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
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
The level of discourse within which we typically attempt to understand our world is the product of cultural habit and biological adaptations to, what were in our evolution, consistently important causal and correlative environmental events: the human generated informational environment of today has only the most tenuous relationship to that history. In other words, our capacity to generate changes to the conditions that immediately surround us has not only modified physical surroundings by many orders of magnitude on many dimensions, but has constructed changes in the probabilities and importance of events to the point that our responses to those events, and understandings of them, have become essentially arbitrary. The arbitrary and the random have become the “solid” ground upon which we judge and guide our present and our future.
But we are not biologically equipped to recognize the arbitrary and the random. Our cognitive machinery will produce a cobbled-together order out of almost any disorder as the only option; and an “order” so created will almost certainly be maladaptive even as it seems to take on the quality of being essential for the functioning of social systems. A social system driven by arbitrary order, like a poorly made machine, will, quickly in biological time, tear itself apart through its own operation. Human history is a record of social systems self-destructing more and more rapidly, and with increasing consequences, as the systems are based on more arbitrary and random elements and fewer environmental/biophysical realities.
We have reached the point where a few billions of people value financialized activities more than the actual, hands on, production of food, cleaning of our environmental wastes, delivery of potable water, construction of protective dwellings, socialization and education of children, equitable distribution of resources or other primary productive activities. And billions more wish to join more closely with that madness, to be “freed” from having to consider activities that are in their essence the basic biological activities that directly sustain life itself.
One need only ask themselves what would this Planet of Life be like ‘if every animal and every plant were “freed” from having to live within the restraints of its biological condition’ to realize the absurdly arbitrary standards that “civilized” humanity have come to. The scientific details of climate change, evaluations of industrial pollution, measurements of ecosystem degradation, descriptions of and choices among political/economic processes, are all symptoms of this larger and ultimately simpler understanding. The essence of life on earth is in the direct living of its possibilities by each organism, the taking and giving that maintains the precarious balance of those possibilities. An organism that takes too little and gives too much quickly disappears; equally, an organism that takes too much and gives back too little destroys the conditions that sustain it: it is this simple calculus that has guided evolutionary processes through the many billions of iterations of the living organism.
That an ape evolved an adaptation allowing it to put off the consequences of living outside the basic evolutionary paradigm does not change the calculus. The consequences are put off onto other organisms and the biophysical systems that sustain the Living Order. The ultimate consequence can never be avoided: biophysical systems and ecosystems will simplify as their integrity is challenged, removing the ordered and stable conditions required by complex life. That such a process takes thousands of years is no argument against this form of change; it is the expected time line.
The ape we are lives within the sophistry of our own manufacture: a product of the arbitrary, the random and the unavoidable biological nature of a nervous system that creates order whether it exists or not. And we come to depend on that manufactured order, not only for the sense of safety that any order supplies, but for the most basic biological needs. We largely ignore the actual origin of need meeting, conflating and assuming that the needs are met as the ‘natural’ consequence of political and economic choices rather than from organic growth, biophysical soil production, wetland water filtration, hydrological cycle, carbon cycle, nitrogen cycle and so forth. So, we ignore the actual origins and focus our attention on the arbitrary order that seems, but, of course, is not, more immediate.
It must be a key understanding that our organism will produce an ordered mental/social structure from our experiences. If those experiences are closely connected to biophysical Reality, our ordering systems will align our behaviors with the sustaining Reality, quite independently of how we might ‘think about’ or describe the reasons for that alignment. If our experiences are disconnected from biophysical Reality, our behaviors will come from the arbitrary ordering of random experiences regardless of how well we might ‘think about’ scientifically sound biophysical principles.
This means, quite simply, that much of humanity must change drastically how it lives out daily experience if our behaviors, as a species, are to comport with the most foundational of biological/evolutionary principle: neither take too little or too much and neither give too much or too little. The functioning of this principle requires intimate, immediate, constant and effective connection to the events and processes of biophysical Reality: the kind of connection enjoyed (and suffered) by every organism on earth with the exception of a majority of humans and their several ‘servant’ organisms.
Essentially all maladaptations are traceable to the disconnection of daily experience from biophysical Reality, traceable to some localized ‘bubble’ reality quickly forming and popping. The human adaptation of Consciousness Order is admirably suited to the creation of such “reality” bubbles. Religions, economic forms, political systems, social systems, all have become primarily represented by ‘reality bubbles,’ self-referenced systems with little connection to biophysical Reality. No amount of “right thinking” or scientific clarity can overcome the maladaptive consequences of living in such ‘bubbles’ of experience.
Humanity needs a revolution. It must be the most revolutionary of revolutions; a reordering of the present experience of life. Such changes will only come with a heavy price, since we are so far away from where we must eventually be; most of humanity will cling to maladaptive order to the bitter and brutal end. And it is even possible, even likely should such a revolution actually begin, that its very brutality would so sour the well-spring of human feeling that the result would not be worth the price. This, however, cannot be a reason not to try; the other option is for our maladaptive behaviors to run their course to an even more bitter and brutal end.
The beginning can be only of the weakest and most unsatisfactory sort: a local, gradual change in how some people think about their lives. As they change the way they think about and value the activities of their experience, then their experiences will also change. And these changed experiences will change, even more, how they think and value. It is the great and only hope that such thinking and understanding have always existed in some small percentage of humanity; some people have always seen through the bubble realities and struggled to maintain some meaningful connection with the substantial world of earth and life. Added to that hope is that even many of those people who live within the bubbles of maladaptation feel a sense of ill-ease and unrightness; creating a admittedly weak readiness for something different.
Of course, in powerful opposition to increasingly Reality-based conceptions and actions will come from those who benefit from the details of bubble realities – each such bubble reality has its own constituency: the temple priests, the obscenely wealthy, the warmongers, the power-mad, the sadists, the psychopaths and sociopaths – the true dregs of society and community: they of the velvet lie, the arcane theft, the concealed knife, the openly pointed gun and the threat of atomic annihilation. These are the champions of sophistry, of solipsism.
These are the people who must ultimately be repatriated as human beings, defeated and reformed or destroyed. There is no glossing over this bit of reality bubble: the Great Many, if they were not essential to the various so-called elites, would be thoughtlessly destroyed by them – and where they are not essential, have been and will continue to be destroyed in the most sadistic ways (un)imaginable. And yet we recoil in horror at the thought that the Great Many might have to control or remove the so-called elite (a truly parasitic and pathological lot) in order that humanity might continue to live on in a world of biological stability and health. Keep this thought in mind as we proceed.
The most important thought up to this point is: “The functioning of this principle (evolutionary principle of Reality-based adaptation) requires intimate, immediate, constant and effective connection to the events and processes of biophysical Reality: the kind of connection enjoyed (and suffered) by every organism on earth with the exception of a majority of humans and their several ‘servant’ organisms.” Humans must live in “natural” communities that have intimate, immediate, constant and effective connection to the events and processes of Biophysical Reality. Such an arrangement would not make living a utopia, but would only make living possible.
Our species would have to take a great deal less from, and give back a great deal more to, the biophysical systems that sustain life in the thin fecund layer covering much of the surface of this planet. Take no solace in the thought that if we do not do this voluntarily, that the evolutionary process will do it, only with greater pain. There is only voluntarily: unless we make this revolutionary change by our own actions, the momentum of human exertions on the delicate and finite living space will almost certainly reduce its capacity to sustain complex life to a level that will leave only a few, if any, mammals and birds, drastically change the composition of the atmosphere and the oceans and make a comparative waste-land of what is now millions of species organized into complex life sustaining ecosystems.
Our species, all of us, must come, very soon, to live with a material simplicity largely unimaginable by the 2 billion or so people of the industrial nations; a simplicity that meets the condition of intimate, immediate, constant and effective connection with the actual processes and conditions of the planetary surface. And in the process of adapting to a materially simple life, the wealthy peoples must supply the substance by which the poorest peoples are given the most basic material support to develop local sustainable, need-meeting systems appropriate to a materially simple, but informationally complex world.
This doesn’t mean that all people would have to live in wickiups, chickees or tipis, though some might find living in the great out-of-doors pleasant. Quite a bit of present technology would remain and even expand, though at a somewhat less frenetic pace since resources would move more slowly and in reduced amounts through human industrial and research systems. Energy systems could easily be localized and reduced in scale, communication systems could expand in scope and importance.
I am imagining a world of tiny houses and large gardens organized into communities numbered and size-scaled by the principles of face-to-face communication and effective walking distances. Industrial production would be scaled to be served by public transportation from one or several communities, and would be part of the commons as worker run cooperatives. Educational institutions, health institutions and most governing would function on a similar model.
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From the perspective of the present collection of bubble realities, how to accomplish such changes is impossible to imagine with any actual detail of action. There are no institutions designed to collect the wealth of the rich and organize its salutary uses among the billions of the most destitute; our institutions are structured to steal the labor of the poor and concentrate it in the hands of the most pathologically greedy, and to protect that collected wealth from being used for the benefit of humanity. In fact, the primary ‘bubble reality’ is grown from the almost complete ascendency of the economic/power elite in their long and committed struggle with the essential basis of the species, the very numerous ‘average’ human animal upon which the elite depends for all that they have.
What makes this time so different, however, is that human action, especially as led by the power elites, is not just impacting other humans with marginal consequences on a few other species, but is changing the chemical composition the earth’s living space, modifying the basic energy exchanges among land, sea and air and endangering all of life…. Sorry, didn’t mean to burst your bubble!