Saturday, October 24, 2009

Post No. 137g: A Funny Thing Happened to Us on the Way to the Forum (Part 7)


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.”

7 comments:

  1. Although we are evolving, our mental machinery will not change biologically in time to help us solve our problems.

    A bit of absolutism, don't you think?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Several things Douglas:

    (1) One of the authors clearly mis-calculated the “population explosion” and was wrong. That doesn’t necessarily mean that a population explosion will not occur, but simply that it did not occur when he said that it would.

    (2) The brain issues, in our view, arise out of the fact that we now have new technologies, particularly brain scan and brain imaging devices, which enable us to appreciate its function and operation better. The authors relied on some technologies, in their infancy, in arriving at their conclusions in the book, along with some “soft science.”

    (3) We do not view the authors as doomsayers. We view them as essentially saying that the world is full of constantly evolving issues, some of which threaten us. We view them as saying that we have traditionally been equipped with (or over time developed), let's say for example, 50 tools to deal with these issues, and that now we might need to have 100 tools in our arsenal because of increasing complexity. Sitting on one's rear end and contending that things will be the same ad infinitum poses inherent risks. Additionally, they are not contending that the old 50 tools need to be replaced by the new 50, but rather that we use all of the tools available to us as humans. They attempt to explain why we do not perceive this as readily as one might suspect.

    (4) On the “doomsayer” issue, for years friends of one of our Fellows were reluctant to cross busy, traffic laden streets with him out of fear of getting hit. The approaching cars were the same speed for all of those individuals crossing the street. Our colleage simply had faith in his ability to move quickly at the last minute and felt that as long as the car missed him by a yard or two, he was safe.

    His friends walking with him did not feel similarly. Consider them the “doomsayers.” They felt that there was a high probability of getting hit and that it was going to be soon. The threat was the same for all.

    Neither party was “right” and our colleague did not consider those more concerned about the potential danger to be arrogant, an alarmist, a member of a particular political party, or motivated by some sinister or malevolent purpose just because they were concerned.

    Should our colleague have been more cautious? Possibly. Could his friends have been a little less frantic? Possibly. However, we strongly suspect that our colleague did not have some underhanded, or less than honorable motivations, or that he was trying to advance some personal agenda, and neither did they. They were each just trying to cross the street in our own way.

    (5) These folks think that our destiny is, to some extent, within our control and affected by our choices. A significant number of other folks in this world feel that what we do as humans doesn’t matter. We have to go with the folks who are at least observing the changes and trying to respond to them, even if some consider it to be an over-reaction.

    We are more concerned about the use by politicians of scientific research to advance their agendas, particularly on behalf of well-heeled special interest groups, who have more access to, and influence over, politicians than average citizens. There ought to be a way to determine whether a position taken is supported by the majority of the scientific and academic community which devotes it time to the subject matter.

    ReplyDelete
  3. RE:
    Oh, thats random :D haha
    But cool cool, and thanks! I don't know if you understand my blog. but it's nice that you liked it!

    Keep up the blog surfing! it made my day!
    Hughugs Aurora =)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Gee, Inspector, all that out of a simple comment about absolutism in an author's style.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Inspector, thanks for your visit.

    Saludos desde Munich,

    http://elroperodepili@blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  6. Inspector, thanks for your visit.

    Saludos desde Munich,

    http://elroperodepili@blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  7. RE:
    Oh, thats random :D haha
    But cool cool, and thanks! I don't know if you understand my blog. but it's nice that you liked it!

    Keep up the blog surfing! it made my day!
    Hughugs Aurora =)

    ReplyDelete

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