Civilization and Beyond
9 September 2004
Earlier I asked a series of rhetorical questions about the nature of "the gods," and summarily dismissed most of these questions as being of no particular importance, "or require explicit answers; for the reason that they have never had explicit answers, even during the three million years of Leaver culture, before the Takers launched the 'civilization experiment'."1
Whether such questions have ever had explicit answers (actually they have, of a wide and conflicting variety), they nevertheless persist, and deserve to be addressed in a less cavalier and summary manner than I have treated them – if for no other reason than that undefined terms like "the gods" invoke an enormous spectrum of images in the minds of potential readers of diverse cultural backgrounds; and it will be useful to establish, if possible, some common understanding of what we may be talking about when we refer to "the gods." I will attempt such an elaboration here; with the caveat, which applies to virtually everything I write, that I am expressing my own opinions and point of view, and make no claim of priority over divergent or dissenting views.
Questions about "the gods" are fundamental cosmological questions which have been asked, presumably, for at least as long as our species has borne the label, Homo. They have been "answered" in endless varieties of ways, and still provide no less fertile ground than they ever have for speculation and discussion of absorbing interest.
For me, questions about the nature and possible "motivations" of the gods invoke the wonder of existence itself – a topic I have grappled with many times in my writings over the course of the past several years.2 The question of existence, and its origin, may well have been the "original question" in the first inquiring human mind.
Existence seems to me to bear two simultaneous, and not entirely reconcilable properties: existence is at once a) undeniable, and b) inexplicable. This is so not only of the entire grandeur of "Life, the Universe, and Everything,"3 it is no less so for anything at all, even a speck of dust dancing in a sunbeam, or a single hydrogen atom, or an electron, or a neutrino, or a quark (whatever the heck any of these "things" may actually be). Whatever they (we) are, they, and you, and I, exist; and this, for me, is a jaw-dropping, incomprehensible wonder. How this is so, I cannot begin to imagine; yet it undeniably is, or I, for one, would not be here to write these words, or you, for another, to read them.
Accordingly, I treat all so-called "explanations" for the existence of anything as mythology.4 This is not to cast any such "explanations" in a doubtful light. It is simply necessary that any so-called "explanation" of the inherently inexplicable can be nothing other than a myth. Clearly there is nothing "wrong" with this, for it cannot be avoided. It simply seems to me an essential point of intellectual honesty to state clearly and frankly that when we begin to consider anything related to existence (which pretty much includes anything at all), we unavoidably enter the realm of mythology. Ordinarily, we need not labor this point, as for instance when we're washing the dishes, or changing a sparkplug, or otherwise conducting our daily affairs. It only becomes important when we are attempting to grapple with "ultimate realities," in which case we are dealing with nothing other than mythology.
And so when I wrote that "To me, it seems sufficient to know that 'the gods,' whoever / whatever / wherever they are, are benign, purposeful, and potent," and that "they are present, everywhere, always, without exception," I was indulging in mythology, and particularly, my mythology, not "objective" knowledge. I may have reasons for believing my mythology, as most people presumably have for whatever they believe; yet these are nevertheless beliefs, not knowledge,5 and are of the substance of mythological speculation.
To amplify, I am going to venture one of those "blanket statements" that so often misfire when considered from perspectives other than those that prompt them.6 All of science, all religion, and all philosophy, consist entirely of mythological speculation. Why is this so? Or, more candidly, why do I suggest that it is so? I'll tell you why.
We stand poised somewhere between the unimaginably minute and the unimaginably vast, and we have no comprehension of where the "limits," if any, may be in either of these "directions."7
Simply by virtue of being finite entities inhabiting a (speculatively) infinite universe,8 we find ourselves existing in an unknown, and unknowable context. In every "direction" we turn our attention in time and space, we find our universe disappearing over a very near horizon, beyond which we cannot see, and can only speculate. The finest granularity our finest instruments are able to resolve (e.g. "subatomic particles") may be "large" in relation to smaller elements still, lying beyond the reach of our highest resolving power. The most remote extra-galactic objects we are able to detect may be "near" in relation to objects more distant still. The earliest moment for which we are able to detect evidence (e.g. the "Big Bang") may have been "recent" in relation to cosmic events of which we have no conception.
These considerations will apply no matter how refined and penetrating our future instrumentation eventually becomes – unless, perhaps, we someday actually succeed in bringing "the outermost margin of the universe" within reach of our detailed inspection. That day has not yet arrived. If the universe is "in fact" infinite, as we speculate that it is, that day will never arrive, so long as we remain finite beings. If this is so, a) we will never be able to confirm it, and b) our context will forever remain an impenetrable mystery.
Without a clear understanding of the context in which we occur, our best analysis, even of what lies within our horizon, and within reach of detailed examination, is unavoidably speculative as well; for the meaning of any "fact" may be profoundly and unpredictably changed by a change in context. When their context is unknown, and possibly / probably not even imagined, the meanings and implications that follow from our "facts" are unknown and possibly / probably unimagined as well.
This is no criticism, either of science, religion, or philosophy. It simply points out something that is frequently overlooked by scientists, religionists, and philosophers: mainly that our most firmly founded "theories," "conclusions," "convictions," and "articles of faith" are founded at bottom upon mythological speculation in an unknown and (as far as we "know") unknowable context. This does not imply that our quest to understand our surroundings, and our place in them, is futile, vain, or trivial, or that there is nothing to be learned through observation and experience within the near horizon we daily inhabit. It merely highlights the often overlooked but unavoidable circumstance that everything we learn occurs within a context of profound and impenetrable mystery. One of any number of possible ways of "labeling" this mystery is to call it "the hands of the gods."
The hands of the gods may be a particularly apt way of labeling the mystery of the unknown context within which all our experiences occur; for the term suggests consciousness, intelligence, and creativity as properties of the mysterious universe we inhabit and experience. These extraordinary properties are indeed present, and are everywhere and always close at hand for observation and experience. You are conscious, intelligent, and creative; and I am – at least somewhat; at least enough to have some experience of them, and to be able to recognize them when we encounter them, in ourselves and at large, at least sometimes.
To me, if there is anything more jaw-dropping, mind-boggling amazing than simple, raw, unvarnished existence, it is the presence of consciousness, intelligence, and creativity. Whence come these inexplicable wonders? How comes it that I – to be right-here-right-now-immediate – am able to sit down at a computer and commence writing something I know not even myself what it will eventually be, giving expression to thoughts and ideas which may not yet have consciously occurred to me? Yet this is nothing unusual; everyone does this, one way or another. Someone bakes a cake, inventively substituting ingredients she or he has for others not immediately available; or knits a sweater, or designs a bridge, or composes a symphony, or a sonata, or a sonnet, or writes a novel, or discovers fire, or invents a wheel, or a printing press, or a transistor. On and on and on it goes – and not only among humans. How comes yonder apple ripening in the late summer sunshine, along with bushels of others like it? Coming back to the "original question," how comes anything at all? Is there anywhere a better "answer" than, "from the hands of the gods."?
If this "answer" strikes you as less than satisfactory, at least it is no better or worse than any number of alternative "answers" of the same kind that have been taken quite seriously, today and throughout history; such as, "In the beginning, God said, Let there be light. And there was light." or, "Approximately fifteen billion years ago,9 the universe came into being through a cataclysmic explosion we call the Big Bang." All these, and any number of others like and unlike them, which have been shared around human gathering circles and campfires for millions of years, and in churches, university lecture halls, and in books, etc. for centuries and millennia, are examples of mythological speculation.
What else can they possibly be? Verification or falsification of any of these so-called "answers" lies, if anywhere, far over our horizon and beyond the reach of anybody on Earth. They are myths, and although we cannot be human without them, to insist that any one of them is "The Truth," and all others are "false," "lies," "heresies," or "blasphemies," is suicidal folly. There is no way to "win" any such argument. For example, by "apparently winning," by overwhelming domination of the Earth with the insistance that Ours is the only right way to live and everyone should live as we do,10 the contemporary global Taker culture has in fact catastrophically lost the argument, and is now in the final stage of self-extinction.
I would like to suggest, on the contrary, that it is not necessary to resolve the impenetrable mystery that lurks behind all things, as a prerequisite to productive and useful scientific, religious, or philosophical analysis; and that acceptance of the mystery is an essential aspect of adopting the Leaver culture and making the alternative choice to "live in the hands of the gods." There is nothing about mythological speculation, or "living in the hands of the gods," that is inconsistent or incompatible with the "scientific method" of disciplined and closely reasoned experiment, observation, and analysis. If it were actually necessary to resolve the mystery, science, religion, and philosophy would all have failed already, for the mystery remains no less mysterious today than it was at the dawn of human inquiry millions of years ago. By definition and necessity, the mystery lies incalculably beyond the reach of sientific, religious, or philosophical analysis, and is perpetually intractable of solution. This is no challenge to the validity of science, or religion, or philosophy; it is simply an unavoidable artifact of finite existence in an inherently mysterious and unknown context.
If there is validity to these observations, they suggest (to me) a shift of emphasis that might be useful and beneficial to the course of human evolution and well-being. Instead of endeavoring to discover "The Truth," our interests might be better served if we were to focus our attention instead upon what works in all "local contexts" in which we find ourselves. Since anything we might believe to be "The Truth" inevitably turns out instead to be a myth, we need no longer concern ourselves with "The Truth" of our beliefs (hypotheses, theories, convictions, faiths). I suggest it is far more appropriate for us to evaluate the usefulness of our myths, and to modify them accordingly.
This seemingly simple change of emphasis is profoundly liberating, and carries vast implications about potential possibilities for future human evolution. In general, it is a decisive departure from the tightly controlled and controlling Taker way of life, which insists that Ours is the only right way to live and everyone should live as we do. With the recognition that without a context, all human experience is mythology, it becomes obvious that there is no one right way to live, no conclusive way to ascertain "The Truth" about anything, and consequently no reason not to live as one likes – provided it works, and all others are allowed the same liberty.
There is no "one right answer" to any question, and no single "objective truth" about anything; for these depend upon context, and if context is beyond knowing, then our "answers" must depend instead upon our mythologies, which are mutable and variable. The most relevant question then ceases to be, "What is The Truth?" and becomes something along the lines of, "What is the most appropriate and satisfying myth?" in a given circumstance. The most appropriate and satisfying myth, I suggest, is the one that works the best in its immediate circumstances. This approach is fundamentally empowering, because it is the responsibility, and within the power, of the individual asking the question to answer it – for her or himself, if for no one else. Today's answer may not work tomorrow as well as it does today, and so tomorrow it may change, or an answer that works better may emerge.
This approach to questions and answers may have the salutary effect of putting the child with an inquiring mind on an equal footing with, say, the tenured professor of astrophysics; for they are both probing the impenetrable mystery, and inventing or modifying their myths to accommodate their discoveries and speculations. Either might benefit from the insights of the other as readily as the other way about, and there exists the potential for a mutually fruitful partnership of shared interest between "the professor and the child."
The change of emphasis from what is "True" to what works encourages the proliferation of partnerships along many possibly surprising lines; as for instance among scientists and religionists and philosophers, who may hold individually many diverse mythologies. When each respects the validity of all mythologies, and none insists upon the exclusive priority of his or her own, whole galaxies of cooperative endeavor emerge into the realm of possibility. When "the search for Truth" morphs into "the search for what works," the entire dynamic of human inquiry is altered, for there is no longer a premium placed upon "being right," or the stigma of a penalty for "being wrong." By mutual accord, there is no "right" or "wrong" answer, and what works, and what works better, are plain to be seen by all, and benefit all.
This shift of emphasis moves those who adopt it decisively away from the Taker culture, which takes the Law of Life into their own hands, and toward the Leaver culture, which leaves the Law of Life in the hands of the gods. If enough individuals negotiate such a shift, the result may be a habitat favorable to the emergence of tribes, which have a demonstrated track record, over the course of millions of years, of working as the basis for functional human social relationships, and as effective means of securing a sustainable livelihood for all tribal members. The timely emergence of such tribes may result in enough "lifeboats" to salvage something of value from the collapse of human civilization11 – such as the uninterrupted capacity of the planet to sustain life.
The core mystery within the mystery of existence is the mystery of consciousness, intelligence, and creativity.12 Where did they come from? How do we account for them? Given consciousness, intelligence, and creativity to begin with, it is easy enough to imagine how everything else might have come into being; but where did the "big CIC" get their start? Or have they "always been?" Or what? This is like asking all over again the questions I had so summarily dismissed earlier.13 As we have seen, however, our only "answers" to these and most of our questions turn out to be mythological speculations; yet they are no less useful to us for all that.
I would like now to indulge in some mythological speculation of my own, about the provenance of consciousness, intelligence, and creativity, based upon a nodding acquaintance with a suite of relatively recent scientific developments:
- artificial intelligence (AI);
- artificial life (AL);
- fractal geometry;
- distributed agent neural networks;
- massively parallel processing.
I am by no means the first to speculate that consciousness, intelligence, and creativity, may be spontaneous artifacts "simply" of a threshold level of massive complexity in any dynamically interactive system.14 Here is a brief synopsis of some of the recent history of this speculation, put into practice.
Early AI experiments produced top-down, rule-based structures designed to anticipate contingencies and respond to them "intelligently." The result was the development of certain "expert systems" which demonstrated some usefulness in specialized fields, and chess-playing computer programs which eventually achieved competence at the Master level of tournament play. These systems were ultimately disappointing to their proponents, however, because of proliferating complexity involving millions of lines of programming code, which eventually became dysfunctionally complex and "un-buggable." Performance errors could not be traced to their causes and "fixed," and early enthusiasm about AI was seriously dampened by its actual performance. (That is, it didn't work as anticipated.)
Subsequent AL experiments have been based upon dynamic interaction among numerous unit programs, or distributed agents, each of which is basically simple, its behavior in relation to its peers governed by a short list of simple rules. Yet large numbers of these artificial agents are able to demonstrate surprising agility and adaptability in the virtual environments created for them. They are able, for instance, to sense and navigate around obstacles in their paths, without colliding with any of their fellow agents.
This kind of behavior is observed in Nature, e.g. the coordinated flight of large flocks of birds and schools of fish; in which there is no mechanism for centralized control, yet the group as a whole wheels, turns, and navigates with astounding precision and grace, each unit governed by a few simple rules, such as Stay close, but not "too close," to your neighbors. Indeed, the combined AL distributed agents are able to mimic with surprising fideltiy behaviors found in "real life," on the basis of quite simply defined behavioral rules.
Something analogous occurs in the computer-generated shapes encountered in fractal geometry, as for instance, the Mandelbrot Set, discovered by Benoit Mandelbrot at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Westchester County, New York.15 At last report, the Mandelbrot Set is the most complex geometric figure so far discovered, yet it is generated by means of recursive reiteration of a very simple mathematical computation, which represents the numerical result graphically as a specific color for the individual pixel being calculated.
Shapes developed by similar fractal geometric processes often bear eery resemblance to the complex shapes encountered routinely in the "real world," such as leaf shapes, tree bark patterns, tree and river tributary branching patterns, the shapes of mountainous terrain, cloud shapes, rock textures, ...and on, and on, and on. The obvious inference is that these "impossibly complex" forms we see all around us every day may be after all the products of very simple principles, endlessly repeated.
When distributed agents are given the capability of communicating with each other, i.e. exchanging information, they are able to form networks with the potential of duplicating many functions of an organic brain. A brain consists of billions (109) or trillions (1012) of individual brain cells, or neurons, which form synapses, or physical connections with thousands (103) of other neurons. Like the distributed agents programmed to inhabit a digital virtual reality, each individual neuron is relatively simple; and on the basis of receiving or not receiving a threshold stimulus from a sufficient number of the neurons connected to it, either does or does not pass the stimulus on to the neurons to which it is synaptically connected in turn.
An organic system consisting of many billions of neurons, each of which may be connected with thousands of others like itself, is capable of achieving a high degree of complexity – which is to say, a highly complex neural network capable of receiving, processing, and responding to information moving in highly complex patterns. A cybernetic term describing this is massively parallel processing, in which each "processor" (e.g. CPU) is individually "not very bright," yet by distributing the computational load among many such processors, the synergistic whole achieves "supercomputer" functionality. Artificially created neural networks have demonstrated the ability to mimic many of the functions occurring in biological brains; such as evolutionary adaptation and learning from experience.
Mythological speculation: is there a "threshold of complexity" beyond which a neural network, whether organic, inorganic, or artificial, might "awaken" into a state that we humans could possibly recognize as consciousness, intelligence, and / or creativity? If so, this still does not "explain" ultimately how such complexity might have arisen in the first place; yet it does seem to push the associated myth along a bit.
One might speculate further that what we call consciousness, intelligence, and creativity are humanly recognizable manifestations of a spontaneous property of complex systems of all kinds which manifest along a wide spectrum which, like the electromagnetic spectrum, is mostly invisible to human perception. In this view, the humanly recognizable qualities, consciousness, intelligence, and creativity, are a narrow subset of a much broader phenomenon associated with interactive systems of all kinds, and of varying complexity. I will coin the term metaconsciousness as a label for this hypothetical phenomenon, which is constant in kind, variable in degree, and manifests to human perceptions within the narrow band we call consciousness, intelligence, and / or creativity.
Examples of metaconsciousness in Nature are adaptive behavior of all kinds: i.e. living organisms encountering unanticipated novel circumstances, and accommodating them with appropriate, effective, and novel responses. The ability to learn from experience is termed emergent behavior in human-engineered complex systems – meaning it was not explicitly programmed in advance. Emergent behavior and learning from experience are manifestations of what I am calling metaconsciousness. Thus the entire process of evolution by means of natural selection may be cited as a manifestation of metaconsciousness, inasmuch as it involves the dynamic response of the entire biosphere to constantly changing circumstances, and arriving at solutions that work in response to the challenges posed by such changes.
A more specific example of metaconsciousness would be the behavior of orb-spinning spiders.16 Those speaking from a strictly human perspective often assirt that the tension strutures of web-spinning spiders are entirely "instinctual," or "programmed," and do not imply consciousness, intelligence, or creativity on the part of their arachnid engineers. Responding from a strictly human perspective, I would substantially agree; yet actually observing a spider weaving her web, I cannot help but marvel at her capacity to adapt a complex suite of general design principles to the uniquely specific circumstances in which she sites her construction. She is obviously capable of evaluating circumstances and making choices and design decisions in the process of siting and constructing her web.
Further, although her building strategies, methods, and patterns may not be the unique innovations of that particular spider, they are highly effective, economical, and metaconsciously developed patterns that work quite well for the purpose of providing the spider a viable livelihood, and the wherewithall necessary to reproduce her kind. A human building contractor similarly follows blueprints and construction strategies developed and refined by others besides himself – which implies little or nothing about his own consciousness, intelligence, or creativity, or those of the architect, or the building inspector, or the legislators of building codes.
Bottom line, whether implemented by humans, or spiders, or the entire biosphere, highly effective design innovations are developed and put in place in "real world physical reality" by a widespread phenomenon called consciousness, intelligence, and / or creativity, when applied to humans, and which I am calling metaconsciousness when applied to any complex system, including human beings and human social structures.
This speculative myth accounts for the presence of metaconsciousness (including, but not limited to humanly recognizable consciousness, intelligence, and creativity) by suggsting that these are the spontaneous byproducts of complex, dynamically interactive systems of all kinds, and that the more complex a dynamic system is, the more metaconscious it tends to become over the course of time. Thus what we mean in this discussion when we speak of "the gods," or "living in the hands of the gods," is the universal metaconsciousness spontaneously inherent to all complex systems – naturally including "All That Is," the most dynamically complex system there is, or can ever be. "Living in the hands of the gods" means making the deliberate choice of living in harmony and accord with That. This closes the loop, I believe, on the question with which we opened this essay.
If metaconsciousness is a spontaneous product of the behavior of any dynamic complex system, this raises an interesting question about the human condition on planet Earth.
The human population on Earth consists of several billion individual "cells," each of which is imbued with what we evaluate as a relatively high degree of consciousness, intelligence, and creativity. The metaconsciousness myth (I'll call it) predicts that such a population should spontaniously exhibit, or over time develop, an extraordinarily high metaconsciousness that is entirely transcendent of that of its constituent "cells." The combined human population on Earth, in other words, "should" be transcendentally conscious, intelligent, and creative. Are we? I'll let you be the judge of that, and just mutter as a brief aside that it looks to me that, although individual humans are often extraordinarily bright, taken as a whole, the human race seems to be supremely comatose, stupid, dull, and regimented. If this is so, why? How can this be – if indeed metaconsciousness is "in fact" a spontaneous product of complex dynamically interactive systems? Is the human race not complex enough, or numerous enough to generate a high-order metaconsciousness?
Yes, in my estimation, the human race is both complex enough and numerous enough to generate an extraordinarily high-order metaconsciousness. The reason we don't is that we are quite frankly not at our best. We are "infected" by a potentially lethal parasitic disease which has the very specific pathological effect of inhibiting in manifold ways the synergistic "synaptic connections" among "cells" upon which the emergence of high-order metaconsciousness depends. This infectious disease is of course the social system that has gained dominance over human affairs on this planet, which we call "civilization."
By its fundamental nature, civilization employs pre-emptive force to achieve its ends, which are ultimately decided by the "pharoahs," not by the "toiling masses" that make up "99%" of its populations. Pre-emptive force does not expand and proliferate channels for creative expression; it does the exact opposite: it shuts down and eliminates otherwise existing choices. In sum, and in the broadest sense, pre-emptive force stifles consciousness, intelligence, and creativity.
In order for high-order metaconsciousness to evolve in a complex system, the distributed agents, or "cells" that comprise the system must be at liberty to make choices within the parameters of their individual natures. Metaconscious complex systems, such as flocks of birds, schools of fish, organic brains, massively parallel computers, do not behave as they do in response to hierarchical control mechanisms. That approach was attempted in the AI experiments described above, and found not to work. The "secret of success" of metaconscious complex systems is that each "cell" or agent in the system is, to the extent made possible by its "design parameters," entirely self-motivated to make the responses and adaptations to circumstances it uniquely encounters, in ways it uniquely decides.
A school of fish, for example, does not exist because someone or something from "on high" commands, "Thou shalt go to school!" Each individual fish is there because it has decided that there are greater advantages to be had by "schooling" than by swimming alone; and by following the simple rules of the school, rather than by behaving chaotically and distrupting the formation. It "obeys the rule," in other words, to Swim close, but not "too close," to your neighbors, because doing so gains for the individual fish the considerable advantages of many complexes of sense organs; such that if any one fish encounters predator or prey, all are at once alerted to take instantanious appropriate action.
This is how metaconscious complex systems of all kinds operate – including human tribes, past and present, that have not been pre-empted and stifled by civilization. And this is why human Leaver tribes have always lived "in the hands of the gods," which is to say, in our developing terminology, in harmony with the metaconsciousness of "All That Is."
The metaconsciousness myth provides an orderly vision of an incomprehensibly complex self-similar "fractal form" consisting of cascades of metaconscious "components" which combine for their own individual reasons into higher-order metaconscious elements, ...and so on (presumably, speculatively) "forever," with no "bottom" or "top" to the entire integrated system of "All That Is." One way this has been given expression in the past is, As above, so below; as below, so above.
And so, does it make sense, after all, to say "that 'the gods,' whoever / whatever / wherever they are, are benign, purposeful, and potent," and that "they are present, everywhere, always, without exception?" Will it still make sense if we substitute "metaconsciousness" for "the gods?" I think so. I think the terms may be used interchangeably – by those who choose to adopt the metaconsciousness myth.
The "universal metaconsciousness" of "All That Is" must be benign, or it would destroy whatever it creates, and we would not be here to speculate about it. The "universal metaconsciousness" must also be purposeful, inasmuch as it proliferates complexity and embodies thereby "ascending," or "evolving" levels of metaconsciousness. The "universal metaconsciousness" must also be potent, for we have ourselves and "All Things" within our horizon to testify to the creative potency of "That Which Creates," i.e. "the gods," or the "universal metaconsciousness." And finally, the "universal metaconsciousness" must also be present, everywhere, always, without exception – for dynamic complex systems of every imaginable and unimaginable description are everywhere present, always, without exception.
For all we know, the very stones under our feet, and even the dust particles and molecular structures that fly on the wind, may be highly complex systems of dynamic interaction which operate on entirely different time scales than we, relatively short- or long-lived humans, are able to sense directly, or comprehend. We may speak to the metaconsciousness (or the gods) of the mountains, or the rivers, or the trees. We may rationally, and perhaps wisely, if we so choose, propitiate the gods (or the metaconsciousness) of the seas before venturing upon them in our ships. We may find it appropriate to solicit the blessing of the metaconsciousness (or the gods) of the plants and animals we kill for our own sustenance, and thank them with humble appreciation for dying (this time) so that we may live (this time) and continue our journey in this world for yet awhile longer.
These practices, I submit, although not "required" by anything or anyone, are possible reflections of the state of mind we need to cultivate in order effectively to abandon the dysfunctional Taker culture, and join the Leaver cultures of the peoples who leave the Law of Life in the hands of the gods. No one demands that we live this way, think this way, or act this way, for the metaconsciousness, or the gods, never pre-empt our freedom of choice. To do so would be to stifle metaconsciousness itself, and this the gods will never do, any more than any self-interested being would do in their place, if he, she, or it had any perception at all of the catastrophic consequences of doing so.
Unfortunately, the human Taker culture emerged on this planet about ten thousand years ago with exactly this peculiar form of myopia, and opted for the catastrophic pre-emptive lifestyle that takes the Law of Life out of the hands of the gods, pre-empts and stifles metaconsciousness, and progressively dismantles the complex systems that make evolution, development, prosperity, and thriving success possible, and otherwise probable for the entire matrix of Life on planet Earth. This may be considered as a potentially lethal disease that infests the planet at this time. The disease has reached its point of crisis, and when it has entirely run its course, the Taker culture will no longer infest the planet; this much is certain. What remains in doubt is whether anything or anyone besides the Takers will survive this most virulently destructive phase of the disease. If any humans inhabit the Earth, I would say, fifty years from now, they (we) will be Leavers who have learned once again to "live in the hands of the gods," or if you prefer, to live in harmony with the metaconsciousness of "All That Is."
Do what you did; get what you got. The fate of humanity is not only "in the hands of the gods." It is also in the hands of humanity – which means in your hands, and in mine. In order to do other than we did, we must think other than we thought, and feel other than we felt. These are the challenges that face each of us today.
Fortunately, these are challenges that each of us can face, entirely within the quiet sanctuary of our own hearts and minds. We are not called upon to "leap over tall buildings at a single bound," or to answer to anyone other than ourselves. We are called upon only to think other than we thought, and feel other than we felt, so that we can do other than we did, and get other than we got. For me, this is reason for exuberant optimism. How about you?17
This essay is followed by a sequel, The Metaconsciousness Myth, "Dear Friends," 9/22/04 edition.
- Civilization and Savagery – 5/25/04;
- Beyond Civilization or The Killer Meme – 6/20/04;
- The Tribal Ideal – 7/2/04;
- Leavers and Takers – 8/6/04;
- In the Hands of the Gods – 8/18/04.
- The Gods & the Law of Life – 9/9/04.
- The Metaconsciousness Myth – 9/22/04.
- A Pact With the Devil – 10/14/04.
- A Metaconscious Mosaic – 10/27/04.
- More About Metaconsciousness, Part I – 2/5/05.
- More About Metaconsciousness, Part II – 3/20/05.
1. In the Hands of the Gods.
2. See, for example, Dear Friends, 2/15/04. See also my December, 1997 essay, "A 'Christmas Message' on Existence, Fear and Death," about an insight I had had Christmas morning the year before. For a somewhat different slant on a parallel theme, see my January, 1998 essay, "The Ego and the Self," and my August 1997 essay, "Knowledge," among many others. More recently, see "Creation Myths," 11/5/00; and my Illustrated Essay, Sharing the Commonwealth. There are others, yet I imagine you may gain some food for thought, if you wish, from these.
3. Douglas Adams wrote a very entertaining novel of that title, as part of his "increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker's Trilogy," and I often resort to the expression in various contexts: Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything, Ballantine Books, New York, 1982.
4. See "Creation Myths," 11/5/00, also mentioned in footnote 2. Also, it is possible to "explain" the existence of many things in non-mythological terms, as for instance, "This watch is the workmanship of a particular Swiss Watchmaker," or "I am the child of my parents." "Explanations" of this kind, however, are invariably only partial, for they do not address the existence of the Watchmaker, or "my parents," or "my parents' parents." Therefore they do not really explain anything, they only describe a selected portion of an infinite and ultimately impenetrably mysterious process – which can only be approached with mythology. See also footnote 12.
5. See "Knowledge," August, 1997, also mentioned in footnote 2.
6. See Toward the Sovereign Integral, and footnote 4, for an example; and Beyond Civilization or The Killer Meme, for another.
7. Sharing the Commonwealth.
8. Speculatively infinite, because we have no way of knowing for sure that the "universe," as we call it, is infinite. How could we know such a thing? We only know that it is "very big," and extends beyond where we can see, or our most penetrating instruments can reach, and retrieve data for our examination and analysis.
9. Or twenty, or twelve, or eight, or whatever the prevailing consensus happens to be these days....
10. See Beyond Civilization or The Killer Meme.
11. See Leavers and Takers for amplification, as well as a definition of the Law of Life.
12. Of course, it works the other way about too, doesn't it? The core mystery within the mystery of consciousness, intelligence, and creativity is the mystery of existence. It's the classic chicken / egg problem. "Logically," it seems, nothing can exist without the agency of consciousness, intelligence, and creativity; yet these cannot come into play in the absence of existence itself. Hence, the impenetrable mystery at the core of "All Things," and the inescapable necessity for mythology for finite sentient beings like ourselves. See also footnote 4.
13. See footnote 1.
14. See, for example, Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, Viking Penguin, New York, 1999. This is also one of the premises upon which Heinlein's novel, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is based; Robert A Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Tom Doherty Associates, Inc., New York, 1966, 1994.
15. See Sharing the Commonwealth for a colorful exploration of one path through the Mandelbrot Set.
16. See Richard Dawkins, Climbing Mount Improbable, W.W Norton & Company, New York, London, 1996, Chapter 2, Silken Fetters, p. 38, ff. for a fascinating description of various spider behaviors, adaptations, and innovations.
17. Extracted from In the Hands of the Gods, footnote 18, which is a succinct synopsis of the stakes in the game as it stands today. See also Didgot for a poetic rendering of one strategy for playing a possibly winning hand.
"The Gods & the Law of Life" copyright 2004 by J. Harmon Grahn. Copying and redistribution, in whole or in part, are permitted in any medium provided this notice is included.
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Civilization and Beyond