Sunday, November 16, 2008

Crisis on the Planet of the Hairless Apes (Part VIII): Defining The Crisis

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity;and I am not sure about the universe.
Albert Einstein

You can’t fix stupid.
Ron White

First of all, let me apologize for the lengthy delay between my last post and this one. If you have followed me on this journey, you have been very patient and kudos to you. Pardon the cliffhanger several months ago, but it’s been a busy summer, and my only excuse is that I got interested in other things. For one then, I have fulfilled a fifty year ambition to become a ham radio operator. Now, let me get on with it. [May I urge you to watch the 20 minute video, "The Story of Stuff" (see link at right), before reading on. I will assume you have in what I choose to write and leave out below.]

It has taken us a long time and lots of words to get us to this point in our understanding of the human condition – the point at which we can flesh out The Crisis in detail, and begin exploring solutions and options, if any. Defining The Crisis is pretty simple, but it is equally important to understand the factors producing The Crisis. These factors are not so simple and perhaps not so obvious. Also, wide-spread understanding these factors is critical I think as part of any solution that has a real chance of success. As we have seen, the factors producing The Crisis are numerous and complex, and hence there is no quick fix. Call me a cynic, but I don’t think any politician or party can do it, especially in our so-called democracies where policies and strategies look no further than the next election, and where individuals and collectives can be bought by corporations and other special interests.

We have addressed what I think are the main factors producing The Crisis and thwarting its solution: We have emphasized our animal nature – calling our species "hairless apes" has not been intended as a cutesy joke or some sort of elitist put-down, but rather to force us to acknowledge our animal natures. Any approach that ignores our biological nature is doomed to fail. If the word "sapient" (as in Homo sapiens sapiens) means "wise", then the old joke that "the missing link between ape and true Homo sapiens is us" turns out to be a fairly astute observation. Keeping always in sight that we are a big brained primate, we have looked at how the brainworld works, how it develops during the lifetime, and how it is transformed through technology, how intelligence structures comprehension, how the effort after meaning usually trumps (and in our ignorance is often mistaken for) the effort after truth, how spiritual realizations often true our understanding of entanglement among all things and beings in the universe, and how mature contemplation can train the mind to see our conditioning and limitations more clearly. So, it is high time we put all these factors together and define The Crisis in a way that we may be able to consider possibilities and solutions (if any in fact ARE possible).

Keeping in mind that I have become lazy about keeping this blog going, I will complete this analysis of The Crisis in several parts, so as not to frustrate you further.

Let’s start back at the beginning. Here is how I defined The Crisis to start out with:

"These [pollution, overpopulation, energy crisis, global warming, pandemics, asteroid strike, etc.] are all real threats to our ways of life –– no doubt about it –– but what I mean by crisis is something more fundamental to the human condition –– something that lies behind and (partially at least) causes these more dramatic and dangerous threats. What I am referring to is a crisis in consciousness -- namely, that humans collectively are too stupid to comprehend the unintended consequences of their conscious acts. And I mean stupidity literally here: "A poor ability to understand and to profit from experience," as well as technically: we are collectively (as societies and as a species) not smart enough to model our contemporary environment, ecology, and global society as dynamic and vulnerable systems at risk, and take appropriate effective and adaptive action to rectify our destructive actions."

I am not the only analyst to come to this conclusion – not by a long shot. Consider the words of Imre von Soos from his article, "The Four Horsemen" (see link to the right): "Overpopulation, Pollution and Erosion are pseudonyms of one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Famine. The other three: Plague, War and Death follow naturally in his path. . . Ignoring warnings, this super-predatory subspecies called Homo sapiens lives in the self-generated illusion that he is the crown of creation, and this planet and its other living beings are there, by divine decree, for his pleasure, exploitation and abuse. . . Factual evidence has mounted up beyond ignoring; it has become a problem we must solve, but cannot do so with our present culture's tools and ways of organizing reality." I would interpret his words as meaning in part that hairless apes are too stupid to alloy their arrogance with comprehension of the truth of their condition.

A Metaphor: The Chick in the Egg

As I say, we are now in a far better position to understand the plight of our species. Let me suggest a metaphor which, if we do not stretch it too far, will represent the crisis we face here on planet Earth. As anybody who raises chickens knows, there is a critical period in the development of a chick (the chick of any bird actually) during which it is able to emerge from its shell. Before that period, the chick is too weak to peck its way out of the shell, and after that period, if the chick has not successfully escaped from the shell, its yolk is all used up and the chick begins to starve, become weaker and weaker and then dies. So far as I know, every bird in creation faces this life crisis.

Planets that develop sentient life forms (undoubtedly millions of them in the universe – let’s call them sentient planets for our purposes, without implying anything like the Gaia Hypothesis) are like eggs within the life layer of which sentient species evolve, live and die. Each sentient planet is like an egg, and will present its most advanced sentient species with such life crises. The "yolk" represents the resources required to sustain life and activity until that species "escapes" or "emerges" from the planet and learns to inhabit its solar system. If the species does not establish itself permanently off-planet in colonies that can utilized the vast resources of the interplanetary system before the resources of the sentient planet begin to disappear, then the species will be planet-bound until either another opportunity for escape arises in the future, or more likely the species becomes extinct, taking a lot of other species along with them.

[Sidetrack: Before some eagle-eyed critic accuses me of propagating rank teleology, let me support my contention that the laws of physics produce something like a weak version of the anthropic principle – which is to say, that the lawful evolution of the universe makes the emergence of sentient beings all over the universe inevitable (the principle should therefore be called the sentient principle, rather than the anthropic principle, for we hairless apes are only one of many possible kinds of sentience that could be and probably have been produced on other planets. In sentience, the universe becomes aware of itself.]

Now, while the yolk of an egg is simply a biological resource that sustains the chick’s life until it can free itself from its protective shell, the set of resources that sustain life and evolution of hairless apes and other sentient beings are more complex and involve fantastically interconnected, entangled causal relations among all the different factors that produce a "life layer" on a planet – the life layer being comprised of the atmosphere (life in the air), the biosphere (vegetation above and below the soil and life within and dependent upon vegetation), the hydrosphere (life in the oceans, lakes and streams), and the lithosphere (life in the soil). Together, these four zones comprise a very thin layer on top of the crust of our planet.

How thin? Well the habitable layer of the atmosphere alone is something over 5,000 meters. That’s thin! Imagine the Earth was shrunk to the size of a basketball. The habitable atmosphere would amount to the thickness of a clear sheet of plastic wrapping the basketball, a sheet only 7/100ths the thickness of Saran Wrap, or less than half the thickness of a human hair.* And of course there are the habitable lithosphere and hydrosphere to consider as well. We would not be far wrong in imagining the life-layer of our basketball-sized planet Earth as about the thickness of a Saran Wrap sheet (probably less) covering the surface of the basketball. How thin and vulnerable our life layer really is! Yet this is the source of most of our physical resources, save for those dug up from the lithosphere and hydrosphere below the life layer – principally oil – and, of course, the energy from our sun.

So, humanity’s "yolk" in part consists of what nature has available (remember our earlier discussion of "affordancy") within Earth’s life layer – breathable air, water, habitable climates, nutriments, resources for building shelters, clothing and technologies to aid us in our adaptation to our various niches. More than this, our evolutionary process – a process that extends back millions of years – has provided us with our genetically conditioned bodies and brains. The brainworld we each carry around with us in our body is limited in so many ways by the processes of biological adaptation that have preceded our time. The same "nature" that provides the life layer has provided us with our highly human brainworld, with all its clever tricks and dangerous limitations and activities.

Part of our "yolk" includes our own cognitive and behavioral acts, both individually and in groups. Keep in mind that we hairless apes are a social primate, which means that through all of our past evolution, our predominant adaptive strategies have been social ones. We have more in common, say, with the arctic wolf, which lives in social groups and which hunts both alone and in packs, than we do with the solitary red fox which lives and hunts by itself and has no social strategies to rely upon. Society is such a popular adaptive strategy among animals that according to Edward O. Wilson, social adaptation has arisen independently over 30 times in different phyla during the evolution of life of this planet.

Our strengths and limitations as a social species are thus another aspect of our "yolk." That includes our cultures – that is, the ways we are individually and severally conditioned by our society to see some things as valuable and others as not, to acknowledge some behaviors as proper and others as improper, to do things in certain ways, to interpret events in particular ways, and on and on. We have been through all this before in earlier posts. The fact that we are all culture-bearers is part of our species’ "yolk." If we as a society value material wealth above all things, then it may make sense to allow, even encourage folks to lay waste to the lands and seas in search for minerals. Hence one bit of our "yolk" causes the disruption of another bit or our "yolk." If we have a sociocultural system that values an increase in jobs or material production over a sustainable and renewable life layer, then the life layer will continue to deteriorate, and the window for "emergence" of the dominant sentient species into space may be foreshortened – that is, our "yolk" may run out sooner.

As I say, we don’t want to stretch the "yolk" metaphor too far. It is just a symbol representing, for me at least, the fact that our days are numbered with respect to "emerging" into a fully extraterrestrial sentience and civilization.

[Sidetrack: Soviet Union astronomer Nikolai Kardeshev [] proposed in 1964 that there are three types of mature civilizations among sentient beings: Type I civilizations are those that learn to efficiently utilize the energies and resources available within a planet’s life-layer, Type II civilizations are those that learn to efficiently utilize the energies and resources of an entire solar system, and Type III civilizations are those that learn to efficiently utilize the energies and resources within an entire galaxy. Needless to say, we hairless apes have yet to even approach a Type I economy. The question we are examining here is whether or not we will ever become a Type II civilization when we have such a struggle even approaching the Type I level.]

The Crisis may now be defined as the approaching window of opportunity (a set of "affordances)" for our species to emerge from this planet and into interplanetary space, and to shift our dependence upon the resources of the Earth’s life layer to the resources available from the sun, from the moon, from the asteroid belt and other extraterrestrial materials and energies. We are nearing the beginning of that window and are, technologically speaking, preparing for it. No one knows how long this window will remain open. We hairless apes with have a large say in how wide that window will be. But what is certain, at least to me, is that the window will eventually close. And if it closes without our species accomplishing an extraterrestrial civilization, then we will be in deep trouble, and very likely will face extinction.

Our greatest hindrance to accomplishing an extraterrestrial civilization is our own nature. Frankly, I have a hunch we are really too stupid to comprehend as a collective either the inevitable window, or the factors that thwart our exploitation of that window. There are many individuals who comprehend systems thought at that level, but as a society, our judgments and actions are extremely ignorant, short-sighted and concrete.

Enough out of me for this time. Future posts will examine some of the variables that may hinder and facilitate a collective response to the opportunity of the window – issues such as the importance of the evolution of social democracy, the importance of education for space exploration, the problem of tracking UN-intended consequences of our collective actions, cybernetic approaches to increasing human intelligence, and the role of empathy in producing a climate conducive to a self-sustaining economy and resource base.

* Let’s say that the life supporting atmosphere is roughly 6 kms. high. The radius of the Earth at the equator is roughly 6,378 kms. thick. Hence the habitable atmosphere would be roughly .094% of the radius. Now, let’s suppose the Earth were shrunk to the size of a basketball. How thick would the habitable atmosphere be in relation to the ball? A size 7 basketball has radius is approx. 4.7 inches. That means that the atmosphere of the basketball-size Earth would measure about .00044 of an inch. How thin is this? Well, it would be roughly 7.3% the thickness of a sheet of Saran Wrap (thickness = .006 inches), or 44% the thickness of a human hair (thickness roughly .001 inches).

Wilson, Edward O. (1975) Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Crisis on the Planet of the Hairless Apes (Part VII): The Mystical Brainworld

. . . the spirit is the life of the body seen from within, and the body the outward manifestation of the life of the spirit--the two being really one. . . .

C.G. Jung

[I am indebted to my nephew Scott for the conversations that led to this post.]

Some of you may wonder why I would want to discuss spirituality on the same level as I have ideology and intelligence. Surely that is a tangent and has less to do with The Crisis than, say, technology? Why isn’t this just a side issue? But those of you who have lived long and have perhaps followed a spiritual path for years may know that the spiritual poverty and hunger in Euro-american-aussie society is part and parcel to the materialist cultures we inherited from our parents and our culture history. One cannot have the one (extreme materialism) without the other (spiritual poverty) at the cultural level. And I do NOT mean by "poverty of spirit" what Christian theologians sometimes mean – the opposite of blind faith in a deity or supernatural hero figure. [If you want have a more complete understanding of what I will be saying, first read Sam Mackintosh's blog, posts #33-36.]

As usual, we have to go back to beginnings, because words come with all sorts of unintended meanings. The word spirit derives from the proto-Indo-European term, "to blow." The Latin spiritus means "soul, vigor, breath." These ancient terms referred to the animating force in organisms. The word soul of course predates Christianity and Islam and referred as well to the "spiritual and emotional part of a person," or what animates living beings. Our ancient forebearers, like so many other traditional peoples on the planet, noticed that when people and other critters die, they stop breathing. It is only a small leap to the interpretation that their breath "has left them." The breath (soul, spirit) "passes on." There is an interesting early connotation of "soul" with "sea" – many people perceive that the individual’s breath (spirit) comes from and returns to the sea of air. The traditional Navajo believes that our spirit is that bit of the Holy Wind that moves within us and animates us, comes and goes from the body, and upon death returns to the one great Holy Wind from which it has never been apart. It is also not lost on people that one cannot see the breath or wind, for it is invisible, yet it causes things to move, as with frosty breath, leaves moving in breezes or dust columns in whirlwinds. And some peoples reverse the causation in breathing – we are not breathing, we are being breathed into – literally "inspired." Implied in even this level of folk understanding is the view that we are motivated by a force that is invisible to us, and that we are an inextricable part of that force. A bit of that force enters us at conception or at birth and leaves us at death – perhaps even causes our birth and death.

There are of course more complex and esoteric views of spirit. A particular spiritual path may include some form of meditation and contemplation at its methodological core. Through contemplation of the inner self, one can bring to bear all the powers of observation and comprehension we modern materialists normally expend in our explorations of external reality. In the olden days, contemplatives used to speak about "a turning in the seat of consciousness," which could well refer to what I am talking about. This is a profound shift in curiosity and question toward the nature of one’s inner being. Small wonder then that in such traditions of inner exploration that people develop more complex models of "spirit," and that such people come to understand external reality in a different way than do materialists. What I want to do here is explore the spiritual dimensions of The Crisis – if for no other reason, because this piece of the puzzle will shed light on why we Euro-american-aussie materialist/capitalist types experience the alienation we do from nature, and have such a devil of a time understanding the simple truth that when we rape and pillage Mother Earth, we are doing violence to ourselves.


When our BS group began writing about the brain and consciousness, we recognized that there are experiences that few people in our own societies have, but which inform the world views and self-views of peoples in other societies. We chose then to call these special types of experience "phases of consciousness." We experience phases of consciousness of course – one is perhaps drunk and then sober, one is awake and then asleep (and maybe dreaming), one is "high" and then one "crashes." Phases of consciousness, we reasoned, are recurrent, recognized and labeled by folks. At about the same time the psychologist Charlie Tart was thinking about the same kinds of stuff and he chose to use the term "states" of consciousness. We had considered the term "state," but concluded that it was too static and rigid. I still think it is too static, but, well, his term caught on and ours did not, so what we have done in more recent years is refer to states of consciousness and to alternative states of consciousness (or ASC, changing Tart’s term from "altered" to "alternative") while retaining the more anthropological perspective that Tart’s "altered" implies something unusual or abnormal about the state when such a state may be perfectly normal in another society. For instance, people who have good recall and elevated awareness while dreaming are said to be "lucid dreamers" by western psychologists – an unusual, but learn-able, skill in our society. But of course lucidity of dreaming is commonplace among Aussie Aborigines (and many other peoples) who consider dreaming as a state when they connect most intimately with the spiritual realm, and can move around without being glued to the physical body.

Why all this terminological blither? Simple. Peoples on the planet often encourage their individual members to enter and explore ASC using all sorts of (from our cultural perspective) weird and wonderful methods, including sleep deprivation, rituals, ordeals (like, hanging from a limb by hooks in the flesh, running for hours until totally exhausted, and my very favorite, wearing shirts with live hornets sewed into the fabric), repetitive rhythms (drumming, chanting, dancing, whistle-blowing), ingesting psychotropic drugs (ayahuasca, datura, peyote, tobacco), sensory deprivation, meditation, etc. So it is important to be able to talk clearly about this remarkable fact, am I right? In the best study to date, Erica Bourguignon, an anthropologist at Ohio State University, completed a study of ASC cross-culturally. She found that roughly 90% of the 488 societies sampled exhibit institutionalized techniques for evoking trance states of one kind or another. In virtually all of these cases ASC were considered by peoples to be both positive and sacred in nature. These data are so impressive that it has lead scholars to suggest that our species seems to have an inherent drive to alter its state of consciousness in extraordinary ways. The central question is, why? Can it be that they know something we don’t? Consider this: a member of the Native American Church, who use peyote in their rituals, once told anthropologist J.S. Slotkin, "The white man talks about Jesus, we talk to Jesus." Hmmm..... Wonder what that’s all about????

Monophasic and Polyphasic Cultures

Modern Euro-american-aussie cultures tend to be monophasic in their world view – that is, they are cultures that value experiences and knowledge gleaned from only one state of consciousness, namely what we call "normal waking consciousness." Most cultures on the planet, however, as we have seen above, are relatively polyphasic in their world view – they value experiences and knowledge occurring in a variety of SOC, and tend to pay close attention to lucid dreams, trance states, possession states, shamanic journeys, meditation states, visions, etc [keep in mind that this is what WE call these states, not what other peoples call them]. Yet one of the great advantages (and in some contexts disadvantages) of living in modern society is that one may opt-out of the dominant monophasic world view and seek what might be characterized as a path to greater "balance" in self-awareness. In fact many people today follow a variety of spiritual movements ranging from eastern traditions like tai chi, Sufism, and Buddhism, and aboriginal paths such as neoshamanism, the Sundance, the Native American Church (so-called "peyote religion") and the Medicine Wheel, to western European approaches like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Wicca, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, Jungian analysis and "rave" culture. Some paths are derived from ancient traditions, others from recent innovations, and of course one will find a variety of symbolism, values and procedures appropriate to each. But one thing that all of these movements have in common is that they espouse a polyphasic orientation – they positively value experiences had during discrete ASC which are interpreted in ways that reinforce their respective world views. They all seek wisdom by way of ritual procedures that are designed to evoke ASC, and when these experiences do occur, they are treated as valued sources of information about the self and the normally invisible forces of external reality, which in due course are interpreted according to their belief system.

Hairless apes, being as they are a species of social primate, derive much of their knowledge from their group’s culture, which is in turn filtered through the lenses of their individual interpretive frames. There is an intimate interaction between the shared knowledge made available in the group’s culture, and the knowledge accrued by individuals in the context of their own unique personal histories. The world views of most of the world’s 4,000+ cultures are informed to some extent by neurognosis -- which is to say the inherited, species typical, archetypal knowledge about reality, knowledge that is (so to speak) "wired-into" the infant brainworld, and that includes self-awareness and knowledge of the individual’s own being. As we have seen, societies commonly encourage or require their members to participate in rituals that are designed to evoke ASC, and the interpretation of these extraordinary experiences is at least partially informed by the society’s world view. Because of certain fundamental attributes of ASC, such experiences may operate to minimize the discrepancy between the society’s world view and the nature of reality. In other words, in certain contexts ASC may operate as truers of individual and cultural knowledge. By integrating the experiences had in ASC, cultures are able to maintain a minimal level of realism in the interests of adaptation to an ultimately transcendental reality.

I should quickly point out, however, that not all ASC experiences are necessarily wholesome in this sense. Everything depends upon the social and environmental circumstances attending the experience. There are of course instances where ASC may have the opposite effect -- that of decreasing the accuracy of beliefs relative to reality. But anthropologists have long known that socially important ASC tend to occur within the context of ritual circumstances in which the group is in control of both the conditions leading to extraordinary experiences, and the interpretation of such experiences if and when they do occur -- for example, trances occurring among participants during a Sundance are monitored carefully by shamans. The intent of social control of ASC is to place the socially proper interpretive spin on ASC in the interests of the commonweal. So, you can see that socially sanctioned interpretations tend to be conservative.

What is so characteristic about polyphasic societies is that the experiences had during ASC are never compartmentalized, but rather are integrated into a single, polyphasic world view. We have seen that ASC may operate as truers of a culture’s world view – a process we may call ASC trueing. Of course there are other processes that operate in a similar way to true culture, among them an inherent pragmatism in all social animals with brainworlds that rely upon learning for adaptation. But few of these other mechanisms true knowledge pertaining to both inner and outer reality. Given what appears to be the cross-culturally ubiquitous presence of ASC trueing, one might suspect that the inherent drive to ASC has been with us for a very long time. Indeed, although it would be hard to prove short of owning a time machine, there is reason to suppose that ASC have been important to human society at least back to the beginnings of the Upper Paleolithic, some 35 - 40,000 years ago.

It is the nature of materialist cultures to ignore the inner being, and thus disattend ASC that might in non-materialist cultures inform one’s self-understanding. Thus the absence of the trueing effects of socially controlled ASC leaves us vulnerable to an unhealthy imbalance between our comprehension of external reality, and our lack of comprehension of our inner being. It is the nature of materialist cultures to produce unbalanced – as Eric Fromm once put it, "un-sane" – personalities. This is one of the costs of being reared in a monophasic society. We typically only pay attention to our inner life if things have gone wrong in some way – we are having psychological problems that require treatment which might include techniques like "free association" and "dream analysis" to reestablish communication between consciousness and the inner being. Much of what is called "psychopathology" in modern society is caused by the psychological development appropriate to extreme materialism, and as such diagnoses have as much to do with politics and economics as they do with actual symptoms (check out anthropologist Allan Young’s remarkable book, The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). The great popularity of various spiritual paths in today’s Euro-american-aussie societies attests to the natural inclination of hairless apes to seek psychological balance. Ironically, it seems like a virtual spiritual smorgasbord out there these days.

The Cycle of Meaning

As we have seen from the start of these posts, everyday experience, regardless of whether in "normal" waking consciousness or in other SOC, is a combination of sensory input and stored meaning. For cultures to control the impact of ASC on members, it must in some way control the process of interpretation, especially in situations where experiences are novel to the spiritual neophyte. With the exception of alcohol and drunkenness, ASC are almost never sought in traditional societies outside the context of socially prescribed and supervised ritual circumstances. The reason for this seems clear enough. Any human experience is open to a multitude of interpretations. The same experience may be seen as negative and destructive in one context and as positive and wholesome in another. Societies that encourage ASC tend to embed these experiences within a socially sanctioned cycle of meaning so as to control both the range of experiences that may occur, and the interpretation of those experiences that do occur. To this end, interpretations are often couched in terms of the society’s world view in such a way that the experiences evoked are understood to confirm and enliven that world view.

A society’s world view is for the most part carried around in the minds of people, which of course permeates their bodies by way of their nervous systems. Individuals often express their world view in the form of stories, songs, aphorisms, mystery plays, and sacred and dramatic (sometimes masked) dances, as well as rituals and other patterned behaviors. In literate societies, these sources may be committed to writing and form a sacred canon and associated actions (like sacred readings). Either way, a world view is expressed and enacted in various kinds of symbolic ways, including art and iconography, ritual, dramatic production, pilgrimage, and so forth. The most powerful expressive aspect is of course ritual performance, and it is within this context that extraordinary states of consciousness are most likely to arise. Rituals may incorporate a variety of ritual drivers such as drumming, hallucinogenic herbs, flickering lights, fasting, fixed concentration, sleep deprivation, painful ordeals, chanting, prolonged dancing, etc. When ASC do occur as a consequence of participation in a ritual, there is almost always a process by which culturally appropriate interpretations are laid-on by elders. These interpretations are derived from and tend to reinforce the efficacy of the world view. For instance, Moroccan folks, upon having really dramatic dreams, may seek advice about the dream’s portend from a professional dream interpreter, and the dream interpreters in turn normally account for the events described to them in terms consistent with the Koran. Some societies consider dreaming as an important resource for the divination of future events – so-called "oneiromancy."

In short, we see that the relationship between a particular world view and the varieties of experience evoked in the context of a society’s various rituals is one that is characterized by a relatively conservative feedback loop – a cycle of meaning – in which the world view is expressed symbolically in ways that give rise to ASC , which in turn are interpreted in terms of the world view. Mind you, this kind of system is a living tradition, not a mechanical contrivance, and that means it is far more flexible than it might appear in any simplistic drawing of mine. In fact this pairing of experience and knowledge allows for change within the world view, and over generations both the experiences that occur and the interpretations associated with them allow for a process of "revitalization." As I have said, cultural knowledge is always to some extent refracted through the lens of individual consciousness -- a consciousness that is always informed though the experiences harvested during the course of life’s trajectory. Indeed, it is often through processes of personalizing cultural knowledge that novel interpretations and experiences arise, and which may, given the appropriate circumstances, serve to transform the existing cultural system.

It is also important to note that the interpretation of experiences had in ASC will be structured, not only in relation to the culture’s world view, but also by the level of cognitive complexity of which the individual participant is capable. Two people having similar experiences may interpret those experiences at widely disparate levels of comprehension. It is often the case that the shamans in a society (Paul Radin’s "philosophers") understand spiritual experiences far more complexly than other participants (Radin’s "men of action") in rituals. There are in fact societies that recognize levels of increasingly complex understanding of "the mysteries" and mythological narratives. And of course in those traditions where the connection between the originating experiences and ideology have been historically severed, it is often the case that the ideology presents in very concrete, non-dynamic expressions.

It seems very likely that ALL of the major religions on the planet originated in this way – from transformations of earlier spiritual world views produced by new and dramatic ASC on the part of very charismatic and adept leaders. All too often, the originating experiences have been lost to history and only the stories, texts and institutional values remain. And without access to the originating experiences that gave rise to the founding interpretations, these religions form schisms and factions that argue endlessly about the "true" meaning of the sacred words. The religion may lose its capacity to "revitalize" itself by way of new extraordinary experiences. One need only consider the profoundly transformative impact of the visions of certain mystics upon orthodoxy – like those of St. John of the Cross and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque upon the Catholic Church, or of Handsome Lake upon the religion of the Iroquois – to understand the social role of individual ASC upon society.

Sensate, Idealistic and Ideational Societies

How a society receives information derived from ASC depends upon its dominant values. And the values of society are typically congruous with how people in that society make a living – that is, with its economy. The dominant values in Euro-american-aussie culture devalue and even prohibit members from seeking ASC. Indeed, our nations are virtually schizoid about taking psychoactive drugs, using them by the ton for psychiatric purposes (Prozac nearly rivals aspirin in popularity) and putting people in prison for using them for "entertainment," alternative healing or spiritual purposes. We foster and sometimes value "getting drunk," yet criminalize "getting high." There are deep cultural, historical and political reasons for this attitude toward altering consciousness having to do with maintaining the range of states requisite for the functioning of materialist/capitalist economy. As in so many other ways, the way we handle ASC is aberrant with respect to most other societies on the planet. Let us examine this issue a bit further so as to better understand the relationship between ASC and cultural world view.

Cultures privilege modes of knowing in different ways. Some cultures will emphasize knowing in ways that accord with mythic/mystical modes of knowing, while others will emphasize knowing in the local, empirical sense. And many societies are characterized by systems of knowledge that privilege both modes of knowing to one extent or another. Sociologist Pitirim Sorokin has modeled these distinctions in an interesting and dynamic way. Sorokin has shown that sensate cultures privilege empirical, material ways of knowing external reality over knowing in the spiritual or mythopoeic way. Sensate cultures are interested primarily in the material world of the senses, and do not encourage or foster knowing of the inner being by way of dreams or other esoteric ASC. Thus such cultures produce populations that are off-balance in their understanding of the world and the self. Because they are off-balance, sensate cultures will tend over the course of generations to compensate by swinging back toward a more balanced view in which knowledge derived from the local material mode becomes integrated with knowledge arising from development of a mythopoeic outlook (Sorokin called these idealistic cultures). This compensatory swing toward a greater balance between sensate and idealistic values seems to be happening (albeit in fits and starts) in Euro-american-aussie culture at the present time with an increasing tolerance for mysticism, and with the rise of an enormous variety of New Age cults and spiritual movements. It seems to me that Sam Mackintosh is describing this current oscillation when he speaks of the Immense Transition.

The thing is that cultures never stand still, and the balance struck in one generation between local, empirical and universal, "mystical" ways of knowing may be lost to subsequent generations in the continued swing of the culture toward becoming an ideational culture in which more "mystical" ways of knowing are privileged at the cost of local, empirical, pragmatic ways of knowing. It is in the balanced idealistic and more mystical ideational cultures in which a corpus of mythological tradition forms a living core of knowledge, and in which ASC are often encouraged and even prescribed. But of course, extremely ideational cultures are equally off-balance and the demands of balance eventually require a compensatory swing in the other direction, back toward the middle ground of idealistic culture and eventually back into sensate culture.

From the point of view of folks in an ideational culture, what we in sensate cultures might consider "mystical" knowledge or experience is not mystical at all. It is simply "the way things are." After all, the English word "occult" just means "hidden from view" or "hard to see." When we experience and comprehend the mysteries, they are no longer hidden, and hence no longer "occult." As we have argued, the human brainworld is neurognostically prepared to apprehend the mysteries, but to the extent that we have been enculturated not to do so (for instance, conditioned to ignore our dream life) is perhaps to that extent that we must apply effort and exotic techniques to produce mystical experiences (say, learn to apprehend and interpret our dreams, our meditation experiences or our experiences resulting from twirling around in Sufi dancing). One of the characteristics of a sensate culture is that it will not exhibit a living mythology while a society out on the ideational pole will relate everything of importance back to the culture’s mythological tradition and core symbolism. A member of an ideational culture has the opportunity to be enculturated into the mythological world view by way of the group’s corpus of sacred stories and rituals designed to evoke ASC.

As we say, the brainworld is born knowing reality in both the unitizing mode of mystical experience and in the particularizing, empirical mode of local adaptation. During its maturation, the brainworld will strive for a resolution of the tension produced by these two ways of knowing. But our brain is a living system of cells, and if the press of environmental and social conditions result in an over-emphasis upon localized adaptational development -- which is a condition that seems endemic to sensate cultures -- the inherent processes of integration will tend to reassert their activities wherever possible. Such compensatory activities may be experienced by the individual as spontaneous "mystical" dreams, visions, spirit possession or entity channeling, and other transpersonal phenomena -- perhaps as Carl Jung taught, a calling to greater attention to the deeper workings of the psyche. In the absence of a corpus of sacred stories, these experiences may produce confusion and uncertainty for the individual having them. A society that supports a sensate culture and which has lost touch with its mythopoeic tradition is awkwardly positioned to guide its people to a way of life in keeping with the more unitary aspects of reality and experience of self. Indeed, spontaneous transpersonal experiences may be greeted by negative sanctions, the individual experiencing these phenomena being perhaps labeled as "crazy," "dangerous," a "kook," a "religious nut," "out of it," and so forth.


We have reached another crucial point in our long and often complex journey to an understanding of The Crisis. It is the point at which we must more fully understand that we are born knowing reality and that knowledge has been trued through the millions of years of our evolution. The point is crucial because it runs counter to the commonsense view in our culture that babies are born with "blank slate" minds into which the society pours knowledge and meaning. Nothing could be further from the case. A baby’s brainworld mediates a fully operating, neurognostically structured, experiencing consciousness who’s nascent models are trued by virtue of its genetic programming. Neurognostic structures develop and if the child is reared in an ideational culture, it will grow into a world view that is compatible with its compliment of deep archetypal structures present in the womb and after birth. These deep structures are reflected in universal properties of a people’s mythology, and what I will call the universal cosmology depicted in mythology. I am not using the "cosmology" in the way we use the term in astrophysics -- which is a whole other discussion. For now, I am not talking about scientific cosmology, but rather the deep structural knowledge of reality with which we are all born. Universal cosmology is a meta-characteristic of how our brain codes reality.

What most folks mean by "myth" is synonymous with "falsehood" – as in, that’s an "urban myth!" And this fact alone indicates how far our sensate culture has come from an ideational society. What I mean by myth and mythology is what anthropologists usually mean – a society’s corpus of sacred stories which comprises a highly symbolic, but coherent description of a people’s origin (their "cosmogamy"), as well as the origins of significant aspects of the environment (animals, food plants, changes in the weather, social roles, institutions, etc.), and sometimes their "eschatology" (or their understanding of the end of things). The stories encode and transmit knowledge about the primal relations in the cosmos upon which the existence and well-being of the people depend. The stories form the primary warp and weave in the fabric of a people’s "field of tropes," a field of interconnected meaning in which each of life’s significant experiences finds a position, much like a patch finds its appropriate place in a quilt.

Myth may do many things for people in their daily lives. For instance, mythology provides a charter for many of the society’s important institutions – it tells people where the institution came from, how it should operate and why it is necessary. Myth can also provide a conventional moral order to be applied to situations faced by people, offer explanations for natural phenomena and catastrophes of various kinds, incorporate formulae for controlling happenings in the world, and operate as a repository for cultural information. But there are two other important functions of myth we need to address here, for we are not just interested in myth as a repository of culture, but rather how myth mediates the relationship between experience and reality. Those two functions are: (1) the transmission of socially important vicarious experience and (2) the co-ordination of individual conceptual systems relative to socially valued experience. Myth is a primary mechanism for developing and maintaining what the great sociologist, Emile Durkheim called the "collective consciousness" fundamental to a people’s religion and world view. Important domains of experience are described in story and transmitted in such a way that the listener lives the experience vicariously (meaning "imaginative or sympathetic participation in the experience of another") through feelings, thoughts and images -- through, say, the imagined adventures of a hero or sacred being. Moreover, the didactic quality of myth makes it possible for people to share the same body of core symbols and the sacred context in which those symbols apply. Everyone more or less agrees that some particularly salient event in real life is an instance of some general force or phenomenon depicted in the stories. For instance, a number of my Navajo friends are convinced that much of the social upheaval being encountered by Navajo people today is due to the failure of the people to conform to certain prescriptions (like keeping winter and summer ceremonies distinct and not overlapping) that are clearly expressed in the sacred stories.

These sacred stories, then, act as theories of proper relations within the world and among people. As Durkheim himself noted, the reality expressed in myth is not just a figment of people’s imagination, but is reality itself imagined – take a moment to reflect on this distinction, for it is absolutely critical! Sociologist Mircea Eliade understood myth as a comment on the human condition generally, and noted that traditional peoples code myth as a "true story" or a story about reality. Both anthropologist Earl Count and theologist Paul Tillich saw mythology as a description of a people’s understanding of "the world as problem" – an expression of the "ultimate concerns" of a society. Social phenomenologist Alfred Schutz went further by suggesting that myth refers to transcendental experience and the boundaries of a people’s comprehension of "multiple realities."

Joseph Campbell, who perhaps has given myth more thought than any other scholar of our age, recognized the problem societies face in assuring that each member’s consciousness develops in a way that maintains a collective accuracy in depicting reality:

"Thus a mythology is a control system, on the one hand framing its community to accord with an intuited order of nature and, on the other hand, by means of its symbolic pedagogic rites, conducting individuals through the ineluctable psychophysiological stages of transformation of a human lifetime – birth, childhood and adolescence, age, old age, and the release of death – in unbroken accord simultaneously with the requirements of this world and the rapture of participation in a manner of being beyond time. ...Their effect, therefore, is to wake the intellect to realizations equivalent to those of the insights that produce them." (Campbell 1986:20)

Campbell also suggested that universal mythic themes may operate as innate "releasing mechanisms" for archetypal structures in the depths of the human psyche (he was very Jungian in this respect). Mythic elements, operating as metaphors, are images that may be more effective than naturally occurring phenomena for triggering the development of latent, inherent, neurocognitive structures in the human brain. The society’s mythic system may be organized in a unique way so that it activates, and causes development of constellations of neurocognitive models of appropriate types. For instance, hero myths may operate as initiators. The imagery penetrates to the depths of the psyche and activates and potentiates development of those psychological faculties valued by the society (like the persistent, unsatisfiable greed for more and better appropriate to the "American Dream"). By manipulating the motifs and elements of myth, a society may orchestrate deep psychic development requisite to psychological growth along certain lines. These become the "collective consciousness" of a particular people – a collective understanding that is keyed to both the local and global reality within which people are embedded.


Mountains are symbols, like pyramids, of man’s attempt to know God. Mountains are symbolic meeting places between the mundane and spiritual world.

Alan Hovhaness

We can see now that our consciousness of reality is trued by both myth and experience, and the latter may be either direct or vicarious. It is through ritual activation of ASC that experience comes to reiterate and reinforce the truth of totality and connectedness among all things in the world, and among people who are inextricably embedded in and dependent upon this universal entanglement for their survival. All spiritual paths lead to and through this truth. The truth of interdependence is experienced and reified in every generation within ideational and idealistic cultures. But the tenuous ritualized link between the mythic narratives and direct individual experience is broached during the process of producing a sensate culture – with its inevitable monophasic world view (and particularly its epistemology). The sacred stories become, if they survive at all, merely a corpus of amusing "just-so" stories. This leaves people vulnerable to the delusions of a separation between the empirical ego and everything and everybody else, and between the people (or the culture) and nature. The psyche becomes unbalanced (in Eric Fromm’s sense, "un-sane"). Spiritually unawakened people tend to be shallow, out of touch with the primordial (neurognostic) wisdom of not just their elders, but more importantly of untold millennia of neural evolution. The truth of connectedness and interdependence of all things lies dormant and undeveloped within the psyche of sensate peoples. Such people are hence vulnerable to psychological alienation and a spiritual thirst for "in-depth" meaning in their lives that can inform the existential "matters of ultimate concern" facing each of us: why am I here, where did I come from, what is my purpose in the scheme of things, why do I feel alone, why do I suffer, why must I die and what happens after death?

An Aside: The Perils of Finding a Spiritual Path

This does not mean however that people raised in sensate societies are spiritually dead. Far from it. Rather, from the perspective of truing consciousness to reality, they are simply unbalanced in their development. They have the same brain as people raised in more spiritually aware, polyphasic societies, and they live in the same real world. But their compliment of primordially truing, "mystically" charged neural models remain dormant. Yet these models may be potentiated and developed under the right conditions (a la Joe Campbell’s comment above). Typical of an extremely sensate society, there are enumerable teachings available in our societies today to exploit this thirst for spiritual awakening. Some paths are ancient, tried and true teachings, while others are re-discovered or new teachings. And of course, many people are left vulnerable by their inability to distinguish the genuine path from the false path, the true teacher from the charlatan. Ironically, there is more information available to the neophyte spiritual practitioner now than at any time in history, what with the Internet, TV, magazines and other media. If you are interested, read some articles on the Internet, like this one.

If you are a beginner – a spiritual neophyte – then as you seek a spiritual path, pay close attention to how the leaders of a cult or teaching live their own lives – pay less attention to how they rationalize their lifestyle, and more attention to what they do. As Jesus reputedly put it, "by their fruits shall ye know them." Do they get rich playing the guru role? Are they sexually kinky or promiscuous? (I know of one young "guru" type who spread HIV among his followers because he thought he was so pure that his semen was purified. Right. By their fruits shall ye know them...) Do they drive around in fancy, expensive cars? Are they physical or psychological bullies? Do they take undo personal advantage of the spiritual naivete and gullibility of their followers? Do they seem to get off on telling people what to do, on having people groveling in front of them, on exercising power over people? Do they claim to be deities? All of these things can be tipoffs to narcissistic personalty types who are in the spiritual awakening game for their own aggrandizement. Avoid them like the plague. Remember Charlie’s Law of Inevitable Perversion: namely, if an occupation can be defined in such a way as to fulfill perverted needs, it will draw perverted people like bees to honey. Any occupation that places a person in control of other people WILL draw power-trippers. Any occupation that places children under the control of an adult will inevitably draw pedaphiles. Any occupation that allows the use of physical force against other people WILL draw sadists. A word to the wise, then...

Remember also that there is no such thing as a single spiritual path that has all the answers, or that is right for everyone. Trust your instincts. The whole point is to awaken and that is a process of self-empowerment. Most people I suspect will intuitively know when a path is right for them. You will be comfortable with the people and with the practices. Also remember Charlie’s Principle of Multiple Interpretations: namely, that there is no such thing as an experience that admits of one and only one interpretation. Recall the cycle of meaning. All paths to spiritual awakening of which I am aware have a core set of techniques and practices, and these give rise very predictably to a certain range of ASC. And they will tend to interpret these ASC according to tradition. Remember, you are under no obligation to buy into any one path’s interpretation of your experience. Be especially wary of interpretive frames that are DIS-empowering – that are interpreted in such a way as you become bound by role or status to the teaching or teacher. Many cults out there are designed to entrap members into a system of higher and higher teachings, each subsequent level (and perhaps requisite courses) requiring more money and commitment – a sort of spiritual pyramid scheme.

It has been my impression for years that eastern traditions of spiritual awakening are often poorly designed to deal with the typically neurotic, unbalanced, "un-sane" sensate personality type. Yes, there are eastern teachings pertaining to balancing the personality. There are Buddhist meditation practices for instance that are assigned to people that may be considered unbalanced according to eastern lights. The overly greedy person might be told to meditate on death and impermanence – might even be told to stake out and observe the decay of corpses in a charnel ground. But these eastern spiritual psychologies do not seem to understand neurosis – that is, the existence of an unconscious, anxiety-ridden, infantile, and often traumatized sub-personality that stands as a serious barrier to advanced personal development. If you sense that you are getting nowhere in your spiritual path, despite considerable effort, and are experiencing intense negative emotions inappropriate to your circumstances, then perhaps you need to begin your spiritual work with therapy to deal with the emotional blocks in your being. You can always return to your chosen spiritual path after dealing with your issues and healing yourself. End of the aside! Let’s get back to the main point of all this...

The Spiritual Brain

Spirituality then is the process of getting in touch with our primordial Self. It is the process of truing-up our consciousness to the reality of both our being and the world. Each of our brains is "wired" to know the truth of totality, and this truth can be directly experienced in an instant of insight, given the right conditions. Our brainworld is inherently mystical. My late friend Gene d’Aquili liked to call this the apprehension and realization of Absolute Unitary Being (AUB for short; see link at the right of the post). First the direct experience of absorption into the All, followed almost immediately by the comprehension of the meaning of the experience. Please note however that the experience of AUB may or may not come as the result of mature contemplation, and is also not necessarily related to the systems thought level of cognition. Indeed, the experience may occur spontaneously, and may lead to a total alteration of one’s life, for it is always transpersonal and thus will bring the delusion of the empirical ego, and its sense of alienation into question. One consequence of this experience and realization of AUB may be that reality becomes transformed in our experience and comprehension as cosmos – one comprehends onself to be but a scintilla of consciousness in a timeless, boundless sea of energy in which every star in every galaxy is implicated within one’s consciousness and visa versa. There is no separation between Self and cosmos, for separation is as unnatural as it is impossible.

There are many techniques one may try to "invite" the realization of totality. One of the simplest methods I learned from my friend, Tarchin Hearn. One meditates upon one’s breathing while gazing at a bush or tree or even a single leaf, and as one breaths out one is aware of breathing for the plant, and as one breaths in one is aware that the plant is breathing for one’s self. That’s all there is to the meditation. Out breath "I’m breathing for the plant," in breath "the plant is breathing for me." Do it and see what happens.

Another meditation I invented for myself is a bit more complicated and works very fast for me. But I don’t really know how efficacious it will be for you. Try it and see. One meditates in a park, or somewhere else outside where there are both other people and nature. One becomes aware of one’s own sphere of consciousness – that "radiant sphere" sitting atop one’s shoulders – and how it "puffs-out" to incorporate all the other people and the plants and animals and ground and sky and so forth. And then one shifts one’s awareness ever so slightly to imagine that each and every person and other animal in one’s puffed-out consciousness is also experiencing a puffed-out consciousness that likewise includes you and everything else within sight or hearing. And then alternate between contemplating the puffed-out nature of one’s sphere of awareness and then the same puffed-out sphere of awareness going on in everybody else’s head. That’s it, that’s all. Just keep that alternation going and see what happens.

If and when the experience of AUB occurs, how one interprets it is another question. One may only comprehend an experience to the maximum level of their cognitive capacity. If a person is capable of systems thought, then their understanding of the world and their place in it may come to resemble something like a "deep ecology." The entanglement of everything with everything else will inform all their thoughts and understandings. A person with a more concrete intelligence may just become more religious and perhaps more fervent in their belief system. Or perhaps they may conclude they have been "born again," or become vulnerable to conversion into one or another interpretive frame that makes pre-digested sense of the experience. Same experience, different interpretations. Whatever the case, the mystical brainworld has strived to true itself to its primordial awareness of entanglement. Individuals undergoing this experience and its cognitive and emotional sequelae have taken a giant step back from the understanding of the world typical of materialistic, sensate culture. The eye is at least partially turned inward to the source of self-revelation and awakening. How far one may travel along this new course is an empirical question and depends upon many factors. It is said that "many are called, but few are chosen." This may refer in part to the arduous hurdles one may face in following a spiritual path in a sensate society.

If one is clever about it, one may establish in one’s own development a balance of view typical of ideational societies, a balance of mystical and materialist views that will stand as a corrective to any appeal from either the sensate or the idealistic poles. This is the standpoint most productive of balanced comprehension and penetration into the heart of The Crisis. This balance is a dynamic one, and hard to hold, for the mid-point shifts and changes over time and situation. Veer to either extreme and one will lose sight of the core problem of The Crisis, and fall into the error of certainty. On one side the shallowness of materialist orientation, on the other the fervency and cognitive dullness of true believer-hood and ideology. Imagine you are traversing a knife-sharp ridge leading to the summit of a mountain. This is the only path you can take if you hope to stand on the summit and see to the other side. On either hand there are chasms that will suck you down below and distort and hide your path. It makes no difference whether you are climbing the mountain alone or roped in a line with a guide and fellow climbers – you must tread each and every step along the way by dint of your own insight and effort. Only when you stand upon the summit, mid-way between the chasms of distortion and delusion, can you hope to see The Crisis most clearly. And even when you comprehend The Crisis, I cannot tell you what you should or will do about it, if anything. That is for you to ponder. In a sense, it is now in the dialog between you and your Mother Earth that your decisions will be made.

We have at long last reached the point in these discourses that I can deal with The Crisis directly. I want to thank you for your patience. All the essential elements have been discussed, and I feel certain that many of you will have already seen to the heart of the matter. But I still want to describe The Crisis as I see it, and in so doing perhaps prod you all into both clearer reflection and the sense of urgency I feel. As a preparation for this next discussion, may I suggest a bit of homework? Easy and pleasant homework. Go to the link over to the right and watch the 20 minute video called the "Story of Stuff." This is important to my presentation, for I want us to start out on the same page. I will have some things to say about this really quite brilliant video, and they won’t make sense unless you have watched it.



Bourguignon, Erika, 1973. Religion, Altered States of Consciousness, and Social Change. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press.

Bourguignon, Erika and Thomas L. Evascu,1977. "Altered States of Consciousness within a General Evolutionary Perspective: A Holocultural Analysis." Behavior Science Research 12(3):197-216.

Campbell, Joseph, 1959. The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology. New York: Viking.

Campbell, Joseph, 1986. The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion. New York: Harper.

Devall, W. and G. Sessions, 2001. Deep Ecology: Living As if Nature Mattered. Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith.

Dobkin de Rios, Marlene, 1984. Hallucinogens: Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. [Written by one of the real experts on drugs and ASC cross-culturally.]

Forman, Robert K.C., ed., 1998. The Innate Capacity: Mysticism, Psychology, and Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [The propensity for ASC is inherent in our genetics and our brainworld.]

Laughlin, Charles D. and C. Jason Throop, 2001. "Imagination and Reality: On the Relations Between Myth, Consciousness, and the Quantum Sea." Zygon 36(4):709_736. [Jason and I develop these notions further in this paper, and relate "universal cosmology" to the world according to quantum physics.]

Pinker, Steven, 2003. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. New York: Penguin. [A brilliant and very readable analysis of the false notion of baby brainworlds being informational "blank slates."]

Slotkin, J.S. , 1958. "The Peyote Way." in Reader in Comparative Religion: An Anthropological Approach (first edition), ed. By William A. Lessa and Evon Z. Vogt. Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson and Company, pp. 482-486.

Sorokin, Pitirim A., 1957. Social and Cultural Dynamics. Boston: Porter Sargent Publisher.

Sorokin, Pitirim A., 1962. Society, Culture, and Personality. New York: Cooper Square Publishers.

Tart, Charles, 1975. States of Consciousness. New York: Dutton. [Invented the term "altered states of consciousness."]

Winkelman, Michael, 2000. Shamanism: The Neural Ecology of Consciousness and Healing. Westport CT: Bergin & Garvey. [The best single source on shamanism and ASC.]

Young, Allan, 1997. The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. [An anthropologists analyses the social and economic factors involved in inventing diagnoses.]

Young, David and Jean_Guy Goulet, eds., 1994. Being Changed by Cross_Cultural Encounters: The Anthropology of Extraordinary Experience. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press. [Articles written by anthros who report their own ASC while in the field, including yours truly.]

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Crisis on the Planet of the Hairless Apes (Part VI): Development of Natural Intelligence

Knowing reality means constructing systems of transformations that correspond, more or less adequately, to reality.

Jean Piaget

So far I have discussed how the brainworld makes sense of the real world. The senses capture patterns of stimuli from the real world and these patterns penetrate (or "propagate" as neural geeks like to say) into the core brain to produce a pixilated sensorium. The patterns are rapidly paired with meaning associated with the patterns and this gestalt comes together as our world of experience. So we can see that the world we experience is a construct – a kind of replica – that is fabricated by the cells of our brain for their own consumption. Each and every moment of our conscious experience is organized around some object, be that focus a thing, an idea, an image, a feeling, a thought, whatever. And the focal object is meaningful to us because of this automatic association with knowledge stored in our memory. We have built up our library of meaning during our lifetime by way of truing-up interactions with reality, so that our meaning is more or less accurate.

This is now old hat for us, right? We know that the world of experience is not the real world itself, but only our uniquely individual point of view upon reality, trued by constant testing and alteration and growth of our neural models. We feed-forward into the world and get automatic feedback about the obdurate and affordant nature of the object and the world. And the fact that we only see the world from a point of view – the fact that the real world is ALWAYS transcendental relative to any knowledge or view we have of it – has everything to do with producing The Crisis.

But what I have not addressed yet is the internal organization of meaning that becomes attached to the object like iron filings around a magnet. The iron filings of meaning are not isolated islands of information, but rather are organized into systems. This is an issue that is equally important to our understanding of how the consciousness of hairless apes has produced The Crisis, and may yet be able to negotiate their way through The Crisis to a more or less rosey future. I started these posts by claiming that The Crisis is produced by the fact that hairless apes are too stupid to comprehend the unintended consequences of their actions in the real world. This post will examine the issue of natural intelligence directly so that we can see more clearly where the danger lies, and what "stupidity" means. [I want to acknowledge the very important role my late friend and soul brother, John McManus, played in teaching our BS group to integrate a developmental perspective into biogenetic structuralism.]


Let me say right up front that what I mean by intelligence is NOT synonymous with what IQ tests measure. IQ tests are related to natural intelligence, but most such tests are culturally loaded and require mastery of particular content. Natural intelligence refers to the neurobiological systems of control that have evolved to intervene between the sensory input and behavior output of organisms. In humans, natural intelligence refers to the internal cognitive organization of the brainworld. Because these control systems are biological, they have evolved through millions of years, and they develop over the course of each lifetime. So, for hairless apes we are talking about the cognitive development that all humans undergo as they mature. More specifically, natural intelligence involves the growth of increasing complexity of organization, irrespective of content. In other words, how complexly do we comprehend what we are experiencing, thinking, imagining, calculating, so forth. Generally speaking, the more complex our cognitive systems become, the "smarter" we are about what we comprehend and decide to do.

The methods that developmental psychologists and neuroscientists use to research cognitive/brainworld development from our early life in the womb til we become adults are extremely technical, and there have been many controversies over the exact details of theories about all this. I have no desire to get into these methods and controversies, for they are well covered in the literature and on the net, and besides, they would take us off-point. The point is that we are not born as smart as we become later in life. Our intelligence develops over many years, and involves the growth of neural structures, just as our hands and feet grow more and more adult-like and capable over the years.

The Work of Jean Piaget (1896-1980)

We have the great Swiss philosopher and psychologist, Jean_Piaget, to thank for having started us down the path of understanding the development of natural intelligence in people and other animals. In his research with thousands of children, he was able to show that the internal structure of knowledge, comprehension and judgment develops through a series of definable stages, each stage organizing the content of the previous stage in ever more complex ways. Cognitive competence grows in active dialog with real life, everyday situations, including engagement with the obdurate and affordant aspects of physical reality. Again, whether or not there exist discrete stages of cognitive development is unimportant for our purposes, and in point of fact, Piaget himself didn’t care one way or the other. What he was at great pains to show empirically is that:

1. Cognition is a biological function, and thus is the same for all members of the species,
2. Cognition develops in the interaction between the cognitive structures and reality,
3. Cognition is an activity or "operation" of the brain, which is to say the drive of the organism is to transform its internal structures in order to adapt to changes in the environment,
4. Meaning and knowing are a product of cognitive structures,
5. Changes in internal cognitive structures occurs as a consequence of accommodating (changing to meet the requirements of) reality, and assimilating (taking into) reality into the structures.
6. The higher levels of cognitive development require and are the products of so-called "reflecting abstraction;" that is, the capacity of the person to contemplate their own cognitive operations, and the properties of their own actions,
7. The higher stages of cognitive development are marked by greater complexity, levels of organization and abstraction from mere sensory content,
8. And cultures can facilitate or hinder the development of higher levels of natural intelligence.

Almost every normal person reaches the level of concrete operational thought. Children begin to demonstrate logical thought around age 7, plus or minus, and continue to develop operational abilities into adolescence. Many factors may influence the onset and rapidity of development, especially diet. Malnutrition is known to slow down cognitive development, and even stunt intellectual development altogether. Remember, we are talking about natural intelligence, hence neural cell growth, and growth of connections among millions of neural cells, all of whom must feed in order to grow and prosper.

Concrete operations are so named because they are logical operations applied to concrete events. A child/person may be fully operational at a concrete level, but find abstract or hypothetical thinking difficult or impossible. The concrete operational child/person can order things according to qualities, like color, number, size, shape, etc. They can learn to count and do arithmetic. They can move from specific instances to general principles – like, observe a flock of sheep and then classify the different kinds of sheep according to general properties (all are wooly, some are white and some are not, some are babies and some are grown up, so forth). They can also perform reversible operations – if five and five make ten, then if I take five away from ten, I get five. They can comprehend that things in one category may be included in a larger, more inclusive category – like "my budgie is a bird and a bird is a kind of animal. So my budgie is also an animal.

A very important concrete operation isolated by Piaget is conservation. Before a certain point, if you pour a tall thin glass full of water into a short wide glass, and ask a pre-operational child which glass has more water in it, they will usually answer the tall glass. But after the onset of concrete operations, the child comprehends that the same amount of water has been held by two glasses of different shapes. Things may change and yet some properties are conserved. Moreover, the child/person who has developed concrete operational thought can to some extent remove their ego from a calculation. If in a story a dog buries a bone under a bush and leaves, and then another dog comes along and finding the bone, re-buries it under a fence, when the first dog comes back, and looks for his bone, the child knows that the first dog will look under the tree, even though the child knows the bone has been moved.

Notice that I keep referring to the child/person, rather than just child, for it is the case that most people never develop very far past concrete operations, if at all. Most think about experienced things and events, goals for the future, things that have transpired in the past. Some eighty years ago, the anthropologist Paul Radin concluded that all societies are like that in that they each produce a handful of "philosophers" while the rest of the population are "men of action." In fact, there are no nations, countries or societies that have any more than a fraction of their population capable of thought above the concrete level, and in many societies, no one develops beyond that capacity.

Those people who do develop the ability to think abstractly are those that have entered the stage that Piaget called formal operational thought. In our society where adequate nutrition is widely available over the course of childhood, formal operations begin to present in early adolescence, but onset may be delayed until much later. Cognitive development continues into adulthood of course. People are not just able to have goals, they can carry out complex systematic planning. They can think about abstract ideas and relations. They become capable of logico-deductive reasoning. Hypothetical thinking (thinking about options that have never been experienced), empirical-theoretical relations (as in science), and higher mathematics make sense to the formal operational person.

Piaget also recognized that abstract thought may not be generalized to all experiential domains. The development of thought may in fact demonstrate a vertical decalages (French for "lag") between domains of content – that is, a person may become abstract in their thought about one set of problems and remain concrete with respect to another domain. For instance, a particle physicist may operate at a very abstract level with respect to her cosmological thinking, while remaining very concrete in her social, moral or political thought. Indeed, few people are universally abstract across all domains of application.

The Work of Michael Commons (1939- )

Work has continued along Piagetian lines, fleshing out what we can know about the development of the internal complexity and functioning of the brainworld. Numerous additional stages of development have been added – which Piaget himself anticipated. Of interest to us is the addition of stages beyond formal operations. Perhaps the most elaborate empirical research so far is that done by Michael_Commons and his colleagues. For Commons, formal operations involves mastering the skill of arguing from empirical or logical evidence requisite to correct scientific problem solving. There follows a stage he calls systematic operations which is implied to some extent in Piaget’s formal operations, and is characterized by the ability to think in terms of multivariate systems. Systems are made up of complex relations, and thinking transcends one dimensional unknowns to consider multivariate coordinates. Following systematic operations comes metasystematic operations which involves the ability to construct metasystems, supersystems, multi-systems and global views of embedded systems. One is also able to comprehend the property of systems and relations among systems. At the level of paradigmatic operations one is then able to construct paradigms from metasystems, and at the final level of cross-paradigmatic operations, to construct entire fields from multiple paradigms.

Without getting into any great detail about these stages (which may or may not prove to be discrete stages at all), the two things to emphasize here are (1) that these higher levels of thinking have to do with cognizing, recognizing and constructing systems of relations at higher and higher levels of abstraction from observed reality, and (2) fewer and fewer people are capable as adults of each subsequent level of abstraction.

Conceptual Systems Theory and Social Cognition (CST)

There are other scientific theories, like those of Piaget and Commons, pertaining to the development of thought, comprehension, judgement and decision-making about the physical world. Then there are others that help us understand social cognition and decision-making. One such is called conceptual systems theory which was developed in the 1960s to understand the relationship between complexity of social cognitive abilities and complexity of social environment. These theorists posited four stages from low complexity of thought to high complexity of thought.

I. Low Complexity: These people (in fact most people in our society) apply low cognitive complexity characterized by uni-dimensional thinking and very concrete operations. They are categorical in their thinking and judgements. They will see things and people classified by a single attribute – say, all people who are black are in one category that is characterized by the same set of stereotypical qualities. These are people who are the least flexible and adaptable under conditions of change, complexity and stress. These folks have trouble generating alternatives and things are judged to be either black or white – with no gradations. Situations under stress reach rapid closure, and things are either in one category, or excluded from consideration.

II. Moderate Low Complexity: People can comprehend multiple dimensions and alternatives, and rules that connect these dimensions. They are less likely to be "absolutist" about decisions, and are able to consider choices and weigh probabilities. They are less likely to cave under the stress of environmental change and complexity, for they have alternative ways to move and rules for applying them.

III. Moderate High Complexity: Abstract thought begins to prevail, and there is a lot less deterministic thinking. Far more alternatives are available to thought and decision-making. Many more ways of viewing the environment within the same overall structure of thought. Multivariate dimensions and rules may fit without conflict within the same structure. A person can conceive of more than one point of view in social situations, can weigh different views relative to strategic solutions, can evaluate different behaviors to outcomes. Social strategies are far less categorical, and more fluid. This person is even less likely to cave under stress.

IV. High Complexity: The rules for comparing strategies and points of view are more numerous and more flexible and more integrated within a single structure. Highly abstract decision-making among a host of possible strategies and schemes makes this level on at which a person can generate novel solutions to complex problems. There is greater creativity in reorganizing schemes and systems of rules. This person is relatively independent of past experiences and "tried and true" solutions, and is the least likely to cave under complexity, novelty and change.

It is important to our picture here to realize that people who test high on Piagetian and Commons measures, do not necessarily test high on social cognition. But anyone who tests high on social cognition will be capable of formal operations or above. That also means that there are fewer people capable of abstract social cognition than are capable of abstract thought about the physical world.

The Work of Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987) on Moral Development

Still another stage theory of cognitive development has to do with the development of moral thinking and decision-making. This is the stage theory of Lawrence Kohlberg. Again, we see the development of cognitive structure from simple, unidimensional, egoistic and concrete thinking to highly complex, de-centered, abstract moral thinking. His scheme lays out three main stages of moral reasoning, each with two sub-stages. I won’t bother to distinguish the sub-stages.

I. Pre-conventional: Preconventional reasoning is typical of children, but many adults retain this level of thinking applied to the moral domain. At this stage people are making moral judgments abut their actions dependent upon their direct consequences – like, if they get punished for doing something, it’s wrong. They are only interested in themselves and reason entirely from an ego-centered perspective. One acts purely out of self-interest. It is good if it is good for me.

II. Conventional: Most late adolescents and adults operate on a conventional level of morality. The hallmark of moral thinking is its social orientation. Interpersonal relationships, especially one-on-one friendships and family relations are at the core, and then later obeying social rules predominate. Things are "good" or "bad" relative to how they effect other people we know and care about. Social rules are "good" because it benefits the commonweal. "Good" citizens follow the laws, and "bad" people break the laws, and the latter harms society.

III. Post-conventional: People at this level begin to view society abstractly and ponder the principles that make society work. They no longer advocate support for society for its own sake, because some societies can do really dumb and unjust things. Not all societies are "good," even though they function well – dictatorships can be very efficient, but are rarely just. There can be "good" laws and "bad" laws. They conceive of an ideal society in which all human rights are valued and upheld, and then make judgements about their own society by comparison with the ideal. Society is now considered to be a social contract among individuals and that contract can be changed, renegotiated and improved. Evaluations are made in relation to "higher" principles of justice and fairness, and to democratic institutions that give everyone their say.

Moral thought, as with thinking about the physical world, develops though application and through interaction with the social environment. They cannot be taught, anymore than Piagetian stages can be taught. Moreover, as with social cognition, one may have reached formal operations in the Piagetian sense, but remain at a conventional level in moral thinking -- remember the phenomenon of decalages (above). The particle physicist who spends her days thinking about multidimensional string theory may also be socially retarded and act like a tyrant at home. But there is no such thing as a person capable of post-conventional moral thought that is not also operating at the formal operational stage of Piagetian development.


The fields of developmental psychology and developmental neuroscience are rich and very technical. I have only been able to give you a flavor of the findings that are integral to our discussion of The Crisis. In my second post back in March, 2008, I quipped: "...humans collectively are too stupid to comprehend the unintended consequences of their conscious acts. And I mean stupidity literally here: ‘A poor ability to understand and to profit from experience,’ as well as technically: we are collectively (as societies and as a species) not smart enough to model our contemporary environment, ecology, and global society as dynamic and vulnerable systems at risk, and take appropriate effective and adaptive action to rectify our destructive actions." I did mean "stupidity" literally, but in relation to the development of natural intelligence, not scores on an IQ test – and certainly not as an epithet directed at people with who’s views I disagree. There is no doubt that there are relations between intelligence in the Piagetian and neo-Piagetian sense described above, and general intelligence (or g), a theoretical ability as measured by a whole battery of tests. General intelligence is presumably what all intelligence tests have in common, and help to measure. But this is both controversial and beside the point for our purposes here.

What is relevant is that optimal development of natural intelligence is correlated with (1) neurophysiological development, especially development of the prefrontal cortex; (2) diet, especially dietary considerations in the womb, in infancy and early childhood; (3) complexity of social and physical environment during development; and (4) genetic background, for intelligence is heritable. Let’s take each of these factors in turn:

1. Brain and natural intelligence: Intelligence (g-factor) is correlated highly with both overall brain size and with the size of the prefrontal lobes. Hence, any factors that facilitate or inhibit brain growth (disease, inheritance, diet, environmental factors) contribute to the overall optimization of the development of intelligence.

2. Diet and natural intelligence: Diet has a direct impact upon physical growth in the embryo, infant and child. Research has shown that dietary deficits will inhibit brain development and stunt the development of intelligence. When scientists realized this powerful factor, policies were established that created the "head-start" programs in the United States and other countries. But there are societies who’s children are still routinely malnourished, and as a consequence, few if any adults ever reach optimal, higher level cognitive stages. The picture is even worse than this, however. Research also shows that if a pregnant woman is malnourished over the course of her pregnancy, her offspring will suffer intellectual deficits, regardless of whether the offspring after birth have access to a good diet or not. In other words, bad diet stunts brain growth and hinders the optimal development of natural intelligence. Let me emphasize this yet again: bad diets produce unnecessary and avoidable stupidity!

3. Complexity of Environment and Natural Intelligence: Research has also shown that children raised in enriched physical and social environments are more likely to reach optimal development of brain growth and intelligence. Remember when I said that the brainworld grows in dynamic interaction with reality? The more varied and interesting the environment of the child (also kitten, pup, cub, etc.), the more challenges there are for intellectual growth. Conversely, children raised in sub-optimal environments have their intellects stultified.

4. Inheritance and Natural Intelligence: Intelligence is heritable. That is beyond dispute. But as we have seen, the development of the brainworld is complex and there is often no way to parse out how much is due to environmental factors such as complexity of environment and diet. Plus the issue of the inheritance of intelligence got all mixed up with racism and politics which further muddies the water. But there is no doubt at all that individual intelligence is in part due to genetics, and this factor will become important when I take up the future of space colonization in a later post.

Natural Intelligence and The Crisis

Hairless apes can only be as intelligent as their individual brains can develop. And no matter how smart any one person can become, he or she is still too stupid to comprehend all the unintended consequences of human actions in the world, because (1) reality is always transcendental relative to what we can know about it, (2) no human brain reaches a systems consciousness sufficiently intelligent to comprehend the vast systems we impact with our actions, and (3) most of the causal relations we set in motion or alter with our actions are invisible to our senses or measuring technologies. Imagine you are cruising up a river in a speedboat. Can you comprehend all the unintended consequences on the physical world of your outing? You may be aware the waves you cause are wearing away the banks, slowly but surely – but what else? How many creatures have you killed or maimed? What kind of interactions does this cause? What pollutants have you let loose into the atmosphere and water, and what are the consequences of that? And what about all the other causal interactions about which neither your nor I know nothing about, but that happen anyways? See what I mean? Most human beings haven’t a clue about the systemic impact of their actions in the world, nor can they know because they are too stupid to comprehend – in the same sense that a chimpanzee is too stupid, or an elephant is too stupid.

We hairless apes are a species of social primate. We are reared in groups and most of us live out our lives in groups. And we tend to do things and make things happen in groups. We tend to do things we were taught to do by our group and that are valued by other members of our group. Group interactions have an impact upon our strategies and upon the consequences of our actions, and to a very real extent upon the development of intelligence in its members. Cross-cultural psychologists have shown that horticultural societies tend to thwart the development of individual thinking and abstract intelligence, while hunting and gathering groups value and encourage individuation and complex thought. This is in complete alignment with the way the two types of society make a living and organize their social interactions. The one society tends to dumb-down its members, and the other creates conditions that facilitate advanced cognitive development.

While I will spend an entire post spelling out The Crisis in more detail, what I can say here is that planets are organic systems so complex, few if any hairless apes can comprehend planets as unitary systems. To make matters worse, planets are also dynamic systems, changing all the time, so that what impact we hairless apes have on planetary events becomes mangled in with all the other causal factors, so that we have a hard time parsing out our overall footprint. But meanwhile, the population of hairless apes on Planet Earth has, in just my 70 years here, grown from just over 2 billion to nearly 7 billion. If you were born in 1950, the world population was something over 2.5 billion, and if you were born in 1970, then the population was around 4 billion. Do you realize that there are more people alive today than have ever been born and died in the past? Hairless apes are everywhere – a virtual contagion of endlessly jabbering, socially dependant, greed infested, resource consuming, often starving hairless apes! We have known for decades that overpopulation alone is an ecological and economic catastrophe waiting in the wings. People are living longer, marrying later, and using contraception, on the average, and yes, having fewer babies, but still the explosion goes on – estimates have us at over 9 billion people by 2050! Yet there are people by the millions who will argue adamantly for the inalienable "right" of women to make babies, while others take to the streets and threaten violence to protect frozen embryos that will never become babies. Truly, we are collectively too stupid to comprehend The Crisis and to do much about its onset or duration.

Let me repeat, I am not using the word "stupid" in a pejorative, misanthropic sense. I am just stating the situation, sans sugar coating, as best I see it. People cannot help it if there is an inherent limit to what they can understand and know anymore than an earthworm with its rudimentary nervous system can know, or a dolphin with its huge, complex brain can know. We have evolved a brainworld that was very, very adaptive during the hundreds of thousands of years of Upper Paleolithic ("upper stone age") adaptations. When we began the rapid increase of population at the beginning of the Neolithic ("new stone age") some ten thousand years ago, population is estimated as having been between 1 and 10 million people – MILLION, not billion. There were probably way less than half a billion people on the planet at the time of Christ, and still less than a billion people in the world at the time the United States became a republic. So our population growth and its effects on the natural environment is more a result of our very clever technological brainworld, than much in the way of an evolutionary advance in neural complexity and wisdom.

The capacity for advanced or optimal intelligence does NOT guarantee smart choices, judgments and comprehension. And it certainly does not guarantee good or wise choices. Advance intelligence has to be applied to produce really intelligent results. Various factors influence how a person will apply their intelligence, or not as the case may be, including:

1. Challenging environment: The complexity and challenge of the environment is a major factor. If the problem or challenge is not interesting to the person, they may give a less than optimally complex intellectual response. Highly intelligent students get bored in school for instance when the material is pitched to the mean abilities in the class, well below that level of complexity that will challenge the really bright minds, and the bright student may just blow off the tests and projects and end up with a low mark. In a real sense the environment "calls forth" the level of intelligence appropriate to its complexities.

2. Decalages: Let’s not forget that the available potential for high intelligence in one domain of experience may not be matched by that person in another domain – the physicist who is very concrete in his social life or moral judgments. I have personally known members of Mensa who are socially inept and narcissistic. We Americans once had a fabulously intelligent president who was caught out having had embarrassing sexual adventures in the Oval Office. How dumb is that? The point is that a totally rounded-out advanced abstract systems intelligence with no decalages is a rarity.

3. Social pressure for conformity: People can be socialized right out of any inherent intelligence they might, under optimal conditions, apply. People can get caught up in social groups that demand a dumbing down of their intelligence in order for them to be socially acceptable. Bureaucracies all too often have that effect. It is said by some that it is all your job is worth in NASA to voice novel ideas that might require changing things. That is a common situation in bureaucratic organizations with their internal politics and pressures for social conformity. Some people get caught up in fundamentalist religious groups that inhibit intelligence in favor of strict adherence to dogma. Honestly, there are hundreds of thousands of "born-again" Christians so dumb they think Jesus spoke in English! And you want to know what is REALLY scary? They vote!

4. Mood and smarts: It is a fact that those with higher intelligence are more susceptible to depression, and depression has a dampening effect upon interest in reality. Thus depression can inhibit the full application of advanced intelligence. Why are more intelligent people more likely to become depressed? Some clinicians suggest that intelligent people have a greater capacity for internal analysis and self-evaluation, and come to the conclusion that they are unworthy. As many or you know from direct experience, loss of a sense of mastery is one of the root causes of depression. Others think that because highly intelligent people are aware on a daily basis of the general stupidity around them over which they have no control, they are more susceptible to mood disorders, solitary life styles and lack of interest.

5. High intelligence does NOT equal "good": Just because someone has applied optimal intelligence to a problem does not mean that they have reached a "good" solution. Indeed, they may apply their analytical skills in an essentially amoral way. Sherlock Holmes’ arch nemesis, Professor Moriarty, was no doubt highly intelligent, but as cruel as a black fly in May, and as evil as the Devil himself. Highly intelligent people can end up in powerful positions in corporations and in government and choose to do destructive and evil things in order to up their profits and keep their constituents happy. So there is no guarantee that intelligence alone can get us out of the pickle in which we find ourselves.

6. Metabolism: The energy state of the body of course influences the state of the brainworld. In order to operate at an optimal level of intelligence, a person has to have enough food. Malnutrition not only inhibits the development of advanced intelligence, it inhibits the application of advanced intelligence. So too does fatigue. The brain weighs roughly 3 lbs., and in a 150 lb. person constitutes one 50th of their body weight. And yet average brain activity consumes 5% or more of one’s metabolic energy. You have to eat to think. Cognition and experience are energy dense activities. That’s how come you can get really tired doing homework or writing stuff.


This has been another dense post, I know. So let me run over the high points we need to carry with us as we examine The Crisis. We aren’t born smart, though we may be born with the genetic potential for smartness. Natural intelligence develops, and development can be facilitated or thwarted by different factors. Most people on the planet and in any particular society do not develop intellectually beyond the concrete operational stage (indeed, in some societies nobody is capable of abstract thought). Other people do develop more complex, abstract thought, but few of these continue to develop full systems consciousness. Development may be optimal in one domain of experience, but not in others (decalages). Moreover, just because a person is capable of complex, abstract thought – even full-on systems thought – it does not mean that they will necessarily apply higher reasoning to particular problems or situations. And, even if they apply higher intelligence to a situation, it does not guarantee morally good, compassionate or wise solutions. Very smart decisions can be made that result in further damage to the environment, loss of human life, and impoverishment of other people.

And lest I have left you with the impression that all of this talk about intelligence is merely academic blather, consider the real-life cost of the acts of culturally-conditioned, ideologically infected, emotionally driven stupidity:

Second Tower Hit, Sept. 11, 2001



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Lynch, Gary and Richard Granger, 2008. Big Brain: The Origin and Future of Human Intelligence. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Radin, Paul, 1927. Primitive Man as Philosopher. New York: Dover.
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