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Some Random Thoughts For The Day

October 25, 2009

I’ve been concurrently reading five or six different books, and have had a lot on my mind.  The first is the origin of civilization, as told by all these books.  Take one textbook I’ve been reading called ‘Western Civilizations’.   Overall, I really like the book.  For what it covers, it do so very well.  But the section on the first civilization is a bit… well… stretched, for lack of a better word.  I don’t buy into it.

The very first pages of the text begin:

The Dawn of History

No one knows the place of origin of the human species.  There is evidence, however, that it may have been south-central Africa or possibly central or south-central Asia.  Here climatic conditions were such as to favor the evolution of a variety of human types from primate ancestors.  From their place or places of origin members of the human species wandered to southeastern and eastern Asia, northern Africa, Europe, and eventually, to America.  For hundreds of centuries they remained primitive, leading a life which was at first barely more advanced than that of the higher animals.  About 3500 B.C., a few of them, enjoying special advantages of location and climate, slowly developed superior civilizations.  These civilizations, which attained knowledge of writing and considerable advancement in arts and sciences and in social organization, began in that part of the world known as the Near East.  This region extends from modern-day Iran to the Mediterranean Sea and to the farther bank of the Nile.  Here flourished, at different periods between 3000 and 300 B.C., the mighty empires of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Chaldeans, and the Persians, together with the smaller states of such peoples as the Hittites, the Phoenicians, and the Hebrews.  The only other very early civilization existed in India in the area of the Indus valley from about 2500 to 1500 B.C.  The earliest signs of civilization in China date from abotu 1800 B.C., and the earliest civilizations in Europe — on the island of Crete and mainland Greece — similar date from aruond that time.”

Prior to these first civilizations, which only came into existence a few thousand years ago, man-like creatures wandered the earth for millions of years, slowly evolving and “upgrading” with each new batch hatched out.  But they never did anything particularly impressive, besides chase animals around, and make some very primitive tools.  The time-line goes something like this…

Two million years ago, known as the “Early Old Stone Age”, we have ‘Homo Habilis”, walking erect, and using various objects he finds around him to hunt with.  Over the course of 1.5 million years, the human brain slowly develops and we get Java and Peking Man.  They have bigger brains.  Another 450,000 years later evolution produced the Neanderthals, who were the first Homo Sapiens.  They could speak, think abstractly, and were the first tool makers.  30,000 years go by, then we get Cro-Magnon man, which is finally starting to seem like a modern man, who just doesn’t know much.  He makes weapons from stone and bone, cooks his food, and paints pictures in caves.  Another 8,000 years go by, and men start to settle down, and go from food gatherers to food raisers.  Thoughout the next 5,000 years they learn to farm, domesticating animals, making pottery, and form the first communities.  Then finally, maybe some 1500 years after that, we get the first civilizations, which were the Egyptians, and those found in the Mesopotamian region.  And that’s where the textbook begins.

To me, those numbers are just so large, and it’s hard to believe we had intelligent life running around the Earth for such a long period of time, and they never did anything worthwhile until just recently.  I’m not saying none of this is true.  It’s just one of those things I read and say, “Well, hmm…” This world is beyond strange.

I recently watched Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.  He says these deep things, like our bodies are these intricate biological machines, and the Cosmos has found a way to know itself, through us.  I sit back in my chair, a bit skeptical.  I picture Cro-Magnon man roaming about the plains with his spear, impaling some animal.   He’s wearing some dead animal’s skin, stinks horribly, teeth rotting out, and has a life expectancy of nothing.  He’s being chased around by lions, with his buddy being caught and eaten alive, screaming in terror.  His wife dies from a snake bite as they sleep out under the open sky, being rained on.  That’s the universe getting to know itself?  If so, this “universe” is a real bastard, and I’d prefer not meet it.  I think he’s applying deep principles, and thinking so modern, he’s almost forgotten that these big particle accelerators, and the Hubble telescope, and everything else which is so neat, only came about very very recently.  It wasn’t but 120 years ago people were being pulled around in horse carriages!  He’s almost mesmerized by science.

I hate to be the harbinger of pessimism.  I’m just as awed at the universe as anyone else.  Quantum mechanics, the big bang, general relativity, and everything else blow my mind.  But as mind blowing as it may be, I don’t think it’s my friend.  I can study science all day, and seem to never get tired of it.  But I’m not going to look at this “nature” and think too much of it.  It’s been rather cruel to me, and my life hasn’t been exactly a picnic.  This history book I’m reading… it’s all terrible.  Man has lived a wretched existence until just recently.  Absolutely wretched.  Even today it’s not great, but it’s getting better.

I have a book on quantum mechanics, written by a physicist who has one of those rosy views of the world.  A complex view of us as this mystical consciousness, in control of our lives, navigating parallel universes.  Reading that, I feel like I’m super-man.  Almost like a I should be able to levitate and command atoms to do my bidding.  Then I put the book down, and that’s simply not the world I see.  It’s back to bullshit.  Back to banks robbing my savings.  Back to lying politicians.  Back to wars.  Back to religious superstition.

In my opinion, and I may be wrong, he’s a physicist quite fortunate to make good money, and tinker with neat science equipment his whole life.  Since he’s living such a nice life, he naturally invents a philosophy which explains the world as he experiences.  But it’s very harmful to form such rosy philosophies, asserting that all troubles are due to a person’s own personal decisions, and that if only they would work some mental magic, everything will be fine again.  It’s a view that entirely lacks compassion, and neglects the true causes of prosperity.

It’s been known since Adam Smith that the causes of prosperity are the division of labor, and trade.  There’s really one central idea behind that.  Working together, and our success depends on how well we work together.  We work together to build things, each doing one specific task.  Then we share everything we produce with everyone else in some effective and efficient manner.   The money, price, and profit system, if it’s properly regulated, and everyone is playing fair, should be the indicator for demand, telling us what is needed to be produced, while also allowing a personal freedom to pursue and purchase what we want and need.  We don’t control the atoms with our mind.  We can’t invoke miracles by faith or prayer.  We need to huddle up, make a game plan and decide how we’re going to attack this “universe”, or at least, position ourselves in such a way that it stops beating the hell out of us.

On another note, there was an interesting little blurb I read in my “Psychoanalytic Pioneers” book, which pertains to what we were just talking about actually.   I’ll simply quote the text verbatim:

“In “The Double,” [Otto] Rank after reviewing the writings of E.T. Hoffmann, Goethe, R.L. Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, and Dostoevsky in which the “double” has been dealt with, traces the association that the “double” has with reflection in the mirror; with shadows, ghosts, or guardian spirits; with belief in the soul; and with fear of death.  Rank thinks that since primitive man the “double” has been a narcissistic protection against the destruction of the ego; and “energetic denial of the power of death.”  The “immortal soul” was very likely the first “double” of the body.  The narcissistic omnipotence was challenged by the idea of death and compelled man to attribute some of this omnipotence and wish for immortality to spirits and ultimately to the soul.  The soul having been since earliest time considered a reduplication of the body.  With this solution the thought of death is made tolerable by conceiving of another existence in the “double” form.”

I think psychologically Otto Rank is correct, but I don’t know about factually.  Men probably believe in spirits, and even in their own personal immortality, due to a fear of death, but I still personally believe we’re all immortal, though not for emotional reasons.  In Physics, all matter is simply compressed energy, and energy can never be destroyed.  It only changes forms.  The absolute “Jason”, whatever that may be, cannot be destroyed.  My body, memories, and everything else may be destroyed, but I don’t think “I” get destroyed.  I think at death, I “wake up” as something else.  I have no idea what, or “when”, or “where”.  Somehow energy can mold in such a fashion to connect to my consciousness, and that connection is not eternal.  I think I’m constantly being plugged in, and taken out, of some sort of energy field.

The old philosophical problems of dualism have never been solved.  There’s a difference between the electricity which flows through my brain, and me “seeing”.  What I think survives death is whatever it is that “sees”, “hears”, “tastes”, “smells”, and “feels”.  We all know what those things mean, though they can’t be defined with words.  When I die, I think I may well “see” completely differently.  Might not “smell” anything whatsoever.  I also may gain new “senses” I didn’t have before.  Everything that was “Jason” might die, but I don’t think this aspect of myself dies.  I become something else.

That’s how all life on this planet works.  The plant dies, rots to dirt, then that dirt molds into something else.  We probably do the same.  Just my opinion.  That’s all.  I’ll end my random thoughts on that note.

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