Saturday, October 10, 2009
This is a continuation of our daily excerpts taken from “New World New Mind.” This is the second excerpt in the series. For an introductory explanation of why we have chosen this book to share with you, click here.
[All of this is copyrighted material, and we are simply sharing some of it with you.]
Chapter 1 – The Threat within the Triumph (Continued)
“Why does the growing budget deficit attract relatively little attention while the comparatively meaningless stock market ‘crash’ makes headlines? Why do many popular writers yearn for a return to an education suitable for Oxford men before World War I, when the world has changed in critical ways to a greater extent since World War II than it changed between the birth of Christ and that war? Why do the numbers of nuclear weapons expand astronomically but largely unheralded, while a small girl trapped in a well commands the front pages? Why do we collectively spend billions on medical care while neglecting the simple preventative actions that, if we took them, would save many times the lives?
“We believe it is no accident.
“All these things are happening now, and are happening all at once, in part because the human mental system is failing to comprehend the modern world. So events will, in our opinion, continue to be out of control until people realize how selectively the environment impresses the human mind and how our comprehension is determined by the biological and cultural history of humanity. These unnoticed yet fundamental connections to our past, and how we can retrain ourselves for a “new world” of the future, one filled with unprecedented threats, are what this book is about.
“We are writing this book in an effort to help decision makers, educators, physicians, businessmen, and concerned citizens to change their ‘minds’ – not in the conventional sense, but rather to change the way they make decisions. We don’t think there is any panacea for all the problems of society; nothing simple that we can do right now is guaranteed to prevent a nuclear war or avoid the next plague. Everything, unfortunately, cannot be solved by one book! But we do think that if people understood the fundamental root of many of our problems, they might begin to change in a direction that could secure the human future.
“Today’s situation is unprecedented, but the human situation has often been unprecedented. In part, successfully facing the unprecedented has distinguished human beings from other forms of life. Since they spread out of Africa, people have always created new environments for themselves; they have always had to adapt to new and unexplored territory.
“There is a difference now, though. At no previous time have people had the capacity to destroy their civilization in a few hours and to ruin much of the planet’s life-support systems in the process. And never before has a species been engaged, as are we, in the process of destroying those systems wholesale in a ‘gradual’ manner that could complete the job in less than a century.
“But fortunately there is still time to change. Scientific evidence developed over the past three decades illuminates many aspects of the nature of both the human mind and the human predicament, and points the way to the changes needed. This evidence is drawn from many disciplines, including evolutionary biology, neuroscience, cognitive science, climatology, and geochemistry.
“We believe that the only permanent means of resolving the paradox that our minds are both our curse and our potential salvation is through conscious change. Our biological evolution, including the physical evolution of our brains, is much, much too slow to help. And the undirected evolution of our culture, in view of the demands being placed on it, is still too sluggish and often inappropriate. Both biological and cultural evolution are inadequate to adapt us to the environments we are creating.
“We don’t perceive the world as it is, because our nervous system evolved to select only a small extract of reality and to ignore the rest. We never experience exactly the same situation twice, so it would be uneconomical to take in every occurrence. Instead of conveying everything about the world, our nervous system is “impressed” only by dramatic changes. This internal spotlight makes us sensitive to the beginnings and endings of almost every event more than the changes, whether gigantic or tiny, or in the middle.
“The perception of dramatic changes begins deep with the nervous system, amid simple sensing such as seeing light. Put a three-way bulb (50 -100 -150 watts) in a lamp in a dark room. Turn on the lamp: the difference between darkness and the 50 – watt illumination is seen as great; but the increase from 50 to 100 and from 100 to 150 seems almost like nothing. Although the change in the physical stimulus is exactly the same, you notice it less and less as each 50 watts are added. Turn off the lamp, even from the 50 - watt setting, however, and you feel it immediately! We notice the beginning and the end and overlook the greater changes in the middle.”
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