Tag Archive | "Ego and Time"

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Ongoing Battle For Sentient Animals

Posted on 12 February 2014 by Jerry

Researchers have identified a group of animals that have greater intellectual and emotional faculties, for example human beings, elephants, porpoises, great apes, and a family of birds known as Corvids.  (See Beyond Animal, Ego and Time Chapter 6, Human Uniqueness).  Society tries to protect human beings while some animal activists try to protect these other species, more lately the great apes.

After considerable progress, activists are pleased they’ve all but stopped experimentation on great apes in the U.S.   Recall the National Institute of Health (NIH) ended the use of chimpanzees in NIH funded research laboratories.  It has retired the majority of its 360 chimps used in medical research.  In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed making all wild and domesticated chimpanzees subject to the terms of the Endangered Species Act.  Although skirmishes continue in the U.S. the public pressure remains.

The situation in the European Union (EU) is marked by continuing controversy.  The EU issued a directive regarding medical research using non-human primates like chimpanzees.  While the 2010 EU directive was thought to give balance to the issues of minimum animal welfare, intensity of pain to be inflicted and ended most research involving great apes, it contained a provision that explicitly allowed ongoing research with great apes.  It said that research could continue if researchers could not use any other species of animal.

Activists perceived this was somewhat of a loss with EU governance groups and have now redirected their efforts to the local political level.  The EU directive required member states to enact these rules by the start of 2013.  It also said these states could not ‘gold-plate’ the regulations by making the state’s law stricter than the EU directive.  Activists have delayed adoption of the directive in several states and are getting cities and municipalities to pass new restrictive laws and regulations to defeat the spirit of the directive at the local level.

In addition there is a petition that began to be circulated in the EU in November of 2012 that already has over a million signatures.  These signatures are being validated.  If they prove genuine, the European Commission and Parliament must hold hearings.   This would lead to another round of open and public debate on the issues.

Now another frontier has been opened up in the saga to protect chimps and great apes in the U.S.   A group called the Non Human Rights Project has filed court suits looking to free four chimps from their captivity.  The intent is to acquire “legal personhood” for these animals.  While New York lower courts denied the suits, they are collectively on appeal.

An article entitled Lawsuits Seek ‘Personhood’ for Chimpanzees in the December 2013 issue of Science magazine identifies Boston attorney, Steven Wise, as one of the people leading the charge.   “In 1993, Wise attempted to sue on behalf of a dolphin that had been transferred to a Navy facility, but the judge ruled that, as nonpersons, animals don’t have the legal “standing” to sue.  (More recently, a federal judge dismissed a 2011 lawsuit by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals when it tried to argue that Sea World had violated the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by keeping orcas as “slaves.”).”

It is doubtful American courts will grant ‘personhood’ to nonhuman primates anytime soon.  These efforts however, maintain the pressure on society to recognize there are species of animals that are much closer and have similar cognitive and emotional capabilities to humans.  This should lead to greater adoption of laws and regulations that at least create new categories of rules to take their awareness into account.

Use the following links to obtain more information or access the source documents used to prepare this posting.

http://www.nature.com/news/biomedicine-the-changing-face-of-primate-research-1.14645

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6163/1154.summary?sid=3efaff36-1beb-48fc-b483-465cc7f49507

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/12/chimpanzee-personhood-nonhuman-right/

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/where-do-nonhuman-mammals-fit-in-our-moral-hierarchy/

http://science.time.com/2013/12/10/courts-say-chimps-arent-people/

 

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Empathy, Compassion and Hope at Work

Posted on 15 November 2013 by Jerry

We are jaded about reports of scores of people hurt in this or that shooting rampage.  In cases where a bad situation is averted, we either never hear about it or we don’t get enough information to know what happened.  A viral 911 tape, see first link below, drew our attention to Antoinette Tuff, a bookkeeper who talked a man out of using his assault rifle and 500 rounds of ammo in a grammar school.  Her story and the tape are a perfect example of the power of empathy, compassion and hope.

She displayed great empathy when she established a one-to-one relationship with the potential shooter.  She displayed compassion when she described for him her own life and how she survived periods of personal darkness to come back into the light.  She demonstrated hope when she assured him there was a way out of this situation for him.  Not only was she capable of seeing the similarity of her past personal challenges and the situation the gunman was facing but she was also able to elicit her same feelings in the man she persuaded to give himself up.

That the rampage was avoided, that the bookkeeper talked her way out of a bad situation are not the lessons we should take from this incident.  Empathy, compassion and hope are all emotions that are informed by intellect.  Recognition of the shared circumstance of the lives of two living creatures is what creates these emotions.  They represent the possession of self-recognition and the projection of one’s own feelings onto another, putting oneself in the other’s shoes so to speak.

These higher emotions are a product of the evolution of self-aware life forms.  They are largely learned emotions however. Everyone feels the most basic animal emotions of fear, anger, aggression, etc.  The higher emotions like empathy, sympathy and compassion or predictive emotions about future outcomes such as hope or despair all are developed. Unfortunately too few of us practice feeling these emotions or teach our children and others to feel them.

When you listen to Antoinette Tuff what you hear is her movement from fear to compassion for another human being who is in pain and afraid he has taken the situation too far.  You can hear Antoinette’s dawning empathy as you listen to the tape.  Be patient with the long silences. Hers is not a feigned emotion but a real understanding of what the other person is feeling.   This is what makes the tape so exceptional.

If more of us were aware of our higher emotions and used them more frequently the world would be a better place.  Unfortunately we seek the exhilaration of our most base emotions when we watch movies, when we should be preselecting movies that will help us develop higher emotions such as empathy, compassion, sympathy, hope and optimism.  The same is true for what we should be teaching our children.

We also need to be more conscious of to what we expose ourselves and our children.  The news channels are always reporting the negative events in excruciating detail with far less attention to stories that promote the best in all of us.  We need to change our consumption patterns and be active consumers of all that is good in human kind.

Chapter 7, An Evolutionary Imperative in the book Beyond Animal, Ego and Time discusses the evolution of higher emotions and their dependency on self-awareness.  See pages 69 through 75.  Go to http://www.iamaguardian.com/date/2013/03/ .

Use the following links to obtain more information or access source documents for the article:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2013/08/22/antoinette_tuff_911_call_listen_to_the_full_tape_of_ga_school_clerks_call.html

http://www.salon.com/2013/08/22/the_story_the_right_hates_antoinette_tuffs_courage/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean_meshorer/tragedy-stopped-by-uncond_b_3795865.html

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6152/1336.summary?sid=6dbc41b2-5bfb-4125-878c-7c7a8dc8f5d6

http://www.iamaguardian.com/date/2013/03/

 

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Bright Idea

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James Hansen: A “Fittest” to Remember

Posted on 05 July 2013 by Jerry

If you were a scientist, what would you do if you discovered your planet was following the fate of Venus whose water evaporated creating a runaway greenhouse effect that left a 900°F atmosphere of sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid droplets?  What if your next forty years of research supported your fears and you knew that people on planet Earth had to make dramatic changes in order to survive?  What if decades passed and nothing was done?

You would be frustrated like Dr. James Hansen, now just retired, who headed the Goddard Institute for Space Studies for thirty-two years.  Dr. Hansen has continually warned the world of the impending disaster known as climate change.  Over many years he has spoken out in academic and scientific, governmental/congressional settings and the public press to transfer his knowledge to others.

Follow this link to the tape of James Hansen’s presentation at a 2012 TED conference.  Go to http://www.ted.com/speakers/james_hansen.html move to the right of the page and next to Dr. Hansen’s picture select “James Hansen: Why I must speak out about climate change”.  This exceptional presentation summarizes in a clear and straightforward way what Dr. Hansen knows about climate change.

Among many things he describes the changes he and his associates foresaw and forewarned about in 1981 that have all come to pass.  He elaborates on how CO2 allows heat energy to come to the planet from the sun and yet will not let it escape.  He explains the energy imbalance of the planet (more energy coming in than going out) that is gaining extra energy each day equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima type bombs exploded 365 days per year. He concludes we must reduce our CO2 from today’s atmospheric 400 parts per million (see post of May 26, 2013 “Déjà Vu – 400PPM 2.2 Million Years Ago”) back to 350 parts per million to restore the planet’s proper energy balance.

In this month’s posting of Chapter 16 – Transcending Egocentricity from Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, we observe that evolution is forward looking and comment on the true meaning of “survival of the fittest”.  We suggest a completely different reading of the phrase based on the evolutionary process.  Further, the “fittest” are those people that “can demonstrate mastery in the present and future…who exhibit an ability to work with and lead others” and “have achieved the greatest level of consciousness and prescience by establishing future directions and taking actions that produce the greatest good for the greatest number.”

These “fittest” are the people we revere and remember.  Dr. James Hansen, will be one of those people.  Although he has much left to do, he should be listed with the other people who have dedicated their professional and personal lives to the betterment of the rest of us and all following generations.

Use for following links for further information:

http://www.ted.com/speakers/james_hansen.html (Select “James Hansen: Why I must speak out about climate change”)

http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/presentations.shtml (this gives you a link to the presentations and testimony of Dr. Hansen from 2004 to 2012)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2013/apr/29/climate-scientist-james-hansen-legacy

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/02/science/james-e-hansen-retiring-from-nasa-to-fight-global-warming.html?ref=science&_r=0

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Beyond Animal, Ego and Time: Chapters 14 & 15 – A Human Intervention Imperative and Enhancing the Life Experience

Posted on 05 June 2013 by Jerry

CHAPTER 14

 

A Human Intervention Imperative

 

We explored human uniqueness looking at physical attributes. We observed that advanced development of the prefrontal cortex in some mammals has been shown to be the probable source of self-recognition, empathy, and conscious decision-making. We argued language enables us to vicariously learn another’s knowledge without personal experience, contact, or observation. Finally, we described our ability to identify problems, absorb information, perceive consequences, conceive of options from which to choose, and make conscious decisions.

The fourth imperative is that we must decide to intervene in the course of events and influence or control their outcome. This is how we will assure life is protected from threat, evolution continues, and life experience is positive. Humanity is the key to completion of the evolutionary cycle and the emergence of the future living organism in which we will each participate. Only we can do what is necessary. We must consider the information presented, relate consequence to our personal lives, weigh our options and make a conscious decision to become guardians of life.

It is useful to pause and reflect on what has been presented. We must judge whether the information is credible and factual, if the assumptions and conclusions are logical and consistent. We must determine if the cosmology and resulting philosophy makes sense to a rational mind. We must decide if it is useful to society.

The five most obvious reasons to embrace the cosmology are:

  • It satisfies the genetic human “investigatory reflex”, identified by Pavlov, which drives us to seek a more comprehensive explanation of existence;
  • It resolves our cognitive dissonance by creating much greater consistency between our beliefs and our scientific knowledge;
  • The role of guardian of life is a singularly human responsibility which requires a shared philosophical point of view to insure a coordinated human response;
  • It directs human attention and effort to the most pressing problems of our time;
  • With sufficient time, evolution of a single future life form is possible, probable, or inevitable depending on whether you believe it is a natural evolutionary outcome or we will be effective in altering the future course of events.

Irrespective of which reason is most compelling to any individual, all we need do is decide to make a commitment and find the way to best implement our decision.

Human beings do not develop equally. We exist along a continuum of circumstance. Each of us has a specific set of advantages and/or disadvantages. Each is born with unique capabilities that can carry us only as far as our motivation and circumstances will allow. This means there are levels of consciousness some people are not capable of achieving and others, while capable, will be denied by circumstance. Those of us who are left, who are capable and enabled by circumstance, will achieve insights that vast numbers of human beings cannot and will not see. We will be lonely in our knowledge and yet have a responsibility to share what we know because global challenges require all of us to act.

Problems lasting a thousand years require generations of advocacy, intervention, and vigilance. Not only must we share insights with those around us, we must inform and educate subsequent generations. Evolutionary potential must be explained to those that follow. They must know that the role of guardian entails not only protecting life but also insuring its continued evolution and the enhancement of everyone’s life experience.

For most of us the time horizon in our lives has been limited. Seldom have we had to look forward by decades or centuries. With the survival issues we face and the imperatives we have identified, we are forced to lengthen our time horizon to include many future generations. This too points to our uniqueness within life. While it may not be accurate to say the rest of the animal kingdom is unaware of the passage of time, it is probable we are the only species capable of thinking about the future in terms of hundreds, thousands, or millions of years.

Looking back at the total human experience we see a history of continual and pervasive change. We began as hunter gathers, became farmers and entered the industrial and information ages. We have weathered countless variations of governance, experiencing anarchy, feudalism, theocracy, monarchy, oligarchy, dictatorships, and democracy. We have tried capitalism, communism, and socialism. Nothing about how we live is immutable or not subject to change. No options are closed to us. We have the freedom of a flexible response to future requirements.

We know change is inevitable and it begins with each of us. The first change required is the loss of our individual and collective political naiveté. We must stop relying on the politicians whom we have historically trusted to do what is right. If we have learned anything from the past and present it is that politicians are subject to persuasion from numerous sources most of which are motivated by their own gain and not by the greater good. This leads to political rationalization of suboptimal outcomes almost always favoring the few at the expense of the many.

Intervention is an active word. Nothing substantial will happen unless there is collective human action. Collective action is the product of personal commitment by many individuals. It is the determination of people to convince the people around him or her to act with them in a specific way. It is alignment of popular sentiment around issues whose time has come that establishes a political environment where progress can be made.

Each person must participate in the fight to protect life on our planet. At a minimum, each must pick the survival issue you care most strongly about or believe you can most affect and become an activist in that area. We must stop being mere onlookers and bystanders. It is not enough to go out and vote every few years without activism in between. It is not enough to watch a television program and nod to yourself about the issues. It is not enough to tell a friend you agree with them. Passivity convinces no one and is incapable of overcoming the inertia of the indecision of others.

Those who investigate issues, form opinions, and take a stand to change present reality determine future outcomes. Those who convince others rather than are convinced by others will make the difference in the future course. It is the people that join organizations, contribute time and money, attend rallies and conferences, write letters, and walk door to door in elections that create the future. These are the things we must do. When problems resolve, these are the people history will remember and honor.

Each of us must administer personal tests to determine how much is enough? How much time, money, and commitment are enough? Our answer is relative to our circumstances. The issue selected is about survival. It is important and must be reflected as such in one’s behavior. Important commitments are public. When everyone in your circle of influence knows your passion and position on an issue the commitment is declared. We each must expend the energy to move issues forward and incorporate them into our daily lives. They should be a major way we spend our spare time, a way to meet new people and to give our self a sense of accomplishment. When you know your contribution of time and money is forcing a choice between things you care about, you are reaching the level of commitment survival issues deserve.

As we attempt to move forward there will always be suggestions of short-term compromise from government and industry. Undoubtedly compromise will be imposed. Successful activists take the progress that is offered and demand more. Survival issues require dogged determination and sustained commitment. Progress is made with an uncompromising focus on the end outcome and a continuing sense of urgency to get there. We do not have to convince all or even half of the people to make a major change in direction. Supportive political environments are created with a smaller number. To effect change, however, we must reach a sufficient number of people. We will know we have made substantial progress when world leaders feature the survival issues and their world status in their annual reports to their citizens.

Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs & Steel, made a compelling argument that geographical and environmental factors bestowed advantages on people that were greater contributors to their success than racial or genetic differences.131 Just as he argued that the accident of origin was more responsible for success of peoples than their capabilities, we will see that through no fault of their own, the adversity of global climate change will fall on people who happen to be in the wrong place on the planet. There will be physical life crises that rival any in humanity’s past. We have to prepare for the inevitable upheavals and hardships of populations migrating to different territories to avoid the consequences of higher temperatures and shrinking fresh water resources. We must be prepared to help a humanity ravaged by change.

These and other challenges will undoubtedly involve new ways for us to live our lives. Those unwilling to give up the excesses of the past will resist these changes or who are afraid to move to new circumstances. But if the future mimics the past, change will predictably fall somewhere in the middle of our expectations, not as small or distant as we hope or as large or immediate as we fear. And as has been the case in the past, humanity will eventually invest the energy to adapt and weather the change in order to survive and continue to progress. The longer we wait, however, the larger the challenge becomes and the more energy we will have to invest.

We all long for life without cares surrounded by our loved ones where happiness and contentment are shared and each day is filled with optimism about a better future. However, the best we can hope for are days, weeks, months, or sometimes years of relative well being where effort made in the past shelters us from negative consequence in the present and future. This is the fundamental nature of life. It is not without hard work, planning ahead, being mindful of what is truly important and engaging in meaningful and rewarding relationships wherever we can find them. Even so we must anticipate and deal with future adversity.

Looking at our history and human nature, it is hard to avoid pessimism about the future. It is difficult to look at the threats to life just identified, human actions required, and necessary sacrifices and not be daunted by the enormity of the challenge. And yet, with all of this there is reason for optimism. Life is tenacious and insistent. Human beings have a history of weathering and overcoming adversity. We have always figured out a way. We will do no less in the future. We are embarked on an odyssey of change that is far from complete. Human history documents our relentless exodus from our roots in the animal kingdom. Figuratively, we struggle to complete our process of metamorphosis, standing up straight to finally transcend our animal origins. We must not underestimate the change that is possible or the strength of our desire and ability to accomplish it. We must intervene in the course of events and consciously become the guardians of life. We are the chrysalises that will become life’s butterfly.


 

CHAPTER 15

 

Enhancing the Life Experience

 

 

We have discussed the need for human beings to intervene in the course of events and assume responsibility for outcomes as guardians and custodians of life. In addition, we have dedicated four chapters to the Imperative of protecting life and identified survival issues we must resolve. Before we end our investigation we must briefly revisit the other two imperatives, to create an aggregate positive life experience and insure that evolution continues.

The imperative to create positive life experiences recognizes that our combined experience will be integral to the worldview of the future singular life form. We must assume that all contributions are not equal, that as the sensitivity of the sensory system and complexity of a creature’s intellectual ability increases, their relative contribution to future consciousness is magnified. This assumes the contribution of experience from higher life forms, i.e. human beings, is greater than that of lesser forms.

The life experience over which we have the greatest control is our own. This chapter is about how to apply this imperative to everyday life. Further insight on how we should live can be found by returning to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. No one exists exclusively in self-actualization where we are only doing what we were “born to do” and continuously achieve at our full potential. Everyone spends time in multiple levels of the hierarchy each day. We have to breathe, eat and sleep, have shelter, and feel secure.

A key differentiator of one human life from another is the proportion of time spent satisfying physiological and safety needs versus higher-level belonging, esteem and self-actualization needs. Maslow’s hypothesis was we spend our lives seeking to invert his pyramid to achieve a state where the majority of our time is self-actualizing and time required to satisfy lower level deficit needs is minimal. It comes as no surprise that for most people the pyramid has not inverted and daily life is focused on the first four levels of the hierarchy. Nevertheless, humanity’s future global objective must be to minimize deficit needs and maximize the being need of Self Actualization.

Implicit in the Hierarchy of Needs is a time tense. As the individual conquers lower level survival needs, satisfying each successive level need requires a greater amount of time. As an example, those people who go beyond satisfying basic physiological needs for food, water, shelter, etc. find satisfying needs for love, acceptance, and belonging require a greater investment of time because they have to cultivate and nurture necessary relationships with others. Similarly, the Esteem needs of achievement, education, competence and respect all imply sustained effort over an even longer period of time. They also involve identification and definition of conscious goals and objectives.

This implied time tense prompts us to examine where our consciousness is focused, in the past, present moment, or future. Only the present moment is reality. Past moments are but memory. Future moments are but anticipation. While true that only the present moment is real, one of our strengths is our ability to think in all three time tenses; to learn from successes and failures in the past, to be fully conscious of circumstances and action required in the moment, and to identify what must be achieved in the future and channel present efforts accordingly.

There is benefit in the present to minimizing negative influences of the past. As an example, we can all remember negative comments and discouragement from others who told us we were not worthy or were not capable of achievement. These could have been the taunting comments of other children or discouragement from well meaning adults who sought to insulate us from an experience of failure. Unfortunately, we tend to give these memories too much influence on our present lives.

It is always true that past experiences occurred at a different place and time and to a different person, ourselves at an earlier moment. Our memories can be flawed by immaturity, inaccurate perception, and/or misinterpretation. The past must be reevaluated in light of the present. For this reason, we should be very harsh with memories, easily and quickly dismissing those inconsistent with who we now are, that do not contribute to our present and future success, and which do not support the direction we have chosen for ourselves. We should also retain memories that represent the best contribution to who we have become or are becoming.

At the same time we must give witness to the passing of the present moment for it is in each moment the history of our life is written. It is within each moment that we can fulfill our promise to be a good person, to do that which brings pride to those who know us and creates value in our existence. It is also the point at which experience takes place with lessons learned, insights gained, and memories made. We must extract all the value we can from each present moment, savoring the existence of that moment which comes but once for each of us.

Each moment presents us with a choice. We can exist, harvest, or invest in the moment. All living creatures exist in each moment but absent other thought or action mere existence offers the least value. When moments pass without notice the full potential of life is squandered. To harvest a moment is to recognize its passage and extract the fullness of its value. It can be to feel joy at being alive, the pleasure of the warm sunshine on your face or inhaling the fragrance of a flower. It can be laughter with a friend, hugging a child, or kissing your mate. It can be any thought or action that consciously puts you in your moment with full appreciation of its experience and opportunity.

To invest in the present moment is to expend effort focused on enhancing moments that follow. It can be working harder in the present to reduce effort or risk in the future. It can be crafting a solution today to forestall a problem anticipated tomorrow. It can be working to achieve a milestone that gives ongoing and sustainable advantage. Just as it is the bicycling energy of the moment to climb the hill that allows the opportunity to effortlessly coast down the other side, it is the excess returns on today’s invested effort put aside and saved that provides support to withstand adversity in the future. And when the individual creates value in excess of their own requirements, the surplus can be redirected to help others. Investment in the moment for the future is where the greatest value lies.

How we feel can be as important as what we do in the present moment. Not only are feelings a part of our memory and life experience but they also have a powerful influence over what we choose to do. Each of us has experienced days when we knew we had to do something we thoroughly disliked. We could spend the whole day procrastinating, dreading the task and postponing it to the last possible moment. On the other hand we have all also had days when we were looking forward to something we really enjoy. The rush to complete mundane tasks in order to be free to do something we look forward to makes for a very different day. How we feel during the two different days is very important. Knowing how to manage our daily mood can make a significant difference in the quality of our life experience.

While there are many benefits to living in the moment there are hazards as well. We have to recognize that being swept along in the emotion of the moment is one the risks that must be managed especially when the present emotion is negative. We are highly susceptible to our emotions but always have less concern when we are feeling positive.

Our objective must be to remain emotionally centered in a stable, secure, and positive state. Maintaining centered emotions requires frequent mid course correction much as the flight path of an airplane that is buffeted by the winds is continuously corrected to stay true to its destination. A good technique for re-centering your emotional state is contextual reformation. We will look at three techniques to help manage your emotional state to achieve the best life experience.

In the course of daily life we each live in a variety of contexts or interrelated conditions within which we exist. We move from one context to another as the activities of our day progress. For example, a married man with children may begin the day in a husband context when he wakes up in bed next to his wife. He moves to a father context when he sits down to breakfast with his children. As he goes to work he assumes his career context.

Throughout the day each of us moves from one context to another. It is easy to get lost in the daily contexts of our life and lose the centering that is critical to emotional stability and security. For example, when we encounter trouble on the job or difficulties in our marriage, we will tend to focus our attention on one context to the exclusion of all others.

On a more immediate level we can often find ourselves in a stressful or emotion filled situation where we are caught up in the moment and allow negative emotions such as fear, embarrassment or anger to control our reactions. This is an example of how we can lose control of the present moment and our centered emotional stability. It often occurs when we do something we regret.

A way of regaining control, our first technique, is to perform a process of remote projection. Briefly imagine going to a distant place, a corner of the room, where you can look back at yourself. Your objective is to see you in a broader, objective context. Look at your surroundings and situation. Imagine yourself moving farther and farther away. Reposition yourself in the broader context of the world around you. In the first case of one context dominating all other contexts, remote projection enables you to pull back and see all facets of your life and put them once again in proper perspective.

In the second example you are in the middle of a stressful situation and remote projection allows you to back out of an inward looking state and see your experience is transitory in nature. In both examples you can look at how you are reacting and ask yourself if the reaction is warranted. You should try to see yourself as others see you and ask if this is how you want to be perceived and known. If the answer is no, you can extract yourself from the context you are in or alter your reaction so you can be seen in a different way. This is how you can regain control of your situation and restore a centered state.

We all have times when we become discouraged, uncertain or apprehensive about something we are attempting to do. When our mood deteriorates we risk losing the motivation to keep pushing forward. Maintaining optimism is necessary to overcome normal human doubt. A second technique for contextual reformation and mood management is recollection. This technique involves recalling past accomplishments and remembering the positive emotions you felt when you achieved them. You could recall the pride and joy of your graduation from high school or college or the moment you learned you would be promoted. It is best to look back to anytime you achieved something that required significant effort and in some sense the outcome was in doubt.

Once you select an appropriate recollection, imagine yourself once more in that moment. Visualize your surroundings. Remember whom you were with and when and where the event happened. Recall the feelings you experienced and what caused them. This recollection enables you to feel the positive feelings of the past in the present. It reminds you that you can overcome challenges and prevail. It reinforces your ability to accomplish what you set your mind to do. It moves the emotional context of that moment to the present moment and re-centers your emotional state.

Our last technique for mood management is visualization. It helps create optimism about accomplishing something where the outcome may be in doubt. First you identify the major future goal, achievement, or event that you are working towards. Next you itemize the interim steps you need to take to accomplish your goal. Visualize yourself completing these things to get to the end outcome. Anticipate the perfect set of circumstances that would surround the outcome. Project yourself to the moment of successful completion. Imagine the emotions you will feel and the reactions of the people you care most about.

Visualization is a rehearsal for future success. It forces you to think about how you would accomplish your objective. It leads you to anticipate obstacles and conceive of ways to overcome them. Visualization renews the motivation that initially made you choose the goal you wanted to achieve. It increases your confidence in pursuit of it. No accomplishment is possible if you cannot at least imagine and visualize its attainment. The process of figuring it out increases your optimism of its feasibility and moves its reality from unthinkable and impossible to familiar and achievable.

The second area where you can have a direct affect on life experience is your impact on people around you. Your interaction with others and affect on them can often have a greater influence on positive life experience than managing your own moods. Evolution and natural selection have played a key role in shaping the behavior of genetically and biologically related family groups. There has been much study and documentation of interaction between family members with many theories of behavior from Freud and Jung to Watson and Skinner. For this reason our daily interaction with strangers is of more interest in this exploration.

It is important to consider two aspects of interaction with others. The first is that you must actively engage other people. Human beings are social animals who are susceptible to isolation, loneliness, and despair. We all too often move through our day interacting with others as if they are objects rather than people. Too often we relate to others in a perfunctory fashion, lacking real interest and responding in a highly superficial way. These interactions alienate and isolate both people by denying their value in each other’s eyes.

How often have we treated the person behind the counter as not deserving of recognition or worthy of validation? How do we react when people behind the counter treat us as if we are the nuisances? How many opportunities have we missed to break though the barrier of impersonality and actually engage one another? The tragedy is that a genuine personal connection and recognition of another’s existence and value takes only a few moments of attention and effort.

It means we have to pay attention to people and find a topic of conversation that establishes a common ground. We can chat about a shared characteristic, such as describing work you once did that was similar to their experience. It can be complementing them on a job well done. It can be any number of things that will demonstrate you are actually paying attention to them and thinking about their life or situation and acknowledging their existence. This leaves you and the other person with a positive feeling.

The second, and in many respects more important aspect of interaction with others is to actively seek opportunities where you can exhibit unanticipated kindness. While similar to active engagement, performing an unexpected kindness has a more powerful affect on the emotional context of others. It is an unsolicited offer to help someone you do not know and may never see again. The offered act must represent giving up something that is of value to you in time, effort or money. While the kindness benefits the other person, it benefits you as well in that it makes you feel good about yourself. It reinforces your kindness and care for other people. Opportunities for unanticipated kindness are often less obvious and always require more effort.

Actively engaging other people and performing unanticipated acts of kindness are like throwing pebbles into a pond. The beneficial effects will ripple out in ever widening circles affecting progressively more and more people. If what you do makes another person feel valued or that the world is a kinder place than they had thought, it improves their life experience that day. Further, it leads them to similar positive behavior that benefits someone else. Imagine the effect if everyone committed an unanticipated act of kindness each day. Imagine the power of over six billion daily acts of kindness.

When we think about the human condition it is not hard to imagine the cumulative effect of these kinds of actions. All human beings will react similarly when we reach out to them. Our DNA is 99.9% the same from one person to another regardless of ethnicity or nationality.132 Maslow’s hierarchy explains that the challenges we face in living day-to-day are the same. We must believe that the aspirations all people have for the quality of their life experience is similar.

Before we leave the subject of how we increase the quality of the aggregate life experience we must discuss the second largest contributing group, the rest of the animal kingdom. We are not the only contributors to the aggregate life experience. Plants and animals also contribute. Setting aside the assumed small contribution of plants, it is well documented that animals experience many emotions, are aware of pain and suffering, and have memory.

We must recall that at least four species other than Homo sapiens have demonstrated self-recognition.  These are the great apes (other than gorillas), Asian elephants, bottlenose dolphins and the Corvid bird family including magpies, crows and ravens. Anyone who has ever owned a pet or farm animal has seen a range of emotions in their animal’s eyes such as love, fear, happiness, or contentment. All who have read about animal behavior know about the nurturing and protection of the young by their parents.

The normal animal cycle of life consists of birth, growth, foraging and hunting, procreation, caring for offspring, aging and dying. While the life of wild animals can include difficult times like migrations, disease, avoidance of predators and starvation, it is possible to imagine that on most days there is a positive contribution to the aggregate life experience. This has been true even through the human development of an agrarian society. Small farmers and ranchers have always had a direct and personal interest in the welfare of their livestock if only as an investment they want to protect.

Most human beings in direct and personal contact with animals feel empathy and treat them with kindness. Pets elicit the stronger emotions of love and loyalty from their owners. Even people who are not pet owners, farmers, or ranchers generally react with concern when they encounter an animal that is suffering and in pain. These are normal human reactions and represent some of the higher states of emotion.

Human reactions change when we depersonalize our relationships with the animal kingdom. Our actions change when we are remote and no longer see or experience the reality of animal existence. We can avoid normal human reactions when animal care is unseen and the responsibility of others. Such is the case when we confine animals to artificial and limited enclosures in zoos, subject them to experimentation in medical laboratories, and turn them into commodities to be managed by big industrial food processors on factory farms.

Setting aside the negative examples of zoo confinement and medical experimentation that are both regrettable, the epitome of our present remoteness with the greatest negative effect is our relationship with the billions of animals in our food chain. The case in point is the treatment of animals under the control of big industrial food processors, the managers of our food supply, who raise and slaughter billions of animals each year in our name.

There is a sizable body of law pertaining to farm animal cruelty. Using the United States as an example, the nation has passed laws requiring humane treatment of livestock immediately prior to and during slaughter.133 In addition, about half the states enacted statutes that also set standards for the slaughter of animals. These statutes were designed to prevent needless animal suffering. They include description of how animals unable to move will be handled. For example they first must be stunned to unconsciousness before they can be dragged anywhere. The law also identifies the four means to be used to render animals unconscious before the actual slaughter which generally consists of slitting the animal’s throat and draining the body of blood. The four ways to render farm animals unconscious are with carbon dioxide administered in a chamber, captive bolt stunners which produce a forceful strike on the forehead, mechanical gunshot, and use of electrical current.135

Counting just cattle, chickens, ducks, hogs, sheep and lambs, and turkeys it is estimated we slaughtered over 4.8 billion animals in the U.S. in 2008. There are no government estimates for the slaughter of other farm animals, such as rabbits and horses.136 There are numerous video segments accessible on the internet that depict farm animal slaughter where humane steps to minimize pain and suffering have not been taken. With the huge number of animals slaughtered each year and the obvious terror, pain, and suffering experienced when they are not rendered unconscious, it is clear the existing law was a necessary first step to protect the life experience of these creatures.

With all the focus on the death of the animals it is surprising there are no national statutes and very few state laws that regulate the handling and living conditions of those same animals prior to slaughter. It is in this area where human beings have failed the animals managed in their name. We have allowed large agribusinesses to open high production factory farms that use business practices that destroy any opportunity for a positive life experience for the animals in their charge. These factory farms treat their animals as commodities with no concern for their quality of life. In fact, with the existing laws when enforced and followed, we are treating the animals more humanely as we put them to death than they have been treated in life.

Examples of their common practices include:

  • Confining eight to ten egg laying hens for the duration of their lives in indoor wire cages, called battery cages, measuring no more than sixteen inches wide and 67 to 86 inches long, about the size of an average filing cabinet drawer. These cages are so small the hens do not have room to fully spread their wings. These cages are in rows and stacked several levels high in windowless buildings that contain up to 100,000 birds.
  • Debeaking chickens, turkeys and ducks by cutting through bone, cartilage and soft tissue with a blade to remove the top half and bottom third of their beaks. This is done to reduce excessive feather pecking and cannibalism seen in stressed, overcrowded birds confined in factory farms.
  • Forced molting where egg producers starve their hens for ten to fourteen days forcing them to lose 25% or more of their body weight in body fat, feathers, liver tissue, musculature, and skeleton. This is done to reduce the cost of feeding the hens and produce eggs more cheaply.
  • Producing Foie Gras where birds are force-fed enormous quantities of food three times a day via a pipe inserted in their esophagus. This leads to enlargement of the liver and sometimes causes a rupturing of internal organs leading to infection and a painful death. This process normally lasts four weeks until the birds are slaughtered.
  • Producing “White Veal” where dairy farmers take unwanted male calves in the first 16-18 weeks of life and confine them in two foot wide crates where they are formula fed an iron and fiber deficient diet that results in anemia. The lack of movement and anemia retards muscle development that results in pale, tender meat.
  • Confining breeding pigs for their nearly four-month pregnancies in “gestation cages” which are two feet wide and seven feet long concrete floored metal cages. Once they give birth and their piglets are weaned they are quickly re-impregnated. On average these breeding pigs spend a total of ten months a year in these cages. This cycle is repeated for three to five years until the sows’ bodies have deteriorated to the point it is no longer profitable to breed them, at which point they are sent to slaughter.

These animal cages and crates severely limit animal mobility. Intensively confined animals are denied the ability to exercise, fully extend their limbs, or simply turn their bodies. They cannot perform integral, instinctual, and natural behaviors. For example birds cannot respond to their basic nesting instincts. Cages with wire flooring deprive them of the opportunity to express normal foraging, scratching and dust-bathing behaviors. They also prohibit hens from perching and roosting and do not allow comfort behaviors, such as stretching and wing flapping.

It is not possible to imagine a world where people do not consume or need to consume animal protein in their diet. While we cannot envision a world of strict vegetarians, we can imagine one where each person significantly reduces their animal protein consumption. Nevertheless we have an imperative to increase positive life experience. The life experience of a significant portion of the animal kingdom has been allowed to deteriorate to an unspeakable and unacceptable level of sustained cruelty. We must end the torture of these poor, defenseless living beings.

There has been a small, dedicated group of advocates who have made steady progress in this fight to end farm animal abuse and give all animals a chance to have positive life experiences. These compassionate people have succeeded in passing the laws regulating the slaughter of animals. In addition they have made progress in a handful of states that have passed laws that variously eliminate veal crates, gestation and battery cages, and the production of Foie Gras.

A forward-looking piece of legislation was the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act passed in California in 2008. This law was to “prohibit the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.”137 It specifically protected all covered animals which meant “any pig during pregnancy, calf raised for veal, or egg-laying hen who is kept on a farm.” It passed in what can only be considered a resounding victory carrying a 63% majority.

The rest of us must join this small band of advocates to build the political will to extend this protection to farm animals everywhere. We must demand tougher penalties for violating animal cruelty laws. We must fund more pervasive monitoring of animal welfare to insure these standards are fully enforced. Finally, we must raise our children to understand the importance of creating a positive life experience for all living creatures. We must help them develop the empathy that will guide them to fight animal cruelty in all of its forms.

The fight against animal cruelty is as much about us as it is about the animals. Treating animals with the respect and care in life that they deserve is a significant way we can fulfill our responsibilities. Cruelty to another living creature is an example of the worst possible human behavior and is unworthy of the human species. As guardians of life and beneficiaries of the aggregate life experience, we must fulfill the imperative to enhance all life experience.

 

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Beyond Animal, Ego and Time: Chap 7 – An Evolutionary Imperative, Chap 8 – Life’s Optional Future, Chap 9 – A Positive Life Experience

Posted on 13 March 2013 by admin

I’ve decided to serialize my book on this website.  As an incentive to readers to return to the site, each month I will post at least one Chapter of the book until the entire book is posted.  Go into the Archives to “Beyond Animal” for earlier chapters.  The book provides context for the blog, clearly explaining the underlying philosophy and identifying critical issues of our time. I believe that Chapter 8 is a pivotal chapter which sets the stage for the remainder of the book.

CHAPTER 7 

An Evolutionary Imperative

Scientists have identified the human brain’s highly developed right prefrontal cortex as potentially responsible for self awareness, empathic emotion, and significant contribution to conscious thought and decision making. These attributes are among the most highly evolved of life. While apparently a result of the brain’s physical evolution, intellect, which includes thought, knowledge, and consciousness, has its own path of development. Intellect also informs emotion contributing to a third area of further evolution. It has led to a higher order of emotions beyond the primitive feelings of fear and aggression. Higher states of emotion include insight into shared circumstance (empathy), recognition of vulnerability to negative events (sympathy), and optimism about future outcomes (hope).

To understand the future potential of life we must look at evolution as the most powerful process guiding its development. Anticipation of future advancements may help us recognize when they occur and position us to contribute to their development. We must admit, however, that we may not be aware of them when we experience them.

For example, the rest of the animal kingdom cannot perceive our development of self awareness nor understand how different it makes us. Consider how recent it was that we learned other animals are also self aware. This should cause us to pause when we encounter life behaviors or characteristics we have never seen before. Since we consider ourselves at the pinnacle of evolution our understanding may be key to future progress. For these reasons we will look further at physical, intellectual, and emotional evolution.

There are at least three forces influencing the progress of physical evolution. The first is random mutation and resulting genetic modification. This occurs when alteration of a DNA sequence results from errors during replication or repair of DNA. Other changes take place through recombination of DNA sequences as a natural result of cell division. They often have no apparent effect until an environmental event selects and favors the change. Even small genetic alterations can have significant impact because they can exist over long periods of time and combine with other unseen mutations until environmental change makes their effect and existence apparent.

The second force shaping evolution is selective breeding. There is an inherent genetic and biological drive within animal species to select breeding mates that exhibit preferred characteristics. This mate selection is based on factors generally specific to the species such as physical stature, dominance, and plumage. Well documented in the animal kingdom, this behavior is also apparent within humans. Mate selection within human kind has a wider set of criteria which can include intelligence, personality, or can be the result from the often inexplicable emotion defined as love. Beyond selective breeding within species, we have practiced selective breeding of agricultural crops, livestock, and pets for centuries. We have done this to produce characteristics we value.

The third force impacting physical evolution came into existence within the last fifty years. This is the human science of genetics, more specifically genetic engineering and its successor synthetic biology. The tools are now in place to alter the genetic code of any life form at will by using the largely cut and paste technology of genetic engineering. This science has led to a multi-billion dollar, worldwide industry seeking to profit from conscious human alteration of the genetic code of numerous existing life forms and new alien life forms it seeks to create.

Random mutations, selective breeding and thoughtful genetic engineering will undoubtedly prove beneficial in a changing environment. To have the widest possibility of beneficial change, broad diversity of species is desirable. When confronting the impending extinction of a living species, most people only consider the utility of the species to human beings. This is a shortsighted view. In the history of life there have been species other than Homo sapiens that have been the dominant life forms of their time. While ours is a privileged present position, evolution and changing circumstance may favor another. Only the right choices and actions will secure our continued leadership of life.

To put human life in perspective, science considers the age of Earth to be about 4.5 billion years. Life is thought to have come into existence some 3.5 billion years ago. The Homo genus or branch of life leading to Homo sapiens is believed to have begun 1.5 to 2.5 million years ago with modern humans first appearing around 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. While we egotistically assume our position as dominant species will continue indefinitely, such may not be the case. It is generally thought we can survive catastrophes that have befallen previous dominant life forms. We may not be able to survive our own actions. As the preeminent species of conscious decision making we may make a disastrously wrong decision, wait too long to correct a bad decision or just fail to decide to do the things necessary to insure survival.

As it has been in the past so it may be in the future. We do not know if there will be a future ascendency of another life form as the dominant species. Not knowing what life must do to insure its survival, we should view all species within the collective gene pool as potential contributors to the future sustainability of life. When we balance the value of our actions to preserve a species from extinction against the costs of doing so, we must consider that any loss of diversity will diminish the possibility that life will survive.

A note of caution, diversity as a result of natural processes has been tested and refined over billions of years by natural selection. As will be discussed in Chapter 13 on synthetic biology, entrepreneurs now have the ability to bypass the protections offered by the slow and steady process of natural selection. They have the ambition, if not the present ability, to create entirely alien life forms that would never and could never evolve naturally on our planet. Our knowledge of the potential risks is so limited and their possible effects so extreme, it may be doubtful this diversity is desirable.

The second domain of evolution is intellect or advances in human thought in all of its various forms. Intellect is one of evolution’s greatest outcomes. With intellect has come the ability to reason or the power of comprehension, inference, or thought especially in orderly rational ways. With reason has come science and the knowledge humanity now possesses. If we accept Pavlov’s view that curiosity is instinctive, curiosity coupled with human intellect has produced all of our scientific breakthroughs. Breakthroughs have been the result of this burgeoning intellect and knowledge base. They give humans extraordinary control over their environment. They also extend their life spans and lessen human suffering.

The power and progress of human thought has been discussed by countless philosophers. Descartes who spoke of it as a proof of existence itself asserted “I think, therefore I am.” Hegel with his theory of the dialectic cited a thesis giving rise to its own antithesis and an ultimate synthesis as the way thought advances.

With the evolution of intellect has come abstraction or the ability to see a quality apart from an object. This has led us to define and classify categories that only have existence in thought. An example is the consciousness of self. It gave us recognition of our own existence and the concept of “I”. With intellect, this consciousness has been raised to progressively higher orders of thought. From “I” came recognition of “We” as the individual perceived the connectedness and relatedness of other human beings and life forms. This progressive abstraction of relatedness brought concepts of nation, race, species and the aggregation we call life itself. These successive levels of consciousness represent the best evolutionary progress of intellect.

The greatest advance of human thought occurs when it rises to the highest levels of abstraction. This level of abstraction is most productive in reaching for the greatest truth and common good. It was from the higher states of consciousness that founding fathers of the United States wrote the Declaration of Independence. The thoughts and phrases, “all men are created equal” and “unalienable Rights” and “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” continue to have profound effect beyond their nation of origin. From an equal level of abstraction, that of a “Community of nations” came a movement to create the United Nations.

The ability to abstract an idealized state to which we can direct our action is one of our most advanced intellectual capabilities. These are examples of the power of thought to shape the destiny and future of humanity. Others could be identified from the systems of thought developed and refined in the fields of science, philosophy, and religion. This evolution is as important as the physical evolution with which we are most familiar. This intellectual evolution will undoubtedly produce more knowledge, more insights, and higher levels of consciousness. As stated at the outset of this book, we have learned that greater knowledge and understanding increase our ability to shape and impact our surroundings to better support our lives. As it is true for our individual and collective lives, so it is also true for all of life.

As observed, intellect informs emotion which has led to a higher order of emotions beyond primitive feelings such as anger and fear. Higher states of emotion include those based on insight into shared circumstance (empathy), recognition of another’s vulnerability (sympathy), and optimism or pessimism about future outcomes (hope or despair). Anyone who has experienced pride at a significant human accomplishment such as our landing on the moon or whose eyes have welled with tears at a wedding or marveled at the sheer beauty of classical music has experienced a higher order emotion. Anyone who has donated to disaster relief in response to catastrophic human hardship or has administered first aid at the site of an accident or has affirmed a relationship “until death do us part” knows the force of a higher order of emotion to commit us to action.

Emotion is the third path of evolutionary development. The behaviors it elicits have long been a source of controversy amongst philosophers and scientists. It has been much maligned, as intellect and its byproduct, reason, have been elevated as the ultimate human capability. Emotion has often been referenced as primitive, inferior, unreliable and something that must be conquered and controlled by reason. Most often viewed as separate capabilities, much research has been devoted to reason and emotion attempting to identify and pinpoint specific sites or regions of the brain responsible for each.

Research involving neurological patients whose social behavior had been altered by various types of brain damage has shown processes in the brain and throughout the body are more complex and interdependent than once believed. It indicates consciousness, decision making and emotion are intertwined.

One significant proponent of this view is Antonio Damasio, the M.W. Van Allen Professor and head of Neurology at the University of Iowa. In his book Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, he observes that brain damaged patients who are unable to process emotion also suffer impairment of their ability to make rational decisions about everyday problems.56 While reasoning and logic skills are shown when patients identify alternatives to be considered in decision making, their ability to resolve an analysis and decide is impaired. Damasio attributes this impairment to the lack of emotional evaluations that provide crucial input to decision-making.

“I propose that human reason depends on several brain systems, working in concert across many levels of neuronal organization, rather than on a single brain center. Both ‘high level’ and ‘low-level’ brain regions, from the prefrontal cortices to the hypothalamus and brain stem, cooperate in the making of reason. The lower levels in the neural edifice of reason are the same ones that regulate the processing of emotions and feelings, along with the body functions necessary for an organism’s survival. In turn, these lower levels maintain direct and mutual relationships with virtually every bodily organ, thus placing the body directly within the chain of operations that generate the highest reaches of reasoning, decision making, and, by extension, social behavior and creativity. Emotion, feeling, and biological regulation all play a role in human reason.”57

Further support for this view is provided by research in cognitive neuroscience, an interdisciplinary approach to investigating the nature of thought, which has increased our understanding of the interaction of various parts of the brain to produce an emotional experience. Joseph LeDoux at the Center for the Neuroscience of Fear and Anxiety at New York University, in The Emotional Brain cites the interaction of subcortical structures, the amygdala, hypothalamus and brainstem, and the cingulated cortex and the prefrontal cortex as the source of an emotional experience.58 These parts of the brain work in concert for example to enable us to feel fear when we see a stranger approaching in a dark alley. Involvement of the cerebral cortex enables us to recall similar circumstances in the past and recognize the danger in the present. Based on our memory of bad past experience, our sub-cortical structures enable us to reflexively experience an increased heart rate, tensing of our muscles and perspiration.

A fundamental question about emotions has been their origin. Are they innate and somehow hardwired as a result of evolution or are they taught and a product of the cultural environment? If a product of evolution and hardwired in the human being, they should be universal across the human species irrespective of culture, language or ethnic background. Paul Ekman, a noted clinical psychologist, focused on observable facial expression looking for commonality across widely diverse cultures.59 His research documents distinctive universal facial expressions for a small list of basic emotions: anger, fear, disgust, sadness, and enjoyment. The research results are somewhat less clear for other emotions such as contempt, surprise, and interest.

Ekman observes this list of “universal” emotions is far shorter than lists most theorists identify and is a much smaller number than the various words that describe different emotions. This suggests that beyond basic emotions resulting from evolution, a different phenomenon is taking place to account for the other emotions human beings report they experience. He speculates there may be emotions not related to specific facial expressions or that grouping emotions into families may offer an explanation or that a number of emotions share one facial expression. It seems likely there may be another explanation, that where physical evolution leaves off, intellect, experience and memory take over.

These findings suggest a small number of evolved emotions serve as a foundation for an intellectual, emotional, and experiential feedback loop that expands the variety of our emotions. It defines a common emotional platform within each human being. We can conceive of coequal intellectual and emotional contexts for each of our experiences that we commit to memory as we live our lives.

An example will serve to illustrate this. As a father runs beside a bicycle, he holds the handle bars and seat steady during his daughter’s first bike riding experience. Sensing the child is ready, he pushes off launching her on her own. At this moment she takes control of forward motion as all of her faculties concentrate on maintaining balance. Her intellect is engaged as she concentrates on the actions she is performing. Her major physical sensory systems record her instinctive reactions as she steers, pedals and maintains her balance. Her emotions surge with her simultaneous fear of falling and thrill of accomplishment. After the initial awkward and scary moments she proceeds to ride around the parking lot for awhile as her dad says “I knew you could do it” congratulating her on the accomplishment. Fear gives way to happiness as the child experiences pride.

There are intellectual, emotional and sensory memories created by this experience. The point of the example is that multiple dimensions of every experience are committed to memory and exist for future recall and use.60As we gain knowledge and further insight, we refine memories creating additional layers of nuanced information and emotion for future recall.

Damasio sees intuition as a sort of shorthand memory of past circumstances. He writes, “Emotion had a role to play in intuition, the sort of rapid cognitive process in which we come to a particular conclusion without being aware of all the intermediate logical steps. It is not necessarily the case that the knowledge of the intermediate steps is absent, only that emotion delivers the conclusion so directly and rapidly that not much knowledge need come to mind.”

He further observes “that the quality of one’s intuition depends on how well we have reasoned in the past; on how well we have classified the events of our past experience in relation to the emotions that preceded and followed them; and also on how well we have reflected on the successes and failures of our past intuitions. Intuition is simply rapid cognition with the required knowledge partially swept under the carpet, all courtesy of emotion and much past practice.”61

When we began this discussion we stated that intellect informs emotion. Our self awareness and ability to project how we would feel if circumstance that happened to another happened to us creates feelings of empathy and/or sympathy for another. At the core of this emotional reaction, which does not appear in Ekman’s universal emotions, is the intellectual recognition that human beings share similar circumstances. While it can be argued empathy and sympathy may be an extension of sadness, the sadness is informed by intellect to represent a higher state of emotion.

Emotions play an integral role in our lives. They have enhanced survival as we have evolved. They are inseparable from experience, intellect, and decision making. They moderate our behavior as they affect our decision making. As our intellect, knowledge, and consciousness evolve so do our emotions. Much of what we know is learned. This is also true of what we feel. Just as the parent congratulated the child on the accomplishment, the parent taught the child to feel pride. We are not as conscious of the need to teach children to experience higher emotions and yet they are as crucial to our continued evolution as the higher states of intellect that enable them.

When exploring human uniqueness we observed our ability to learn vicariously without personal experience is a key human attribute. Experience of art in all its forms contributes to the emotional development of children. Story telling by the written word or in movies provides a vicarious way to experience emotion. It can convey insights that inform emotions and can trigger feeling an emotion not felt before. The beauty of art and music can lift the spirit and raise emotional consciousness.

Parents must recognize that while art can move emotion forward, it can also create regression to more primitive emotional states. While the beauty of art should be sought, gratuitous vicarious violence on television and in movies can move anyone’s emotions to a lower evolutionary level. If a child sees violence, it must be understood through a parent’s lens of interpretation and explanation.

Above all, we must look for evolutionary progress because it can originate anywhere and from anyone. Evolution after all is blind to the humble origins of a patent clerk who conceived of E=MC2, to the physical infirmity of a Cambridge astrophysicist who enlightened us about black holes and the universe, and to the sexual orientation of a musician who moved the emotions of 33 million people bringing us the biggest selling song in history, Candle in the Wind. We cannot predict the origin of future breakthroughs or who will be responsible. For this reason we must help others achieve their full potential and be open to their contributions to future progress.

CHAPTER 8 

Life’s Optional Future

Life and its evolution are extraordinary. Up to now we have spent considerable time identifying basic assumptions to be used in the foundation of our new cosmological perspective. Our investigation of the physics of the universe, life, human uniqueness, and evolution will help us reintegrate our knowledge with our beliefs. We can now draw on these basic assumptions and speculate about future possibilities, as we build the next tier of our belief system.

To do this we must move our focus from knowledge to belief and from what has occurred in the past to what is possible in the future. We advance from the more certain to the hypothetical. As with the articulation of any hypothesis, we define an area of future study posing a new question that once asked launches new investigation.

While all knowledge is based on belief, its categorization as knowledge implies a higher justification,62 such as verification through repeated experimentation or corroborated occurrence as reported by multiple observers. For this reason, knowledge has a higher standing than belief which has not necessarily passed all of the tests to which knowledge has been subjected. A belief is more of a hypothesis. While it may be highly supported by logic, reason, and experience, it does not have the same force and credibility as knowledge.

Similarly, documented events that are known to have occurred in the past have a higher level of certainty than those that are predicted to occur in the future even if they are highly probable. While multiple observers can disagree on the description of a past event because of different perspectives or interpretations, the event is still more certain than that which has not yet happened.

Our objective is not to diminish the value of beliefs or possible future events but merely to recognize the transitions we are making. Beliefs are after all often a precursor of knowledge. We previously identified that new knowledge is frequently the answer to a question that has not been asked before or has been posed but not answered over the centuries. When acknowledging the possibility of a future occurrence we stimulate the human consciousness to think about the possible future event and how it might be accomplished. This in turn is often the first step toward realization. Without the belief that human beings could someday fly and the act of imagining that future possibility, there would have been no airlines to dramatically shorten travel to any place on Earth. In this way beliefs and future possibilities are inextricably tied to human progress.

As we work to construct new hypotheses, our tentative conclusions should seek to be logically consistent and answer basic questions of the meaning of life and human purpose. As we attempt to project known physical processes forward in time, we explore possible future states that challenge our sense of normalcy, increase our intrigue with that which is not known, and stimulate our imagination. We must look for inspiration and an individual vision that provides motivation to sustain a new direction.

To borrow a thought from an old riddle, if two galaxies collide and there is no astronomer or physicist to perceive the collision, is it really happening? Scientifically the answer is yes, the galaxies still collide. If there is no life to perceive it however, there is no awe, no majesty, no wonder, no appreciation or interpretation of the event. Beyond life and its animation, we bring meaning and feeling to an inanimate universe.

This is why we are moved emotionally in the classic movie Blade Runner when the Rutger Hauer character, Roy Batty, the combat model and leader of the renegade Nexus 6 Replicants, is dying after having saved Rick Deckard, Harrison Ford, from falling from the roof of a building. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched C beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.” He accepts his fate with a sad smile and his final line, “Time to die”. Without his witness, experience, and interpretation of those events, they have no meaning. Beyond this movie character, it is our life and witness that brings quantitative and qualitative richness and gives meaning to all that surrounds us.

What if Roy’s memories are not lost with his death? What if his memories, and ours for that matter, are indelible, permanently etched on life’s matter so they can be recalled after death when Roy’s and our matter is once again reintegrated into a living system?

To reiterate briefly, we know life’s matter has memory at the person and organism level. The trillions of cells composing each of us have knowledge of us. This cellular knowledge includes the estimated 20,000 individual genes that account for what the Human Genome Project identified as over three billion base pairs.

Beyond genetic information, we remember the knowledge we’ve learned and our experiences because they are stored or encoded somehow on the matter within us. This includes the thousands of faces and places we remember for many years in our lifetime. Sometimes when people cannot remember the details of a past event hypnosis is used to help them recall those details. This is because the memory is there but is blocked from immediate recall.

We are uncertain about the mechanisms that create memory and how our memory is encoded. We also do not know what levels or layers of our matter participate in the storing of this information. It is generally accepted that memory takes place at the cellular and molecular levels and involves neuron cells which are specialized to pass signals to other cells through chemical and/or electrical synapses or specialized connections between those cells. Both the pre-synaptic and postsynaptic sites contain extensive molecular structure that link the two cellular membranes together and carry out the signaling process.

We know memories are encoded at the cellular and molecular levels in the body. We cannot see individual atoms because they are thousands of times smaller than the light waves we can see using our eyes. Even though we can’t see them, with a scanning tunneling microscope we can use an extremely sensitive probe to feel around the outside of solid materials and perceive the bumps that are made by the individual atoms. Computer imaging software can turn these bumps into an image representing the surface of the solid and individual atoms lying there and the patterns they form. Since we cannot see them however, we do not know if and how atoms and/or particles participate in storing our experiences.

It is not reasonable to assume that because we lack the tools for perception at the atomic and particle levels that no storage of memory takes place there. It is reasonable to assume the encoding of memories occurs at the smallest levels of matter in the body and that as with the hologram, the equivalent of interference patterns are etched on atoms and particles. We assume therefore that memory occurs at all manifestation levels of matter; cellular, molecular, atomic, and particle.

Given technological advances and our recent scientific experiences of retrieving information that was once thought lost from living and once living material sources, it is possible our life memories and genetic code are indelibly encoded on our matter. There is a reasonable possibility that when matter is incorporated into a living system the encoding of experience and knowledge is irrevocable. We know our bodies are composed of elements whose atoms are stable, which in turn are composed of stable particles. Stable atoms and particles have lifetimes that last into the billions of years. This would make the knowledge and memory of life endure perhaps forever.

We assume therefore that matter is irrevocably changed by participating in a living system with its knowledge and memory indelibly encoded or etched on its constituent parts. To this assumption we must add our knowledge that genetic material from fossil bone fragments when inserted in the cells of another living organism can be replicated as its cells divide and multiply. In addition, we know that genetic material from the 100 year old remains of the extinct Tasmanian tiger has been shown to perform normally when reintegrated into a living system.

Our assumptions and the facts we know about once living matter being reintegrated into living systems, such as bacteria and mouse embryos, lead us to recognize a very significant possibility. It is possible that all of the life matter retained in the biogenic sphere that surrounds our planet has the opportunity for future reintegration with a living system. One can imagine living organisms ingesting, growing, and incorporating matter from their surroundings into their life system and obtaining a random mix of the once living matter’s past life experiences.

We can conceive of a coherent thought or memory being transferred from the past into the present. This is possible if our experience is etched on our matter in a way similar to a piece of a larger hologram. If this were so, each increment of matter retains in miniature a representation of the entire image or in this case memory from a specific perspective.

Without knowledge of how memory is stored a more likely description of what is recalled of past life experience is tiny fragments of unrelated experience or emotions. When one considers all of the many millions of different organisms that are contributing matter and the many different types of living organisms that are receiving matter, it would seem the impact would be minimal. Possibly the memory of an emotion is more easily transferred to the new living system than a coherent thought or complete memory. This might be because it is inherently less complex and more easily translated. In any case, this need not change the reality that the encoded knowledge and experience exists and can be retrieved and utilized by its new life system.

This new thought, that life’s indelibly etched knowledge, experience, and memory can be recalled and used by future life forms of which it is a part, becomes a key assumption of our new cosmology. These three assumptions that matter has memory, the life memory is indelibly etched on matter and survives the death of the organism, and that once-living matter can be reintegrated within a living system to “live” again, are key underpinnings of one of the four major imperatives discussed in the second half of this book.

Of course they also raise a number of questions that take us into more speculative areas about what may be possible. The first question that comes to mind is will it someday be possible to recreate living examples of extinct animals? Would a Jurassic Park scenario be possible?

In the example of our mouse embryo reintegrating genetic material from an extinct Tasmanian tiger, it was the existing life system of the mouse embryo that incorporated and enabled the tiger’s genetic material. In another example, discussed in the chapter on Synthetic Biology, genetic material that was fabricated in a laboratory was inserted into a living bacterial cell. The cell accepted the new genetic material, changed the cell’s fundamental nature, and went on to divide and multiply naturally. In both cases, the existing living organisms were critical to the success of the experiments.

The complexity of a Jurassic Park scenario is daunting. Its biggest barrier is that no one has successfully initiated the beginning of new life in a laboratory. This is not to say it will not be possible some day. We certainly have indications it is or someday will be possible to decode the extinct animal’s genetic code and create the necessary genetic material in a laboratory. Spontaneously bringing it to life may remain the hard part. In the nearer term it is more likely the genetic code may be integrated into an existing living system under conditions similar to those of our two examples.

A second question that comes to mind takes us back to Roy Batty, our fictional combat Replicant. If after Roy’s death we were able to keep his matter from dispersing into the environment and mixing with other matter or could spontaneously bring it to life in a newly initiated living system, would Roy’s consciousness be restored? Would his memories be intact? Would Roy “be there” again? If this were true for Roy, could it be true for us as well? This question takes us into a fundamentally more speculative direction.

Our three assumptions are sufficient to provide a basic level of support for our new cosmological system. The assumption that today’s life experiences may survive in matter’s memory and have an impact, if only emotionally, on future life gives support to the thought that we should care about the quality of today’s life experience because of its potential future influence.

It is not our intention to minimize the importance of caring in the present about the quality of the human condition. We should all be motivated to reduce suffering, increase individual opportunity, and raise the human standard of living in order to provide the greatest good for the greatest number in today’s world. This recognition of future effects from our life experience only increases the urgency of working towards creation of a better life today for all living creatures.

For those readers who enjoy pushing the envelope of imaginative thinking, the following material projects life’s process forward in time and provides what may at first appear to be an unsettling description of a future evolutionary development that may change life as we know it. This possibility has significant implications for how we live our lives in the present and how we think about life’s future.

We have described the process of evolution as a one-to-many-to-one progression. Our simplified view is that one individual has a mutation that creates a new trait that enhances survival under changing circumstances. That individual survives and passes the trait to many individuals through reproduction. In a subsequent generation another of these individuals experiences a new selected mutation which is passed through procreation to many surviving others.

This cyclic path of evolutionary progress contracting to a single individual with a new mutation followed by expansion to many new individuals through reproduction is the way in which life evolves. This process began with a first organism capable of multiplying itself, passing on genetic information with the ability to vary its characteristics over time and evolve into other forms of life. This evolutionary process is repetitive with countless small incremental mutations having occurred over billions of years.

At life’s beginning the first life entity had multiple unique characteristics in addition to being the first mover of the only sustainable life process of which we are aware. At its initiation, it contained all of the sustainable life matter in the universe.

While we have described the evolutionary process for advancing mutated change through natural selection at the individual level, it is possible the process is also at work at an aggregate level. Life began with all life matter concentrated in a single organism. It divided and produced countless generations that followed. At an aggregate level, life’s future evolution may initiate a contraction back to a singular living organism. It will contract to a form containing all of the life matter of the universe. In this way life’s evolution may have a cyclic nature similar to a cyclic universe that some scientists propose, a universe that has undergone a series of implosions or contractions to a point of maximum density and reversals initiating a next sequential big bang.63 Thus, life may expand from a singular organism to many organisms only to again contract to a singular organism.

This possibility of life’s future contraction to a singular organism stimulates the imagination. We can conjure up all sorts of thoughts by imagining the physical shape of this future organism. Our tendency is to think about it in the context of what is familiar. But this would be wrong. This type of thought imposes constraints that must be rejected if we are to be open to the full range of possibilities.

For example, we currently perceive and interpret life as a largely physical phenomenon. Intellectually we know life represents both manifestations of existence, matter and energy. But our predominant perception and area of study has been of our material nature. This may change over time. We can conceive of a future developmental path of an expanded intellect and consciousness with a greater emphasis on energy rather than matter. This is not to predict what is unknowable but rather to open our thoughts to a range of possibilities beyond the present reality. As we think about the future we must set aside the familiar and assume a time when a singular life form may be unique to our experience. It will bear little resemblance to the first single life form or anything we have seen since. It may have neither a physical form nor a scale which is familiar.

We have previously explored the possibility and probabilities of events in the universe. We identified a set of tests to use when evaluating future probability. The probability of life’s future evolution to a single life form once again involving all of the life matter of the universe can be assessed using the tests previously identified. The first test is one of possibility. We observed that in order for an event to be possible it must be consistent with the physical laws of the universe. The ultimate test of possibility is previous occurrence. The evolution of a future singular life form passes this test since the first living organism contained all of the life matter in the universe.

The second test is one of frequency. If an event happens with great frequency, it will have a greater probability of recurrence. The presence of all life matter in a single life form has to our knowledge only happened once in the past. While this does not detract from its possibility in the future, it does not enhance its probability.

The third test to be considered is time, specifically the time allowed for an event to take place. We have asserted the infinity of the universe. This means that, if we assume life’s prolonged survival, there is an unlimited amount of time within which the singular life form can evolve. There is enough time for the evolutionary process to complete a larger aggregate cycle. While this does not insure the future life form will develop, it does increase its probability.

The final test is whether the event is naturally occurring or has an increased likelihood because of human intervention. The evolution of the future singular life form benefits from both possibilities. It can evolve naturally as a result of the evolutionary process and/or it may result from some measure of human intervention. This latter possibility of our intervention may be one of the greatest determinants of future evolutionary development. We are the most unpredictable variable that may affect future events.

For better or worse, we are the wild card that may through our actions determine the ultimate success or failure of life. Our ability to imagine a perfect outcome and then direct our efforts and seize opportunities to realize that outcome is presently unmatched by any other known life form. The probability of a future evolution to a singular life form is significantly increased if we choose it as our ultimate desired outcome.

To extend our speculation should such a life form develop it will be of great significance to every human being since all of life will be a part of it, including each and every one of us. Composed of our aggregate life matter, it will contain the totality of information, knowledge, memory, and experience of each of our individual lives. With the animation and awakening of its consciousness all of us would once again be integrated into a living system and life embodiment. With its awakening, each of us would achieve transcendence beyond the suspended state we call death. Not only would we be integrated into a new single living being that is all of life, we would share its collective identity.

In this sense, the matter of life would be broadly analogous to the material in a magnet. Once magnetized, it has memory of its magnetic state. If one heats a magnet to a high temperature, its magnetism disappears as its individual atoms are so thermally excited that they become randomly oriented and lose the attractive characteristic of magnetism. When the magnetic material cools to below its Curie point however, the atoms spontaneously line up and reestablish their magnetism.

In an analogous way, inanimate matter in the universe becomes involved in the life process. Matter is fundamentally altered by this experience. At death, when the once living matter is no longer a part of a life process and is dispersed into the biogenic sphere, its memory of its participation in life becomes dormant. If this matter is once again incorporated into a living system as was the Tasmanian tiger’s DNA into a mouse embryo, its knowledge of itself and memory of its past life experience is restored. Like a magnet restores its fundamental magnetism, reanimation of life matter revitalizes its dormant knowledge, memory, and experience.

If and when this occurs, our reanimation and awakening would for each of us be instantaneous. In the beginning of this book we described death as the cessation of the life embodiment that contains matter and energizes it to animation. We observed that when the embodiment disintegrates, the matter and energy that constitutes physical existence disperses into the universe. Further, we said that with this disintegration and dispersion, individual consciousness of time and awareness of self cease.

At the moment of each death, awareness of self and the passage of time ceases. With the animation of the future single life form, time for each of us, now integrated once again into a life process, would start anew. No matter how long this evolutionary development takes, how many millions or billions of years will have passed since our individual deaths, for each of us the transition from the moment of our death to our reanimated life would be instantaneous. In this sense, if and when it occurs, from our individual and personal perspective we will instantly reawaken from death.

The final significance of this future life form would be that it would represent only the second opportunity for life to experience existence having many of the characteristics formerly defined and reserved for the supernatural existence of God. These characteristics are Omnipresence, Omniscience and Omnipotence. The perception and consciousness of time, the acquisition and understanding of knowledge and the willful exercise of power are exclusively life attributes. This life form would have the totality of the life experience. As such it would have all perception and consciousness of time, the totality of life’s knowledge, and would be the only entity in the universe to consciously exercise free will and power.

The possibility and potential of such a development raises questions about its initiation and our possible experience of it. There are several things we know. The first is that if it happens it will be in the distant future and we, as living individuals, will not be there to experience its transition. We will however, join its awakening. As it was with the first initiation of life, while it is tempting to imagine the awakening as an event occurring in an instant, it will most likely be the culmination of a long process of development and awakening. Let us remember that self recognition in human infants occurs after 18 months of life. Presumably this future life form will have similar developmental phases it must pass through before it achieves its full self awareness.

As it was the first time, there will be a requirement for a specific set of circumstances with a necessary amount of life material for it to happen. We know the life material necessary for its awakening is growing in the biogenic sphere, that thin layer of living and once living matter that encircles the planet and is imprisoned in its gravitational field. Each succeeding generation of all of life’s species contributes its life mass to the aggregate life matter surrounding our planet. We can imagine that the process may be analogous to the initiation of a self sustaining chain reaction that occurs when a critical mass of fissionable material is in place for a nuclear explosion. There may be a threshold critical mass of life matter that must be reached in order for the aggregate evolutionary cycle to complete. We know the evolutionary process is at work. We do not know its stage of development or nearness to completion. Because we will be integrated into this new entity we will know if and when a future single life form achieves consciousness.

We can only speculate about what we individually will experience if and when it comes into existence. It will be a sentient living being. It will obviously benefit from the consciousness contributed by the experience of higher life forms which include human beings. It will represent life’s most advanced, evolved state. It will have self awareness and an identity. It will have intellect and personality. It will have feeling and emotion. It will have the total knowledge and memory of each of our individual life experiences.

We must look at how we exist now to gain insight into what it may be like to be a part of this new entity. We know our lives are not static. We have trillions of cells in each of our bodies. These cells are active during each instant of our existence. There are approximately 100 billion neurons or nerve cells in the human brain. These cells and neurons elsewhere in the body are continuously receiving and sending impulses from and to other parts of our bodies and the environment. With the average world life span of a human being at about sixty-six years we have 24,090 days of existence. Each day we record a different set of thoughts and experiences. Each day some of our cells divide and some of them die. It is as if we are a new person each day.

Yet, while we are new each day, we are also the person we have been in all of our previous days. We are a composite of who we have been at each instant of our existence. Just as the person we were yesterday no longer exists but in our consciousness of ourselves today, we as individuals as a part of a future single life form will exist in its consciousness of itself in all of its previous lives. Its memory of us however, may be even more acute and vibrant for while we lose cells and matter from our bodies throughout our lifetime, it will have all of our matter within its embodiment. For this reason it may know us more than we know ourselves.

Every cosmological and philosophical system has implications about what people should and should not do in their lives. Some of these implications assume the force of imperatives in that certain actions are absolutely required by the belief system. Implications and imperatives are about positive outcomes and negative consequences. Action in accordance with beliefs has positive outcomes and failure to act in accordance with them creates negative consequences. A belief system which does not or cannot serve as the basis of behavior loses its justification. In evaluating a belief system, its implications and imperatives are as important as the original beliefs.

The direction and form of evolution in the future by definition involves distant events. At this point these events are nothing more than desirable potentialities. We have limited knowledge of what must take place for them to become a reality. We can, however, define the broad outlines of four major implications for us which assume the stature of imperatives when we decide to accept and pursue the course of evolution we have identified. These four imperatives must be satisfied if our chosen path of evolution is to be fulfilled.

The four imperatives are that:

  • life’s evolution must continue,
  • life’s collective experience must have a preponderance of positive experiences,
  • life must be protected from threats,
  • human beings must intervene in the course of events and insure the achievement of the first three imperatives.

The future developments we’ve identified will represent significant thresholds of life’s evolution. The only future that matters in an inanimate universe is the future of life. Evolution is the most dynamic and important of life’s processes. Without life, all that happens in the universe is irrelevant. The first imperative is that life’s evolution must continue. As discussed in Chapter 6, life’s consciousness must evolve to the highest state of awareness possible.

Future life will have access to the collective life experience that has gone before. Its view of reality will reflect the positive and negative influences of those past life experiences.

The second imperative is that the collective life knowledge and memory must have a preponderance of positive experience to counteract negative influences. This will insure the future single life form will have a positive and optimistic outlook on reality.

Without definitive knowledge of the timing of evolutionary development, our reintegration into a living system could occur at any time in an infinite future. The third imperative is that life must be protected so it has sufficient time for its evolution to continue and complete. If our universal life is allowed to disappear, it is probable that no future evolution will take place.

Life must continue if it is to fulfill its potential. There are a series of threats looming over humanity that must be addressed to assure life’s continuance. These include the ozone hole, global climate change, nuclear weapons, and synthetic biology.

The fourth imperative is that the achievement of the first three imperatives requires human intervention and direction. We individually and collectively have a choice to make. We must choose the possible evolution of which we can conceive as our preferred outcome and dedicate our efforts to its achievement, fully accepting responsibility for the other three imperatives.

In the final analysis, those seeking a new cosmological and philosophical alternative have previously been skeptical of earlier belief systems. Their skepticism has driven them to keep looking and yet doing so will also keep them from unconditional acceptance of a new alternative. Understanding that there is always uncertainty associated with potential future events, skepticism is well founded. We cannot ask that anyone believe without reservation in the future evolution of a singular life form. We can ask however that they choose to believe with reservation. While this may seem too fine a distinction and an insignificant caveat, the choice to believe preserves the freedom to be skeptical while allowing action as if certainty has occurred.

 

CHAPTER 9 


A Positive Life Experience Imperative

As time passes, life and its evolution continue to grow the experience and emotion that is available to all manner of future life forms. We have spent considerable time assessing human uniqueness and evolution. As we are the greatest beneficiaries of evolutionary development of intellect, emotion, and consciousness, these traits will provide the greatest human contribution to the attitudes, opinions and sensitivities of a future life form. They will be a key determinant of its intellect, knowledge, emotions – especially higher order emotions informed by intellect – and its consciousness.

Just as life experiences shape our personalities by creating feelings of optimism or pessimism, self confidence or insecurity and hope or despair, so will our experiences affect future life. The question we must then ask is what will be our net contribution? Will we be a net positive or negative influence? Where are we starting from and what must we do in the future? We need to have a way of thinking about positive versus negative contributions and some form of yardstick with which to measure progress.

We find such a measure in the work of psychologist Abraham Maslow who was influential in personality theory. Maslow perceived a Hierarchy of Needs that determined the priorities of behavior in animals and human beings.64

He observed certain needs took precedence over others and only when they were addressed could an individual turn his or her attention to a higher order of need. For example, if a person is hungry and thirsty, satisfying thirst takes precedence over hunger. The reason is basic to life. While we can survive for a few weeks without food, we can only remain alive for a few days without water. By the same token, if something were to cut off our air supply, we would immediately put aside hunger and thirst in order to restore our breathing. In this hierarchy air, water, and food are three essential needs in Maslow’s most basic category of needs. He called them the Physiological Needs.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was broken into five categories depicted in a pyramid structure. He assumed all human beings are born with these needs and that only once they have satisfied the more basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid, can they focus their attention on other needs. The levels of his Hierarchy of Needs are summarized as follows:

Physiological Needs:These are biological needs including needs for oxygen, food, water, and a stable and comfortable body temperature. They come first among all other needs because they are essential to all life. This basic category includes the need for activity, rest, sleep, to avoid pain, and have sex. Physiological needs are the first of four levels he saw as Deficit Needs. He defined these levels as consisting of things that when you do not have enough of them you have a deficit and you feel a need to fill the deficit. Conversely, once you have enough or have satisfied these basic needs they no longer motivate you.

Safety Needs:After physiological needs are met needs for safety become prominent. Adults are generally unaware of security needs except when perceiving threat. Children feel the need to be safe more often than adults. This can include an individual’s need for safe and stable circumstances, protection from perceived threats, and structure and order in one’s life. It can also be the need to counteract feelings of anxiety and fear by having a good job, savings in the bank, insurance, etc.

Needs of Love, Affection and Belongingness:When needs for safety and physiological well-being are taken care of, needs for love and belonging emerge. Maslow mentions feelings of loneliness and alienation but this category also includes giving and receiving love, affection and the sense of belonging. This need for a sense of belonging is when you feel the need for family, friends, and affectionate relationships in general.

Needs for Esteem: When the previous classes of needs are met, needs for esteem surface. These include self-esteem and the esteem one perceives from others. Maslow cites two tiers. A lower tier is other directed and includes a need for status, recognition, reputation, and fame. A higher tier is self directed and manifests needs for self-respect, confidence, achievement, mastery, independence, and freedom. The latter needs are in a higher tier because once you have satisfied them, they are harder to lose.

Maslow sees the first four levels of his pyramid of needs as survival needs. In his view even belongingness and esteem are essential to health. According to Maslow all of these needs are built into human beings genetically. He believed the fulfillment of them is instinctive. He used the term homeostasis to describe the state we are seeking in our lives or a stable state of equilibrium and balance where all of the survival needs are reasonably met and we no longer have to think about them. He also recognized that when survival is threatened people can regress to lower level needs. Even successful people feel threatened in periods of economic downturn and they regress and focus on lower level needs.

Needs for Self-Actualization: When all other needs are satisfied needs for self-actualization emerge. Unlike survival needs, Maslow referred to this category as consisting of growth or being needs. He believedthat once these needs are engaged they do not shut off like survival needs. The need for self-actualization continues and even grows stronger as the individual begins to satisfy it. He referred to self-actualization as a person doing what they were “born to do.” This is when people are most creative and productive and have a sense they are achieving at their full potential.

For further definition of self-actualization Maslow studied a group of high achieving individuals. He used a qualitative method called biographical analysis to identify characteristics indicative of self-actualization. In addition to 12 unnamed people he knew whom he felt were self-actualizers, he studied John Adams, Albert Einstein, Alduous Huxley, William James, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Schweitzer, and Benedict Spinoza.

He identified a list of qualities that were characteristic of the people studied and offered them as indicative of self-actualized people. These included a need to be reality-centered, problem-centered, to have a perception of difference between ends and means, have a sense of humor that is not hostile, humility and respect for others, strong ethics, human kinship, and creativity. In addition, he identified special driving needs of self-actualizers. These are needs that have a profound effect on behavior. These included a need for truth, goodness, beauty, uniqueness, completion, justice and order, simplicity, playfulness, self-sufficiency, and meaningfulness.

Maslow recognized that in order to be self-actualizing the individual has to have all of their lower needs taken care of to a considerable degree. He reasoned that if you are hungry you will be looking for food. If you feel your safety is threatened you will be on your guard. If you are lonely and isolated you will be trying to make friends. If you have low self-esteem you will be defensive. In other words, if any of the lower needs are not significantly met, you will not be able to be fully self-actualizing or trying to realize your potential.

Maslow felt that given how difficult life is in the modern world only a small percentage of the world’s population was truly able to spend most of their time being self-actualizing. Maslow at one time estimated this percentage of the world’s population at two percent. This observation serves as a basis on which Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can be useful in our investigation.

We will not take Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs too literally. We recognize that individuals respond to needs as they perceive them and not necessarily in the order in which Maslow identifies them. We will accept his broad premise that lower order needs for survival typically take precedence over every higher order need as well as the more intellectual, being needs. We will use his construct as a way of evaluating whether net positive or net negative experiences contribute to the aggregate human life experience.

If we assume, as Maslow did, that overall success in life will satisfy survival needs along with achieving self-actualization, we can look at selected world economic criteria as indicative of the continuum of the human condition. We will look at per capita income and household wealth of the world’s population. We will assume people in poverty and those with limited means spend most of their time trying to fill their survival needs and that those with higher incomes and wealth have a greater likelihood of being self-actualizing. This should give us a broad yardstick to measure our balance of positive and negative life experience. We will further assume that people living exclusively in their survival needs have a net negative life experience and people who are self-actualizing have a net positive life experience.

A study entitled, The World Distribution of Income: Falling Poverty and . . .Convergence, Period*, written by Xavier Sala-i-Martin, Professor of Economics at Columbia University, and published in the May 2006 issue of The Quarterly Journal of Economics defines the World poverty line as income that is less than $3 (US$) per day or $1,140 per year.65 This conclusion is supported by Chen and Ravallion (2004) of the World Bank who reconcile the World Bank’s use of $1 worth of daily consumption with Sala-I-Martin’s $3 of daily income. Shaohua Chen is a Senior Statistician in the Development Economics Research Group of the World Bank and works for Martin Ravallion who is the Director of the Development Research Group. All three agree, that of the World’s roughly 5.6 billion people in 2000 for which we have data, 1.2 billion, or just over 21% of them had income that fell below the World poverty line.

Another useful measure with which to look at the World’s population in terms of freedom from survival needs is household wealth. Household wealth is defined as net worth or the value of physical and financial assets less liabilities. The assumption holds that households with accumulated wealth are less subject to adverse events which may negatively affect income such as ill health or unemployment since they have built up a financial cushion to help them through tough times. Accordingly they are less likely to worry about survival needs and should therefore be more self-actualizing. For this look at the human condition we use data from a paper entitled, The World distribution of Household Wealth published in 2008 by the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research.66 The findings of this study and the previously mentioned income study are summarized in the previous table.

The report states, “According to our estimates, adults required just $2,138 in order to be among the wealthiest half of the world. But more than $61,000 was needed to belong to the top 10 per cent and more than $510,000 per adult was required for membership of the top 1 per cent. The entrance fee for the top 1 per cent seems surprisingly high given the group has 37 million adult members. Furthermore, the figure refers to the year 2000 and is now likely to be considerably higher, especially when measured in US dollars.” The report continued, “The wealth share estimates reveal that the richest 2 per cent of adult individuals own more than half of all global wealth, with the richest 1 per cent alone accounting for 40 per cent of global assets. In contrast, the bottom half of wealth holders together hold barely 1 per cent of global wealth.”

These statistics paint a discouraging picture of the world’s distribution of income and wealth. More disturbingly, using the Hierarchy of Needs, these statistics imply a majority of the World’s population is primarily engaged in satisfying survival needs and has very limited opportunity for self-actualization.

Data from past studies show that even though much progress remains to be made, the trends are encouraging. For example, poverty rates measured by the $3 per day poverty line have declined significantly since 1970 when it was estimated that over 46% of the world’s population income fell below this level. The 21% of the adult population with less than $3 of income per day in 2000 is low by comparison and represents better than a 50% reduction of the world poverty level in the last 30 years. Significant progress has been made especially in some of the world’s most populous and poorest countries. For example China in the last decade has lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese above this poverty line.

While the trend lines are positive and show a steady decrease in the world’s poor, we know these positive trends are threatened by economic downturns and the looming specter of climate change. Worldwide food shortages and the forecasted significant rise in the Earth’s average temperatures threaten the improving state of well being. The gravest threats posed by global climate change are in the very regions of the world that have the greatest poverty. These regions include Africa, Asia-Pacific (excluding selected wealthy Asian countries), India and Latin America. They all possess the least resources with which to withstand the negative effect of rising world temperatures on agriculture and the availability of fresh water (see Chapter 11 on global climate change).

It is estimated that climate change will put almost 50 million additional people at risk of hunger by the year 2020. By that year agricultural output in developing countries is projected to decline by 20 percent with, for example, land suitable for wheat production becoming almost non-existent in Africa by the year 2080.

While short term trends may be turning positive only to be slowed by a worldwide economic crisis, the long term macro trends offer some hope. Since records have been kept humanity has had a steady march toward a more positive state of the human condition. Poverty rates have declined, medical care has improved, life expectancy has increased and in innumerable ways human beings are better off today than their forebears. The human condition has improved to such an extent that many now believe it is possible for human beings to dramatically reduce world hunger and raise the collective standard of living to reduce poverty to a manageable level.

Of greatest significance is that the steady march towards a higher state of world prosperity is no accident. A conscious movement has emerged among the world’s wealthiest countries to attack world problems of hunger, poverty, and disease. That beneficial view is held by the forward thinking citizens of those countries. Representative of this trend is the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of eight Millennium Development Goals in 2000 for world progress by the year 2015.67 These goals, each of which has specific objectives associated with them, are broadly identified as follows:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development

To underscore their commitment to the achievement of these goals the developed nations of the world pledged .7 percent of their gross national income (GNI) to development aid in support of these Millennium Development Goals. As of 2007 only five of the world’s developed governments had met or exceeded the .7 percent GNI donation threshold, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.68 Many of the identified goals will not be achieved. Critics will point to the small amount of money that has been committed, the developed world’s failure to fund even at a low level of commitment, and the present worldwide economic downturn. Nevertheless, the identification of these objectives and imagination of a world that has solved these problems is truly historic. It represents one of the highest states of human consciousness and one of the most profound levels of human aspiration.

This aspiration is a landmark in human history. It represents an unprecedented level of optimism about the progress which humanity could achieve. It is important because of the opportunity it presents to ultimately create a net balance of positive over negative life experience. We can now imagine a world where the majority of people have survival needs largely met, poverty, hunger and disease are controlled and most human lives contribute positively to the collective life experience.

In the first chapter of this book we identified questions people ask when thinking about life and death. Those questions included “Do we somehow determine our fate in death with our actions in life? Are different afterlife outcomes dependent on how we live our lives?” We now have the new context of our contribution to future life in which to think about these questions. We perceive a forthcoming life form as a natural culmination of the evolutionary process. It represents for each of us another opportunity to be in a life process where we bring to this future existence all of the experiences and identity of our first life. We know this future existence will be different from the former in that we will all experience it together. This creates a new dependency.

While our first life experience was largely individual and singular, the future will be shared and collective. As a net positive or net negative existence, it will be dependent on the aggregate life experiences that are brought to it. We know in a present human history filled with hunger, poverty and disease, the collective human contribution will be negative. We also know we can change this outcome. We can commit ourselves to the elimination of poverty and hunger, the reduction of disease and can over time create an opportunity for progressively increasing numbers of self actualized lives. With a long term sustained commitment and effort we can insure a future collective existence where net positive experiences overwhelm negative influences.

As humans we must recognize our shared community and the interdependence of our future well being. We must accept individual responsibility for our collective future. An enlightened few amongst us must decide to alter the course of the many to create a world where all people rise above the tyranny of day-to-day survival and experience self-actualization. Only in this world can evolution progress to where each person has an opportunity to contribute to the larger life awareness and where each life makes a positive contribution to the future collective consciousness.

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October 2017
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