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, June 12, 2010

The Simple, the Complex and the Devastating – The Devastating

There are questions that need answering. Not the ordinary questions that seem to be basic on the human list; like: Is there a God or Gods? Or are humans good or evil? These are silly and ultimately unworthy of us. There is no actual God in any sense that humans might mean and we are an animal almost like any other; as such not evil or good, just in an adaptive process relationship with the world around us.

And so, the first real question: In what ways, specifically and functionally, are we not like the other animals? There have been answers to this question for millennia, answers self-conscious and uncertain, answers designed to support, sustain and explain our Exceptionalism, but this is not enough and finally wrongheaded. We must use our most remarkable adaptations to see ourselves coldly and dispassionately; we must finally adapt to our adaptations.

Three thousand and more years ago, as people began to record their thoughts with a degree of permanence beyond the decay rate of the verbal tradition, one of the earliest questions was: “What is the right way to live?” The Book of the Dead, the Vedic texts, I Ching, Tao Te Ching, “Greek” philosophy were all primarily concerned with how to live correctly.

There is only one reason to devote effort to this question: there must have been reason to believe some people, perhaps all people, were not living correctly compared to some standard that was still acting on their minds. If there were only a few such people, then the issue would not have been how to live well, but how to bring the outliers into line. There must have been considerable doubt [1].

If large numbers of people, even most, are suspected of living in less than the most beneficial ways, the fault must lie either in the people themselves or in the conditions in which they are required to live. Parsimony would powerfully suggest the later, even though we have long assumed that our conditions of life are a standard given no matter what they are and that any faults must be in ourselves. Our religions have certainly argued that case in the most bizarre ways.

The very notion that one species of life is so special, and so sinful, that it must be dominated by an imaginary universal power is a perversion of the species in general and the function of religious process in particular.

A second selection of non-trivial questions are: What is the functional nature of the human adaptation? What is the origin of the human adaptation? How is the human adaptation functioning in our present relationship with the only planet, in our knowing, capable of supporting life? (The Consciousness System of Order (CSO) is discussed in many of the essays on this site – see the madness part 4)

As abstract and difficult as these kinds of questions are, they still create the foundation from which all the rest of our understandings are built. There are many things going on in the world that an aware person should know about – know that the events have occurred and that some processes are on going. This is not a matter of political philosophy or ideology; everyone (almost) would agree. However, what one concludes about the events and processes, now that is another matter.

There are US military forces in the far middle east, shooting at and killing people and being shot at and killed in turn: fact. There is crude oil from an exploratory well in the Gulf of Mexico pouring, unchecked, into the water at a rate of about 20,000, perhaps even 100,000, barrels a day: fact. Major financial corporations in the US and around the world have been allowed the power to create money wealth, without oversight from the governing entities that are supposed to have the popular and public interest in mind, with the consequence that the economic system has become dangerously unstable: fact. The city in which I live and its school district have budget shortfalls in the millions of dollars; people are losing jobs, services are being cut: fact. Yesterday, two blocks from my house a young man was killed in a gang shooting by 2 other young men; I heard the shoots as I stood at my kitchen sink rinsing a dish. They had called each other names!: fact.

The facts, global, national, regional and local can be put together into a very long list of things that a responsible person would know about, but the knowing is actually less than half the issue; we must also have an opinion. We must be in favor of this and not that. We must decide what we wish will continue, what we wish will change and how it will change. To do that we must have a theory of life, a metaphysics, a system of belief that not only has moral and community implications, but is also comports with Reality.

First as individuals and then as a species our underlying relationship with Reality must be both reestablished, humans have had such a connection in most of our existence, and established in new and unprecedented ways, our human adaptations have never really been ‘adapted’ to. If such a reordering is impossible we will continue on into the various horrors provided by futurists, and if it is possible, it will not come easy.

Biophysical Reality doesn’t offer second chances. There is only the present and the probabilities of the moment. Human individuals and communities have the capacity to adapt to the forces unambiguously before them. But we do not have the native ability to recognize Reality in the first place; such a skill was not required when our every moment was wrapped in the biophysical Reality. It is the simple and devastating fact that we must finally understand ourselves with the same principles of accuracy that are demanded of the Periodic Table of Elements or of the Laws of Motion.

This means that almost everything that almost everyone holds as their central values and beliefs must be recognized and realized to be untrue: this is what we will have to do to survive as the dominant species on this planet. We have come to be a major part of the biophysical process and as such the totality of our actions must comport with Reality, beginning with our understandings and beliefs. The model for our “progress” that depended on ‘defeating’ nature is over and, for that matter, never was more than an illusion.

[1] It is a deep mistake to assume, as we have for so long, that we are progressing “out of the darkness into the light.” What we are doing is adjusting to the great changes that our vast numbers and outsized technologies have mandated. There has been in that process some enlightenment to be sure, but not Enlightenment. There has been some comprehension, but not Understanding. The greatest changes have come from the loss of connection with the essential biophysical Reality upon which sane specieshood is based. The summary human condition today is people reasonably well adjusted to Madness; people swimming with some skill in a cesspool. And ultimately they know it; there is just no way out.

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