Modern Humans (homo sapiens) have been on the planet for roughly 100,000 years. We’ve been living in civilized groups for maybe just over 10% of that time. Seems like a long time to me as I’ve only been on the planet for a few decades. In the grand scheme of things, though, humanity’s time doesn’t amount to an eye blink or hiccup. It’s literally no time at all.
Over that short period of time, humans have wreaked havoc on this planet. We have driven many species to extinction or near extinction. We’ve polluted and destroyed natural resources that we and other animals depend upon. We’ve even marginalized groups of our own species and at times destroyed them through genocide. What is wrong with us?
Rapid Rise to Stardom
During the short [geological] time we’ve been on the planet, we’ve developed a neocortex whose job it is to make sense out of sensual data, help us understand our environment, and invent tools – to our evolutionary advantage.
So far, that evolutionary advantage seems to have done pretty well for us – we sit pretty firmly at the top of the food chain in most environments on earth. We’ve even been able to leave the planet and set our foot on another celestial body. No other mega fauna in history has been so successful so fast over such a wide range of environments. We’re absolutely amazing!
Yet we’ve done such horrible things! Whaddupwiddat?!!
Successful Yet Inept?
One key to our success as a species is our huge brain. Specifically, the size of our cortex, and even more specifically, the size of our neocortex, the “new brain” that distinguishes us from other primates. It has given us the capacity to build technologies that expand our natural capacities in ways other animals would envy had they our capacity for jealousy and greed.
Let me reiterate: our “new brain” area has NOT been experienced by any animal before us (as far as I know, that is). It didn’t come with a manual – though it learns pretty rapidly. It’s capable of very complex thinking – like abstract and deductive thought, science and engineering, imagination, and art – making them susceptible to thinking errors.
Although the new brain has given us an evolutionary advantage, it is, nonetheless, NEW. Even to humanity, that new brain is, well – new! And that is the point –
It’s SO new, the manual has yet to be written!
What?! No User Manual?!!
The human neocortex is new in the same way my first Smartphone was new to me. I had to learn how to swipe and tap and long tap, etc. Hell, I didn’t even know how to turn the thing on when I first unboxed it. I had to LEARN how to use it before it became useful. I’m still learning!
Fortunately, due to some pretty smart engineers, my Smartphone came with a manual, so I could learn from folks who already knew how to use the thing. My neocortex came with that sort of manual – in the form of my parents, grandparents, adult family members and their adult friends. Yet, that manual has flaws in it, as Richard Dawkins explains –
Natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents and tribal elders tell them. And this very quality automatically makes them vulnerable to infection by mind viruses. (Dawkins, Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 24, Number 5, Aug/Sept., 2004)
However, I soon made the thinking error of choosing to follow instructions offered by my peers, who were working off their own interpretations of the manuals offered them from those they trusted. My parents and the others I trusted early on probably fell to the same thinking error. I soon had a pretty messy user manual for my neocortex that I could pass on to my “lucky” offspring!
What Do I Expect?
It has taken modern humans several tens of thousands of years to figure out how to live in groups larger than a small few. Few because we had this tendency towards war/genocide. Civilization as we understand it arose so recently as to barely make a tic on the human timeline.
In other words, we’re NEW to thinking – which explains why we do it so poorly at times.
I don’t expect my 3 year old granddaughter to just know how to ride a bicycle or do complex trigonometry. She’s a child – new to this world. I feel compassion for her when she oversteps her abilities. I’m quick to jump in and assist her. “It’s okay… Let me help you…”
Yet, I expect wise choices from other adults who, like me, are just learning how to harness the vast capacities of their “in-head” smart devices we know as their neocortex.
I EXPECT a lot from adults [me included] who, although they’ve had lots of training in what to think, have had precious little training in how to think. My expectation is probably a thinking error. The more I learn about my thinking errors, however, the less prone I am to repeating them. One advantage to having and using a neocortex!
Time for a Little Compassion!
So, how about a little compassion for myself and others when we seem to have made a “bonehead” mistake? Rather than entertaining regret for such behavior – and the thinking errors behind it – maybe we can let go of the judgment, guilt, and anger, and simply LEARN something instead.
We humans can LEARN how to overcome thinking errors – learning we can pass on to future generations that will be born with a “new brain” manual in the form of instinct (maybe encoded into their DNA?) for rational thought, innate compassion, and native connection with others (including other species).
Let’s start the human evolutionary ball rolling by exercising a little compassion, people.
By compassion I do not mean we allow anyone to do anything whenever they wish. Law is useful until it is no longer useful. I define compassion here as an action to alleviate another’s [mental] suffering due to their lack of education, rather than due to a lack of or flaw in their character. I mean extending the heart of forgiveness and mercy when holding the sword of justice – until we no longer need justice or forgiveness.
How might you feel when you look at the hurtful actions of another person and say to yourself, “They are experiencing a thinking error…” – then identify the specific thinking error involved and seek to find an anecdote for it that you can apply to your own [same or similar] thinking errors?
In other words…
Transformation may require more than evolution.
Make your own user manual for your new brain based on new information, new understandings, new ways of thinking! We can transform the human species through compassionate service and loving acceptance. As we pass on the compassion meme to our offspring, we drive evolution in that direction.
We can do this, people!