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

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Thoughts From The Road 2

Photo [1]

Once it is clear that the way humans organize experience, store organized and summarized experience and then create actual objects and processes that could not exist without the human process, then it should also be clear that how we do these things might have compatibility issues with the way that living things have, for billions of years, used the information arising from the consequences of actions.

Before humans, living things applied their bodies directly to make whatever changes they made on the world around them. Trees pressed roots into the ground and spread a canopy of shade. Earthworms consumed dirt and bacteria at the front end and deposited digested and fertilized dirt out the other end. Rodents dug holes that they lived and died in. The greatest changers, until humans, were reef-building corals and beavers; and they have had dramatic effects on the ecosystems of which they were and are a part.

But what they never did was come into conflict with the processes of life itself. Each and every organism functioned within the limits of evolutionary time and ecological space. They survived and gradually “shape-shifted” genetically as the environment pressed on their form and function or they got boxed in by that same flow of time and space in such a way that their numbers dwindled beyond the point of survival. They were the stuff of the living world, not in competition with it.

But as I cruise the interstates, state and country roads picking my way around the country it is clear that we have done much more than build a beaver dam or grow a water covered table just below the surface of the sea. And I wonder at the fit of our way of acting in the world with the essential designs of the world’s biology and chemistry.

Certainly I am, in my travels, dependent on these human made changes; I could not make these explorations without the roads, bridges, water systems, farms and factories, stores, transportation and communication networks, refineries, pipelines, copper and iron mines, limestone quarries, smelters; the list is almost endless. But none of these things have been tested in evolution’s smoldering fires; the time as been too short, the rate of creation decoupled so completely from evolution’s pace [2].

These things are just as real when I am home, but the daily routine blinds the eye to such observations; it is all so ordinary and accepted. On the road, juxtapositions are fresh and shocking. The embers of ideas are blown to flame.

So to the question: Is the Consciousness System of Order’s essential design as an information system incompatible with the Living System of Order’s essential designs? My answer has to be that as it is presently manifesting, it is incompatible. They are fire and ice. The most essential principle of the Living Order is homeostasis at all levels of organization from organism to ecosystem. The most essential principle of the Consciousness Order is limitless change manifesting at this time as growth of population, material accumulation, energy use and use of the earth’s productive capacity.

As long as the human population was small, an aberrant way of functioning only influenced local conditions, but today the nuclear fires of Fukushima are rapidly filling the whole inhabitable space with radioactive poisons; just as we have slowly (in human terms) spread our concrete, asphalt, leaded gasoline, industrial products and waste, land clearing and so much more over the living surface. These actions do not only influence human lives, but the living space itself and every living thing there in.

The earth cannot be turned into a giant farm of planted industrial seeds supplying human needs. Only the multiplicity of life in sustaining ecological arrangements allows life to exist on the earth. And here is the great rift of incompatibility; the Consciousness Order has failed to comprehend this in its essence and has been trying to make the living space over in its own image, an image that thousands of years ago lost its basis in reality.

Religious order, political order, economic order, social order: these are seen as the basis for designing action. It is so obvious; we must make electricity to power our appliances; build nuclear power plants (there are economic and political advantages also); mine the uranium; concentrate it; set it to criticality; and every now and then have it go wrong and damage the very biological basis of life, potentially, for the whole earth: that is the essence of incompatibility.

In our origins as a species, religious order, political order, economic order, social order supplemented the Living Order; were formed from it. These ways of forming experience and action received information from the Living Order and the Physical Order; they did not deny them and attempt to supplant them. It is in our history and species experience to have the Consciousness Order in harmony (another word for homeostasis) with the Living Order. This was the way and remains a possibility.

But for that possibility to reach actuality some rather serious changes in how we think and live will be necessary. The essential element is daily experience; we must connect with significant aspects of the Living Order and the Physical Order as a fundamental source of the information that gives order to our lives. This doesn’t mean that we must live in mud huts or teepees, though it does mean that some important percentage of our time and actions need to be spent doing things like walking, gardening (for food), husbanding the animals that we use for service and for food.

I have concluded, and argued in these pages several times, that the gaining of wealth will have to disappear as human motive – as it was for most of the 150 thousand plus years of our species’ history. Community will have to be reinvigorated and community goals substituted for many of the individual goals that we now pursue [3].

I see, at the moment, no clear route to these changes, but I see the potential for them in almost every conversation I have with a stranger – and the great resistance to be overcome. Just remember: when fire and ice are mixed, neither one is left.

[1] I am inured to the absurd. However, this rest stop in the Texas panhandle both excites humor and depression every time I see it. It is the ‘poster child’ of incompatibility between human arrogance and the living space; the interstate sets the stage and this rest stop ups the ante. Of course, the motorcycle is pretty damned arrogant too!

[2] Neither could I make these trips without the more fundamental optically clear oxygen atmosphere, UV absorbing ozone layer, productive soils, hydrological cycle, nitrogen cycle, carbon cycle (and much more) all of which depend on the complex living biosphere. Oh yes, and the evolutionary history that produced my species and me.

[3] As isolated individuals and families there is a great burden to gain sufficient resources for safety as well as the need to collect material wealth for private use. Communities reduce these needs significantly through sharing arrangements. “Watching your neighbor’s back” is a community tradition. The Grange, as I watched it function in my youth, organized the planting and the harvest for a community of farmers without everyone being required to buy and maintain the whole collection of expensive farming equipment – I saw no evidence there of “The Tragedy of the Commons”!

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