In discussing human affairs, an old friend said, “We as a species are so very complex and vulnerable we’re easily led by whoever we listen to”. I countered with, “We are a profoundly social species which accounts for how easily we can be led. Human behavior reflects instinctive emotion…” He countered that with, “I have seen many comparisons of primates to humans, but modern man has put two little machines on Mars that send back pictures from there. That is a pretty big gap between humans and other primates”.
I have heard about this “pretty big gap” between our species and others animals all my life. It’s an ancient story. However, the species judging that “gap” is hardly an impartial judge! If gorillas could cogitate like us, I’ve no doubt they would also notice the “pretty big gap” between them and ourselves, and judge themselves superior.
Each species possess an innate species-centric sense of self and would choose that criteria as a basis upon which to base judgment. Because we evolved as a very ‘hand and mind’ species, that is the criteria we naturally choose to base our comparisons upon. It isn’t surprising that the comparisons we make are instinctively (unconsciously) narrow and biased in our favor. The only true “gap” I see is that we can canonize the judgments we make. (Note, “sense of self” and “judgment” are ad hoc descriptions when referring to species other than human, but I must work with what I have, right?)
Perhaps Jesus was alluding to this issue when he said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged“. I reckon that is only possible when one can say “yes” to the question chapter 10 raises, When your discernment penetrates the four quarters are you capable of not knowing anything? How do we know our discernment has penetrated the four quarters? Chapter 56 hints, This is known as mysterious sameness.
Towards narrowing the gap
How do the “pretty big gap” and the accomplishments of “modern man” appear when we step back and view our species over the last 200,000 years? But, why stop there? After all, several hundred thousand years earlier, our ancestral relative Homo erectus figured out how to harness fire. (photo: Homo erectus, 500,000 B.C.)
The discovery how to harness fire revolutionized the way Homo erectus lived. The next half million years saw incremental progress made by the Homo species (H. erectus, H. neanderthalensis, and H. sapiens). Finally, a mere 10,000 years ago, the agricultural revolution occurred which built upon the foundation laid by that early discovery of the harnessing of fire.
The agricultural revolution set the stage for mega population and cultural organization of what in the wild were always scattered hunger gatherer groups. Civilization accelerated the rate of change, especially technological progress, until the stage was set for next monumental discovery: The harnessing of electricity!
Harnessing electricity, a fire in its own right, was as significant a change to the way we live, as was the discovery of fire half a million years earlier. Without the harnessing of electricity, there would be no cars (ignition system), airplanes, T.V., radio, computer, refrigeration, or scientific breakthroughs in medicine, space, physics, chemistry, ecology, etc. No electron microscopes, Hubble telescope, and all the measurement technologies in between that make all things modern possible.
Stepping back farther, I see all that has happened hinged on a few pivotal changes. This is not unlike the process occurring throughout nature, as Darwin observed. The key pivotal changes in our case have been the harnessing of fire and electricity. Everything else is just an unintended consequence of those events.
Yet, even those pivotal events are only the consequence of having evolved as a very ‘hand and mind’ species. As I said before, the only true “gap” I see is that we can canonize the judgments we make. In the end, this canonization is what enables our discoveries to be accretive. It enables progress in our control of nature and clearly an equal regress in our balance with nature.
Stepping back all the way, I see a meta-natural balance remains. Our ‘regress’ counterbalances our ‘progress’. One-step forward, one-step back, and so natural balance remains. We’ve merely exchanged one set of problems (e.g., physical survival) with another (e.g., emotional survival). As chapter 5 reminds us, Heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs.