How odd that a dull, plodding middle ground has been adopted as “normal” – why would mediocrity be the choice of choices? This is a question that harrows me as I try to find a middle way of my own.
“I’ve never seen anything like it.” There’s a narcissistic perspective for you. Just how much have you seen?
Animals have no need for answers or meaning; they don’t ask questions. Instinct is sufficient for “who they are” to be expressed in the world, although learning how to survive often depends on parental example and a period of “protected” experience.
Human instincts are a bit less rigid or distinct; we can vary our responses to the environment, and have both the opportunity (and peril) of being dependent on learning for an extended number of years. This requires skillful, intelligent and strong parents, with an extended family group to back them up. Modern humans have a pronounced tendency to think that our “primitive” ancestors were hopelessly stupid – an impossibility. Ancestor worship was, and is, a matter of gratitude for having “successful” people in our past who paved the way for our existence.
The driver of human ingenuity remains the environment, just as it has always been throughout evolution, and the first reply to danger is instinct. Thought is the second reply. Most modern people want an easy answer, regardless of the long term cost. Ignorance of the “natural” environment, dependence on human-dominated social environments and interconnected technology leaves 7 billion + humans as vulnerable as any other form of life on earth. Mass extinctions are well-established events in evolutionary history and our “sophisticated” adaptations will fall like dominoes, if and when, our very temporary and lovely haven for life as we know it – the Goldilocks era – collapses. Or we may trickle away, slowly, just as millions of species have done. This is “normal” for life on earth.
One extreme challenge in studying geology, was the breakdown of human “mind games” – no valiant narcissism could overcome the awareness of human fragility and “doom” if one wanted to truly grasp the magnificence of geologic processes to transform an entire planet, not once, but over and again, and continuously. The enticement to let go of personal “immortality” (which is leftover from that magical childhood state of “now and forever” perception) was this: letting go opened a door onto the staggering “reality” outside human existence.
The opportunity to study geology took be back in memory, to childhood, when adults took a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward handing out answers to children about life, death and the fantasy of human superiority and special dominion over earth. Even then, I was simply unwilling to pay the price in lost experience and knowledge that was demanded for being accepted into the “shelter” of humankind. Believing in this fantasy was not in my power.
For whatever reason, I found myself trapped in a human version of the universe; a universe that lacked sensible answers. A battle began with something that existed within other people: a dead sure conviction that their religion, rules, politics, behavior, words – left no alternatives. They were right; that was final, and they believed that the shadow universe human beings inhabited was real – forever and for all time.
I reacted badly to what they believed, because it left out the universe that I lived in.
I didn’t exist in the “known social universe” – therefore I didn’t exist. This arrogance was an insult to reason; how dare people put limits on the universe? It was a relief to find out that the universe is very big. The universe is beautiful, whatever it is. This to me, was an instinctual response to the sublime creative and destructive power all around us, and within us. I placed my trust in this “precarious” system of change as “good” and necessary to “that great something” that we simply cannot grasp. If I had been created by this system, then I was “valid” and so was my curiosity; no one could deny me this. (But they could certainly “beat me up” over it.)
It has been my perception that beauty is built into reality by a mathematical directive that is beyond our present understanding. We try, but cannot attain perfect knowledge; a clock cannot know its own precision; a tiger its own power; a sloth its own homely face – and when the “universe” smiles back, the sloth cannot be pleased with how peculiar it is. But we can.
We blame our animal instincts for making us an unruly, ungovernable and violent species. I might believe that this was possible, if humans ate the dead on a battlefield: we might then justify the killing as behavior vital to our existence as animals, just as it is “normal” for other predators. In the long run of earth history, creation and destruction are obvious partners; indivisible, outside of judgement, the “terms” of matter and energy in all its manifestations.
But – that tiny bit of self-awareness that has germinated in our kind, and perhaps a few other species, is a powerful device in human survival; conscious awareness of death makes us try all the harder, to not only to adapt, but to dominate reality in “god-like” ways. Our ancestors may have felt this “tug” toward godhood, with the acquisition of fire and other tools, as a dangerous path – instinct telling them that humility was a proper response to our own growing powers. Taboos on human behavior (if seemingly bizarre at times) can be seen as the “brakes” on human behavior that kept us alert, observant and wary of transgressing boundaries; mythology is rife with warnings of consequences for “narcissistic” addictions. Wherever and however that healthy instinct of humility was overcome, it is a long gone as a virtue in contemporary “masters of the universe” societies.
From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center /