Thoughts: a risky experiment

 

Thoughts is one of life’s risky experiments.

It seems to work pretty well for non-human species. I assume many non-human species too have thoughts that mimic the senses. Imagined sensory information that helps them remember the past, plan for the future, and function in the present.

We humans have gone one step further. We have created language out of a combination of images and sounds. That’s another level of abstraction, and one that is both powerful and dangerous.

It’s powerful since it allows us to explore the world in the abstract. It allows us to take what’s already there in less abstract thought, and create everything human civilization has created – from agriculture and cities to science, art, and technology.

It’s dangerous. When we take our thoughts to be real and true, it creates suffering for ourselves and can easily do so for others as well. And that happens at social (war, religion, oppression) and individual levels.

And it’s a risky experiment from life’s side. It may not work out for very long. We may self-destruct because of our inability to use thoughts in the most beneficial way. And we may take some ecosystems and other species with us. Of course, it’s not really that risky since everything dies anyway – species, ecosystems, living planets, solar systems, and the universe as a whole. It may just speed up the death of some species. And as we know from Earth’s history, mass extinctions create room for new species, ecosystems, and life innovations. (It’s also not “risky” since it’s not a planned evolutionary step, it just happened because it happened to give our species a survival advantage.)

Thoughts can be a very useful tool. As mentioned above, it seems to work pretty well in its less abstract version, prior to more complex language. And even with higher levels of abstraction, it can work well. We can recognize thoughts as a tool of limited value. They are very valuable in helping us orient and function in the world. And yet, they can’t do anything more. They are questions about the world. They have no absolute or final truth to them.

Who knows, perhaps humans will eventually evolve so a majority of us inherently know that thoughts are tools only. If so, humanity may have a long lifespan.

From a Darwinist point of view, this will require those who are less inclined to believe thoughts to have a survival advantage and produce more offspring. On the surface, that may not seem to be happening. Although who knows. If we are around for long enough, we – as a species – will see.

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Making use of how people already are

 

Human behavior is often irrational. We tend to focus on what’s immediate, dramatic, and emotional. We are drawn to what’s shocking and unusual rather than long-term trends. We are more interested in this morning’s dramatic death than the thousands dying of hunger each day. We are more interested in what Trump tweeted at 5am than increasing social inequality.

The media knows that and plays into it by making news into entertainment and drama. That’s how they get viewers and readers. That’s how they maximize profit. They too act in their short-term interest.

And all of it is from evolution. For our ancestors, it was important to pay attention to anything that stood out and anything dramatic, and they rarely needed to pay attention to the big picture or slow trends. It’s how we, as a species, survived.

In a democracy, we need to get people to pay more attention to the serious and slower trends, and less on shorter term drama and entertainment. And we can do just that by taking evolution and how people really function into account, instead of wishful thinking about how people “should” function.

If we have sufficiently informed political and business leaders, we can set up structures so that what’s easy and attractive is also good in the long term and in the big picture.

And we can speak to people in general in ways that work with the mechanisms put into us by evolution: Tell compelling stories. Make it simple, immediate, and personal. Show how it aligns with the values and identities they already have. Make it genuinely attractive.

There are two more facets to this. Some of us seem wired to look more at the big picture and think about things in a more dispassionate way. That too makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. As a species and community, we generally need many who are drawn to the immediate and a few drawn to the bigger picture.

And there is another reason why many tend to avoid thinking about the big picture: they feel they are unable to do anything about it. So we can add one more element to how to work with how people already function: Show that their actions do make a real difference. And make that too immediate, personal, and emotional.

Co-sleeping and evolution

 

I often use an evolutionary perspective to check how I live my life.

For instance, from an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense to eat mostly less processed food, locally and with the seasons, low on the food chain, and varied foods (mainly vegetables with some fish and meat, and not the same every day). In terms of exercise, it makes sense with variation (walking, running, lifting, swimming), and to vary moderate activity with briefer periods of more explosive and intense activity. It also makes sense to bring it into everyday activities as much as possible. And in terms of child rearing, it makes sense to seek out a community (extended family, if possible) and also to carry the baby on the body and to sleep in the same bed as the baby. All of these things are how humans have done it for millennia and how our evolutionary ancestors have done it for millions of years. If there is a discrepancy between what experts recommend, and what makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, I tend to choose the latter. (For instance, eating butter, eggs, and salt, all of which feel really good for my body in moderate amounts.)

I talked with a friend a couple of weeks ago about her new baby. She sleeps in the same bed as the baby (the baby usually on top of her), and it makes feeding natural and effortless for both of them. The baby stirs gently, she wakes and feeds the baby with just a few adjustments of her body, and they both fall back to sleep. It’s effortless, natural, and minimally disruptive to sleep.

In contrast, if we believe what someone came up with intellectually, we may choose to have the baby sleep separately which means the baby needs to make more sound to wake the mother (be more desperate), the mother needs to get up to feed the baby, the baby needs to be lifted, and it’s all far more disruptive and stressful. It can even be somewhat traumatizing to both of them, and especially to the baby. In an evolutionary perspective, sleeping alone and having to cry loudly to be fed is a signal it is not safe. And when that happens consistently, I imagine it has an impact on the child’s trust and sense of safety, and it’s something they may carry with them through childhood and into adulthood.

I know this is a bit simplistic. For instance, our ancestors’ lives varied over generations and was adapted to geography and climate. And I still find it a very helpful guideline.

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It’s not easy to believe a thought

 

It’s not easy to believe a thought.

It takes a lot of effort.

It’s stressful.

It needs to be maintained here and now.

And more than that….

 It needs to be elaborated upon. If it’s true, other stories follow from it, and these needs to be taken as true as well, and maintained as true.

It’s underlying assumptions must be reaffirmed and supported.

We need to filter our experience of the world through it.

We need to defend the truth of the story, since it is or will be out of alignment with aspects of reality. We need to defend it against other stories which may invalidate it.

We need to contract muscles to create persistent sensations which can support taking the thought as true, through lending the thought charge, and a sense of solidity and reality.

That’s why there is often a deep sense of relief when any particular belief is seen through and – even in temporarily – falls away. And it’s why there is even more of a deep relief when beliefs in general fall away, even if temporarily and in a glimpse or for a period of time.

From this perspective, the primary question isn’t why is it so difficult to awaken? (Although that’s a valid question.) It’s more, how come we go through all this effort to stay in our own dream world, specially considering it’s often painful? 

I don’t really have the answers to that. Although I suspect part of the answer is a combination of two quite simple things.

We do it because that’s what those around us do. As babies, we look to the adults in our life for cues about how to live here, so we follow them. In Rome, do as Romans do. It’s very innocent and understandable.

Also, intentional thought is a relatively new tool in our evolution. We are still grappling with how to use it effectively. We still stumble in how we use it. We take our own thoughts as real and true, even if they are simply thoughts and are better used as practical tools for navigating the world. This too is innocent and understandable.

Identification = worried love

 

Why is there suffering?

That’s an old questions for us humans. (I realize that the real question, the one behind this one, is what can we do about it? That’s a topic for other posts.)

One answer is perhaps equally old: Suffering comes from beliefs. Identification with certain thoughts. Velcro. Mistaken identity.

These point to the same thing: Mind takes certain thoughts, certain images and thoughts, as real and true. It identifies with these thoughts. It takes their viewpoint. It sees the world from their perspective, and holds onto it as true. And it does that through associating these images and words with certain sensations (often different depending on the thought), and these sensations seem – to the mind – to lend solidity and reality to the thoughts.

Why does the mind do this?

It may be because we observe those around us doing it, as kids and later as adults. It seems to be what people do here. So we do it too. And we pass it on.

It may have an evolutionary function. Perhaps the stress created an extra urgency that somehow has offered a survival advantage for our ancestors. An advantage that outweighed the drawbacks of stress, struggle, and conflict.

It may also be a quirk of evolution. We evolved that way, to be inclined to identify with thoughts rather than recognizing them as thoughts, through a coincidence. Perhaps it could have gone a different direction. (I am not so sure about that, but it’s possible.)

It may also be that since thoughts – abstract representations using words and images – is a relatively new phenomenon in our evolution, we still haven’t quite figured out how to relate to it well. We are still novices when it comes to using this tool called thought. So we stumble. It’s still messy. And perhaps sometime in the future, we as a species will relate to it with more clarity.

In any case, it’s innocent.

And it’s Lila. The universe expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself. The dance of life. Divine play.

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Life’s purpose

 

What’s the purpose of life, life with capital L, also known as reality, the universe, God?

In a way, it’s a silly question since “purpose” is only created in thought. It’s not inherent in reality.

And yet, some stories can be helpful as a way of balancing a habitual view. For instance, the purpose of life is for life to experience itself in always new ways. That fits with what we see and observe, and it gives a sense of the creativity and openness we see in life. It’s aligned with what we already see, which is that life allows what’s here in it’s infinite variety. It also fits with the idea of evolution.

If that’s a very basic purpose, there are also other layers of purpose. For instance, a though may say that the purpose of life, and specifically the life we know, is to bring what’s here into awareness. For life to discover and become conscious of what’s really here. And that happens through curiosity, sometimes combined with guidelines and tools such as meditation and inquiry. This pointer helps us release possibly stressful ideas of what the purpose may be, such as be happy, or successful, or being a good person, or maturing, or awakening, or something even more abstract. Just noticing what’s here, with some curiosity and sincerity, is much more concrete and manageable.

So here we have three facets of this question. (1) It’s a meaningless question since purpose can only be found in a thought. It’s not inherent in reality. (2) A very basic purpose of life is to experience itself in always new ways, and in it’s infinite variety and inherent creativity. (3) Another layer of purpose, perhaps more specific to our human life, is for life to bring itself into awareness, for life as it’s happening here to bring itself into awareness. What’s really here? What do I find when I look? What’s more real for me than my initial images and thoughts about what’s here?

Glitch in the brain

 

One part of our brains – the limbic system – generates a challenging emotion for us to feel. Another part of our brain – called either primitive or reptilian – considers that emotion as life-threatening and blocks it at all cost. This battle between the two parts of our brain leaves us cross-wired and stuck.

Raphael Cushnir sometimes talks about a glitch in the brain, and that is of course a valid and helpful perspective. It’s how it looks from the perspective of biology and evolution, and it helps us see it’s not personal.

Another perspective, which I tend to gravitate towards, is seeing this in terms of beliefs.

The limbic system here becomes a metaphor for or a pointer to beliefs creating reactive emotions – sadness, anger, grief etc. And the reptilian part of the brain becomes a metaphor for or pointer to beliefs about these emotions and what they mean.

For instance, I believe that he is disrespectful towards me and this trigger anger. Using Cushnir’s metaphor, this is the limbic system in action.

I have another set of beliefs about anger – anger is bad, anger means something terrible has happened, anger means I will go out of control, anger means people won’t like me – so I push aside this anger, I stuff it, I tighten muscles and breathe more shallowly, I try to not feel it.  In Cushnir’s metaphor, this is the primitve or reptilian brain. (Although some of these beliefs, some of the beliefs that causes me to stuff the anger, are certainly not reptilian. They are more mammalian and social.)

The benefit of looking at it through the lens of beliefs is that it gives me something to explore, both in terms of what triggers reactive emotions and how I relate to them. I can inquire into my beliefs, and find what’s more true for me.

And these two perspectives can easily co-exist and mutually enhance and support each other. One shows me it’s not personal, and makes it feel more scientific. The other helps me identify and inquire into my beliefs relating to emotions.

Evolution of the spirit

 

The idea of an evolution of the Spirit is of course just that, an idea.

The image of Spiritual evolution, stages, phases, changing characteristics, data, people supporting and talking about it, are all images happening within and as the mental field. Any sense it’s real and true happens because the thought that’s it’s true is taken as true. Any idea of it being inherent in reality is just that, an idea and an image. If I take the thought of spiritual evolution as true, I’ll perceive, feel and live as if it’s true.

When this idea is examined more closely, it’s freed from being taken as true, and can still be quite helpful in some situations. It can be inspiring and interesting for some, it may serve as a hook or a first step into own exploration, it may offer a temporary sense of knowing or safety – along with some stress (!).

Spirit (reality, God, Big Mind) can be talked about has having several facets. One is capacity for awareness and it’s contents (aka Godhead). Another is as awareness and any experience happening within and as awareness. And yet another is the world of experiences and form. Even within the context of those distinctions, they are the same. (It’s the play of Spirit as capacity, as a seamless whole of awareness and it’s contents, appearing to itself in these three ways when filtered through an image of these three ways.) And I can only find those distinctions within my images, within my mental field overlay.

Evolves and doesn’t

As capacity and awareness, it’s easy to assume it stays the same. As form, it – according to the story of the universe from current western science – it evolves over time, from energy to simple hydrogen atoms to heavier elements to the earth coming into life to ecosystems, species, humans, culture, technology, science and everything happening within and through us humans. So in that sense, Spirit evolves. It evolves as form. It doesn’t evolve and it does, and that’s happening as images within the mental field.

Types of evolution

What are some of the types and mechanisms of this evolution? It’s a while since I explored this, so will just mention it briefly here.

As mentioned above, the universe seems to evolve over time from simplicity to complexity, from energy to matter to life. This form of evolution may be best explained through systems theories.

It may also happen through the mechanisms of biological/Darwinian evolution: variation, selection, reproduction etc. This has brought us humans to where we are today, with out biological possibilities and limitations. One interesting question here is the relationship between clarity on thoughts and evolution. Is there a biological tendency in us to take thoughts as true, or is it just learned and from culture? If there is this biological tendency, how did it come about? Has it been selected because it aids survival? To me, it seems that being more clear on thoughts aids healthy functioning and survival. It may be more likely that (a) too few people found this clarity to have an impact, (b) the selection pressure hasn’t been strong enough to select it out on a larger scale, and/or (c) although clarity on thoughts aids an healthy functioning, this may not translate into more children. Still, it’s possible that our biological evolution moves us in this direction, from a tendency to taking thoughts as true to a tendency to be more clear on thoughts. Or not.

It may happen through evolution of culture. Looking at the changes in human culture over time, from neolithic to today, we see different phases and stages. This can be seen as a meme evolution, driven by material, cultural and psychological factors.

Each of these maps of different types of evolution are from current western science. These maps and the data supporting them are images within my world of images. Recognizing that, through inquiry, they can be very helpful practical guidelines in some situations. Taking them as true, they become – among other things – a burden for me, a source of stress.

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Fascination with scary stories

 

Why are we – some of us – fascinated by scary stories?

I find a few different ways of looking at it.

Evolution

In an evolutionary context, it makes sense that we are drawn to explore scary things through stories. It helps us mentally prepare for similar situations in our own life. We get more familiar with the possible situations and how we may react, we get a bit desensitized to these types of situations so we may be more calm if or when something similar happens in our own life, and we get a chance to mentally explore different ways of dealing with it.

Beliefs

When I take a story about something scary as true, my attention tends to be drawn to these beliefs and what they are about. Again, it’s an invitation to mentally explore these situations in a safe setting, and how I may deal with it if something similar should happen in the real world. It’s also an invitation to explore these beliefs in themselves. Are they realistic? What’s more realistic? What’s more true for me? 

An impulse to wholeness as who I am, this human self

What I see in the wider world is a reflection of what’s here. So far, I have found how each one of my stories of the wider world – including anything scary – equally well applies to me. As long as I think some human quality or characteristic is only out there in the world, or only in me, it’s painful and uncomfortable. When I find it both in the wider world and in me, there is a sense of coming home and it’s much more comfortable. In this sense, being drawn to scary stories in an invitation for me to use it as a mirror, to find in myself what I see out there in the world, and whether the scary story is from “real life” or made up doesn’t matter much.

Finding a characteristic both in the wider world and myself, I can also relate to it in a more relaxed and level-headed manner, so this impulse to find wholeness also makes sense in an evolutionary perspective.

An impulse to clarity as what I am 

There is also an invitation to find clarity here. When I take a story as true, it’s uncomfortable. And finding more clarity on the story, it’s more comfortable. So when I am drawn to what I think of as scary stories, there is an invitation for me to identify and investigate any stressful belief that may come up. Through this, what I am – clarity and love, that which any experience and image happens within and as – notices itself more easily.

I also see that when I take a story as true I tend to get caught up in reactive emotions and one-sided views, and finding more clarity helps me function in a more healthy, kind and informed way in the world.

Summary: Evolution, and who and what I am

It makes evolutionary sense for me to be drawn to scary stories in all of these ways. (a) I become more familiar with the different scenarios of what may happen and how I desensitize to scary situations to some extent, so I can be more calm if or when something similar happens in my own life. I get to mentally explore different ways of dealing with it, in a safe setting and before it happens. (b) I am invited to investigate my beliefs about it and find what’s more realistic and true for me. (c) I am invited to find in myself what I see in the wider world, which helps me relate to it in a more relaxed and level-headed manner. (d) And there is no end to the stories I can investigate, including my most basic assumptions about myself and the world, which helps me function in the world from more clarity, kindness and wisdom. Each of these support my survival and ability to reproduce and raise offspring.

All of these also make psychological sense. It helps me function in the world, and find a sense of wholeness as who I am.

It all makes spiritual sense. It helps this human self – the infinite experiencing itself as finite – survive and function in the world. It’s an invitation for what I am to more easily notice itself.

And all of these perspectives – evolution, psychology and spirituality – converge in one sense, and are the same in another.

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Evolution and inquiry

 

I often have an evolutionary perspective in the back of my mind when I explore something in my own life or on this blog, and yet don’t mention it so often.

So what are some of the connection between evolution and inquiry?

One basic connection is how evolution sets us with certain impulses and inclinations, and these may be supported by or clash with beliefs.

For instance, we have an innate impulse to survive and reproduce, which may be joined or supported by beliefs such as: I need to survive. It’s terrible to die young. I need a partner. I need sex. I need to have children. I need food. 

Some beliefs that may clash with our biological impulses or inclinations: I should eat less sugar. I shouldn’t be addicted. 

Many or most of these are beliefs held by our parents, teachers, friends and so on. They are in our culture, they are transmitted to us, and there are social dynamics at work to encourage us to adopt them (shame, guilt, pride, ridicule, rejection, acceptance, admiration), which means that many of these beliefs are really about others. For instance, if I am fat/unfit, people will judge me.

And then there are more basic beliefs: I am this body. It’s my body. It’s my thoughts. It’s my experience. It’s a body. It’s a thought. It’s an experience. It’s life. It’s death. It’s an impulse. It’s a drive. It’s from evolution. 

Universe fascinated by itself

 

The universe is fascinated by itself.

And in our case, the universe is fascinated by itself as an individual, a culture and a civilization, in all the ways we are fascinated by anything at all. At this level, there is no reason for it and it doesn’t need a reason.

In an evolutionary perspective, there is of course a reason. It makes good sense to be fascinated, to explore, experience, learn and so on. It aids survival to be interested in life, in our surroundings, in each other, in ourselves, in anything at all.

Today, this fascination is perhaps most obvious in our fascination in all forms of media – TV, internet, movies, podcast, music, performances, newspapers, magazines and so on. It’s an endless fascination where we absorb, experience, learn about ourselves, each other, the world,  and life.

It’s the fascination of the universe of itself, in all of these ways. It’s the universe evolved into a planet, and into a species for whom it makes evolutionary sense to be curious and interested in the world.

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Abstract thinking in evolutionary perspective

 

I am reminded of this again:

Abstract thinking, especially in it’s verbal form, is relatively new for humanity and for life in general. (I imagine the image form of abstract thinking is much older and shared with many other animals.)

And that’s perhaps we are having trouble with it. Why so many of us seem predisposed to believe our thoughts, and why we often are unable to take the long and big perspective even when it benefits us. Abstract thinking is a new tool for us. We are still trying to figure out how to use it, and how to relate to it in a more mature way.

It seems that reasonable that seeing thoughts as thoughts, not believing them, has an evolutionary advantage. When I believe a thought, it creates stress, drama and false perceptions. When there is more clarity around a thought, I can relate to it as a thought. I can use it as a tool if that seems helpful, and let it pass otherwise.

So humanity may, in time, evolve to not so easily believe thoughts.

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More evolved vs. better

 

It insists that ‘more developed’ is not ‘better’
– Joe Perez on the integral worldview in Infant Research….

Take an earth worm and a giraffe, or helium and carbon.

One is clearly more evolved than the other. There is increased complexity, it occurs later in the evolutionary process.

Also, one is clearly not inherently better or worse than the other. Without helium, no carbon (helium is required for stars to produce carbon). Earth worms and giraffes both serve important ecological functions.

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Picky eaters

 

Scientists at Duke University in North Carolina are compiling the first global registry of “picky eaters” in the hope of discovering why some people have trouble with food. They believe it may help find a genetic reason for some eaters’ intense dislike of certain foods, like broccoli, or beans with a “fuzzy” texture. They note some eaters’ pickiness is so deep-seated it interferes with their jobs, their relationships and their social lives. – Hate fish? Can’t eat veg? Doctors study picky eaters from BBC.

Empathy through evolutionary psychology: Picky eaters may survive better in some circumstances and omnivores in other, which is why we as humans have both possibilities, and why we as individuals are genetically predisposed to one or the other, and our environment brings one or the other out more prominently. It’s all natural.

Quantum physics and evolution as pointers

 

The scientific approach in general is a good guideline and pointer for our own “spiritual” explorations.

And within science itself, it seems that the study of the very small and the very large both are fertile ground for pointers and guidelines for exploration.

Science in general helps us recognize that we don’t know. We operate from our own world of images and this is just a map. It may be very helpful in a practical sense in everyday life but there is no “truth” in it. Examples from quantum physics, the study of the very small, helps bring this home.

Through this, we notice that we may assume that there is an objective world “out there”, and it is helpful to act in daily life as if it is so, but this too is just an image. As is the images of a me and I (doer, observer). As we notice these images as images, as content of experience, there is an invitation for identification to release out of these images. We can still use any and all of them in a practical and pragmatic way, to help us function and orient in the world, but they are recognized as images, helpful tools only, and not any absolute truth. And we can notice what happens when there is identification with the viewpoints of some of these images, including the images of a me and I, and what happens when there is a softening or release of this identification and we are more free to play with and make use of these images while recognizing them as images only.

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Podcast: Written in code

 

Genes – what are they good for? Absolutely… something. But not everything. Your “genius” genes need to be turned on – and your environment determines that. Find out how to unleash your inner-Einstein, and what scientists learned from studying the famous physicist’s brain.

Also, the bizarre notion that your children inherit not just your genes, but also the consequences of your habits – smoking, stress, diet, and other behaviors that turn the genes on.

Plus Francis Collins on affordable personal genomes, and a man who decoded his own DNA in under a week.

Written in Code, the most recent podcast from Are We Alone? Science radio for thinking species, is excellent, as always. The segment on epigenetics is especially interesting.

Evolutionary dead ends and failed experiments

 

I find it amusing when people talk about evolutionary dead ends and failed experiments.

It all depends on our perspective, from when we look in time and the time span we use.

If we look exclusively from our vantage point in time, and at a human time span, then – yes – it may appear that some species were evolutionary dead ends and failed experiments, and whichever species are alive today “made it”. But that is obviously a very myopic view, and not aligned with the vast time spans of evolution.

All species are born and die, this earth was born and will die, this universe was born and will die (heat death or big crunch). So in that sense, all species – including humans – are evolutionary “dead ends”.

Or we can say that all species are wonderful and awe-inspiring expressions of the amazing creativity of the Earth and this universe.

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Cooking as a force of evolution

 

Cooking is something we all take for granted but a new theory suggests that if we had not learned to cook food, not only would we still look like chimps but, like them, we would also be compelled to spend most of the day chewing…..

Cooking food breaks down its cells, meaning that our stomachs need to do less work to liberate the nutrients our bodies need. This, says Wheeler, “freed up energy which could then be used to power a larger brain. The increase in brain-size mirrors the reduction in the size of the gut.” Significantly Wheeler and Aiello found that the reduction in the size of our digestive system was exactly the same amount that our brains grew by – 20%. Professor Stephen Secor at the University of Alabama found that not only does cooked food release more energy, but the body uses less energy in digesting it. As a consequence, more time was available for social structure to develop.
– from BBC, Learning to Cook Produced Bigger Brains

Changing food habits is a good example of how we shape our own evolution.

Our evolved biology makes our behavior and culture possible. Our behavior and culture changes, and this allows us to make use of our evolved potential in new ways. Both of these changes our selection pressures. Which in turn changes us biologically as a species. And this changes what is possible for us as individuals and as a culture.

We have evolved so it is possible for us to use tools and cook food. Cooking food allows us to make better use of food nutrients, which in turn allows us to make different and new use of our evolved potential. Both of these changes our circumstances and selection pressures, so different characteristics are selected for. This changes us biologically as a species. And this opens new options for us as a species and a culture.

Nowadays, our own culture is perhaps the most significant source of our own evolutionary change, as it has been for tens or hundreds of thousands of years. Through culture, we change our social and ecological environments, which in turn changes the selection pressures, which in turn changes who we are.

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PBS: The Human Spark

 

alan-alda-human-spark

For a good introduction to what sets humans apart from other animals, you can’t do much better than Alan Alda’s three-part series The Human Spark.

It is easy to think that since the lives of humans are so different from the lives of other animals, there must be big differences in how we are put together.

But is that the case? Are humans very different from other animals? No. We share almost everything with at least some, and often many, other species.

It is the small differences – often in degree – that sets us apart. As we know from the butterfly effect, in a complex system, small differences in the initial conditions can lead to big differences in how it all unfolds over time. In this case, small differences in biology leads to big differences in how we live our lives.

It is these small differences that leads to what we see as uniquely human such as relatively advanced culture, technology, and social organization.

Small differences can have big consequences.

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Justice and the brain

 

The human brain is a big believer in equality — and a team of scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, has become the first to gather the images to prove it.

Specifically, the team found that the reward centers in the human brain respond more strongly when a poor person receives a financial reward than when a rich person does. The surprising thing? This activity pattern holds true even if the brain being looked at is in the rich person’s head, rather than the poor person’s.
– from Science Daily

From an evolutionary perspective, it is not surprising that we may be predisposed for justice. We are social animals, and in many cases, justice benefits the group as a whole.

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Evolution, biology and environment

 

There is a shared view among all human sciences:

Our biology makes everything we know possible: metabolism, walking, digesting, feeling, thinking, anger, joy, sadness, culture, technology, imagination, creativity, compassion, ethics, a sense of meaning, and anything that is part of our individual and collective lives.

Some of it is shared among all Earth life. Much of it is shared among all animals. A great deal of shared among all mammals. Even more is shared among all humans. And some is differently emphasized among humans.

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Brain and boundaries

 

By observing brain cancer patients before and after brain surgery, researchers in Italy have found that damage to the posterior part of the brain, specifically in an area called the parietal cortex, can increase patients’ feelings of “self transcendence,” or feeling at one with the universe. The parietal cortex is the region that is is usually involved in maintaining a sense of self, for example by helping you keep track of your body parts. It has also been linked to prayer and meditation.
Discover Magazine blog

Its a rich and interesting field, finding physiological correlates to whatever goes under the “spiritual” umbrella: A sense of awe, gratitude, compassion. A widened sense of “us”. A stronger and more mature sense of ethics. A reduced sense of boundaries, or recognition of boundaries as imagined. Effects of meditation or prayer practice, such as a more stable attention, improved self-regulation, and recognition of thoughts as thoughts. States of various kinds. And much more. Each of these are most likely related to short- and long-term changes in different and specific brain regions, and also the endocrine system, immune system, cellular function, and so on.

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Creating our own dilemma

 

turkanaboy

Its a common dilemma: We imagine a boundary, elevate our side and devalue what is on the other side, and make it difficult for ourselves to recognize it as an imagined boundary.

It is easy to see among some Christian fundamentalists. In their own minds, they elevate humans as being made in God’s image, and devalue non-humans as a lesser category of beings. From within such a mindset, removing the boundary means that humans ends up in the same group as beasts, and it is not a very attractive proposition.

The solution is of course to elevate non-human species and gain a more realistic view of humans. We can recognize the immense beauty of the natural world. The intelligence, caring and fit to their environment of all species, come about through millions of years of evolution. Our shared ancestors and close kinship with all life. How we are all expressions of a seamless process of evolution of this planet. The ways our evolutionary past is played out in our daily life, and how a recognition of this can be a great help to us.

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Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow: The Big Integrity Model of Evolutionary Spirituality

 

Michal Dowd and Connie Barlow have a new podcast on the Big Integrity model. As always, well worth listening to.

A quick comment about something Connie Barlow mentions early in the podcast:

She says that in eastern models, consciousness is primary and the universe comes later. In her understanding, based on western science, consciousness is born out of the universe. And those two don’t fit well together.

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Darwin’s complex loss of faith

 

In reality, Darwin’s loss of faith was, as he recognised, gradual and complex. The reasons were not new – suffering always has been and always will be most serious challenge to Christianity – but they were newly focused. Plenty of Darwin’s scientific contemporaries….. could accommodate their Christian beliefs with the new theory. Indeed, as historian James Moore has remarked “with but few exceptions the leading Christian thinkers in Great Britain and America came to terms quite readily with Darwinism and evolution.”

But Darwin, brought up on William Paley’s harmonious, self-satisfied vision of creation, could not.

From brief and good article from The Guardian.