Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Post No. 11: The Human Hard Wiring Conundrum (Are We Truly a Higher Form of Animal?)

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Roughly six years ago, I began to ask a different set of questions about human existence. I started looking for patterns in behavior, and I attempted to identify what might be termed as the “internal consistency.”

With respect to virtually all human conduct, instead of responding or interpreting it from a personal, emotional, or experiential perspective, I tried to first pose other questions, which would bear on my ultimate conclusion, if any, as to the observed conduct.

Although you wouldn’t know it from my articles published thus far, I tried to become cognizant of each time that I used the word, “I,” and I also challenged myself by questioning whether my preconceptions were affecting my ability to fully observe and appreciate all that appeared before me.

I remember thinking that it would be just great to find one book that explained everything. Interestingly enough, I found such a book (or at least its title so indicated), by pure happenstance, on either a table or a park bench, where it had been left in the rain. The book was Ken Wilbur’s A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality. (http://books.google.com/books?id=PYBKcyEBEZQC&q=%22a+theory+of+everything%22&dq=%22a+theory+of+everything%22&ei=Kh87SIDvNaDsygSy8qHqDw&pgis=1.) Unfortunately, as soon as I came into possession of it, I loaned it to someone and it was never returned. However, it did help to know that others had actually done some work along this line.

Upon returning to my home town in 2002, I managed to re-read another book that helped formulate some of my thoughts in this regard, Vere Gordon Childe’s What Happened in History. (http://books.google.com/books?id=JWsYAAAAMAAJ&q=%22what+happened+in+history%22&dq=%22what+happened+in+history%22&ei=0SU7SJTdEo-KzQSjnoDMCA&pgis=1.) It was a small, Penguin (http://books.google.com/books?q=inpublisher:%22Penguin+books%22&source=gbs_summary_r&cad=0) paperback, with torn and yellow pages, which I had obviously acquired between 1969 and 1971, while I was in college. (The book was originally published in 1950, with a second edition released in 1964. I read the 1964 edition.)

It was so thin that I could not imagine it providing any real insight into the human condition, but I was still fascinated by its ambitious goal, as reflected in its title. I also questioned whether the material in the book was still relevant in 2002, given its 1964 publication date. I quickly established that it was. After all, having covered human conduct for a period spanning thousands of years, the passage of a mere thirty years should not have made that much of a difference. Here was someone trying to explain what had occurred since the beginning of humankind, in a few, short pages. It was after reading this piece that I started truly looking for the “internal consistency” with respect to all human conduct and activity.

After completing Childe’s book, I moved to another textbook from my college days, the two volume set of Technology in Western Civilization. (http://books.google.com/books?id=05IFAAAAMAAJ&q=%22technology+in+western+civilization%22&dq=%22technology+in+western+civilization%22&ei=tDo7SNjhBKDsygSy8qHqDw&pgis=1.) When I was an undergraduate engineering student, my school brought in Harvard educated Dr. Melvin Kranzberg to start teaching several courses. Dr. Kranzberg, who was known as the “Father of the History of Technology,” and edited the work, became one of my mentors. The pages of Technology were also yellow and worn, although in hardback form. Additionally, quite frankly, although it contained lots of yellow highlighting on the pages, suggesting that I read it during the early 1970s, I did not recall much of substance from my first reading. However, on the second reading, it made far more sense, and provided me with a more comprehensive appreciation of the technological forces operating on humankind. It was, as a practical matter, What Happened in History, annotated.

There was one, perhaps less serious volume, which also made an impression on me, provided by my friend Annie, who found it in her storage locker. I had casually mentioned to her that I had been reading a number of books on the theory of everything, and she presented this piece to me as a gift. It was The Straight Dope: A Compendium of Human Knowledge by Cecil Adams. (http://books.google.com/books?id=WpYYAAAAIAAJ&q=%22the+straight+dope%22&dq=%22the+straight+dope%22&ei=5D87SJOyCoe0yQTN75jMDw&pgis=1.)

For years, Adams wrote a newspaper column for the Chicago Reader, a weekly alternative newspaper. On the cover, it revealed that it contained “answers to the questions that torment everyone!” Although I initially thought that it was not something that would aid me in my quest for the grail of internal consistency, not only did I find the sarcastic wit of Adams to be thoroughly entertaining, but it contributed to my theory that to truly understand anything, one must always “dig deeper.” It is at the deeper levels that one begins to observe certain long term patterns. Additionally, unless we’re careful, we can become distracted by symptoms, which can impede our efforts to craft solutions.

The Straight Dope contained the answers to such significant life questions as, “Is it true what they say about Catherine the Great and the horses?” “How do they measure snow?” “Whatever happened to Channel One?” “Why does hair turn gray?” “How do they get the get the stripes into toothpaste?” It also provided further insight into my belief that virtually everything ever done by humans has been done for reasons deemed logical and appropriate at the time, but which may not have involved a lot of research, investigation, or objectivity for that matter.

There is another area of human conduct which I have always found baffling, that being interpersonal relations between males and females. Over the years, I frequently joked with friends that I would ultimately write a book about male – female relations, and that one chapter of the book would be entitled, “Lions, Tigers, and Bears.” During the last twenty years or so of my life, I developed this sense that differences between men and women were more a result of hard wiring of their brains, and that cultural and environmental factors had less influence than perhaps we previously thought. I recall hearing the results of a study in roughly 1993, to the effect that the pattern of brain wave activity was different for men and women when presented with the same mathematical problem, and that this at least partly explained the differences between the two in terms of interest in math and science. The electrochemical paths were along totally different routes.

Frequently in life, one comes up with his or own theories based on their observations, and later determines that there is some element of scientific evidence to support their suspicions. I recall being on a floor in my office building at least thirty-three stories high. I looked out of my window and down the street a couple of blocks, and I was surprised at the sharp detail with which I could see a female figure approaching. I then switched my sight to a male nearby, and the level of detail was not nearly as good. I questioned whether this was a result of evolutionary survival hard wiring.

I had often heard people remark about the frequency with which men “think about sex” and because my personal thoughts did not even nearly approach the suggested level of frequency, I simply thought the comment to be untrue. However, I later began to appreciate that for a man, sex and thoughts of sex, are essentially momentary distractions, and that man’s focus is primarily on “taking care of stuff.” As I walked down the street one day, I came upon a bus stop shelter, which had full length movie posters on each side. As a result, my view of bus riders sitting on the bench was obscured. However, I recall being surprised when I passed the panel, and my “attention” was instantaneously drawn to an attractive, young woman sitting on the bench, to a far greater extent that I would have expected. I was fully distracted. In subsequent conversations with female friends of mine about dealing with their seventeen and eighteen year old sons, I would simply advise them to learn to appreciate the concept of “involuntary blood flow.”

At this point, all of my experiences were personal and anecdotal in nature, without any scientific corroboration. Getting back to the chapter to be entitled, “Lions, Tigers, and Bears,” it just seemed to me that the primary roles and functions of male and female humans were determined by environmental forces that existed for thousands, if not tens of thousands, of years. I always said that the skills and capabilities of men and women were designed evolutionarily to complement one another, not to be in conflict with each other. If we were to have a nuclear holocaust on earth, and there were only two people left, we would want neither two men, nor two women, but rather one man and one woman, and not necessarily just for purposes of propagation. I began to suspect that men and women had different capabilities for a reason – survival. The combination of their skills and capabilities, in my view, achieved exponential gain, not arithmetic. Living in such harsh, hostile environments as jungles, deserts, and mountains for thousands of years without modern conveniences, I suspected that men and women had to divide up their various survival responsibilities based on what they were both best suited to perform with less strain and adaptation. Thus, given a jungle, and a man, woman, and children, and adding approaching or roaming lions, tigers, and bears, you can envision how various tasks may have been divided.

There’s something additional that accompanies the environmental situation. I suspect that most of us would agree that the most important things in life are food, clothing, shelter, and health, and after that perhaps education. One of the most important things that I learned in What Happened in History was significance of the mass cultivation of food. If you were an ancient human and spent all day, and perhaps some portion of the night either picking or hunting food, it probably would not have allowed for much time for a wife to complain about her husband looking at another woman, because he probably would not have had very many opportunities or much energy. If everyone in your tribe was either gathering or hunting for food, that activity minimized the prospect of other activities. It was only after tribes began to join forces, cooperate, and find conditions where food could be cultivated on a much larger scale, could ten people generate food for one hundred, thus allowing the other ninety to pursue other pursuits. This, out of necessity, required collaboration. I would also imagine that if a drought or other calamity came along, the members would resort to hoarding, and more selfish, less collaborative conduct to survive.

Now, as I’ve told you before, I’ve never been married. (Quite frankly, many consider it to be an outdated anthropological institution, with limited societal functions at this in point in the evolution of modern, technological society. However, that is a subject for another day.) I’ve never considered myself qualified for marriage, because my views as to the roles of men and women in society are so radically different from those typically held by others. I believe that the pairing is primarily about function and survival, and not about love and who has a great bod. Some would even argue that it's not even currently about comfort and security, since those features can be provided through other means, if one has sufficient financial resources.

Each time that one of my friends indicated that they had separated from their spouse, I would make the same suggestion. I would suggest that the underlying purpose of their pairing was no longer based on anything of importance or primary significance, or that they had lost sight of it. I would follow by suggesting that if they had to survive in the jungle, they would have a very different view of the importance of their pairing. I frequently suggested that they both volunteer their services to the AIDS Foundation or the American Cancer Society, and after doing so, they would better appreciate how relatively insignificant their personal differences were. (I am sure that no one ever followed my advice.) After all, having had sex with someone else may be a serious violation and breach of trust, but it does not rank up there with the other survival factors. Additionally, I strongly suspect that if an earthquake or tornado struck your home immediately after you found out about your spouse’s indiscretion, the two of you would work your butts off, in a collaborative fashion, to survive, and chat about the infidelity later, if at all. It’s the nature of the beast.

Today, there is quite a bit of research on the differences between the brains of men and women. We now have the capability to conduct brain scans and compare the different ways in which male and female brains function. If we know that so much about our behavior is hard wired, why do men and women continually waste their time arguing about biological determinant issues? It’s because we as humans have the ability to think in ways far differently from animals, which is both good and bad. Very few of us, despite having the capacity, stop to think about the scientific or biological explanations for human conduct. We have the capability to sit back and think through events, and conduct our own research and investigation, before responding. In many instances, we are just lazy. In other instances we are unsophisticated. In still others, we proceed with emotional responses, because it “works” and it is efficient.

Yesterday, I had an extensive conversation with a very good friend of mine, who has one child who is a senior in high school, and another who is a senior in college. I explained that I was part of a team of motivational speakers, and that we would soon embark on a nationwide tour of colleges and universities to engage students in a discussion about personal responsibility. I further informed her that we planned to utilize adults, like me, who had encountered and recovered from various difficulties in life, as teaching vehicles, in conjunction with the latest research on the brain and decision theory. Our primary goal is to provoke thought, encourage students to consider their choices in life, analyze the decisions that they make along with the consequences, and have them recognize the importance of taking personal responsibility for their choices. Our secondary goal is to come up with some fresh, new approaches to addressing their personal and societal problems.

During the course of our discussion, my friend inquired as to whether the students would even be interested in the latest research and science regarding the brain and decision theory. Although I did not provide this response, I feel that they should be interested because it matters. The brain is a significant factor in our human activity. To exclude its role in our conduct, and to fail to factor it in the equation, results in only a partial ability to address aberrant or inappropriate human conduct. We might as well use all of our information and available resources to address problems. It also requires “digging deeper” than the apparent symptoms. Digging only one level to address a problem, frequently results in not addressing it at all, or applying a short term band-aid.

Prior to the generation of this article, I asked a large number of you what the following things had in common:

Your most recent argument or disagreement with your spouse, significant other, or friend;

Your view as to whether America is still the greatest nation on earth;

Your view of the propriety of the criminal jury verdict in the OJ case; and

Your view as to whether we should be in Iraq?

They are all issues about which we had preconceived notions prior to the issue developing or occurring. They are also all issues about which you could feel and respond differently, provided that you received additional information, which might contribute to a better understanding of the issue, prior to passing judgment or criticizing others.

The purpose of all of my articles is to provoke thought. I do not have a position about many things in life. In many ways, that is problematic. I‘ve never had the rigid, dogmatic views which serve as stabilizing forces and parameters in many lives. I wish that I were so cock sure about as many things that others are. I am continually amazed at how readers of my articles respond, either telephonically, via e-mail, or in the form of a comment, and I ask, “Did they read my article?” I posed this question to a friend about the response of a mutual friend, and he indicated that the mutual friend had responded based on the mutual friend’s view of the issue, not what I had actually written. He also suggested that the mutual friend may have made some assumptions about the views and values typically associated with someone fitting my profile.

One of the goals which we will achieve, during my discussion of issues and during our college tour in discussing personal responsibility with students, will be the de-personalization of the analysis, by avoiding subjective and partisan approaches. We believe that the analysis will improve through objectivity (if that can really be achieved) and creativity, and that we can thereafter craft better solutions. The articles appearing on our site below reflect the type of thought process and critical thinking through which we will navigate students in our sessions.

The following is taken from an earlier article, Recognizing the Potential of the Innovative Thought Process:

“Jeffrey Sachs is generally recognized as one of the most influential thinkers of our time. He is the Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. (http://www.earthinstitute.columbia.edu/sections/view/9). He recently published a new book, Common Wealth (http://books.google.com/books?id=t6HDAAAACAAJ&dq=%22Jeffrey+sachs%22&ei=HAU2SLzXDYu4yQTxm8zLDw). During a recent presentation, Sachs argued that we the people of the world are biologically hard-wired and poorly led to always think in terms of us versus them. He advocates a paradigm shift consisting of intellectual collaboration. Simply put, we are capable of thinking our way out of the problems which we are surely about to face, be they global warming or food scarcities. According to Sachs, if we propose a potential solution to a problem, there will always be negative ramifications associated with that solution. However, we as humans have to capability to address those problems and try to minimize the negative impact through thinking. We can not risk being paralyzed by failing to utilize our problem solving capabilities and continuing to conduct business as usual.”

In Henry Hobhouse’s Forces of Change – An Unorthodox View of History (http://books.google.com/books?id=7Bd61vvaI7MC&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22forces+of+change%22&ei=ZZY9SPyPE6SMygTPiLXzAg&sig=CVGKHVm_gASmSdzXCT_N8csMPLE), he submits that modern history has been shaped, not so much by human conduct, but rather natural forces consisting of disease, population growth, and food supply. Hobhouse argues that they form a triangle which balances itself. As one changes or alters the dimension on one side of the triangle, there must be commensurate in one or both of the other two sides. To address these natural forces also requires a different type of thinking, more collaborative in nature.

We, as individuals and institutions should be constantly re-examining our conduct and assumptions in a never-ending quest to improve on what we’ve done in the past. Isn’t that, theoretically, one of the things that separates humans from animals – our ability to consciously improve our status and the things around us? So why rely on old methods? Why maintain the status quo? Does the fact that some advocate change in a society mean that they want to destroy it? Isn’t any organization or entity interested in maintaining a high standard, and avoiding complacency, constantly reinventing itself by changing those things that don’t work well, and continuing those practices that do? The mere mention that we can do better does not necessarily imply that where we are is a bad place.

We, as a society, have to do a better job of focusing on shared interests, and collaborating with one another. How about a little more energy on the front end taking the time to listen, conduct research, consider the historical and scientific explanations for events and positions, and other explanations, before instituting responsive conduct. To listen to, or view, someone only through your worldview lens and filter, may mean that you’ve never really listened to or seen them at all. Remember that line from the old song from the 1970s? “Expand your mind, you might be surprised at what you might find.”

I’m done - way done. This one required way too much work.

4 comments:

  1. Have seen the work The Center For True Self is working on? www.thecenterfortrueself.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. No, we have not, but we will do so now. Thanks for taking the time to engage us. We always welcome new ways of looking at things. As we always say, "There are more than 2 or 3 ways to view any issue; there are at least 27."

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous: Checked out the Center for True Self site and found it interesting. We'll keep it in mind for future reference.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous: Checked out the Center for True Self site and found it interesting. We'll keep it in mind for future reference.

    ReplyDelete

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