A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Living Well in Specieshood

I ended the last essay with these words: “No, the goal of life is not to live long, but to live well in the fullness of specieshood.”  As I reread the words I realized that a root understanding is hidden in them.  For all other animals the goal of life is to live long – at least long enough to reproduce in some abundance.  The Living System of Order communicates across generations only through the DNA/protein nexus, and only in that limited and relatively unsubtle vocabulary. 

The human species has two fully functioning systems of order to please, each with its own properties and powers.  In our origin, the Consciousness System of Order received its designs from our living order relationships to the environment.  The CSO was a specialized adaptation that gave us great – unprecedented – power in the environment.  Environmental processes and events could be rendered as symbols around which stories would be woven.  The details of the stories did not matter in themselves, but the consequences on community behavior in the environment could be given a detail of control and speed of change orders of magnitude greater than any other creature.  A change in behavior or new physical device that would require a hundred or more generations in the DNA/protein nexus of biological evolution could, by the modification of “story,” spread through a community and a community of communities in a few years or months, even days. 

The only “adaptation” in earth’s history that became an independent system of order with its own information selection, storage and implementation designs was life itself.  But after four billion years, biological evolution had stumbled on to another. 

We have, of course, known that there was something special about us from our very beginnings.  I feel quite confident that Homo erectus individuals were aware that they could do things that other animals could not do – but, it was also immediately clear that other animals could do things that hominids could not do.  For a million years or more our genus was ‘special without a difference’, i.e., we used our special capacities to live in integration with our environment, albeit a rapidly changing integration driven by our very rapidly changing ‘Story.’ 50 to 70 thousand years ago the new system of order began to take on some of the functions of the living order by designing not only the fine-tuned behaviors of the moment, but by producing specialized tools, ornamentation, social behaviors, a nascent science and philosophy; these came from the Consciousness Order as designs of story manifest in action and were not based in the DNA/protein nexus as had been every other change of like magnitude forever. 

The information base of the Consciousness System of Order was, in those times, still firmly planted in biophysical reality.  Gods and rituals were the CSO’s design of story that gave force to environmental prescriptions, prescriptions that integrated increasingly complex human actions with environmental free services – that arranged for the kinds of compensations that evolution mandates of its participants.  However, as ‘Story” became more complex new elements of story began to form from previous stories.  More and more ‘Story’ was referenced from existing story and less and less from the biophysical source.  Gods and ritual remained “real” after the integrating designs for which they formed were no longer needed or even realized; and a ‘new world’ of self-referenced structure began to compete with biophysical reality.  

This process had its failures – we can see them with some clarity since recorded history begins about here – and its successes.  Self-referenced changes became so much faster than those associated with biophysical referencing, that humanity was able to, in general, stay ahead of its failures. This is what we call our History; like running ahead of the falling dominoes and building grander and grander designs as the only action we are left understanding how to do.  How often do we look back at our history in wonder: “How could they not have seen…?”  

We have reached a point were our own actions are speeding up the biophysical responses to our behaviors.  We must again respond to biophysical reality after denying it for so long.  One response must be to realize the value of our own personal life as quality and not as quantity. 

I think of a photo a Bernie Madoff next to a photo of a 7 million dollar yacht and I try to imagine the relationship that he had with it – I cannot.  A few feet from were I sit typing is a road bike; my son found the frame at a garage sale, called me asking if I could afford $300 for it – it was a very good one.  I went and talked to the seller, found several component parts in his collection, bought the frame, hunted up a wheel set, worked on it with my son, my younger son found exactly the right length and angle stem for fit and got it in first class working order – a Merlin Extralight for those in the know.  Now that is a yacht I can relate to.


Michael Dawson said...

So, as to the bike, do you use cleats, toe-clips, or regular pedals? Are you commuting on it, or just riding for fun?

"Biophysical referencing" is a nice concept.

James Keye said...

I am old-school: Clips. Several bikes and I wear different shoes. My bikingest son (worked for Ralph King in Portland) tells me that cleats and special shoes are way better, but in this way I am stubborn. I ride to go places and for the pleasure of it. My town is small and I can do a day of errands for about 20 miles.

James Keye said...

Make that Chris King -- Ralph King was a poet I knew many years ago.

Michael Dawson said...

I feel the same way. To me, cleats both discourage relaxation while riding (they seem built for "productive" cycling, i.e. speed above all else) and also kill your shoe choices and walking comfort once you arrive.

Peace & bikes!