by Dr. Paris Williams / June 19th, 2019
For these of us who’ve been taking note of the overall state of the world and human society, it’s readily obvious that we as a species have despatched ourselves hurtling into the depths of a worldwide disaster that has the potential to wipe ourselves out together with lots of our fellow Earthlings. So how precisely how has this occurred?
It’s straightforward and positively nicely justified to level our finger on the many dangerous industries which have emerged from our society—fossil fuels, unsustainable agriculture, overfishing, mining, the army complicated, and so on. (take a look at this listing of Dangerous Practices Critiqued for a extra in depth record). And but what if there’s a deeper trigger that we will level to—a standard “seed” that underlies all of those dangerous industries and practices?
I consider that there’s such a seed, one that’s surprisingly easy to call and but extremely elusive, troublesome for many people to understand. In a nutshell, I might say that this seed is a domineering angle that seems to have elevated in magnitude over the previous 10,000 years or so of our evolution. In recent times, our collective eyes have begun to open to the good hurt and even horror wrought by our ongoing efforts to dominate one another. However because the even bigger horror of the accelerating international ecological collapse has grow to be more and more obvious, many people have come to acknowledge that our domineering angle can also be in all probability the main wrongdoer.
I recommend that we drop down even yet one more degree on this causal ladder and ask oursevelves, what’s it that feeds humankind’s urge and sense of entitlement to dominate one another, our fellow Earthlings and the Earth? And I might say that simply because the justification of 1 human group to dominate one other is usually fueled by that specific group’s perception in their very own superiority, so it’s that humankind’s basic perception in our superiority over different dwelling beings fuels our ongoing want and entitlement to dominate the Earth and our fellow species.
It’s readily obvious that pervasive amongst modern society is the robust perception that human beings are superior to different species, which in flip has spawned numerous intently associated beliefs, similar to: “The Earth belongs to us,” “We made it to the highest and are entitled to do what we would like,” “We’re crucial/worthwhile species on this planet,” “We’ve got dominion over the Earth and all of its creatures,” and so on. This perception is so insidious that it even reveals itself inside seemingly virtuous beliefs reminiscent of, “We’re stewards of the Earth,” or “We have to work exhausting to handle the surroundings/ecosystems.” So robust is that this perception in our superiority that I might say that only a few individuals even regard it as a perception; slightly, it’s usually seen as merely a reality of life.
However let’s take a second to scrutinize this perception extra intently. Particularly, let’s take a look at what I consider are the key core assumptions that keep and reinforce it.
Assumption #1—We’re probably the most clever species on the planet
Initially, this assumption might seem self evident. Definitely it’s true that we people are a particularly creative and productive species—the indicators are all over the place, in our huge know-how, our sprawling cities, our complicated cultures and societies. If we outline “intelligence” broadly as “the capability to develop methods of data and apply them to the assembly of our wants,” then at first look, it will seem that we’re certainly very clever when in comparison with most different species.
Nevertheless, I really feel that there are three critical issues with this reasoning that have to be addressed—I’ll name them problematic sublevel assumptions: (1) that as a result of the merchandise our personal intelligence are a lot extra readily obvious to us than these of different species, then our personal intelligence have to be superior; (2) that we actually are as clever as we usually think about ourselves; and (three) that superior intelligence (at the least as we see it) should suggest superior value and a basic sense of entitlement to dominate these species with much less intelligence. Let’s take a second to take a look at every of those in flip:
(1) Because the merchandise our personal intelligence are a lot extra readily obvious to us than these of different species, then our personal intelligence have to be superior.
Let’s strategy this by first taking a extra intuitive/religious tack…
Take a second to take away the anthropocentric blinders off and go searching on the world—I imply actually go searching on the world. Take on this unimaginable net of life composed of billions of complicated dwelling organisms dwelling collectively in symbiotic concord. Take on this complicated dance of creativity and adaptation that has gone on constantly for billions of years, and which is way extra complicated than any human thoughts might ever fathom, not to mention replicate. Give it some thought—with our huge information and know-how, we haven’t been capable of replicate even the only single-celled organism.
So if this superior intelligence and creativity hasn’t come from us, then the place is it coming from? Some religious and philosophical traditions conjecture an omniscient, omnipresent supply of intelligence and creativity merely inherent within the material of existence; others say that a extra private God or group of Gods/Goddesses play a outstanding position; and nonetheless others say that an unimaginable stroke of “luck” has set the wheels/physics of the universe delivering simply precisely the fitting method for this evolutionary stream of life to unfold.
Regardless of all of those variations, there’s one reply to this query with which nearly all scientific and religious traditions agree—that this intelligence didn’t originate from humankind, however that somewhat humankind has originated from it. Thinker Alan Watts provided the next useful analogy: Let’s flip the phrase “apple” into the verb “to apple,” as in “An apple tree apples.” On this method, we will say that “the universe peoples.” The universe additionally “canine,” “frogs,” “starfishes,” “cockroaches,” “forests,” and “mountains.” This huge intelligence is the supply of humankind’s a lot narrower intelligence. Definitely we’ve entry to this intelligence, as it’s our supply in any case, however we will say the identical factor about each different dwelling being on our planet and in our universe. From this attitude, how can we actually say that our personal intelligence is so superior, so particular?
…let’s transfer on now to the slicing fringe of human science—don’t our newest discoveries in neuroscience and biology clearly reveal our superior intelligence?
Inside the fields of those and associated scientific traditions, it was initially postulated that intelligence is actually correlated with the variety of interconnections between the neurons of a mind. In probably the most simplistic and reductionistic phrases, this principle says that a neuron features kind of like a pc bit—it acts like a change that both fires or doesn’t hearth relying upon the alerts it receives from its fellow neurons, which in flip determines the firing/not-firing of different neurons. And as increasingly more neurons are related collectively on this method, an more and more complicated net of linear and round causality varieties and finally emerges into more and more complicated types of intelligence. And because the human mind has extra neural connections than the mind of another species found on Earth (it’s estimated that we’ve roughly 100 trillion such neural connections), then we should subsequently be probably the most clever species.
Nevertheless, our understanding of this has advanced in recent times to embrace a way more complicated image. To start with, we now acknowledge that the intelligence (as outlined above) of an organism is predicated on excess of merely the exercise of the neurons of the mind (or extra particularly, the cerebral cortex). As delivered to the forefront by the pioneering work of Candace Pert amongst many others, we now perceive that each cell in our our bodies are particular person dwelling organisms in their very own proper, with every actively speaking with the opposite cells of the broader organism, and with every contributing their very own intelligence to the general intelligence of the whole organism.
We additionally now know that numerous different species have brains a lot bigger than ours—each in measurement and within the variety of cerebral cortical neurons and interconnections. For instance, each the mind measurement and general (full physique) neural rely of African elephants are about three occasions these of people; and the long-finned pilot whale, a kind of dolphin, has greater than twice as many mind (cerebral cortex) neurons than people, and certain a correspondingly far larger rely of interneural connections.
So whereas the proof mounts that a rise in intercellular connections does correlate with a common improve in intelligence (i.e., the capability to collect information and apply this to satisfy one’s wants), it’s turning into properly established that the neuron cell just isn’t the one intelligence-generating cell within the recreation. All different dwelling cells inside an organism contribute to the intelligence of the entire, however with every type of cell specializing in a specific sort of intelligence (i.e., retaining specialised units of data, creating specialised units of expertise, and making use of these to specialised wants/features important to the organism).
Moreover, we will say the identical factor concerning the connections that exist between dwelling organisms themselves—bee and ant colonies, flocks of birds, herds of deer, and so on., clearly reveal a lot larger intelligence than could be discovered inside any particular person member of those teams. This idea is also known as swarm intelligence—a phenomenon that could be very properly established however the particulars of which we’re solely simply starting to understand. And this brings us to a very profound idea inside our exploration of intelligence inside modern biology and evolution—what I consider is an actual mind-bender, a game-changer, actually.
So you already know these easiest of all dwelling organisms—the micro organism that we frequently consider as being little greater than “germs”? They’re so easy that they don’t also have a nucleus, not to mention something remotely akin to what we have a tendency to think about as a mind. Now let’s take a second and increase our view backwards in time. Based mostly on ever accumulating analysis, the micro organism (technically referred to as prokaryotes, however the time period “micro organism” suffices for this dialogue) are the very first dwelling organisms to have come into existence on the Earth, coming into existence over four billion years in the past. They tailored and advanced over an enormous period of time, first converging to turn out to be nucleated single-celled organisms (protozoa, algae, and so forth.), with additional convergences leading to multi-celled organisms (fungus, crops and animals), which lastly brings us to properly… us.
Swarm intelligence demonstrated by leaf cutter ants (above–Eli Duke, CC BY SA-2.zero) and a self-organizing flock of birds (under) [/caption]
Let’s now take a second to take a look at our personal our bodies. The vanguard of our personal science has introduced us to fairly a startling conclusion. Our complete physique and each cell inside it’s primarily composed of a very complicated colony of micro organism culminating from a really lengthy line of the Earth’s very first micro organism evolving ever extra complicated relationships with one another. This doesn’t even issue within the many trillions of “unique” micro organism dwelling inside our intestine, with whom we’re additionally symbiotically engaged as a way to digest our meals amongst different important processes to maintain our life. Let’s take a second to let this seep into our sense of superiority for a second.
Now let’s take a second to go searching—wherever we occur to be situated, proper right here and now. Each single plant, insect, animal, mushroom, and different dwelling type we see or can think about shares this similar primary function with us. Identical to us, additionally they are embodiments of what we consider as the simplest (“least clever”) dwelling organisms having converged into extra complicated types. The complete net of life, in different phrases, is the grand end result of a mysterious common life pressure rising first into the only dwelling cells (micro organism), after which spreading throughout the whole floor of the Earth, merging collectively and rising into the extraordinary array of symbiotic communities of single-celled and multi-celled organisms that we name “organisms,” and finally forming the dwelling ecosystems of the Earth.
Lastly, let’s prolong our view spatially throughout the floor of the Earth. Along with the colonies of micro organism which have come collectively in numerous methods to type particular person dwelling beings, the whole floor of the Earth—the complete biosphere—is full of these little guys. Truly, it’s extra correct to flip this assertion round—this in depth net of bacterial life is itself the elemental nature of the biosphere. Lynn Margulis, acclaimed microbiologist, places it like this: “Micro organism initially populated the planet and by no means relinquished their maintain.”
Now let’s weave again into this story the precept that intelligence emerges from the symbiotic interactions amongst dwelling cells and dwelling beings, and that higher interconnectedness usually leads to larger intelligence. Firstly, there are untold trillions of micro organism hooked collectively in what’s properly established to be the far largest self-organized dwelling system on the planet, what many discuss with as the last word superorganism of the Earth; and secondly, we all know that the micro organism talk with one another very successfully, and even in ways in which other forms of cells can’t—reminiscent of with the ability to immediately (with out sexual copy) share with one another bits of their genetic materials and the knowledge coded inside them, and even doing so throughout bacterial species, genus and even household strains.
Many individuals, even many scientists with a very reductionistic bent, have come to acknowledge that this international bacterial superorganism is way extra clever than we might ever think about, and that it performs many essential roles in sustaining the circumstances for all times on this planet. Because the Gaia Principle has advanced (the properly established principle that the complete biosphere acts as a unified and terribly clever organism in her personal proper), quite a lot of individuals have conjectured that it might be applicable to think about this bacterial superorganism as being akin to Gaia’s “mind.”
One outstanding lifelong bacterial geneticist, James Shapiro, has summarized this rising understanding of our bacterial kin on this means:
The take-home lesson of greater than half a century of molecular microbiology is to acknowledge that bacterial info processing is way extra highly effective than human know-how….These small cells are extremely refined at coordinating processes involving tens of millions of particular person occasions and at making them exact and dependable. As well as, the astonishing versatility and mastery micro organism show in managing the biosphere’s geochemical and thermodynamic transformations signifies that we’ve got an amazing deal to study chemistry, physics, and evolution from our small, however very clever, prokaryotic relations”.
Moreover, along with this bacterial superorganism, there are different vastly clever dwelling methods at play whose behaviours are nonetheless far past our personal comprehension. For instance, there are the myriad mycelial networks that facilitate the communication and trade of important vitamins among the many plant and fungus lifetime of a lot of the world’s terrestrial ecosystems; and there’s the complicated interaction amongst many other forms of micro-organisms and inorganic parts that has efficiently regulated the Earth’s temperature, oxygen, atmospheric composition and ocean salinity and pH ranges for billions of years.
The mycelium of a fungus spreading via soil (outdoors) (Nigel Cattlin / Alamy); Microscopic view of mycelium — 1 sq. mm (inside). Bob Blaylock, CC BY-SA three.zero[/caption]
In abstract, the extra we start to understand the intelligences of different dwelling organisms and dwelling techniques, the extra clear it turns into simply how restricted (and un-superior) human intelligence truly is.
(2) Are we actually as clever as we think about ourselves?
To reply this query, let’s return to our working definition of intelligence, however add one key emphasis: “The capability to develop techniques of data and apply them to sustainably meet one’s wants.” Contemplating the important thing high quality of sustainability and now with the ability to examine human intelligence with the a lot broader and far older intelligences present in dwelling techniques comparable to bacterial superorganisms and mycelial networks, difficult this specific assumption is comparatively simple.
In modern society, it’s properly established that the Earth is getting into its sixth largest extinction occasion (up to now billion years of complicated life), and that it’s we, the human species, who’re inflicting it. Our behaviour is altering our local weather in extraordinarily harmful and unpredictable methods, and we’re decimating the Earth’s oceans and terrestrial ecosystems, due primarily to utterly pointless consuming habits and farming practices, together with different problematic behaviours. We contemplate it acceptable to generate power by boiling water with terribly concentrated radioactive supplies (i.e., nuclear energy), the leak of which we all know will devastate the native surroundings for lots of and even hundreds of years. We have now over 14,000 nuclear weapons able to detonate, with the plan to proceed making extra, and with some nations actively threatening others who additionally possess such weapons. We proceed to pour tens of millions of tons per yr of poisonous chemical compounds into the setting and even onto our personal meals. And the listing goes on…
So at first look, observing that the human species has managed to inhabit almost your complete planet, and that our inhabitants has grown over 1000-fold prior to now 10,000 years, it might seem that we’re certainly extraordinarily clever. However once we think about the truth that it is rather clear that we can’t live on for much longer with our current behaviours, and but we stick with them anyway, this perception in our intelligence being so superior turns into very uncertain certainly.
(three) Superior intelligence (at the least as we see it) should suggest superior value and entitlement.
Hopefully by now, the case has been made nicely sufficient that contemplating our intelligence to be so “superior” to that of different dwelling species and dwelling methods on this planet is very problematic at greatest, which then makes this ultimate argument in favour of humankind’s superiority moot.
However for many who nonetheless discover themselves hanging on to the assumption in our superior intelligence, I’ll say a couple of phrases about this remaining level—that superior intelligence should suggest superior value and entitlement. This argument is usually used to justify our exploitation of different species and the Earth, usually, and even the exploitation of 1 human group by one other (i.e., racism, sexism, slavery, and so forth.). Fortuitously, human society has advanced fairly a bit in recent times with regard to recognizing the issues inherent in exploiting different human beings (although it’s definitely nonetheless a serious drawback!). Many people have been capable of see the big struggling that this angle causes, each to those that are exploited and in addition to the exploiters’ personal sense of integrity and skill to reside in a peaceable society.
And now it’s starting to daybreak on many people that the exploitation of different dwelling beings and dwelling techniques is at the very least as problematic because the exploitation of different human beings. The dwelling methods of the Earth are clearly collapsing, and if we keep our course, we will definitely collapse proper together with them. So let’s truthfully re-evaluate this assumption: Is the worldwide disaster happening proper earlier than our eyes the results of the sense of entitlement by the clever; or is it a results of a way of entitlement by the ignorant…?
Assumption #2—We symbolize the top and/or slicing fringe of evolution
This second main assumption that props up the assumption of human superiority, notably by those that consider within the principle of evolution, is that the human species represents both the top or the chopping fringe of evolution.
From a purely anthropocentric perspective, that is definitely true. We’re the newest “mannequin” in our personal specific evolutionary lineage. However for these of us who might consider we’ve reached some type of a pinnacle (a sort of climax in our evolutionary journey), the place is the proof that our evolutionary lineage should cease with us? And why would the method of evolution on the Earth transfer alongside so persistently for billions of years, after which all of a sudden cease with us? (…until, in fact, we handle to wipe out all life on Earth, however that’s one other story.) And for many who consider we might not have reached such a pinnacle but, however that we should definitely characterize the slicing fringe of the Earth’s evolution, let’s needless to say there are hundreds of thousands of different evolutionary lineages happening inside this huge Gaian tree of life, lots of that are far older than our personal specific department, and lots of that may possible proceed to evolve far after we’re gone. What makes our specific department so particular?
Assumption #three—We’re important to handle/keep life on Earth
From the attitude of Gaia concept, all dwelling beings and dwelling techniques present on the Earth are merely manifestations of her, merely totally different elements of this one unified organism. So all of them play essential roles ultimately at any given level of time in her evolution. Nevertheless, simply as with our personal bodily our bodies, some elements are merely extra very important than others.
For instance, our bodily physique might lose a toe and even a whole leg and probably proceed to outlive. But when we lose each of our lungs, then the loss can be too nice and our physique would definitely die. Likewise, Gaia has advanced to the place she has turn into extremely dependent upon terrestrial flowers (notably tropical rainforests) and microalgae inside the open ocean to generate the oxygen vital to take care of her life. These primarily act as her “lungs” offering this important nutrient to the opposite elements of her organism. If these methods have been depleted sufficient, it’s potential that Gaia might die, or would at the least be pressured to regress to a way more primitive state. However, if humankind have been to go extinct, our loss would in all probability be far more akin to Gaia dropping a bit toe, or extra realistically, solely sustaining a small minimize to her little toe—definitely not terminal to the organism. Within the massive image of Gaia’s life, spanning over four billion years now (that’s four,000,000,000+), humankind in its present type (Homo Sapiens) has emerged solely about 200,000 years in the past. To place this in perspective, if Gaia have been 80 years previous, humankind would have emerged onto the scene about 36 hours in the past.
So it’s actually inconceivable for us to make the case that Gaia wants us. Truly, at this level, the case is all too simply made that this “little toe” of humanity has turn into cancerous and is now appearing as a direct menace towards the lifetime of the complete organism—of all life on Earth. For those who have been Gaia, would you not significantly contemplate chopping off that cancerous toe? (btw, I’m not advocating for the extermination of humankind—I’m simply stating that as we broaden our perspective, we should always naturally discover ourselves shifting in the direction of a way more humble place).
Assumption #four—Our spiritual scriptures say that we’re superior
Granted, I discover it a bit harder to problem this specific assumption than these above. When an individual’s convictions are based mostly solely upon what they’ve learn or what anyone else has informed them, they usually have chosen to desert essential considering or deep private reflection, then there’s not more likely to be a lot potential for a paradigm shift. Nevertheless, even inside the spiritual scriptures and creation tales discovered inside totally different cultures and religious traditions all over the world, we discover a very fascinating theme that many (most?) of them share—and that’s the recognition that our sense of superiority has gone hand in hand with our separation from our supply of abundance and vitality.
Within the West, this theme might be most properly referred to as illustrated within the Biblical story of Adam and Eve consuming the fruit from the tree of The Information of Good and Evil, which then led to their being banished by God from The Backyard of Eden. Primarily, the story goes that Adam and Eve lived for a few years as members of a thriving and ample ecosystem. However then they turned tempted to “eat the fruit” which shifted their paradigm from certainly one of harmonious unity to considered one of disharmonious duality—the “information of excellent and evil.” A method of deciphering this story is to see it as a metaphor that represents the second when humankind changed their worth for dwelling in concord with the pure world (as merely one member of a thriving ecosystem) with a dichotomous worth system—inferior/superior, higher/worse, extra/much less helpful, extra/much less worthy, mine/yours, and of specific relevance to this text right here, people/nature.
For many who have studied the idea of human evolution, this theme has clear parallels to the historic second when humanity deserted its indigenous roots extending again a whole lot of hundreds of years. At this level of time, about 10,000 years in the past, humankind is believed to have usually “stepped out of nature” to embrace a way more dualistic mindset—people vs. nature, human superiority vs. different species’ inferiority, the Earth and different dwelling beings as being ours to personal as property and personally dominate, exploit, and so on. And we will go searching now and clearly see the place this path has taken us—initially to monumental brief time period abundance and inhabitants explosion, however finally heading proper off the cliff of our personal extinction.
So even inside scriptures which might be typically used to justify the prevalence of humankind and our entitlement over different species, we discover upon nearer inspection this widespread core theme of a paradise misplaced, or of a deep ignorance having gripped us. As quickly as humankind stepped out of their area of interest of dwelling at one with the Gaian system, and tried to as an alternative place themselves outdoors of and superior to this heretofore unified dwelling system, we finally misplaced our paradise.
So to Summarize…
Are we distinctive? Sure! Do we now have uncommon capacities and expertise by no means earlier than seen inside the lifetime of the Earth? Virtually definitely. Nevertheless, we will additionally say the identical factor about each different species current and previous.
As for our superior intelligence? Humankind does seem to own a considerably uncommon type of intelligence mixed with an upright posture and opposable thumbs, the mixture of which makes all types of fascinating applied sciences potential. Nevertheless, contemplating the broad definition of intelligence as “the capability to develop methods of data and apply them to sustainably meet one’s wants,” humankind has clearly not demonstrated a level of intelligence anyplace close to as superior as that of different dwelling techniques on the Earth. On the contrary, humankind, or at the least in its current type as manifested inside modern society, has demonstrated an unusually profound ignorance, having made the horrible selection of trying to take away itself from the Gaian system, which, in fact, is simply as unimaginable and futile as slightly toe trying to sever itself from the bigger physique.
As for our common sense of superior value and our related sense of entitlement to do what we please with our fellow Earthlings and the Earth generally? Nicely, as mentioned above, from the attitude of Gaia, there are clearly different species and dwelling techniques much more very important to her ongoing survival than the human species…
This leaves us then with the query of our personal continued survival. If humankind shouldn’t be as clever nor superior as we’ve got come to consider, and whether it is true that our try to go away the Gaian system has been a really dangerous one, then what does that imply for our personal future? I consider that the reply to this query lies inside an in depth reflection upon our previous.
Wanting traditionally, the proof is sort of compelling that our departure from dwelling harmoniously with the Gaian system coincided with an intensification of the assumption in our elementary “superiority,” in addition to our elementary sense of entitlement to take advantage of different species and the surroundings to our personal very narrowly perceived wants. And if we monitor our progress over the centuries since we have now adopted this perception, what do we discover? We do certainly see that we have now been capable of expertise large profit initially, within the sense of an explosion of our inhabitants and the capability to outlive on a lot of the floor of the Earth. However in current generations this short-term profit is lastly revealing the very critical long-term hurt of this perception system and its related behaviours. Although the journey might have been good to many (and hell for a lot of others) whereas it lasted, the writing is turning into all too clear upon the wall: We’ve got been “superior”ing our approach to our personal demise.
So what to do? We will not be superior to different species, however like all species, we do have our personal distinctive capacities. And as people, we seem to have an unusually robust capability for productiveness (each artistic and damaging), self-awareness and self-reflection. What would occur if we shift the main target of those attributes to the intense try and return to the “Backyard of Eden,” to establishing a harmonious area of interest as merely one species amongst many on this numerous and plentiful planet?
I wish to assume that this is able to be potential, although definitely very difficult. What if we take our capability for self-awareness/reflection/transformation, and work on shifting our paradigm to…
(a) increasing our understanding of ‘the self’ to include all different dwelling beings and the complete Gaian system;
(b) cultivating an equal compassion/regard/respect for all dwelling beings, past merely different human beings and companion animals who’re personally near us;
(c) humbling ourselves within the face of Gaia—recognizing that she has a knowledge far deeper, older, and broader than our rather more restricted private minds might ever absolutely grasp…
…and intently associated to this, (d) reorienting our efforts at private and human surviving and thriving to be far more in keeping with Gaia’s knowledge and pure behaviours.
This might entail shifting our focus from “managing” the setting (Gaia has demonstrated that she will do that completely superb with out us, thanks very a lot) to managing ourselves—(a) stopping our damaging behaviours, and (b) merely stepping again from as a lot of the Earth as we will, and making area for Gaia’s personal capability to heal and regenerate herself.
In abstract, then, it seems that the extra our restricted human minds start to understand the a lot vaster and extra clever minds at play on the Earth, the extra obvious it turns into that we merely have to lose the prevalence complicated and graciously re-engage brazenly and compassionately with our fellow Earthlings.
In different phrases, isn’t it about time that we received over ourselves and re-join the social gathering?
• You possibly can study extra about Paris Williams’ newest work and the Centre for Nonviolence and Acutely aware dwelling at cncl.information