October 5, 2010

Cultural Evolution, Phase II - Establishing A Unified Worldview

UPDATE:  Recent UN Actions Show Policy Shift, Analysts Say

The recent UN intervention "in Ivory Coast action showed the extent to which the United Nations’ legal and moral commitment to protect civilians now held sway over key permanent Security Council members, including France, Britain and the United States. Diplomats noted that even Russia and China, which in the past have avoided interfering in the domestic affairs of sovereign nations, were persuaded to support the resolution on the Ivory Coast and also did not veto military action in Libya."

Sam Harris on The Daily Show
This link and the book it promotes inspire me and give me hope.  I think we are on the verge of the second most significant event in our species' evolutionary history.  The first event was our commitment to and reliance upon "culture," what I call our First Fundamental Adaptation to the extremely difficult daily and seasonal challenges of the biosphere.  This sounds like a wisdom-driven choice made by our ancient human ancestors.  It really wasn't a choice.  It was rather an adaptive response born of necessity.  To do otherwise would most likely have meant death and extinction.

Our ancestors' use of culture was initially facilitated by their preadaptive primate sociality and their use of stone hand tools.  At some point, earlier or later, their use of culture and its content was made more adaptive, to a wider range of circumstances and environments, by the emergence of high- or rich-content symbolic language.  This happened to a degree that a distinctive "human" culture emerged that was different only in degree from the non-human culture of other "higher" animals.  That is, the "degree" to which it allowed our ancestors a deeper, more subtle and nuanced form of communication, and the relative degree to which they could survive in and, in fact, dominate their environment.

Culture allowed our human-like ancestors, primates with comparatively unremarkable anatomical traits (small canine teeth and weak muscles relative to those of other predator and prey animals), to survive as individuals and groups in an extremely arduous African environment millions of years ago.  This is not an unproven theory or belief.  It is a scientific understanding of our prehistoric past based on fossils and other demonstrable, incontrovertible evidence.

Had our species not passed through this figurative eye of an evolutionary needle, later inventions and innovations in our cultural evolution, such as complex metal technology, large scale plant and animal domestication, cities, complex architecture, writing and codified law, would not have occurred.  We might have nevertheless evolved into higher social primates, physically but not culturally, in the broadest sense of this term, distinct from modern apes.  Or, without "culture," we might have become extinct as did others in our hominid (human-like) lineage.  My money is on the latter scenario.

Our Second Fundamental Adaptation will be the establishment of a shared global worldview comprised of values and morals based on the scientific knowledge of human experience.  Just as the evolutionary emergence of human culture was essential for our survival, so too is our current need for the establishment of a shared set global values and morals a matter of survival.

I think, given the ever-increasing rate of technological and cultural evolution, the eye of this next evolutionary needle is approaching more rapidly than the first and is significantly smaller than the previous one.  We cannot afford to miss in our effort to pass through it because we are distracted, misled or delayed by the religious and their beliefs.  Failing to make this next evolutionary transition is not an option.  Nor is selfishly, ethnocentrically praying for divine salvation, deliverance and everlasting life.

"The objective knowledge of the natural and social sciences is a better basis than beliefs provided by organized religion for developing and sustaining a global civilization based on shared values and morals. Not having such a global worldview is the biggest, most urgent crisis humankind currently faces. It is a myth that we can't get there through science." So said Sam Harris (my paraphrasing) on The Daily Show, talking about his just-published book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values - http://www.amazon.com/Moral-Landscape-Science-Determine-Values/dp/1439171211/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1286297676&sr=1-1

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