Monday, August 23, 2010

The Facts of Life, part 1

A.

Humans, known taxonomically as Homo sapiens (Latin: "wise man" or "knowing man"), are the only extant species in the Homo genus of bipedal primates in Hominidae, the great ape family.

The human brain is the center of the human nervous system and is a highly complex organ. Enclosed in the cranium, it has the same general structure as the brains of other mammals, but is over three times as large as the brain of a typical mammal with an equivalent body size. Most of the expansion comes from the cerebral cortex, a convoluted layer of neural tissue that covers the surface of the forebrain. Especially expanded are the frontal lobes, which are associated with executive functions such as self-control, planning, reasoning, and abstract thought. The portion of the brain devoted to vision is also greatly enlarged in human beings.

Humans are physiologically at a disadvantage compared to many other species, but use their brains (as a leverage), and the resultant technology, in order to win the war of resources over other species and over other groups of humans. (Inter-specific and Intra-specific competition)

This war for resources is the fundamental war. All other wars and conflicts result from this underlying state of competition. "Resource" can be defined as something which enhances the possibilities of one's genetic survival.

B.

This war for resources has continued since the advent of history. There was no golden period when there was no threat to one's genetic survival.

This war takes various forms: an actual war involving killing, as well as politics, society, law, career, industry, etc.

To be engaged in a war for resources with other species or other humans is a situation of stress. Let up, and you lose. Fight, and you have a chance of winning.

Since mind is the foremost tool of humans, "psychological stress" is the most common side-effect of engaging in this fight. "Psychological stress" can also be called "Suffering". This "suffering" can result from either the very engagement in battle (fear, anxiety, insecurity, etc.), or from having lost (sorrow, discontentment, ego-hurt).

C.

Living in the civilized world leads to a different kind of stress than that of the uncivilized world. While in the uncivilized world, there is threat of physical injury, in the civilized world, there is the apprehension of being a "nobody".

This new problem, the problem of the "self" instead of that of the body, has been created over centuries of creating structures where symbols have become increasingly more central to our life. As one's strength in the competitive arena has become more and more symbolic (status symbols, property rights, bank figures, fashion), achieving success has also become a pursuit of symbols, which in many cases is a misguided pursuit (genetically speaking). For example, getting into debt to buy fashionable clothes or a larger television.

The socioeconomic forces have emphasized symbolic success so much that it has become second-nature for humans to want it, to the exclusion of almost anything else. It is after all a success which is recognized by one's civilized peers, but which may be meaningless in a jungle or in a tribal region.

Instead of genetic survival, something else seems to be driving the most daring of the civilized humans these days. People are racing cars, injecting drugs, jumping from cliffs tied to a bungee, having umpteen affairs with a sheath between their bodies, creating art films, etc.

As soon as technology solves the most pressing problems of biological survival in a population, psychological problems seem to enter the picture.

While it is easy to say that these are "higher" needs (cf Maslow), or "surrogate" needs which fulfill the need for a "power process" in man (cf the Unabomber Manifesto), or an indulgence in memetic reproduction (cf Dawkins), or the result of boredom, the fact is that many civilized humans are in a state of crisis, perverting the pursuit of their own biological/genetic success with dangerous activities. Dangerous to themselves, to their genetic future, to the environment, etc.

Why? And is it possible to reverse this?

D.

There are various "paths" for those who are unwilling to fight it out for status and symbols in the civilized world. Their unwillingness may be due to a genuine seeing of the hollow nature of the symbols and of the perversity of the fight, or due to introversion or due to psychological weakness.

In many cases, they can, for having a purpose in life, completely turn to "inward" goals (which are also surrogate goals which do zilch for one's biological/genetic survival) and which are therefore perverse in their own way.

In most cases, however, inner goals are mechanisms for coping with the stress and frustration in the outer world.

Most people in the civilized world strike a path of compromise: having a few symbols to win the respect of one's peers, living a personal life of genetic/biological propagation (the householder life), having a secondary inward goal (praying everyday, taking a pilgrimage once in a while) so that outer frustrations do not overwhelm oneself, ...

What is a man, who considers this fight as perverse and futile, and considers the very notion of a "compromise" degrading, to do? Living in a village does injustice to his developed brain (where most problems are simply solved with a little bit of technology, and art films are probably not appreciated), and he abhors living in the city because he considers the pursuit of status symbols as absurd. If you live in a city and do not value status symbols, you will inevitably get very severely isolated. The city is a city of symbols.

For the developed brain which has managed to de-condition itself from the influences of culture, the world is a place of empty living, not of fulfilling engagement.

(to be continued)

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good I am glad you are writing on this topic, do continue this thread for a while so there can be a meaningful discussion about it.

You still seem to value "borders" a lot. Example you distinguish between rural and city life by saying one does not value status or symbols as much as the other does. Do you realize how these "borders" are diminishing as villages merge into cities? So thinking in terms of "borders" is not going to answer any questions. If you do so you will realize that those who value status symbols do so anywhere. Those who exploit resources or anything else out of greed, do so anywhere, anytime.
Species have gone into extinction even before man appeared on the planet. Now man tries to save species that nature is trying to extinguish. There is only so much a man can do. There is a huge lag between him and nature that he desperately tries to bridge. Yet it is this very lag that propels the world forward.

The Self is the constant unchanging Truth. So the Self has remained the same over time. It is beyond "borders" of the "I', "You""She" "He""Village" "City""Country""Yesterday" "Today""Tomorrow" etc.

If one truly wants answers to the questions you raised, they lie in understanding the "Self" which as discussed before happens best in solitude. Jeevan Vidya makes an attempt to explain it in group setting, but it is an oversimplified attempt. Oversimplification always happens at the cost of accuracy and correctness and this I think is a serious limitation of this philosophy.

Anonymous said...

This is probably your best writing.
Finally, an analysis of human condition that appeals to me.

Modern Man said...

Harman,

Excellent post, sir.

-MM

Anonymous said...

Living in a village does injustice to his developed brain (where most problems are simply solved with a little bit of technology, and art films are probably not appreciated)...

I used to have same view that life in a village is a lot easier and simpler. Yesterday I came to know about someone who had started living in a village after he quit his job as an IT professional. Well now he has been admitted to a psychiatric hospital. This incident has reminded me of other cases of people living simple lives in villages who had to be admitted to psychiatric hospitals.

To a city dweller, it is the case of grass looking greener on the other side. Truth is, it isn't so.

Anonymous said...

"For the developed brain which has managed to de-condition itself from the influences of culture, the world is a place of empty living, not of fulfilling engagement."

Would you call a brain that only found fulfilling engagement and non empty living in culture, 'developed'?

(If so, how do you move forwards from this effective tautology? And what does it mean to try?)

myview said...

'In many cases, they can, for having a purpose in life, completely turn to "inward" goals'

-Do you consider turning towards inward goals carefully designed and totally conciously controlled? What about dreams/aspirations? What I mean to ask is that do you think the developed brains have such a control over their thinking that they only have carefully thought after 'goals' (which are equally futile and a compromise in essence) or under the layers of development in such brains, is there still a capability to dream, crazy random dreams?

'In most cases, however, inner goals are mechanisms for coping with the stress and frustration in the outer world.'

Passion is missing in these inner goals as they are just secondary mechanisms or compromises. If these inner goals are driven by dreams and aspirations, maybe there will be that energy and fire...and some optimistic possibilities (I once wanted to be a UN activist, whats stopping me now?) or (i always dreamt one day i'll find the love of my life, maybe its today!)

May sound irrelevant to you but I beleive this is a third category (of those living in dreams and happy doing so) in addition to the category of those in pursuit of status symbols or those leaving city life and living in villages. And the dreamers care less whats happening around them, be it a fast lane city life or slow village life, its all thier passion driving them. Does that sound real to you?

Anonymous said...

"As soon as technology solves the most pressing problems of biological survival in a population, psychological problems seem to enter the picture".

It is not as if psychological problems did not exist before the age of technology set in. It is just that people are studying the mind more intensely and are classifying symptoms to give them names of disorders. After all Narcissus was an ancient Greek character who suffered from the disorder named after him in recent times.

It is not as if Pervasive developmental disorders of the autistic spectrum like Aspergers did not exist before TV was invented. (Einstein had it, probably even Gandhi!) Yet research seems to link TV watching with autistic disorders. It really has nothing to do with technology it is only that the psychological issues seem to manifest themselves in a certain way with newer technologies like TV etc available in todays world. Banning the TV is not going to make the disorder disappear.

SO really it only appears as if psychological problems have increased in todays world. They have always existed, it is only that they are being diagnosed much more than they were ever done before.

I do not think we can go back in time and reverse anything. Why should we? Time only goes forward.
Those who know how to live in the present will be happy anywhere village or city, it is those who dwell in the past and those who worry about the future, without understanding the present - have a very difficult time living anywhere doing anything engaging,meaningful and fulfilling, dangerous or not.

sunson said...

"The socioeconomic forces have emphasized symbolic success so much that it has become second-nature for humans to want it, to the exclusion of almost anything else. It is after all a success which is recognized by one's civilized peers, but which may be meaningless in a jungle or in a tribal region."

Collecting symbols and trophies have been a part of this species since a very long time as is evident from tribal arts (or even pre-historic art, for that matter that involved adornments that advertised fitness).

The stress of survival can be said t be constant, just that the sources of strain are different and therefore the yard-sticks for measurement of fitness of survival are different (carnivore bone-mala vs sports cars).

"Instead of genetic survival, something else seems to be driving the most daring of the civilized humans these days. People are racing cars, injecting drugs, jumping from cliffs tied to a bungee, having umpteen affairs with a sheath between their bodies, creating art films, etc."

"these days"? humans have done it since centuries. Infact, even the other two great apes do it. (btw, the book "The rise and fall of the third chimpanzee" by Jared Diamond has a full chapter on this same topic).

Like the buddha said... life is (and was) suffering and it is possible to end this suffering.

I still think mindfulness is a vital tool in the study of human nature than the blind "enjoy it if it feels good" method as conveyed by the AF method. Isn't AF afterall just Zen using Dictionary? ;)

Anonymous said...

Can't live in a village or a city? How 'bout a suburb?

Anonymous said...

To Sunson:"Enjoy it if it feels good"

This is the classic "How am I" mistake seekers make who seek to realize themselves.

NO path that is based on "How am I" can lead anywhere but towards narcissism.

"Feeling good", "Enjoyment","Bliss" all this can be gotten by other ways too like drugs, sex, fantasizing etc....

There is no substitute for "Who am I" when it comes to Self Realization. You can call the path any name you want but this mantra of "Who am I" has to be chanted correctly by all who seek Self Realization.

One who is established in the Self(Brahma) will know the difference between ego gratification and living his life in alignment with the Self(Brahma).
Such a person is happy anywhere, anytime, finding fulfillment in each present moment. This is what is called "Satchitananda". He understands the imaginary "borders" created by man and is therefore not restricted by them. He lives his life for "others" as much as he lives it for "himself".

It is indeed sad to see present day Gurus and seekers preach these "How am I" philosophies and even live their lives by these philosophies. It is even more sad to see seekers fall for these philosophies. This is what has led to the bogus state of Spiritual Gurus and seekers of today that is being rightly exposed by the media.

Anonymous said...

harmanjit said: "For the developed brain which has managed to de-condition itself from the influences of culture, the world is a place of empty living, not of fulfilling engagement."


the world of culture is not the be all and end all. you would know this if you had managed to develop a brain which truly had de-conditioned itself from its influences.

Bruce said...

http://sites.google.com/site/clemmm/home/what-the-human-seeks

"The human seeks; but for what does he seek? He seeks for the truth, for the true life and the meaning of life. However, .... "

Anonymous said...

http://www.anus.com/zine/articles/prozak/belief_in_nothing/

Solipsism and/or/equal Nihilism: your choice.
Regards,

Archana said...

Excellent Post Harmeet :)