denial, destructive fossil fuel extraction and heavy-footprint product production. A recent president went so far as to refer to ‘fuzzy science’ in condemnation of findings unfavorable to economic growth.

So, our intuitive selves tend to lead us toward the supernatural as explanation for the ills and inconveniences we would all like to overcome, and are to blame for the political motivation to slow down important innovation. Scientific discoveries shouldn’t require the faith of a believer. We all need to do a better job grasping the truth offered by our most innovative thinkers.

Pragmatism

I’ve been reading about certain 19th Century philosophers, William James and John Dewey among them, who developed a philosophic procedure, pragmatism, to deal with the disconnect between the growing validity of scientific discoveries and long held religious conceptions many folks embraced at the time.

Pragmatism was, and still is I guess, about practicality. Acting on an idea, empirical or religious, will produce either a result that proves to be personally useful, one of practical applicability, or will prove itself useless and disposable. The ‘truthfulness’ of the idea is thus established.

I guess it’s pretty clear that being practical, you know, for the most part, is important in decision making regarding social functioning and earning a living. It seems to me important, though, to hang on to idealisms sometimes no matter how trivial or fantastical they may be. Imaginings need to be limitless and be free to reach beyond any notion of functionality.

James and Dewey realized we live in a steadily evolving, transformational world. We need to spend time seeking the unknown in all its potential absurdness. Who knows, such investigations may lead to useful insights that will counter unwanted future evils.

Faith and Reason (part 2)

Although the scientific method, empirical observation, was painstakingly pursued by the best minds of the 19th century, the theistic conceptions through which the empirical data was filtered produced some pretty bizarre conclusions.

Careful observation of fetal development revealed God’s hand in the progression of the fish-like embryo through resemblances of primitive animal life to ape-like higher animals including non-white species until reaching the perfection produced by a Euro-American mother.

The Genesis creation story of mankind originating from an original pair led to the notion of polygenism which determined separate creations occurred for the lesser animals and non-white races, a belief that accommodated a moral acceptance of slave ownership.

I suppose one of the difficulties with establishing any sort of factual truth is no matter where one starts the information gathering, pre-existing ideas must begin the process. Keeping those premises flexible is the key, I guess.

 

Faith and Reason

I’ve been reading that some of the best minds of the 19th century spent a good deal of time trying to reconcile religion and science. Science, based on sensory experience as it was and religion being of an extra-sensory nature created contradictory explanations of the nature of reality. And, I guess, the problem was exacerbated by new ideas of biological evolution conflicting as it did with widely held belief in the biblical account of creation.

There were those who determined no conflict existed, recognizing the existence of an Absolute, an indivisible unity, from which natural laws emerged that could be clearly observed in nature. What science uncovers is nothing more than the workings of the Intelligent Designer.

But, others were convinced of the dualistic nature of reality. They found no correlation between that which can be empirically observed and metaphysical abstractions. These thinkers saw no connection between the realm of the sacred and the chaotic, random natural world.

Of course it can, and has, been argued that scientific investigation requires a bit of faith in the forming of hypotheses and that religion involves a good bit of practical reason in the acceptance of dogmatic beliefs.

I guess neither faith nor reason can stand completely alone, one isolated from the other.

 

Sacred Assissi

Having spent some time recently visiting a Christian pilgrimage site of some considerable significance to believers (and history buffs as well), it became apparent to me the penitents amongst the crowds stood out. It was pretty clear there is a deep emotional engagement, a heart-felt belief in the Christian dogma, many of the pilgrims feel and adhere to.

It got me thinking about the sort of commitment other spiritual engagements require of their followers if their followers can be expected to remain followers. Other than Reformed Judaism which appears to be based pretty much on cultural tradition most other religious endeavors expect, if not an emotional commitment, an intellectual discipline whereby the metaphysical can be approached, the value of which for the honest participant is cultivation of a groundedness that is helpful in seeing through and beyond the petty and not so petty distractions life presents with considerable constancy.

Problems tend to arise when differences in doctrinal beliefs lead followers to deny the legitimacy of other traditions. It would be good, I think, if more adherents would focus on the common rather than the different and set aside the arrogance of an assumed superiority.

Mesmerized

I’ve been reading that there was a point in time, mid-nineteenth century, when the best minds, those of a scientific bent anyway, took great credence in the likely existence of an extra-sensory realm. Psychologists used hypnotism to probe peoples’ minds in search of the extra-personal consciousness through which all individuals were connected. A number of important thinkers were contemplating such ideas: Arthur Schopenhauer thought that if indeed an after-life existed it would be as an impersonal consciousness and Karl Jung, a bit later, wrote of a ‘collective unconscious’. I guess most everyone was pretty interested in these ideas because it suggested immortality might be available. An Austrian physician named Franz Mesmer had everyone’s attention engaged as he was in psychic healing and related spiritual phenomena.

Modern science, full of questions though it is, has come to discount the ideas of an extra –sensory realm, despite the fact sub-atomic entities, which are of great concern to contemporary physicists, are beyond anyone’s ability to see, taste, hear or smell. In fact, it can’t even be determined whether these quantum entities are particles, waves or both: the idea of one thing being two would seem to have some sort of super-natural aspects.

Anyway, whether quantum theory leads us back to the extra-sensory conceptions of the 19th century or not we must be, I guess, content to continue to live with uncertainties.

Born to Angst

Studying, as I have been, the genetic bases for human behavior have me thinking about my own countenance and foibles. The probability I was, at least in part, born to be who I am is worth contemplating even as I recognize familial and cultural nurturing might have something to do with it. I think about my parents and grandparents, assess their personalities and find that some of us have anxious natures: even (or perhaps especially) when things are going smoothly there is a tendency to worry, to think of worst case scenarios, to dread what might happen next, even though, historically, the family has lived in amazingly good fortune.

So, if I assume, as I must, that I’ve inherited the Angst Gene there appears to be little I can do about it. And, since I haven’t suffered any health issues to this point like ulcers or need for psychological counseling, I guess I’ll just sit back, minimize my worrying as best I can in the realization this is simply who I am.