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Script for the first in a series of classes presenting new thinking in evolution and a new natural philosophy based on it. The series will end with suggestions for practices leading to a lifetime of enriched consciousness.
I’ve a new way of thinking to share with you. It can help you feel a great deal better about yourself, and a lot more at home in the world. Like a religion, it can add meaning to your life and connect you more meaningfully to other people.
What I’ve done is take what we already know, pull it apart, and put the pieces back together in a new way. That is, I’ve taken what we know about ourselves, what we’ve learned from science, what’s obviously true, and arranged it all in a new way so it tells us something different from what we’ve used to.
What we’re used to comes from asking, what’s true? What could be better than that? I ask instead, what matters most? I think what matters most is the effect something has on a human consciousness over the course a lifetime. It’s saying, what matters most to each of us is how each of our conscious experiences can enrich those that follow. This isn’t simply narrow self interest--worrying about what’s going to happen to future generations can enrich our own consciousness over time.
Let’s start with ways we’re special. How is a person different from a rock, for example? Here’s one way—how we respond to surprise. A rock’s response is just a matter of physical changes between one moment and the next. But our response involves time. How we respond is affected by all our past memories. We carry all our past moments with us as a living legacy, to refer to. The rock doesn’t.
Our present moment too is different from that of a rock. Conscious experience comes as moments. A present moment lasts around a second, during which we can register changes from one instant to the next. And in that present moment we can draw on our past memories and use intuition to decide what to do next, to affect what will happen in subsequent moments. The rock, by contrast, doesn’t have a present moment, it’s just yields passively to the physical forces acting on it in each instant.
And we can anticipate the future in ways rocks can’t, both mentally and physically. When we’re surprised we respond by figuring out how to deal with similar surprises in future. And we respond physically by laying down fat so when we’re surprised in the future we’ll have free energy, more than we may be able to generate on the fly. Purely material things can’t store fat. They don’t need to. They can’t choose how to react to things as we can.
So human existence differs from that of a rock by involving memory, intuition, and anticipation. And what that says about us is, while what happens to the rock is determined by the laws of physics, what happens to us must be partly up to us. We can choose, we must have free will. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have evolved memory, intuition and anticipation. They can make a difference only to creatures that aren’t determined, that can choose what to do next.
How did we come by memory, intuition, and anticipation? They evolved in us. To understand ourselves we need to understand that, how we evolved. There already is a scientific theory of evolution but it doesn’t work within the new thinking., we’re concerned only with how conscious experience can change in the course of our own lifetimes. The scientific theory of evolution involves how living creatures can change over millions of generations. So we need a theory to stand in for it, that we can apply within the present-lifetime context.
This can help us make sense of another way we’re different from a rock. It involves meanings. Our thinking is full of meanings. We ask, “if” something will happen, or wonder “why” it happens, or we say it’s “because of” something. We hope for something, or fear it. These are all meanings. A rock can’t experience meanings like these, it isn’t equipped to. But we are. And once we have them we can associate them with other thoughts and experience to make a host of new meanings. This also make us different from other animals. We can be conscious of a much wider range of meanings than they can because we make meanings from history and culture. Over a lifetime, as we gather more and better meanings, our conscious experiences can become deeper and richer. So central to the new thinking is how meanings become available to consciousness.
Meanings are what conscious life runs on. When we understand something, it’s in terms of the meanings we associate it with. Meanings are for us what a periscope is to a submarine commander, they’re our window on the world. Without meanings we’d experience the material world around us as a mere jumble of impressions.
To manage meanings we’ll have to appreciate how they evolved. Our theory will involve the genome. Run any train of thought back to where it started and it will involve the senses. Our senses are programmed into us by the genome. We can’t hear any sound, see any color, feel anything, unless the genome’s equipped us to experience it.
That equipment isn’t a matter simply of physics and chemistry, as the scientific theory implies. Our experiences of red and green do begin with chemicals in our eyes that responds to particular wavelengths of light. But there’s no chemical corresponding to our experience of yellow, it’s what we experience when the chemicals responsible for us seeing red and green both respond at once. Instead of experiencing some mixture of red and green we see a completely different color. The genome created a new meaning for us simply by giving us a new experience. And that true not only of our senses, but of ways we think. We come equipped to reason, to practice intuition, to reach conclusions and make decisions. They all originate in equipment, like our impressions of color, that the genome’s built into us. How evolution works must involve the genome. In future classes we’ll account for meanings as originating primarily in the genome.
I’ve just demonstrated where some of the new thinking comes from. Partly it’s from logic. It’s logic that tells us we have free will—if we were determined by the laws of physics, like the rock, we wouldn’t have benefited by evolving memory and intuition. And partly the new thinking comes from science. It’s from science that we’ve learned about the genome. So partly the new thinking is based on logic applied to what we’ve know about ourselves and what we’ve learned from science.
We’ll learn we’re vastly more marvelous than we currently suppose. How wonderful that makes us we’ll deal with in future classes, along with the nature of consciousness, and our relationship to the genome. Our final classes will involve coming up with practices helping us to increasingly appreciate ourselves and each other in the light of this new thinking.