The Tree of Life and Historical Consciousness

It is videos like this one that make me think the naturalistic mythos is far more profound than any Biblical or theistic alternative, namely, because it actually happened, and also, because of its transformative effect upon self-understanding. From the bottom of history we have climbed our way into the hazy light of thought and mindedness. We have learned how to explode our self-knowledge through metaphor and modeling but have not yet seen the limitations inherent to the model/phenomena structure. The world is mapped exquisitely by trained methodology but when turned upon the mappers, models and metaphors will always fail to full capture something that is always changing, always a potentiality. Our culture has stepped out of the darkness only to have swiftly forgotten that we were both grown in darkness and phylogenetically constituted by dark mindedness. We were given the gift of narrow focus but too often we lapse into thinking that what our spotlight of attention unveils is the whole story. As Julian Jaynes puts it,

Consciousness is a much smaller part of our mental life than we are conscious of, because we cannot be conscious of what we are not conscious of. How simple that is to say; how difficult to appreciate! It is like asking a flashlight in a dark room to search around for something that does not have any light shining upon it. The flashlight, since there is light in whatever direction it turns, would have to conclude that there is light everywhere. And so consciousness can seem to pervade all mentality when actually it does not.

It is endemic of our society to be ignorant of our historical roots. As a total community of thought, we have not embraced the historical constitution of our experience. However, by reflecting on our evolutionary origin, humanity can learn that our biological limitations are both our greatest weaknesses and through self-knowledge, our greatest strengths. Weakness, because we are not as free from habit as we would like. Strength, because knowledge of those limitations is our greatest gift. By heeding the Socratic imposition to fully know ourselves, we can know the boundaries of our humanity and maintain a humble attitude. But knowledge of a boundary always implies another side, another potentiality of being.   Self-knowledge both expands our strength while exposing our finitude and it is this duality between fragility and strength that enriches the naturalistic mythos beyond that of more fantastic, less humbling narratives. It builds character and social cohesiveness to fully understand both the brutality of natural selection and the functional strength of human community.

So while everyone readily takes advantage of our cognitive gifts to dream about the future, few expand their horizon of historicity back more than a few generations. But if one stretches this horizon billions of years, novel possibilities of understanding emerge. The mortality of it all is discomfiting but the sheer momentum of human possibility it inspires uplifts the soul. We have come so far and are always already arriving on the edge of future possibility. After all, there will be (I hope) some point in the future when our children’s children, and their children’s children, are reflecting on this time as a determined causal contingency that was merely a stepping stone to their own historical consciousness. And today this thought itself opens up new stones to step on. In the Words of Dream Theater, “Our deeds have traveled far; what we have been is what we are.”


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Filed under Atheism, Philosophy

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