Limitations and inapplicability of Darwinian paradigms

of evolution to post-civilization human mental evolution

and its broad phases 

Limitations and inapplicability of Darwinian paradigms of evolution to post-civilization human mental evolution and its broad phases 

 

Since the 19th century and even today the Darwinian paradigm of ‘survival of the fittest’ is employed frequently to explain and validate human individual and social existence and functioning. Even if it is not overtly dominant it seems to linger in the background whenever we think about human interactions, motivations, and actions. And if we recall our social and political history, especially in modern times, the ascent or descent of Civilizations, Nations, and Cultures have been attributed to the recurring theme of survival of the fittest. Concepts of superior race, eugenics, etc. have also been grounded in ‘Social Darwinism’, as this paradigm was called, when applied to human society and the arenas of politics, culture and economics.  

The problem is that Darwin himself did not explain human evolution and especially mental evolution of human species in terms of just this paradigm. According to him many mental traits and qualities cannot be reduced to and explained only in terms of natural selection and the struggle for survival. In his view, struggle of survival and natural selection of the fittest explain the evolution of basic social instincts in human beings, which we share with animals, but some of our developed mental faculties cannot be attributed just to these processes. (Darwin, 1871, pp.173-178). Besides we also need to keep in mind that the main bulk of Darwin’s work was on animal evolution and not human evolution. So in all fairness to Darwin we must not limit our understanding of human mental evolution and its progression and social extensions to this core Darwinian paradigm. If we attribute the highly sophisticated mental and social existence of man and the drives, motivations and capabilities which produced and sustain it today, to just the concept of ‘survival of the fittest’ then we are acting nothing short of being anachronistic.

         

Here we would like to mention that we are aware of some of the ideas and theories which have been venturing beyond the original Darwinian concepts and mechanism of evolution, not only in explaining physiological development and functioning but also human mental (developed traits and functions) and cultural evolution. These include the work in Evolutionary Developmental Biology, the ideas of epigenetic inheritance systems and the concept of ‘memes’. All these propose parallel mechanisms alongside natural selection in the process of evolutionary change. However, despite this logical and new knowledge (emerging in cell biology, Genetics, evolutionary sciences, etc.,) based thinking venturing beyond Darwinian paradigms, the core ideas about evolutionary change and its mechanism are still derived from and tethered to the basic Darwinian intellectual framework and its focus on biological evolution.  

 

How the specifics and drive of Mental Evolution in the period of Civilization defy the paradigm of ‘survival of the fittest’ 

We would like to begin our argument with a comparison between the ‘civilization’ man’s motivations and the working of his mind and those of the cave man and animal mind. Because we are proposing that the latter can be viewed and explained in terms of the survival paradigm but not the former.

Whether it is insects, apes or the cave man, we find a common feature in the working of their minds; it is determined by their relationship with the environment. Environment is a readymade source of their consumption, whether they are herbivores or carnivores. Where ‘readymade source’ means the object of consumption is out there and the insect, animal, or the cave man, has to just reach out and acquire it with its physical and mental capabilities and then proceed to consume it.  

This is the practical format of the lives of all living things before civilization. And it also defines the focus of their minds. Where the focus of mind is what the subject considers to be practical. This distinction is important because the perception of any species – be it fish, insects, birds, animals or cave man – is far greater and much wider than its actual relationship with its environment, which is very limited. So the animal or pre-civilization human mind restricts the mental processing of perception to what is practical. In other words, it classifies perception and relegates the part which is not within the practical framework, to outside its mental and emotional processing. 

 

There are two characteristics of how the pre-civilized mind was focused on the basis of practicality. One, it is short-term. Two, it concerns immediate value, which means a value that already exists and just needs to be possessed and consumed. So this process, in point of time and space, is more or less a short-term project, which has to be repeated again and again in slightly different circumstances. It is a simple physical transaction. And the mental processes involved in this process are only those which are in aid of it; they do not have a separate existence. They are an appendix to the physical process of consumption whose value and measure are also physical. So this was the nature of the mental focus of pre-civilized Man and animal. It is therefore correct to describe pre-civilization mental processes in terms of the survival mode. Where this survival mode applies to both the mental processes of species and of individuals. In the macro environment the issue is of survival of the species. While in the micro environment, within which animals and human beings have to concretely live for a certain period of time, an individual’s fitness is the issue. Here we also need to keep in mind that the paradigm of survival applies to the understanding of pre-civilized mental processes mainly because they were based on the short-term physical or biological process of consumption.With the advent of civilization, around 10 to 12000 years ago, when man starts to engage in more developed agriculture requiring the learning of proper animal husbandry and domestication of plants, the question arises if he started engaging in these activities only for the purpose of individual physical survival or was there something more. Because we know that animal husbandry and plant domestication are a recent occurrence whereas Hominids and then the biologically evolved man go far back. The human species, starting from developed hominids, have been surviving and evolving over the last three million years without taming and keeping herds of animals, or domesticating plants. We propose that there are no facts which show it was a crisis of survival on the individual plane that led Man to undertake these elaborate activities, which were not of immediate survival value. And this is not something unprecedented. We also find instances of this in the animal kingdom. We find situations wherein individual specimens perform acts which are surplus to the survival paradigm, or cannot be related to the survival drive of either the individual or the species. Something else is happening there.

In order to understand what was happening in the case of human beings, we need to keep the following two facts in mind. One, the biologically developed human being had discovered and started using language almost thirty thousand years before he started taming animals for Agriculture, which was around ten thousand years ago. (Diamond, 1992, p. 164) Two, during this period his brain size and the brain-body size ratio had also reached their optimum values. So the context of the advent of civilization was a developed brain (and consequently) mind compared to all other species. And this biological development, along with its capabilities and uses, then multiplied exponentially as language developed.

It is in this backdrop that we need to look at the causes and nature of Man’s conduct in taming animals, domesticating plants and cultivating crops. We need to look upon it as a mental act, decision, choice and discovery, which was accompanied by the learning of a lot of new techniques. Taming of animals like cows, goats, horses, buffaloes, bulls and even dogs and then making herds out of them was not a simple mechanical process. It involved a new type of learning about those animals and then the steps and techniques of taming them. Similarly cultivation of crops was again a highly sophisticated process with many steps, stages, techniques and methods. We cannot put these many-step processes on the same plane as the pre-civilized mind’s conduct of trying to directly acquire a readymade product of consumption and then proceeding to consume it. This is far more complicated and complex and was only possible with the development of the mind.

We can see that man does not need animal husbandry and the products it yields for his survival. When he desires, milk, oil, butter, curd and starts riding horses and using donkeys for carrying firewood then he is not trying to survive. He is simply trying to improve the quality of his life. A thinking mind, as a consequent development of a bigger brain and use of language, has given birth to another motivation within him; to improve the quality of his life. Of course his struggle for survival, which he shares with animals, is also there but now in addition to this he is also trying to improve the quality of his life.

So we can say that civilization begins when the mindset and mental processes of the human species undergo a change, and a new motive of improving the quality of life is added to the pre-existing motive of survival. And this new motive and idea of ‘quality of life’ is not something which exists a priori, within biological existence and functioning. It is discovered and defined by the mind. The mind creates categories of discovered qualities and then learns to relate them to his subjective self. Then it goes on to make choices and preferences on the scale of quality of life. So it makes a scale of life’s quality, and then continuously strives to ascend the ladder of that scale. It has been doing this during the course of civilization and will continue to do so.  

Detailed classification of components and steps, the on-going learning involved in it and the mode of life that ensues from it is not based on mere physical survival. It is optional and can only be related to the pursuit of a better quality of life. Thus we now have a life mode which is both biological and mental. The latter gives rise to new and diverse preferences and likes/dislikes within every individual in relation to food, houses, and all kinds of other items of consumption. The addition of this motivation constitutes a paradigm shift in the evolution of man’s mind. He starts learning the techniques of waiting and postponing consumption, which is a very big shift from the previous mindset. After he becomes discontented with fruits in the forests and starts growing them in orchards then he has to learn to wait, in some cases for many years. So this is not biological but mental. His mind and his limbs are no longer working just for his biological survival. Moreover, all of this is very practical; doing this becomes practical for him. We should note how practicality has correspondingly been enlarged by patience, investment of time, learning and application of human capabilities. It has been enlarged on the basis of mental functions involving the discovery of qualities, establishment of preferences in quality options and then learning how to pursue them. We can see the evolutionary process of our mental focus; how it has kept growing from primitive times to medieval times, when we got involved with silks, paintings, classical music, complicated dances, complex rituals and carvings, all of which are very practical things. We find a continuous progression in the development of this new dimension of mind, i.e., living not only for biological survival but for growth in the quality of life, which we first discover and then achieve. So there is a huge change in our emotions and mindset from working on something for a brief period of say half an hour to working on something for twenty years. This shows us the emergence of a different species of mind.

To sum up, it is important to note that as man has progressed through the history of civilization he has been widening the goal posts of what is practical. As opposed to this in the Darwinian paradigm of survival the practical mode is rigid, fixed and static, depending upon the particular animal species. In our case we are biologically the same species but our life mode is no longer limited to ‘survival’ and now includes a very dynamic process of increasing ‘quality of life’, which does not evolve biologically but mentally and which is continually widening the goal posts of practicality. So in us practicality now includes both ‘biological’ and ‘mental’ consumption. 

 

The broad phases of mental evolution based on quality of life and not just survival; crisis of the second and need for the third phase 

The mental evolutionary process based on the pursuit of a better quality of life has been with us for the last twelve thousand years and has already gone through different evolutionary phases. In the first phase, pursuit of a better quality of life was primarily based upon tangible factors and processes, such as making wheel carts, houses, bronze tools, garments, growing crops, making herds, and so on. But then it entered a second phase where it moved into slightly more intangible areas, such as painting, folk music, and dance, whose physical and perceptually tangible aspects became secondary and the intangible mental and emotive aspects became the main consumable items. This trend became dominant within this second phase when it moved into serious thinking and philosophizing producing more complex poetry, music and Sciences, which were qualitatively different from the relatively more tangible and simpler folk dance and music. So this pursuit had gone into purely mental and intangible areas.

We can clearly see that in order to move into phase two of mental evolution we had to mentally grow through more observation, thinking, learning and discovery. And we passed on our continuous intellectual learning to our emotive processes, which enabled our sensitivities, preferences and likes/dislikes to develop and then make choices with respect to a better quality of life, both on the individual and group levels. Because we must remember that a better quality of life is essentially a subjective matter based on the individual’s preferences and appreciation depending on how his like/dislike and pleasure/pain processes, have been modified by a developing intellect. Thus in the second phase of mental evolution intellectual progress was not unidirectional and limited to specialized narrow band inquiries. It was many-sided and much more interactive with philosophy, religion, ideas, and humanity. And then there was slow but a more rounded progress in the Sciences. All this translates into how it influenced the development of the emotive structure and was in fact driven by it. So in this phase we find intellectual growth producing great poets, writers, thinkers, statesmen, inventors, who were all pursuing a better and more holistic quality of life for man. That is why they have given this world a huge fund of immortal ideas and new benchmarks of feelings and sensitivities and also practical material products.  

 

In contemporary times, in the last sixty years or so, man has reached the end of the second phase of his mental evolution in pursuit of quality of life and is on the verge of the third phase, whose objective basis is already there in the form of the massive scientific and technological progress he has made in these years. But at this stage he is confronting a crisis. The intellectual progress based on high specialization, and narrow band focus of contemporary science and technology has enabled exponential material progress in terms of creating new objects of consumption and new capabilities of space travel, and all kinds of engineering, etc.  But it has not translated into a more holistic and developed quality of life which requires further mental evolution and thereby a serious inquiry into man’s mind. It is disconnected from man and his further evolution. So contemporary intellectual development is not working on the mental processes of Man as a whole, with the result that our emotional development, culture, sensibilities, preferences and aesthetics are all sliding back into a reverse direction. 

 

Today, Man is trying to betray his hitherto achieved mental evolution. He is trying to jump back to the time before these two phases of his mental evolution, while materially wanting to remain in modern times. He wants to pursue material progress of the animal variety, based on instant consumer drive. The only difference being that animals use means like beaks, talons, paws, teeth etc., for achieving this objective while he uses money as the main means for achieving animal-level instant consumer gratification, which negates the pursuit of holistic quality of life. So a lot of the mental assets he acquired during the first and second phases like patiently postponing consumption, etc., are no longer operative (to a large extent). Thus he is actually confronting a crisis of his mental evolution at the end of its second phase. 

 

This situation clearly requires a reversal of this trend and the need to move forward into the third phase of mental evolution. First and foremost, we have to translate the contemporary material progress through science and technology into a corresponding improvement in the quality of life in all human dimensions, which is potentially there. The objective basis for a far better and more holistic quality of human life has been born out of the contemporary post-industrial progress, but we have not yet actualized it. In fact, we have turned our back upon it and are just trying to pursue our existing trajectory of progress, which is largely in material terms, and in which science and technology is increasingly being used for negative rather than positive reasons. So today we can use science and technology to go beyond the existing social, political, cultural and economic systems, which we are increasingly finding to be unsatisfactory and anachronistic in these times, and make new individual and collective systems which provide a far better quality of life in all human dimensions.  

 

The basic elements of the third phase of mental evolution; a general functioning rationality, a better society, and linking up with the direction of macro Nature as the basis for individual quality of life. In the present times it is not necessary to make a rigid template or rulebook about a better quality of human life. It is sufficient first of all to understand that man can be rational today and need not commit to a dogma. Contemporary science and technology certainly has the potential for enabling any man to actualize his ability to move from a dogmatic mental state to a rational mental state, which uses the intellectual method of inquiry. This is one of the main elements of the third phase of mental evolution whereby rationality becomes commonplace. Today, as never before, a large number of people have access to the information of facts and knowledge required for actualizing rationality on a large scale.  With the help of advanced technology like supercomputers, etc., we can find the material resources, productivity, efficiency and leisure for defining the next leap in the direction of a better quality of human life. Our rationality, equipped with knowledge and technology, will straightaway tell us that if the individual is to truly experience a better quality of human life he will have to ensure a better quality of society. A bad society cannot produce a better quality of life for the individual. So the need to improve the quality of society also comes on our menu. Then we need to take yet another step and look at how the individual can substantially improve the quality of his life in the context of a generally installed and functioning rationality and a better quality of society. He can do so by linking up with Nature at the fundamental level i.e. through moving in the direction of dynamic of harmony. This is not the only item, but it gives us a direction about improving our quality of life as individuals. As individuals we should begin to have an intelligent relationship with macro Nature and then on this basis proceed to go into the micro details of what kind of improvement in quality of life each of us aspire to and prefer. 

 

There are no obstacles or hurdles in the way of this direction. In fact there is plenty of freedom and scope for individuals to take these basic steps and then proceed to improve the quality of life for themselves. Then they are free to choose the kind of literature, poetry, music, relationships, economics, politics, culture, etc., they would prefer and like.  

 

Of course a corollary of this stage of intellectual development will be that we will find it insufficient to aspire only to a better quality of life. If we want to intelligently and holistically structure our lives then we need a better purpose in life, as a better purpose is a necessary ingredient of a better life for an individual. The above is the nature and direction of the agenda that contemporary man needs to cultivate today. And this agenda is coming from an understanding of the evolutionary process of Man over the last two hundred thousand years, and not only since the beginning of civilization. Because we must also be able to see our pre-human animal part which still exists in us in the form of our genetic processes. So today we can take a holistic view of ourselves and our lives. 

 

This is the nature of the movement that man needs to produce today for reversing the existing negative trends and resolving the multiple crises in human life. And the struggle to fulfill the basic and general requirements and necessary conditions outlined above is what will materialize the new movement, which is not only about a subjectively better quality of life for the individual but also a better society, wherein both of them are in sync with macro Nature. 

 

Further mental evolution towards dialectic of harmony to be based on a subjective consumptive basis

As mentioned earlier, further evolution of mental processes in the third phase will proceed in the direction of dynamic of harmony or in other words, Aesthetic of Nature. In this phase the aesthetic of Nature (as the basis for individual and collective quality of life) will become primary within the emotional and mental processes of individuals while the personal dimension and its subjective agenda will become secondary. In the case of early post-civilization man when the mental dimension of pursuing quality was added to survival the issue of material survival remained primary while the pursuit of quality was still a secondary drive. And then gradually the pursuit of tangible and intangible quality of life became a dominant drive and simple physical survival took a back seat. In the next evolutionary stage, the holistic mental dimension driven by aesthetic of Nature will become primary while both biological survival and mere subjective pursuit of quality will become secondary.  

Movement towards this next stage will be logically resisted by contemporary individuals. As it will appear highly impractical in terms of their existing criteria of practicality. And it will be difficult for them to treat something unpractical as primary and what is the reigning practical as secondary. All forms of practicality, whether animal, pre-civilization or post- civilization, have one feature in common; they are all consumables. Even when they are mental or in terms of preferences pertaining to quality of life, for instance milk, perfumes, etc., they are to be consumed.  Now the problem is that the concept of Aesthetic of Nature does not appear to be a consumption item, in other words, it does not seem to be about taking but only giving.  Whereas the fundamental criterion of practicality in our mind is pegged to consumption and consumable categories. We know, understand and like generous giving but it is essentially a marginal trait and entirely optional. We do not treat it as a practical compulsion. Whereas the transition towards the next evolutionary stage sounds very much like giving and not about consumption. And we have earlier referents and examples of this in those people who started talking about further development of mental processes in the direction of harmony and pegged it to heaven, hell and God. These mental trends about goodness, godliness, spirituality, following God’s way, pleasing God and so on were not based on consumption or taking. In fact they are generally referred to, across the board, as sacrificing, which is a stronger term for giving. In our view this is the reason for their failure to stabilize and channelize human mental growth in the long run. They were coming up against one of those fundamentals which is common to pre-civilized species and civilized Man, i.e. practicality being defined by consumption. Thus we have to discover the pursuit of a dialectic of harmony in our own minds, lives and civilization as consumption and taking, and not just giving.

We can visualize a time in the future when the existing biological process will be replaced by a better material process but we cannot visualize any process that would not be taking but only giving. The logic of an individual dimension is and will be taking otherwise we will need to say that the individual dimension should disappear, which would be an illogical proposition. Because Nature, both non-living and living, has a logical requirement for discreteness and the individual dimension otherwise there would not have been nor will be any evolution. So it is logical that there must be individuals in whatever shape or form. And if there is going to be an individual then there is certainly a consumer. Of course the patterns of consumption will keep changing at every stage. For instance, in the period of civilization man’s previous pattern of instant consumption was replaced by delayed consumption. Instead of instant consumption he was willing to wait five to twenty years for consumption. And he was willing to invest time and effort in consumption, but there had to be a genuine consumption which would more than justify to him on a subjective scale his investment in consumption.

In this context if there is to be an evolved mental state based on dynamic of harmony then it can only be a state of consumption. Of course since this state is about the dynamic of harmony it will not be a consumption vis-à-vis each other, which is and has been the case in dialectic of contradiction. It will be a consumption in harmony. It will surely involve a perfectly valid and real giving, which is in fact a step in aid of consumption. If this was not so then the pleasure principle in Nature would have no meaning. To sum up, we need to put our further mental development on a subjective practical individual consumption basis, as a logical further development of the trend which began with civilization when it went beyond the biological processes and included mental processes. So now it is a question of the same process taking a few more steps towards an even better quality of life. 

[Note: This piece of writing is based on the following Lecture nos.: 557 (Mar 2008) & 562 (Mar 2008)] 

 

Notes

i. Darwin, 1871, The Descent of Man, and Selection in relation to Sex, London: John Murray 

ii. Feelings of empathy in certain animals like elephants and chimpanzees which makes them help another animal which is caught in a problem. Or the act of play and curiosity in monkeys which sidelines or overrides the individual survival instinct.  

iii.  Of course we do not dispute that there were some critical external factors and circumstances, like threat of starvation, demographic pressure, etc., which became logical catalysts for the emergence of these mental choices and acts. Which means individual biological survival was important in the earlier stages but the continuous growth and elaboration of these activities tells us that very soon improving the quality of life beyond survival became the dominant drive and mere physical survival became secondary.  

iv.  Like nuts, fruits, and even hunted meat.  

v. Of course life here is of the biologically surviving specimen, as a precondition for the pursuit of quality on the mental plane. 

vi. Which will incorporate not only all the dimensions of the individual, but most importantly his collective social dimension.