The brain has only so much ‘mind’
The more we focus ‘here‘, the less aware of the peripheral ‘there‘ we can be. Thought elevates our disquieting sense of the unknown ‘there‘ , which we attempt to buffer by conforming to our cultural paradigm. First, we trust our parents to model this and soothe our anxiety. Later, as adults we rely on our leaders and experts (spokesmen of the paradigm) to know what we don’t.
However, do they really know the unknown ‘there’?
We all focus ‘here‘ in the particular corners of reality that interest us. The problem is that reality is ‘here‘ and ‘there‘ (interconnected). The more we focus ‘here‘, the less ‘mind’ we have left over to ponder ‘there‘. To fill this void and being social animals we’re attracted to the partisan views (and the leaders who preach them) which say what we emotionally want to hear. This misleads us and so becomes the weakest link in our world view. A good example: we’re rational enough to figure out nuclear physics, yet emotionally partisan enough to build bombs to obliterate ourselves. Of course, recognizing such inconsistency in others is easier than seeing it in ourselves.
The partisan view that answers our perceived need (selfish or philanthropic) is irresistible.
Embracing such views spares us from open-ended curiosity and reflection, yet gives us the illusion that we ‘think’ and know. This may account for the disconnect between our ideals and reality. For example: it is said that over 90% of folks working in higher education are liberal. If this is so, it is curious . . . , are liberals neurologically better equipped than other partisan groups to see the ‘here‘ and ‘there‘ of reality? Of course, each partisan group feels it really knows best.
So, how can we know when we really know?
It seems we can only ‘know’ that we don’t know (and even that takes a lifetime to realize). The question is boundless, leaving us feeling powerless and insecure. Our current paradigm compensates for this by a belief in the power of the individual and ‘free will’. Our belief in individual power has only grown stronger since the last ice age even though our distant ancestors had much less control over life than we do. Perhaps the cultural transition away from group identity (tribal) toward individual identity (civilization) has liberated the human psyche from its former ancestral sources of security and sanity. Furthermore, we emotionally co-opt our increasing technological ‘control’ over nature and feel it synonymous with self-power – much like a person who drives a ‘cool’ car feels that the ‘coolness’ has rubbed off onto him. Whether he’s really ‘cool’ or not is irrelevant, as long as he FEELS ‘cool’ it helps him cope with his feelings of insecurity.
The deepest, most ancient layers of experience are emotional (feeling).
Life without feeling would be ‘dead’. Human thought, on the other hand, is one of nature’s most recent ‘experiments’. Our brains may have become just a tad too big, causing an imbalance between the two poles of experience, emotion and reason (feeling and thinking). Our bigger brain allows us to alter our circumstances, but provides insufficient ability to know (feel!) what the consequences of such tinkering will be. Nature has given the monkey a machine gun.
But is our ignorance of consequences really the short-coming of our bigger brain?
We can and do think of consequences when we desire to. Obviously we lack the innate sustained desire to do so. Although desire has countless ways of expressing itself, emotion drives its hunger. In ancestral conditions, there was no need to have any long term desire to be aware of consequences. Before our brain got big enough to hold a ‘mind’, we responded to our environment spontaneously. Actions had immediate consequences. We pursued what felt good (desire) and avoided what didn’t – the biology of basic survival. We had no tools and laid no plans (to speak of), and thus caused no long term consequences.
Simply, our innate emotional ‘abilities’ have not adapted to our big brain.
Our complex technological culture needs input from those who can see broadly enough, ‘here‘ and ‘there‘ – especially the wispy ‘there‘. A counsel of ‘expert generalists’ might help once the cultural paradigm shifts enough to accept humanities’ innate rational / emotional imbalance and thus value such leadership. Then too, rising longevities improve everyone’s chances of becoming an ‘expert generalist’. Above some threshold, the social paradigm will shift to reflect this rising tide of elderly ‘expert generalists’. A more circumspect approach to life should naturally weaken the hold ‘partisan views’ have on the human psyche, and we’ll all live happily ever after, right?