Saturday, October 24, 2009
This is a continuation of our daily excerpts taken from “New World New Mind.” This is the seventh excerpt in the series. For an introductory explanation of why we have chosen this book to share with you, click here.
[Please keep in mind that this book was published in 1989. All of this is copyrighted material, and we are simply sharing portions of it with you.]
Chapter 1 – The Threat within the Triumph (Continued)
“• The human mental ‘hardware’ – our senses and brains – is effectively fixed. That hardware equips us with what we call the old mind. Although we are evolving, our mental machinery will not change biologically in time to help us solve our problems. The same mental routines that originally signaled abrupt physical changes in the old world are now pressed into service to perceive and decide about unprecedented dangers in the new.
“In saying this we don’t mean to downgrade our accomplishments; indeed it is human inventiveness that causes our major dilemma. Our minds now conquer challenges and tasks that appear to have no parallels in our evolutionary past; we read and write, learn more than one spoken language, use word processors, and design and fly aircraft. But none of these tasks represents a break with the standard animal pattern of planning to reach short-term goals. Many of our highest achievements represent, then, a refinement of the old mind, not a new kind of perception. They cause significant changes in our environment decade by decade, but they are generally responses to perceived immediate needs, not to changes happening over decades. We cleverly develop more fuel-efficient cars when gasoline prices suddenly rise. When they drop, we relax fuel-efficiency standards, even though careful analysis indicates that much higher gasoline prices are a near certainty in coming decades.
“Like those of other animals, our brains evolved to understand only a small portion of the world, the portion that most affects our capacity to survive and reproduce. Each animal, whether a bee, butterfly, frog, chimp, or human being, lives within its own ‘small world,’ which is a mere caricature of the outside world. This simple caricature of the environment, as we shall see, sufficed for most organisms in most environments, for most people throughout history; and it still works for many people. But it is fatally obsolete in a world where much more explosive power can now be carried in one nuclear submarine than has been detonated in all wars so far.
“To retrain ourselves requires a radical shift in our normal way of perceiving ourselves and our environment: we have to look at ourselves in the long view and understand an evolutionary history of millions of years rather than the fleeting ‘history’ that is taught. We need to be ‘literate’ in entirely new disciplines, such as probability theory and the structure of thought, rather than just learning more about the sequences of English monarchs.
“The time has come to take our own evolution into our hands and create a new evolutionary process, a process of conscious evolution. The human predicament requires a different kind of education and training to predict threats that materialize not in instants but in years or decades – we need to develop ‘slow reflexes’ to supplement the quick ones. We need to replace our old minds with new ones.
“It will not be nearly as exciting as fighting a bear or running away, not a simple speedy solution that can be summed up in a slogan. The remedy will demand a sustained, persistent, and complex effort. We need to learn to perceive and respond to slow changes in the size of the human populations, the increasing extinction of other species, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. These and other such gradual alterations of our world are threats much more dangerous than hostages, mass murderers, lightning bolts, and drunken drivers.”
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