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

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A New Commandment Further Considered

In the recent essay, A New Commandment, I made the assumption that individuals are naturally part of communities and that they have relationships of obligation and responsibility within those communities. I further asserted that failing to recognize and make those relationships effective is a form of insanity. I realize that these views and values are not universally held.

The vast majority of humans retain and experience some significant parts of the human species’ designs of behaviors and emotions. But there are a few millions of us who are sociopathic/psychopathic (forms of madness), very bright and personally driven to attain control over the forces that surround them [1]. These people have taken over our world – not just the human world, but have come to a place where human action, led by them, can significantly change the only biophysical space within which life can occur.

Biologically humans have not been evolving (a term I restrict to mean ‘biological evolution’) in the normal understanding of evolution. Our gene pool has been changing by virtue of its incredible increase in size, vast recombination, distorted opportunity for genetic drift and the lack of genetic exclusion of “failed” phenotypes; but, there has been no natural or consistent ‘unnatural’ selective pressure other than our tendency to episodically kill off significant numbers of our biologically best young men [2].

But we have been adapting to huge changes in our technological manifestations and the consequent huge increases in population, distribution, power and environmental impact. The Living Order processes of information selection, storage and implementation based in DNA are not the source of our adaptive process; the new Consciousness Order processes are. ‘Everyone’ knows this, just not what it means.

The physical order is bounded by the possibilities, the properties, of the matter and energies in immediate relation. Put oxygen and hydrogen together in very low energy environments and they remain separate oxygen and hydrogen atoms, increase the energy to an exactly discoverable point and they combine to form water, increase the energy still more and they separate again into ions.

The living order is bounded, not solely by the possibilities of the matter and energy in immediate relation, but by the information contained on DNA molecules; information that allows molecular systems to modify energies, ‘wait’ for materials and hold together combinations of things that will not combine in significant amounts otherwise.

And yet neither system of order can include in their designs events or processes that do not or have not occurred. The consciousness order is not bounded by such ‘reality’ in its functioning. There are no bunnies with strawberries for eyes – each tiny seed a lens like the eye of a fly; where could this imagining lead? Humans do not have wings, but can imagine making wings and attaching them to arms; where could this imaging lead? The consciousness system of order is bounded by experience and the capacity to combine experiences; it began being bounded by these limits within individuals and small communities and is now “bounded” by these limits as they function in vast, instantly communicating societies. This is both a prescription for nearly infinite “new things” and also a prescription for madness.

For all our denial of it, even we are bounded by biophysical reality. We can imagine that we are not, but ultimately the products of our imagining are limited by what is finally possible. The clinically mad cling to imaginings that only they can manifest within the closed system of their own minds. Societies are mad when they cling to imaginings that can only manifest within the closed systems of their rules, laws and economic orders. Such madness will eventually be measured by The Real and tossed aside.

Except for the terrible consequences, these are easy ideas to agree with; what is difficult is to use our powers of imagining to find our way out of the dilemmas we have created: find our way out, or find our way back – actually both. We must find our way “forward” by first recognizing what we must get back to.

Which brings me round again to the beginning: obligations within a community. The greatest punishment in our prehistory and much of our history was banishment – killing an offender was quick and utilitarian, banishment was an action of ultimate rejection [3]. It was for failure to support the values of the community. If a person could not be trusted to feel and fulfill their obligations to the whole, then they were too dangerous to live within the protection of the whole. This is a value to which we must return. We must use our prodigious powers of imagination to figure out how; it will not be by returning to live in Neolithic subsistence communities of little more than a couple of hundred people, at least, cannot realistically be our first choice.

There are other values (commandments) that we must reinstitute: the absolute compensation for all takings of materials and energies beyond our due from the solar flux. Every organism other than Homo sapiens lives as near to a “revenue neutral” existence as possible; that is, the species takes what it needs and returns supporting products and behaviors to its ecosystem in equivalent proportion often times with the most extraordinary trades. It is as obvious as frog feathers that failure to do so would rapidly unbalance ecosystems resulting in their going through rapid cycles of growth and collapse rather than the magnificent stabilities for which their unperturbed states are renowned [4]. It must be noted that this was also a community value in the deep past (and still is among materially simple peoples). Again we must find new ways of incorporating this value into the future that we make for ourselves.

Doing these things was far easier in the past when humans lived (like every other species in the history of life on earth) in immediate communion with ecological realities. We have the capacity to recognize and respond to those realities without being at the mercy of them, the dependencies and limitations that humans have long worked to overcome; but we must still live within those limits that we dare not exceed. This is the clear lesson of our present situation if we will see it.

The new commandment from the previous essay was, “Thou shalt not eat whilst thy neighbor starves.” As a practical matter, of course, our world is too filled with people for so simple a form of this rule; there is always someone starving. Thousands starve to death every day. If our familiar social, political and economic orders – improved versions of them – are to survive, we must actually care.

We need to adapt and adopt the two values above: If a person cannot be trusted to feel and fulfill their obligations to the whole, then they were too dangerous to live within the protection of the whole, and there must be an appropriate compensation to the relevant ecosystems for all takings of materials and energies. These two “commandments” are really the same, one writ for the human community and other for the ecosystem community. And both essential for our continuation in the biophysical space.

[1] There are strong sexual selection pressures operating at any one time, often driven by media (from the Cro-Magnon sculptures to modern advertising using sexual content), but beyond the basic and seemingly timeless proportions of beauty and desirability, they probably change too quickly to be a selective force with direction.

[2] The continuum of complete control v. abject acceptance has in its middle an adaptive and sane region. The extremes are responses to attempts to adapt to situations beyond the range of normal human capacity; they are responses that lack the balancing feedback of reality. ‘Control need’ sees everything as the pressure points of action for manipulation and misses integration and functional relationship. ‘Acceptance’ sees helplessness confronted by overwhelming power and complication. Both are useful adaptations within a stabilizing community, but are quite mad when isolated into groupings of the like-minded.

[3] Banishment has lost its power in a world of weak attachments and self-banishment. The user and abuser can move to a new place and then move again when discovered. Whole classes of behaviors that were rejected as destructive become acceptable, even desirable, as communities disintegrate and are replaced by the very relationships of abuse that they once rejected.

[4] It is not only logically obvious, but empirically established in energy studies of ecosystems.

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