In discussing human affairs, an old friend said, “We as a species are so very complex and vulnerable to be lead by whoever we listen to”. I countered with, “We are a profoundly social species which accounts for how easily we can be lead. Human behavior reflects instinctive emotion… blah, blah, blah”. He countered that with, “I have seen many comparisons of primates to us. But, we, as modern man have put two little machines that send us pictures from Mars. That is a pretty big gap from primates”.
I have heard about this “pretty big gap” between our species and others animals all my life. It is an ancient story. Note, however, that the species judging that “gap” is hardly an impartial judge. If gorillas could cogitate like us, I’ve no doubt they would talk about the “pretty big gap” between them and us too, and judge themselves as superior. This goes to show the innate specie-centric view with which each specie evolves, and how each would naturally choose the criteria upon which to base their judgment. As we evolved as a very ‘hand and mind’ species, that is the criteria we naturally choose to base our comparisons upon. It isn’t surprising that the comparisons we make are unconsciously (instinctively) narrow and biased in our favor. The only true “gap” I see is that we can canonize the judgments we make.
Perhaps Jesus was alluding to this issue when he said “Judge not, that ye be not judged“. I reckon that is only possible when one can say “yes” to the following question… When your discernment penetrates the four quarters are you capable of not knowing anything? How does one know one’s discernment has penetrated the four quarters? Maybe when, in looking around, all you see is mysterious sameness.
Towards narrowing the gap
How does the “pretty big gap” and the accomplishments of “modern man” appear when we step back and view our species over the last 200,000 years? But, why stop there? After all, several hundred thousand years earlier, our ancestral relative Homo erectus figured out how to harness fire.
The discovery of harnessing fire revolutionized the way an animal (Homo erectus and later us) lived. The next half million years saw incremental progress made by the Homo species (H. erectus, H. neanderthal, and H. sapiens). Finally, a mere 10,000 years ago the agricultural revolution occurred which built upon the foundation laid by that early discovery of fire use.
The agricultural revolution set the stage for mega population / organization (civilization) of what in the wild were always scattered hunger gatherer groups. Civilization accelerated the rate of change (‘progress’) until the stage was set for next monumental discovery: harnessing electricity!
Harnessing electricity, a fire in its own right, was as significant a change to the way an animal (us now) lives, as was the discovery of fire half a million years earlier. Without the harnessing of electricity, there would be no cars (ignition system), airplanes, T.V., radio, computers, refrigeration, or scientific breakthroughs in medicine, space, physic, chemistry, ecology, etc. (i.e no electron microscopes, Hubble telescopes, and all the measurement technologies in between that make all things modern possible).
My word, as I write this I feel like I’m widening the gap, not narrowing it. However, stepping back again, I see all that has happened hinged on a few pivotal changes. This is not unlike the process occurring throughout nature, as Darwin observed. The key pivotal changes in our case have been the harnessing of fire and electricity. Everything else is just an unintended consequence of those events.
Yet, even those pivotal events are only the consequence of having evolved as a very ‘hand and mind’ species. As I said above, the only true “gap” I see is that we can canonize the judgments we make. In the end, this ‘canonization’ is what enables our discoveries to be accretive. It enables ‘progress’ in our control of nature and ‘regress’ in our balance with nature.
Although, I suppose in the largest view, natural balance remains, with our ‘progress’ counterbalanced by our ‘regress’. Civilization’s accelerated rate of change progress-wise is counterbalanced by civilization’s accelerated rate of change regress-wise. One step forward, one step back, and so natural balance is maintained. Alas, heaven and earth are ruthless, aren’t they?