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, May 30, 2010

The Simple, the Complex and the Devastating – The Simple

What you, the nation, humanity and the world are facing is finally fairly simple: the energies (and their surrogates: wealth, money) of the earth are a zero-sum game. While there are many designs and devices, evolved in living things and created by humans, to trick this reality for brief moments, if one creature is to have much, some other creature will have to have little [1].

Ecosystems have always parceled out capacity and opportunity evenly to their thousands or millions of participants; they all work with the same genetic tools and all in the same time space [2]. The appearance that one species is superior to another or that one can do as it wishes while another is subservient is a purely human fantasy-based projection. Bacteria, fungi, wolves and deer are all integrated into functional dependencies with each other and thousands of other species.

Humans have gamed the system for a few thousand years, not even a good blink in geological and evolutionary time. Again this part is simple: we got more by driving other organisms out and by finding fossil energy sources; both short term adaptations. Fossil fuels are limited in amount and destructive when returned rapidly into the energy mix, and displacing other organisms disrupts the integrated designs of biophysical order that allow complex life to exist.

So now we are turning on each other in an attempt to keep doing as we have done – the goal of every organism. But we do this not from a homogenous ‘we’, but from a heterogeneous ‘us and them’; and not from a common behavioral relationship with the sustaining environment like all other organisms, but from vast differences in how ‘we’ relate to primary resources, from hunting/gathering, subsistence farming to jet set opulence where there is essentially no connection to organic reality.

These differences create a Tower of Babel like no other as we, disrespectfully, take what we either have been taught to believe is our due or, more egregiously, all we can get. The other organisms evolved an ‘all I can get’ habit into a form of mutuality; our special human adaptations have released that habit on to the world like the whirl wind.

However, most humans restrain themselves, preferring that most of their time be spent with the pleasures of communion and activity, but some significant number are more affected by the promise of power and accumulation and so drive the Tower to greater and greater heights of both altitude and disconnection from its base. As we approach the pay window for our lost biophysical gamble, that we could control and dominate the earth as an exceptional species, there is no way that somehow our vast differences will melt away and the damage from the falling Tower will be evenly distributed. Our greatest struggles are yet to come.

Even if all the above is true, and I am forced by information and reason and against my best wishes for my children and all the world’s children to believe it is, I still hold out hope that the actual exceptional nature of the human species, just might discover itself, individually if not collectively. The next essay, The Complex, is a more detailed consideration of these issues.

[1] Especially those with much make the argument that ‘everyone’ has been be lifted by the ‘increasing wealth’ of humanity; to some extent this is true. Millions of people have great wealth and billions have some wealth greater than the averages of previous times, but billions have less – live with less material certainty and thus in greater danger. But even beyond this fact, many thousands of species have been driven to extinction, millions of species have been marginalized and diminished and the integrity of biophysical systems compromised.

[2] This is not completely true. Cells that reproduce asexually are in a different evolutionary time space, but most have evolved ways of exchanging genetic material and thus speeding up their rates of adaptation.

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