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GOD AND ME (A Pagan's Personal Reply to the New Atheists)
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NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
Chaos, Evolution, Human Behavior, and a Big Clerical Error
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Author: Ezra the Cosmic Prankster
Posted: November 12th. 2006
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Human emotion is fairly simple to understand, but it seems an unsolvable mystery to a lot of people due to a bookkeeping error that was made 5,000 years ago. In this article I outline the evolutionary origins of all human behavior in 3, 500 words. No, it wasn’t easy…
First, let me condense roughly 7,000,000 years of human archeological history into one paragraph: Humans evolved in the wilds for about 7,000,000 years. The original ancestral species of humans diverged into a number of species, but the Cro-Magnons, who lived in northeastern Africa 60,000 years ago, evolved modern intelligence first. By 40,000 years ago the Cro-Magnons had spread throughout southern Europe and were fully modern humans. By 10,000 years ago they had spread throughout the world and had replaced all the other species of ancestral humans. The Cro-Magnons were responsible for the Lascaux cave paintings and the more recently discovered Chauvet cave paintings, which date back 15,000 and 30,000 years, respectively, which are clearly the artwork of evolutionarily modern humans. Those Cro-Magnons were the original Pagans, and all humans alive today are descended from Cro-Magnons.
Humans all over the world have always tried to find ways to achieve the greatest amount of benefits for the least amount of work the same way people do today. The best way I can prove this is with a simple question: If you had the choice between chopping your firewood with a stone axe or with a metal axe, which would you pick? The metal axe? Well guess what: Everyone else in the world feels the same way.
The were at least five places in the world, and not more than nine, where people discovered ways to produce food more efficiently by growing it than they could by hunting and gathering it. Agriculture is practiced all over the world today because it was brought there from one of those original centers of agriculture. The first center of agriculture was in Mesopotamia, in the Middle East. The climactic conditions there were the best in the world for developing agriculture, and yielded the most productive agriculture of any of the original centers of agriculture. The civilization built on Mesopotamian agriculture is the most direct ancestor of Western civilization, including the United States.
(How’s that for a cycle of nature? Western civilization began between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in modern-day Iraq, and now 10,000 years later it’s brought us back to Iraq…)
All of civilization as we know it was made possible by agriculture. Writing, metalworking, and everything else in modern civilization exist because of the development of agriculture. The original development of agriculture allowed the people of Mesopotamia to produce food more efficiently than any other group of people in the world. That allowed the Mesopotamians to support the most people of any civilization in the world—to have more children than anyone else and build up the largest population, in other words. All of those later developments gave them additional advantages over the people of every other part of the world, and eventually enabled them to conquer most of the world.
All human emotions serve very specific evolutionary functions in the original conditions of our evolution. They cause psychological effects in people that cause them to act in whatever way best serves their evolutionary survival, and they cause physiological effects in people that prepare them physically for that course of action. For example, when people are faced with some overwhelming threat to their safety, they feel afraid. That fear causes them to want to run away, which is usually the best way to survive an overwhelming threat, and makes them feel cold because it also diverts a lot of blood to their legs to help them run. When people (and especially men) feel angry, they suddenly feel like bashing things with their hands and their bodies start diverting blood to their hands to help them do it, because for most of human evolution that was the best way people had to deal with things that made them angry. Something that makes a person feel disgusted causes them to gag, lose their appetite, and to flare their nostrils, because for most of human evolution that was the best way people had to keep from swallowing rotten food and to identify awful smells normally associated with it. And so on…
So here’s why it’s taken so long for people to figure all that out: We don’t live in the conditions our emotional instincts evolved to deal with. 10,000 years ago the ancestors of Western civilization broke free of the original conditions of their evolution and began building the civilization that would conquer the world. They invented writing as a result of the development of agriculture, but not until 5,000 years later. That means that by the time they gained the ability to begin recording their history, they had completely forgotten that their ancestors had evolved in the wild, and they began recording their history under the faulty assumption that their ancestors had always lived in agrarian civilization. For the best known example, according to the official “records” handed down to us from that original center of civilization, the first two humans lived in the “Garden of Eden”, rather than in the “Wilderness of Eden”.
As chaos theorists have discovered in recent years, very often seemingly chaotic systems are caused by the interaction of numerous simple systems. For one good example, all weather is caused by the transfer of heat through the atmosphere, which is caused mainly by the sun heating the Earth, the rotation of the Earth, the geography of the Earth, and water in the atmosphere changing its states among solid, liquid, and gas. Likewise, all human emotion is caused by an interaction of five evolutionary traits of humanity.
First are the two evolutionary instincts common to all animal species: survival and reproduction. The other three are the three basic mental abilities that combine to form human intellect: the ability to imagine abstract ideas, the ability to measure the passage of time, and the ability to communicate abstract ideas among members of the species. Other animals have these abilities to some degree, but humans have a clear advantage in all of them over all other species.
As Dr. Andrew Newberg and Dr. Eugene D’Aquill explain in their book Why God Won’t Go Away, animal instincts can only be triggered by direct stimulation of their senses—the sight of a predator or a potential mate, for example. Humans’ instincts can be triggered by direct stimulation, but also by things they can imagine, they can remember, they expect to happen, or that they’ve heard about from other humans. (Technically these things also apply to other animals to a lesser degree, but again humans have a clear advantage over all other animals here.) Because intellect is one of humanity’s greatest abilities, humans naturally use their intellects, which naturally causes them to form the ideas that trigger their instincts, which create human emotions.
Any time you, or anyone else, feels any emotion, you are reacting to something that involves either your survival or reproduction, and you are reacting that way because of direct stimulation to your senses or because you imagine something, you can remember something, you can anticipate something, or because you’ve learned about something from someone else. Of course, you can be doing any number and any combination of those things all at the same time, but those five things are all the pieces there are.
To see all the different ways these emotions can affect people, we can look at the Maslow Hierarchy of Human Needs, which is used in education, and we can look at the Five Human Motivators, which is another list used in marketing. By combining the two lists we get one list of seven items, to which I add an eighth. All human interests fall into these eight categories. How can I be so sure of this? Because I live in America in 2005, and if there was anything else that people felt was important besides these eight things, you can be sure that advertisers would’ve found it by now!
In descending order of general importance they are: Survival, safety, reproduction, social, self-gratification, self-actualization, self-fulfillment, and fulfillment of self-fulfillment.
Survival refers to anything involving immediate physiological necessities: food, water, oxygen, body temperature, and rest.
Safety refers to anything involving physical safety and avoiding risks to physical safety. This is a direct product of the survival instinct.
Reproduction refers to anything involving literal reproduction, romantic relationships, raising children, or recreational sex.
Social refers to membership in groups and interpersonal relations of all kinds. All primates are social animals for the same reasons people are: because they can survive best by cooperating in groups. Therefore, the social motivator is a product of the survival instinct.
Self gratification refers to anything that makes a person feel good. Technically, this isn’t an instinct; it is the superficial result of the satisfaction of an instinct. Since people have found so many ways to trigger superficial results of the satisfaction of instincts that have nothing to do with the actual satisfaction of their instincts, it’s worth listing separately as a motivator. One good example is fruit-flavored candy: Candy tastes good because it tastes like ripe fruit that will keep you alive, even though eating candy won’t keep you alive.
Self-actualization refers to the use of abilities. As I use the term here, ability is any personal capacity a person can use to advance his interests in some way or another. Some direct examples are the abilities to hunt, to cook, and to work to earn a paycheck. Less direct examples of abilities include the ability to express oneself through dance, the ability to find (superficial) reproductive satisfaction with a member of the same gender, and the ability to search for better situations in which to use one’s abilities. Self actualization applies differently to everyone, but applies in some way to everyone. For all of human evolution, people have depended on using whatever abilities they’ve had to advance their evolutionary survival. If people are prevented from using their abilities to advance their interests in life, they will feel unsatisfied with their lives. Examples of this include people who find themselves stuck working at jobs where they aren’t able to put their best work skills to use, dancers who aren’t allowed to dance, homosexuals who are prevented from pursuing homosexual relationships, and people who are stuck working at jobs they hate because they don’t have any way to find better jobs. Self actualization is a product of the survival instinct.
Self fulfillment is the fullest use of ability. Throughout human evolution, using abilities to their fullest potential enabled people to advance their evolutionary survival better than not using abilities to their fullest potential. Otherwise, self fulfillment is an extension of self actualization. Self fulfillment is a product of the survival instinct.
Fulfillment of self fulfillment is the use of all of one’s abilities to their fullest extents—or at least, their fullest extents possible, given the limitations of the physical world. For all of human evolution, the single best way to advance one’s evolutionary survival was to use all of one’s abilities to their fullest potentials. Fulfillment of self fulfillment gives you the sense that your life is complete. Fulfillment of self-fulfillment is a product of the survival instinct.
Just for one example of how an emotional situation can involve multiple interactions of these thirteen items, if a man succeeds in establishing a romantic relationship with a desirable woman, he satisfies his reproductive instinct by acquiring an attractive mate. This applies in the short term to his desire to establish such a relationship in the first place, and it can apply in the longer term if he intends to engage in literal reproduction with the woman. If the woman had resources that the man needed to satisfy his survival and/or safety motivations, the relationship could serve those purposes also. Creating an important relationship with another person serves a social function; a romantic relationship with a desirable woman can also act as a status symbol among his friends, which is another social function. The relationship can yield self-actualization, self-fulfillment, or fulfillment of self-fulfillment depending on the degree to which he was satisfied with his ability to seek and find a mate. The relationship can also satisfy those motivations if it creates opportunities for him to use his abilities.
The relationship can yield self-gratification by making the man feel good in any number of ways, including recreational sex, the prospect of reproduction, the benefits to immediate survival and/or safety it afforded him, the establishment of an important relationship, the procurement of an important status symbol, the prospects of being able to use abilities that he wouldn’t otherwise, the successful use of his ability to search for and find a mate, the successful use of his ability to search for and find a desirable mate, or the successful use of his ability to search for and find a relationship that makes his life complete. All of these forms of self-gratification are proximate results of other forms of motivation, but each of them could exist independently of the ultimate motivations rather than serve as an indication that the higher motivations were being satisfied. This would be the case for a man whose romantic partner would eventually realize that the relationship was purely superficial and that as far as the man was concerned, any other woman could serve in her place equally well. Potentially, all of the motivations listed in these two paragraphs could apply to all actions the man undertook in regards to the relationship, at all times.
The love emotion the man feels for the woman is caused by the self gratification resulting from the positive effects the relationship has on his survival and reproductive interests (whatever their cause) interacting with his ability to remember the feeling it caused in the past, to imagine the feeling will continue in the future, to anticipate that it will continue in the future, to hear about the concept of love from other people, to remember the feeling of love from a previous relationship, to remember having witnessed the effects of romantic relationships on other people, and so on.
I count five factors outside a person’s basic genetic makeup as a member of the Homo sapiens species that affects his decisions making process. These are, in no particular order: abilities, skills, available resources, personal history, and cultural background.
I count everything that makes an individual unique for reasons beyond his own control as an ability. This includes all genetic traits, all physical abilities regardless of their source, and anything else that doesn’t fit into any of the other categories for any reason. Sight, for instance, is the ability to see. Intelligence is the ability to think. Poor health is an inability to endure harsh environments. An assertive personality gives a person a great ability to assert himself. For a specific example of a way that abilities influence a person’s decisions, to a person who is in good physical health, a tall mountain might look like something he could climb, while to a person in poor health the mountain would look like something he couldn’t climb.
Individual skills are any skills that a person has learned. The better he is at the skill, the more he will be able to use it to advance his evolutionary interests. For example, to a person who can read English fluently, who can read Gaelic with some difficulty, and who can’t read German at all, English writing will look easy to read, Gaelic writing will look difficult to read, and German writing will look impossible to read. To a person who could read German fluently, German writing would look as easy to read, as English writing would look to the other person.
Available resources consist of anything the person has, or doesn’t have, to draw upon beyond his physical self to achieve his objective. If the person has resources and can use them, they will affect his decision-making; if the person doesn’t have them and needs them, they will affect his decision making differently; if the person has them but can’t use them in situation, they won’t affect his decision-making. For instance, a person who has 25 minutes to drive to work and who only needs 20 minutes will make different decisions based on that time resource than he would if he needed 25 minutes to drive to work or 30 minutes.
Personal history overlaps somewhat with skills, because it includes everything the person has ever learned. Unlike skills, it includes everything the person has learned that doesn’t directly relate to the situation. That can include things that relate to the situation indirectly, such as abilities or skills for enduring (or not enduring) any situation, and things that the person thinks relate to the situation but don’t actually. For instance, if a woman has been physically abused, a person who raises his voice at her will be perceived as a threat, which will lead the woman to making decisions to escape abuse, even if she doesn’t have specific skills to use in escaping abuse, and even if she was no danger of being abused in this case. If the person who raised his voice didn’t intend to abuse the formerly abused woman, then the woman’s reactions won’t make sense to him.
A person’s cultural background will teach him values of objectives and approaches, that is, objectives he should or shouldn’t work toward, and ways he should or shouldn’t work toward them. This overlaps with personal history, but it is a specific source of abstract influences on the person’s decision-making. It is the most pervasive and least tangible form of learning from life experiences, because the person doesn’t necessarily learn from specific events or even realize he is learning from them. Instead, cultural values are learned gradually over time by association, and usually by the person taking them for granted as the way the world is supposed to be, without realizing it’s only the way the world is supposed to be according to his own culture. I’m sure we’ve all run into this one at some point, haven’t we?
The receiver’s personality could be considered a sixth factor specific to decision making in interpersonal communication, because it can give the communicator reason to act differently around that person than he would around another person. Technically, the receiver’s personality is a resource the communicator has available, that the communicator can use abilities and skills to make use of, and which the communicator will interact with according to his personal history and cultural background. This is true whether the communicator uses his receiver’s personality as a “resource” in using it to advance his own interests while harming his receiver’s interests, or he uses it as a “resource” in the sense that it is “a factor that exists beyond his physical self”.
Evolutionary self-awareness has three very valuable uses to anyone who believes in doing their own thing and getting along with other people. First, a lot of conflict is created in the world due to people misunderstanding each other. Everyone always makes the best decisions they can in their situation. Any time anyone makes any decision, they are either trying to survive or to reproduce in some way (or both), they're using three possible mental abilities to make their decision, they have eight possible motivations, and they have five outside factors affecting their decision. By understanding all the things that go into another person’s decision-making process, people can sort out disagreements and misunderstandings before they spiral out of control.
Second, by understanding all the things that go into your own decision making, you can eliminate a lot of conflict within yourself, become a much more empowered individual, and avoid harming other people with your actions.
Finally, by understanding all the things that go into your own and other people’s decision making in secular, scientific terms, you give yourself the foundation you need to construct arguments to defend your civil rights that secular governments and legal systems can’t dismiss as personal opinion or religious superstition. Equipped with a objectively scientific understanding of everything that goes into your decision making and the Wiccan Rede of, “An it harm none, do as ye will, ” there isn’t a thing any government in the free world can do to stop you. At least, not legally, anyway…
Those 18 points that make up the web of human behavior is a powerful set of tools for eliminating conflict from the world and for bringing people together in spite of their superficial differences.
Those first 7,000,000 years of human existence teach valuable lessons about what everyone has in common, even if a certain large group of people insists that they never happened because their ancestors made a… clerical error.
The Darwin Project: www.thedarwinproject.com
The Club of Budapest: www.cobusa.org
Guns, Germs, and Steel—The Fates of Human Societies: Jared Diamond (Norton)
Why God Won’t Go Away—Brain Science and the Biology of Belief: Andrew Newberg, M.D., Eugene d’Aquill, M.D., PhD, Vince Rause (Ballantine Books)
Emotional Intelligence: Daniel Goleman, M.D. (Bantam)
The Blank Slate—the Modern Denial of Human Nature: Steven Pinker (Viking)
Copyright: Copyright Ezra Niesen 2005
Ezra the Cosmic Prankster
Location: Tempe, Arizona
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Bio: Ezra Niesen is an artist, teacher, philosopher, and theoretical scientist, which means he compiles the discoveries of other scientists and draws logical conclusions among them (can you tell?) . He has recently self-published his book 42—A Practical Guide to all the Evolutionary Science You Need to Justify Doing Your Own Thing and Getting Along with Other People (see website) , and is looking for a regular publisher. He is also working on a version for the scientific community titled The Theory of Evolutionary Relativity—Human Evolution as a Function of the Efficient Transfer of Energy; and its Application to Social Evolution.
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