The Invisible Dimension: Lamark, Spirituality, and the Divine Template of Cultural Evolution

July 11th, 2014 by acjohner

 

INTRODUCTION

As an anthropologist interested in the subjects of spirituality and cultural evolution, I was enthralled to find an interesting relationship between the fundamental theories of both subjects: belief in an invisible dimension which orients all life in harmony to larger systems.   For centuries, theorists in anthropology pronounced that the wellspring of human culture exists within an unseen realm of information from which our behaviors are sourced.  Similar to the contemporary use of the word ‘consciousness’ among New Age and pseudoscience communities, culture- by a conglomerate of theoretical perspectives across many disciplines, denotes an entity or body that can be measured.  While consciousness is the wellspring of our awareness, culture is the wellspring of our behavior.  While this prospective on culture as a living entity is metaphoric in its origin, over the last century we have observed this concept shed itself of its fairy-tale camouflage and move into a place of pure objectivity.  For many theorists, human culture has been comparative to the ‘cloud’ of the internet, the confluence of television airwaves floating above our heads, or the underlying codex of computer software. Like any other living entity, it has been viewed as forming a single body, inclusive of a collective memory, and is progressively growing in proportion and complexity.  The author, and botanist Wade Davis cleverly defined this as the ‘Ethnosphere’ (Davis, 2002). Recently expressed in a Ted talk that has since gathered over a million views, Davis articulated:

 

Together the myriad cultures of the world make up a web of spiritual life and cultural life that envelops the planet and is as important to the wellbeing of the planet as the biological web of life known as the biosphere, and you might think of this cultural web of life as being the ‘ethnosphere.’ And you might define the ethnosphere as being the sum total of all thoughts, dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations, intuitions brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. (Davis, 2007)

 

Davis’s concept of the ethnosphere, like several comparative perspectives on the body of culture, is close akin to theory for the wellspring of religious dogma. Scholars of religion have come upon the analogous conception for the wellspring of all religious thought and knowledge known as the perennial philosophy; a basic bedrock that serves as a template for all derivatives of religious belief and practice.  It is this wellspring that is believed to be the source of all mythology and religious dogma.  We find the first impressions of this in shamanism, the earliest form of religion on this planet.  From the voodoo acolytes in Haiti, the Jhakri shaman in India, to the Dogon sorcerers in central Mali, all share the universal belief in an unseen dimension from which they interact with spirits, ancestors, and bodies of intelligence.  It is through this otherworldly interaction, be it through ecstatic dancing to a repetitive drum beat, the ingestion of hallucinogenic plants, or a night of rhythmic chanting that they extract knowledge and wisdom (Lewis, 1971).  Moving away from religion and into the field of psychology, Carl Jung put forth the idea that there existed a collective unconscious that housed all human thought and knowledge from the beginning of time (Jung, 1968).  Further back in time from Jung, and in the field of paleontology and evolutionary theory, Vladimir Vernadsky and Teilhard de Chardin composed the theory of the Noosphere; a sphere of human thought which much akin to the biosphere, belonging specifically to the consciousness of mankind (Chardin, 1959).

Throughout various disciplines, of theology, psychology, anthropology, and evolutionary biology, all have come upon this comparative notion that there exists an invisible dimension of information that directs human thought and knowledge on a collective scale. Why does this idea of an invisible realm of information keep popping up again and again throughout these various fields of research as an overarching theme for the wellspring of our humanity?  While it sounds much akin to a child’s bedtime story of otherworldly encounter, belonging more in legend and poetic verse than in the pages of academic journals, we find ‘the invisible dimension’ appearing again and again.

The religious sphere of our humanity, as well as our superstitious and magical perspective, has certainly diminished over the past few centuries with the rise of our scientific knowledge, with Nietzsche declaring “God is Dead,” all the way back in 1883 (Nietzsche, 1974).  Secularism has moved across the core of our society leaving an almost dreary domain of rationalism, and destroying our mythic legends in its wake. However coming into the twenty-first century as we move beyond this stage in the evolution of our logic, it may turn out that science is the place where God makes a triumphant return, and perhaps in the form of hard empirical data.  While all the esoteric and metaphysical seems beyond the reaches of scientific study, there is one place where it comes alive enough for us to observe and measure; our culture.

Human Culture is and of itself a deep mystery.  For over a century now social sciences have gathered evidence suggesting that we have an evolved psychology that informs what we learn and how we think (Boyd & Richerson, 2005).  It is this directing influence that initially codifies our behaviors; our own individual belief-systems; why we believe the things that we do and in turn where we see ourselves fitting in our greater society (2005).

The emergence of human culture was the dawning of a new phase in our evolutionary process (Ekstig, 2010).  As our planet evolved it went through several stages of evolution each specific to its own typology of transformation.   The most familiar to us was that of natural selection.  The theory postulated by Charles Darwin seems to hold true for major portion of earth history, however, there comes a point when the random process of natural selection seems to have shifted into autoorganization which is revealed through the natural symmetry that we find in nature.  Beyond autoorganization, the world shifted once again into a self-directed evolutionary phase guided by the daily choices of our own species (Galleni, 2001). These phases are known as the Geocentric, Organismocentric, and the Biosphereocentric.  Each of these phases is typified by a dramatic increase in the spread and connectivity of evolutionary information (2001).  Up until the emergence of culture this process was left up to the transference of genetic information.  However the emergence of culture offered a new way in which information was acquired, stored and transmitted to new generations (Buskes, 2013).

Cultural evolutionary theory has been hailed as vital to our understanding how evolutionary information is being transmitted. It is for this reason that the cumulative selection process of our biological evolution, is comparative to the selection process involving all of our ideas, technology, concepts, and sciences (Boyd & Richerson, 2005).   While Darwin postulated that evolution of the biological world happened at random, through human culture we actively direct and choose particular variations for ourselves, thus bringing our biological evolution into a co-creative process (Buskes, 2013).  Cultural variation is guided or ‘nonrandom’ because new variants are usually generated consciously and purposively.  We can actively seek out the variations and inventions that are needed.

Culture does not drive itself independently however, there is always an operator; underlying forces that influence its morphology. Culture has to be constructed and embellished to such an extent of complexity that it would be naïve not to assume there were some strategic planning buried somewhere there in our subconscious.   Phillip Hefner, once the editor of “Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science,” calls this process the ‘evolutionary epic.’  For Hefner, the epic of evolution is this process in which our human evolution of culture is natural and a fundamental part of our shifting biology (2003):

What should guide us in the construction and conduct of our culture? The values we espouse, the worldviews we hold, the decisions we make, all flow from the ways in which our consciousness is organized. In scientific terms, it is the psychological dimension of our personality that plays the role of gatekeeper between our genetic and cultural inputs, on the one hand, and what we shall select to pay most attention to and therefore act upon, on the other hand. (Hefner 2003, p. 539)

HUMAN CULTURE IS A PRODUCT OF EVOLVING INFORMATION

Major contributors to our current perspectives on evolutionary biology, including Richard Dawkins, and Kate Distin among many, argue that human culture is a product of evolving information (Dawkins 1990, Distin 2010, Boyd, R., & Richardson 2005). As the American author Howard Bloom writes:  “Culture transforms a record of the past into a prediction of the future; it transforms memory into tradition-into rules of how to proceed.  And culture is profoundly social.  It exists not just in one mind, but binds together mobs of minds in a common enterprise” (Bloom 2010, p. 146).  The heart of what Bloom is conveying, is that all of our interactions in society can be broken down into packets of information, a large portion of it being language itself, which shaped the whole ‘thinking’ system of our collective society. “Culture is the behavioral and artefactual product of interactions between humans and cultural information,” Distin Writes (p. 134).

Traditionally, when we think of evolution we imagine little fish-like creatures with gills and speckled skin crawling out of the water on their bellies sprouting appendages and phalanges and scaling the nearest tree.  Seldom do we think of evolution on the minute and unseen scale of compounding information stored in our DNA, or in epigenetic realms beyond.  Dawkins writes in The Selfish Gene, “the law that all life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities,” i.e that information is replicating itself as a means of transference, and “a view of life that applies to living things everywhere in the universe.  The fundamental unit, the prime mover of all life, is the replicator” (Dawkins 2010, p. 215).

From Dawkin’s perspective, evolution is a fundamental algorithm that informs the progression of all nature in terms of infinite replication (2010). A cell divides, becomes 2 then 4, then 8.  The same process is happening on a far more complex level in terms of our cultural biology.  Our cultural biology can be thought of as a body of language, or a living data thoughts and ideas that could spread and replicate themselves in the same way genetic information is replicated.

The British author, Susan Blackmore, popularized the idea of data-replication in terms of ‘memes’.  For Blackmore, “tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, fashions, and ways of making things are all spread from person to person by imitation.  They vary and are selected.  These are the new replicators- the memes” (Blackmore 2000, p. 17).  For Blackmore, the evolution of info-replication has now surpassed its dependence on the biological world.  Through our human technology of writing, copy and printing, as well as our vast global communication networks and the internet’s ability to store infinite data, this replication process has reached a new level of accelerated complexity (2000).

According to Blackmore, as the copying increases, the thirst for innovation is unleashed to almost dangerous levels. She writes:

This flowering of a new replicator leads to a completely new way of understanding how humans came to have such unique features as their excessively large brain; true language; extensive toll use; a love of music, art, and religion; and complex culture.  I argued that by a process of “memetic drive,” memes changed the environment in which human genes were selected and so drove genes to produce ever-larger brains that were better at imitating the currently successful memes.  In this way our brains became selective imitation devices, adapted to copying some kinds of memes more easily than others. (Blackmore 2000, p.4)

It’s not just us humans who are responding to this sort of directive information.  When you set a flowerpot in a window, what makes it gradually turn its petals toward the glowing sun?  Plants will respond to the length of daylight and nighttime with differing chemical responses that are timed with each. Phythochrome is a light-sensitive pigment protein that goes active when sun hits it.  Like a mini solar-panels, when light hits the phythochrome and raises it to a particular level, the plant in turn flowers.  We find a multiplicity of examples throughout nature. What tells the bee to build hives, make honey, and pollinate flowers; or ants to work together in massive droves building labyrinths underneath the earth, sending out scouts to find food, constructing fungal gardens, and burying their dead?  It seems there exists some form of information beyond language that is encoded within nature.

While the natural world seems devoid of any phonic language systems, an innate system of information which dictates the function of the whole system seems to be undermining everything.  What we call ‘instinct’ is nature’s ‘auto-pilot,’ but what informs instinct? Is there a real difference between our biological program and the one operating in the cultural landscape? How much of our cultural make-up is fundamentally instinctual?   The same way that synthesis of structurally complex proteins shape our body’s functioning, so to do culture patterns provide a formative basis of programming for all our social and psychological processes shaping group behavior (Hefner, 2003).

One evolutionary theorist, John M. Smart, believes that there exists a cosmos of information, not confined to our own earth, but one that extends outwards, encapsulating all that twinkling blackness above our heads as well as our own terra firma down below (Smart, 2010).  The instinct which undermines the universe is believed by many to be the same instinct which commands the biological world of our earth, and the post-biological world of our human culture (Smart, 2000).  When we think of an invisible realm of information informing culture we at first assume this as language.  It is no argument that language was a huge leap for our species, giving us the ability to decrypt the innate language of our instinctual nature. It has been debated for a long time whether or not our language was a cultural evolution, or a biological one.  A majority of research out there seems to point to our acquisition for language as a biological ‘adaptation’ to work cooperatively in groups (Distin, 2010).

While our individual language systems are learned culturally, our acquisition for language has for a long time been a part of us (Distin, 2010).  Ever since the production of language, the accelerated rate of our evolution has come from the increase in our ability to exchange language faster and faster; with larger amounts of conceptual information being delivered in smaller and smaller packages (Ekstig, 2010).  Language, however, is only the symbolic encoding reflective of a much deeper basis of knowledge and data.  It is this deeper realm of knowledge that is the unseen dimension.  Cultural information is transferring between individuals on the same invisible airways so to speak.  It is for this reason that it is often contemplated how much of our culture is acquired through learned behavior, as opposed to some form of epigenetic inheritance.  Culture may be, in part, a signal that we are picking up from our external environment, like a radio signal or an airborne virus.

Wade Davis, mentioned at the beginning of this article, often discusses his encounters with Ayahuasca, a psychedelic made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine.  The vine contains beta-carbaolines and is mixed with leaves from the Psychotria genus that contains 5-MAO triptamine.  When ingested together, users experience powerful hallucinatory experiences, often claiming to leave this world entirely and visit other dimensions and converse with the entities who inhabit them (Davis, 2007).   One fascinating, and mysterious detail about the drug is the fact that both the vine and the mixtures of leaves of a nearby plant are needed to produce the necessary effect.  If the vine is ingested alone it will not induce the entheogenic effect because the body metabolizes the 5-MAO faster than the drug has to being working.  However, the indigenous cultures learned several thousand years ago that the beta-carbolines of a nearby plant were the precise beta-carbolines needed to enact the 5-MAO and induce profound psychedelic journeys (Davis, 2007).  When questioned how they learned this particular pairing, they claim the spirit of the Ayahuasca vine told them so (2007). Even Albert Hoffman claimed to feel an angelic and guiding presence in the room shortly before his discovery of LSD.

Wade Davis further explains how the natives are able to distinguish between 17 various species of Ayahuasca that are visually undifferentiated by singing to the plants in the light of the full-moon (Davis, 2007).  Apparently each of the separate types of Ayahuasca vine will respond differently to the songs.  If one is to accept the credibility of this method of plant identification, further inquiries must arise to which science has yet to find answers.  What sort of information are the natives accessing through singing songs to plants in the light of the full moon?

According to Davis, “culture is born out of the imagination” (2007).  Culture is not born out of us alone, it is also an expression of nature’s creativity. Culture is found in the jungle portraits made by the ayahuascaros in hundreds of vibrant colors, or in the aboriginal dot-art found in central Australia.  It can be found in the intricate beadwork of Native Americans, the temples built in Machu Picchu, or in the cave paintings of El Castillo.  When we think of anthropology, generally we associate the field to indigenous cultures of the past.  This is because there are no microscopes in the field of anthropology, so if you want to get a closer look at culture, you have to look into the past when culture was a microcosm of what it has become now; when it was a neon bacteria growing out of the jungles of Africa.  When we think of the culture of indigenous tribes, we picture skin dotted with painted art, scarification, bone piercing, ritualized dancing, group chanting around the sacred fire. It is here that culture began, as art, as the creative expression of a group of people.

What has inspired mankind to express himself so creatively?  We find evidence throughout nature supporting the idea that beauty is an adaptation for evolutionary progression.  We see this in the beauty of orchids, the feathers of peacocks, the neon skin of the Dendrobates azureus poison dart frog.   As Phillip Heffner writes:

Culture, therefore, is a happening within nature. Culture belongs to nature. It is, in a metaphorical sense, nature’s organ. We must conclude that culture is nature’s own process of being self-aware—of being aware of itself, of trying to understand itself and its world—and of trying to discharge fundamental processes of evolution under the condition of free choice and decision making. (Hefner 2003, p.539)

LAMARK, NOOSPHERE, AND MORPHIC RESONANCE

Theologian and geologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said that our species was “evolution becoming aware of itself” (Chardin, 1959). Teilhard was also a famous Jesuit Priest, as well as a paleontologist most notable for his philosophical contributions to the field of evolutionary biology with his development of the Noosphere, mentioned earlier. Teilhard was a Christian as much as he was a hard nosed-scientist. For Teilhard, there was no distinguishable difference between science and religion.  The teachings of Judeo-Christianity came alive in Teilhard’s perspective on the evolving world (Lubac, 1965).  Proof-of-God was in the systematic cyclical unfolding of nature in its process of evolution towards infinite complexity, what Teilhard called the ‘Omega point.’  For Teilhard, humanity belonged to this same system of evolution.  We followed along natures clockwork and not our own (1965).  Why was evolution so important to Teilhard’s perspective?

Much akin to Teilhard’s proof of God in natures ‘Omega Point,’ is the theory Lamarkian evolution.  Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was known for coining the idea that all biological life transformed from simpler into more complex and superior forms on an escalator of sorts (Wilkins, 2001).  It was Herbert Spencer who took this concept and coined the term ‘evolution,’ in the first place.  While most associate Darwin with the word evolution, Darwin actually remained distant from the idea, distrusting it (Midgley, 1985).  Dispite Darwin’s distrust, the idea of all life evolving in an upwards and singular direction has become the perspective that most individuals hold of evolution to this day.  It was most vital to Teilhard’s perspective in that it offered support that all life was indeed evolving in a unified manner towards a singular end-point (Lubac, 1965).

Lamark developed one of the key theories of evolutionary biology that still to this day parallels Darwin’s origin of species in terms of popularity (Midgley, 1985).  Lamarkian inheritance basically describes the process in which characteristics acquired during one’s lifetime can pass on to offspring through an epigenetic process known as ‘soft inheritance’ (Buskes, 2013). If a giraffe spends its life reaching for the high branches of the mimosa tree, then through ‘soft inheritance’ its offspring will be born with a longer neck.  What this view postulates is that there is a fundamental engine from which mutations are intentionally created.  By Lamark’s theory, adaptation does not happen at random as it does Darwin’s theory of selective evolution through random mutations- but instead is designed in accordance with the condition of the nervous system thereby improving the aptitude of the particular species by harmonizing mutation with an organisms innate desire for change (Wilkins, 2001).

Maria E. Kronfeldner, author of Darwinian Creativity and Memetics, postulates that cultural evolution is generally considered Lamarkian in character (Kronfeldner, 2006). While Lamark’s theory was abandoned with the development of the modern evolutionary synthesis of natural selection, strong interest in the theory has pursued still to this day in the field of epigenetic inheritance (Midgley, 1985).  For this reason, Lamarkism is most valued today in the field of cultural evolutionary theory.

Beyond biological evolution, the ideas postulated by Lamark seem to make the most since when talking about the inheritance of acquired behaviors as opposed to the inheritance genes.  This is because culture is based on directed changes and not those by predisposed by a biological algorithm, or so it appears. For Lamarck, acquired changes are caused by two factors: an internal drive towards complexity and a mechanism of adaptation to local environmental circumstances (Wilkins, 2001).  Kronfeldner points out that epigenetics is a new turning point in evolutionary biology in that it offers a form of inheritance that happens outside of genes (Kronfeldner, 2006). Kronfeldner argues that cultural evolution is neither epimemetic inheritance or the re-encoding of epimemetic changes into memes.  Instead cultural evolution occurs through the introduction of novelty and self-directed inheritance of cultural information:

The following is uncontroversial: Lamarckian inheritance, literally understood, is biological inheritance through physical reproduction of organisms. Since Lamarckian inheritance is inheritance of acquired characteristics, it is soft inheritance in the sense specified above. Yet, given our current knowledge of genetics, there is a disagreement on whether Lamarckian inheritance demands genetic inheritance or not. (Kronfeldner 2006, p. 3)

A historian and philosopher of biological science, John S. Wilkins, identifies Lamarkian hereditary material as ‘the codex,’ an invisible layer of information known to many in the school of cultural evolutionary theory as the ‘Lamarkian Dimension’ (Jablonka & Lamb, 1995).  Wilkins writes, “like a manuscript carries the written word inscribed upon it; and the end result of inheritance, the organism, the product” (Wilkins 2001, p. 167).

The underlying codex of the Lamarkian Dimension is believed to be evolving culture into higher and more complex forms of itself (Jablonka & Lamb, 1995). This perspective of evolution in a continually upwards and outwards direction is considered fallacious for bio-evolutionary theory however is suiting when tied to the evolution of culture.

Culture, and cultural information will always build towards higher and more complex forms of itself for the simple fact that information never dissipates, it only expands and increases as more of it is introduced.  The same is true for the human capacity to store memory and knowledge.  As we gain more and more information, we build a larger memory of our daily existence.  Unless by some trauma or brain injury we lose access to portions of our memory, the amount of stored information only increases.  The same way that we gain wisdom with age through an accumulation of experiences and learned behaviors, culture on a whole progresses in the same fashion; collecting, storing, and organizing cultural data which is processed and promotes change to improve the culture at large ensuring its survival, sustainability, and growth beyond anything.

Rupert Sheldrake, an author and researcher in the field of parapsychology, developed the theory of ‘Morphic Resonance;’ the idea that memory is inherent in nature (Sheldrake, 2009).  His theory postulates that ant colonies, pigeons, and other ‘natural systems’ inherit a mass of information, like a collective memory,  which has been collected by all previous species of its own kind.  Like the Lamarkian Dimension of epigenetic inheritance, this collective memory is stored in an invisible space beyond the veil of our physicality and is accessed telepathically as it is beyond the individual mind and is stored in a collective field (2009).

Long before Sheldrake, Maurice Halbwachs, a French philosopher, influenced by both Durkheim and philosopher Henri Bergson, came up with the idea of a ‘collective memory’ (Smith, 1964). Halbwachs was interested in how people interpreted the past and mythologized history (1964).  Halbwachs saw collective actions of commemorization such as festivals, storytelling, and writing, as means of record keeping and passing on historic memories (1964).  Like Durkheim’s theory of social solidarity, Halbwachs saw that collective memory was what held society together keeping everyone operating under the banner of a unified story of which every individual found themselves a character.  Halbwachs saw religion as a form of collective memory and expressed itself through myth and dogma (1964). This was the importance of festivals as it dramatized the relationship between individuals and society and gave members a chance to role-play their own legends or see their mythos acted out before them.

Joseph Campbell, one of the leading founders of comparative mythology, believed that the patterns found in mythology cross-culturally expressed the idea of there being a fundamental layer of our psyche that was universal among all mankind.  Campbell’s work was also deeply influenced by psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung whom also believed that myth was our symbolic interpretation of deeper realms of the psyche (Jung, 1965).

The most influential thinker of much this debate was Teilhard de Chardin mentioned earlier.  It was during the 20’s that Teilhard, along with a philosopher friend Eduard Le Roy, coined the before mentioned noosphere to describe a layer of blueness around the earth which for Teilhard symbolized the density of thought (Chardin, 1959).  His word, ‘Noosphere’ describes the layer of mind, thought and spirit hovering just about the earth like a layer of our atmosphere (King, 2005).  Beyond mere metaphor, Teilhard believed that this layer physically existed as real as the atmosphere separating us from the hydrogen of space.  While the idea was at first asinine to Teilhard’s contemporaries, the idea has since regained popularity with the emergence of the internet, as well as New Agers adopting the term to support many pseudoscientific theories including Sheldrake’s theory of Morphic Resonance.  Teilhard writes:

Our own hominised planet is now developing a noosphere (a new geological stratum consisting of tightening webs of mind, culture, economics, politics, science, information and technology), thus moving evolution in the direction of a new level of complexity-consciousness. (Haught, 2007)

Teilhard saw the deployment of the noosphere beginning with the handprints found on walls of a cave in Spain, in the Pyrenees and Perigord, and fertility symbols dating back to the Magdelenian Man.  For Teilhard, these were expressions of early superstitious thought and essentially marked the emergence of man’s religion (Chardin, 1959).  He called it the ‘Threshold of the Terrestrial Planet.’ Similar to the stages Geocentric, Oranismocentric, and the Biosphereocentric mentioned earlier, Teilhard saw the planet having gone through geogenisus, leading to biogenisus, catalyzing psychogenisus which was the emergence of man, and finally ‘noogenisis’ an awareness of an organisms’ choices and responsibilities of its activity on the planet (Chardin, 1959).  In The Phenomenon of Man Teilhard writes:

Our picture is of mankind laboring under the impulsion of an obscure instinct, so as to break out through its narrow point of emergence and submerge the earth; of thought becoming number so as to conquer all habitable space, taking precedence over all other forms of life; of mind, in other words, deploying and convoluting the layers of the noosphere. (Chardin 1959, p. 191)

Is Teilhard’s vision the formative dimension of information of both Dawkin’s, Distin’s, and Lamarkian theories of cultural evolution?  It seems one’s curiosity of the function of this invisible realm can only expand to acquire more inquiries while gaining few answers.  What is this realm which seems to be an intersection of so many fields of research; a directive realm of instructive data like the invisible waves that carry radio signals across the planet?  The transference of acquired characteristics would transcend beyond the mere learned.  If it was such, then culture could be a contagious air-born virus that influences anyone in range of it.  And if such was true, finding an answer to the probability of its existence therefore should be rooted in our biology.  If culture does exist as a living entity of breadth and globalized connectivity as Teilhard de Chardin had witnessed in his visionary glimpse as the shroud of blueness enveloping the earth, and there really were a living dimension of thought, knowledge, and human memory, at what point does the theory move beyond the boundary of humanoid and trail into the wilderness of biosphereic and possibly cosmic interaction?

CULTURAL EVOLUTION IS BIOLOGICAL

The earliest uses of the word ‘culture’ had little an association with society.  The original use of the word was linked with the cultivation of crops (Smith, 1964). Many of us are familiar with the use of the term when describing a growth in a lab, such as a ‘culture of bacteria.’  This is because the original use of the word indicated something that was grown and cultivated. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that the word came to be used to describe the spiritual and intellectual development of an individual (Smith, 1964).  At the first part of this century anthropologists began using the term ‘culture’ as we understand it today, and ever since we have come to associate the term with the aesthetic development of any given group of people. Culture in this sense, is the blossom of human society.

Culture shapes our human action and human action is what interacts and transforms the biological world around us.  Evolutionary theorist Chris Buskes writes that “culture is directly linked to biological evolution because what counts in the end is the genetic fitness of the creatures that possess culture, culture must be viewed as a biological phenomenon, a complex biological adaptation that allows human beings to cope with the most diverse environments.” (Buskes 2013, p. 666)  In Buske’s article entitled “Darwinism Extended: A Survey of How the Idea of Cultural Evolution Evolved,” he points out the Nature-First approach as one of the earlier theoretical links between culture and nature. The Nature-First approach is the theory that human culture is embedded within the wider and much older framework of human nature. The theory has one main flaw however; it neglects the influence of culture and the ways in which cultural evolution can feedback onto biological-genetic evolution (Buskes 2013).

It’s a little odd to think of culture having influence on our genetic evolution as culture is not traditionally considered to be inborn, but an operating system that exists outside of the genome.  As evolutionary theorist John Wilkins points out “If the origins of novelty in culture are effectively random, just as they are in biology, the subsequent spread and fate of those novelties can be just as Darwinian as they are in biology also” (Wilkins 2001, p. 172).  This argument is known as ‘Dawkin’s Conjecture’ and is the point at which the entirety of this thesis launches beyond the constraints of our own self-directing free-will, shrouding mankind in swaddling cloth and placing him into the sling of nature.  ‘Dawkin’s Conjecture’ basically states that all Lamarckian processes of cultural evolution are redescribeable as Darwinian.  Wilkin’s further postulates that out that the argument raises the sociobiological specter to reduce all social behavior to genetic determination (Wilkins, 2001).

All decisions and actions made up by cultures, while rooted in their values, moral systems, and group consensus. All are rooted in biological determination.   Mary Midgley called this the ‘irresistible escalator’ in her book “Evolution as a Religion,” the escalator signifying the seductive illusion that evolution insinuates a forward progression in complexity and superiority (Midgley, 1985).  This does not take into account the entire history of mankind and the undisputable fact that the largest portion of our history is unknown to us.  For all we know- humanity could have reached such an exalted and technologically advanced state as it stands today, and for whatever reason, crumbled and fell reducing itself to ashes only to be born and rise again.   Shortages of food reduce men into beasts; falling from the high peak of self-actualizing on Maslow’s Pyramid to go scraping for morsels down at the bottom. Is this also true of cultural complexity, of a seemingly endless escalator towards the high and mighty crest of our capacity for intelligence and greatness?  Cultures rise and fall. No matter how exalted we stand, Nature with a capital N has always proven herself the silent master.

In the last century, the social science’s perspective on the integral role our culture plays in our humanity is more and more inclusive of the biosphere. While it seems that human culture is something relatively new in the history of our evolution, spawned only after the emergence of our self-awareness when we first climbed out of the trees and began hunting and building fires and organizing ourselves into tribes, culture also seems a reflection of something that belonged to this planet long before us. Think of all of the relationships between plants and animals, bees pollinating flowers in springtime, flocks of geese flying south for the winter, beavers building dams in rivers causing vastly new ecosystems of their own- are all part of the culture on the planet.            While these examples may all seem as part of the natural ecosystem of the planet, why then is not our own human culture and our social behaviors rooted into the same system?

As Richard and Boyd write in Culture is Essential, “Culture affects the success and survival of individuals and groups; as a result, some cultural variants spread and others diminish, leading to evolutionary processes that are every bit as real and important as those that shape genetic variation. These culturally evolved environments then affect which genes are favored by natural selection” (Boyd & Richerson 2005 p. 76).

The idea of universal harmony is found in religious traditions all over the world, from Buddhism to Christian theology.  The concept translates perfectly into the Organismocentric Theory.  As a matter of fact, when the concept was initially formed it was intended as the presence of a geometrical and mathematical organization of the universe.  There was nothing biblical at all in its original intended definition but a concept, which arose from Greek philosophy meant for mathematicians. In the year 1202, the mathematician Leonardo of Pisa introduced The Fibonacci sequence to mathematics. These are numbers in the following integer sequence, 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 ,34, 55, 89, 144.  The first numbers are 0 and 1.  Each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two.   It was realized that this pattern was found in the natural patterns of nature.  In the biological environment that encapsulates our material world, tree branches, the sprouts of a pineapple, the arrangements of pinecones, the uncurling ferns, all following along this pattern of multiplying integers.  Long sense its numerical meaning and expression of the sacred geometry that unifies this planet, the concept has been adopted by various world religions and stands as a central teaching by theologians across the planet (Galleni, 2001).

There are several existing theories pronouncing the interconnectivity of the biosphere.

One of the more well known is James Lovelock’s ‘gaia hypothesis.’  Lovelock saw the entirety of the biosphere as a living conscious entity.  Under his theory, stability of the biosphere was reached through diversification and the increase in complexity by creating a greater and more diverse web of connections (Zimmerma, 2004).   Russian geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky developed the Bisphereic Theory which looks for connections between the different parts that constitute the biosphere while taking into consideration the whole biosphere as an evolving entity (Gallini, 2001).  Steven J. Dick put forth ‘The Intelligence Principle:’ that there is a driving force of cultural evolution that forms a natural bond in our intelligence, a main nerve of influence that compels whole ecosystem forward in it’s progression.    As John Smart, mentioned earlier, writes, “Life has an innate tendency to improve (ameliorate, make better or more tolerable) some definable aspects of itself (complexity, intelligence, survivability, and perhaps other measures) may be proposed by quantifying life’s melioristic record of complexity and capacity improvement on Earth” (Smart 2010, p. 207).

Teilhard’s ‘Omega Point’ connotes this maximum level of growth and complexity; an end goal or product of which all evolution was aiming towards.  The expansive diversity of the biosphere and Teilhard’s noosphere were so closely interwoven and interdependent for Teilhard de Chardin (Lubac, 1965).  Teilhard believed that the planet was aspiring to a process of mega-synthesis which he describes as a “super-arrangement to which all the thinking elements of the earth find themselves today, individually and collectively, subject” (Chardin 1959, p. 204). He saw this as a germination of the strata of planetary dimensions including the noosphere and biosphere into a new ‘thinking layer’ which as Teilhard writes, “intertwines its fibres, not to confuse or neutralize them but to reinforce them in the living unity of a single tissue” (1959 p. 205).

According to Herbert Spencer, cultural phenomena is intimately associated with psychological phenomena. Spencer coined the term, the ‘superorganic’ to describe the whole complex myriad of psychological, cultural and the biosphereic interaction (Kroeber, 1917). The idea is close akin to the super-organism- of which the society of mankind serve as the brain of a much larger organism.  Our means of communication are like the nerves of the planet, and each one of us are cells of the larger body. At the lower level of complexity we find everything that makes up the physical universe; atoms, particles, the building blocks of life that are in some since lifeless, or inorganic.  The next level up, the organic, which includes all the living things that make up our planet; trees, plants, the birds, bees, and we ourselves, are the progeny of the inorganic.  The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Our world’s biological make-up does not cease here however.  There are more to the dynamics of the system than just putting the right pieces together.  Frankenstein’s monster would not have sat up on his own the moment the its final toe was stitched upon foot.  The Prometheus needed a bolt of lightning; a powerful life-giving surge of electricity to get all his parts working. Much like the dynamics of carbon atoms, or how plants convert sunlight into living energy- it is at this level that the organic rises above the inorganic.  It is at this level that it becomes a biological system. The Superorganic, in perspective, sees culture as a living part of a much larger system. The same level of complexity in which photosynthesis occurs in plants, or hibernation in some animals in the winter- this plane is believed to be shared by human culture (Kroeber, 1917). Durkheim expressed this fact  “Humans have thoughts and behavior. Those are carried by individuals. They behave, however, in concert with each other, as a system external to individuals society” (Durkheim, 1912).

In 1917 anthropologist Alfred Kroeber built upon this theory.  Kroeber saw culture as operating in its own sphere like Spencer and many others.  He writes:

There may be those who see in these pulsing events only a meaningless play of capricious fortuitousness; but there will be others whom they reveal a glimpse of a great and inspiring inevitability which rises as far above the accidents of personality as the march of the heavens transcends the wavering contract of random footprints on clouds of earth. (Kroeber, 1917, p. 31)

Kroeber saw culture transcending the sphere of human thought and believed that it was inclusive of the biological world as well. Kroeber writes “without individuals, civilizations could not exist, civilization therefore is only a sum total of the psychic operations of a mass of individuals” (Kroeber, 1917).  The biological and psychological operate upon the same foundational blueprint more or less, “The mind and the body are but facets of the same organic material or activity; the social substance-civilization, transcends them for all its being rooted in life,”  Kroeber writes (1917).  This ‘social-substance’ Kroeber was visualizing all the way back in 1917 was what author Robert Wright, called the ‘divine-algorithm,’ in his book The Evolution of God.  For Robert Wright this was an underlying strata of information, akin to the Greek Logos which dictated all wisdom and life on earth (Wright, 2010).  He writes, “the Logos reconciles the transcendence of God with a divine presence in the world. God himself is beyond the material universe, somewhat the way a video game designer is outside of the video game. . . God may be outside the physical universe, but, as Goodenough puts it, there is ‘an immanent presence and cooperation of divinity in the created world.” Wright then adds that “the job of human beings … is to in turn cooperate with the divinity, a task they’ll do best if they sense this presence and the purpose it imparts” (2010, p. 135).

The American anthropologist, Leslie A. White writes in Man’s Control over Civilization, “We no longer believe that human destiny is a plaything for spirits, good and evil, or for the machinations of the Devil.  There is nothing to prevent our making the earth a paradise again except ourselves.  The scientific age has dawned and we recognize that man himself is the master of his fate, the captain of his soul. The controls the course of his ship, and so, is free to navigate it into fair waters or foul, or even run it on the rocks” (White 2005, p. 255).   While it is true that science diluted our mythical perspective that there is a godhead in rule over us, science is at the same time increasing our awareness of how intertwined our own human behavior is with Nature- capital N.

WHAT ROLE DOES HUMAN SPIRITUALITY PLAY IN ALL THIS?

So why do we have a sense of powers beyond? Are there really directive forces that influence and guide the evolution of the planet?  Researchers David Hay, and Pawel Socha believe that our spirituality might in fact have a primordial source based in our biological make-up.  Religious experience is argued by Hay and Socha to be a sub-category of spiritual experience which they argue is the part that is biological (Hay & Socha, 2005).  Durkheim pioneered this idea; that religion and spirituality are human universals fundamental to the organization of society (Durkhiem, 1912).

For Hay and Socha, the reason spirituality was fundamental to the underlying processes of culture was the after-effect of relational consciousness following religious experience (Hay & Socha, 2005).  While spirituality has been traditionally viewed as an individual process, ‘relational consciousness,’ on the contrary, is a means of expanding awareness and acknowledgment of ones surroundings and their relationship to them.  As Hay and Socha write,  “We suggest that culturally recognizable spirituality emerges from an interaction between biological, psychological, and social components” (2005, p. 600).  In summary, spiritual experience is an expansion of ‘relational consciousness.’  How is this rooted in our biology?  Several evolutionary theorists are starting to think that spirituality was an adaptation in our evolution as a species as it served as a means of cooperating with groups and the natural environment.

Humans have been around for some 6 million years, however it took us all that time to evolve from the chimpanzee into what we are today.  Overtime, we learned to stand on two legs, our brow ridges receded back into our foreheads, and our brains grew bigger and bigger.  Based on the archeological record it wasn’t until 200,000 years ago that we came into the form that we are in today. We are genetically identical to the caveman who walked the earth 200,000 years ago. So what changed if not our brain size and bodies?  What evolved us out of being cavemen?

We find the bones of our ancestors in the archeological record but we find zero evidence of any sort of religion, or any sort of art, or of any culture for that matter.  The evidence proves that we barely hunted successfully, even though we were atomically modern.  Then all of a sudden, 35,000 years ago something changed; out of the blue we begin creating the most extraordinary art.

All over the world, at the exact same time, cave and rock shelter paintings begin emerging everywhere expressing imagery unlike anything found on this earth.  Most archeologists have argued that these paintings depicted the animistic spirits, the gods of nature that were once mankind’s subject of worship and supernatural projection.  This answer has a half-truth that we’ve already accepted; the gods of primitive man, the emergence of a primordial religion was integral to the evolution of our consciousness.  From this communication derived mythology, wisdom of living, agency of human purpose, prophetic visions of the future, and often the intuitive sensation of Armageddon looming somewhere ahead in our future.

As we evolved in separate groups all over the planet, our initial religious practice and techniques of rites, ritual, and ecstasy were relatively the same, down to our rituals and ceremonies of practice.  As man’s religion evolved over time, man broke out of the myriad of hunter-gatherer societies that dotted the world and began to form larger state societies (Wright, 2010).

Since the earliest man, our individual lives, as well as our communities, shared a relationship with the invisible dimension- known to the earliest shaman as a realm of spirits, enabling a development of our spirituality, and overtime our religious dogmas.  Since the dawn of our consciousness our daily lives have always been dictated by magic, myth, the presence of spirits, and voices within nature.

Most spiritualist, mediums, and shaman, consider the spirit realm to be a place consisting of several spheres, zones, or layers.  Emanuel Swedenborg, a writer from the 18th century, played a significant role is constructing and swaying views of the architecture of this realm (Lewis, 1971).  From his descriptions, this realm was made up of several of these compounding layers of hierarchical organization- becoming more illuminating and celestial the ‘higher’ the layer.  It is interesting that Emanuel thought of these layers as spheres.  Like Teilhard’s Noosphere, they were molded to the outline of our planet, acting as atmospheres within which our own human psychosis respires in thought and imagination. Swedenborg saw it as a world of otherness beyond our own, existing of a multiplicity of spirit beings, a realm thought to be inherently good, and truth-seeking (1971).  It fed notions of spirituality, was a source of wisdom, and was what the theosphophist C.W. Leadbeter called “The Home of the Soul,”  a place of meaningful transcendence and transformation (1971).  It is believed to have been the source of our morality and value systems which informed culture at large.  It was this ‘sphere’ of moral-information, nevertheless, that orchestrated the fundamental structure of early cultures.

Edward Burnett Taylor, known for coining the term ‘animism,’ also speculated that spirituality may have served as a functional basis for the development of civilization and thus was the reason why society and religion evolved together as one.  Taylor’s theory asserts that determinates of all these parts were universal (Wright, 2010). Taylor believed that once an animistic worldview had taken shape within a tribal group it began to evolve and change autogenically, taking on form through an organic and self-directed process.  Under Taylor’s theory, all ideas and concepts of early man simply became more complex as time went on and man himself evolved; his consciousness and society becoming more complex right along with him.  One of my favorite lines from Taylor, and probably one of his longest sentences:

 

Upwards from the simplest theory which attributes life and personality to animal vegetable and mineral alike- through that which gives to stone and plant and river guardian spirits which live among them and attend to their preservation, growth and change- up to that which sees in each department of the world the protecting and fostering care of an appropriate divinity, and at last of one Supreme Being ordering and controlling the lower hierarchy-through all of these gradations of opinion we may thus see fought out, in one stage after another, the long waged contest between a theory of animation which accounts for each phenomenon of nature by giving it everywhere a life like our own and a slowly-growing natural science which in one department after another substitutes for independent voluntary action the working out of systematic law (Stocking 1985, p. 197).

 

The evolution of these supernatural concepts began to correspond directly with our changing relationship with nature.  Elements of nature began to be regarded as controlled by distinctive spirits.  Some animal species began to be regarded as masters of surrounding environmental phenomena; changes in climate, sudden unexpected rains, snowstorms and droughts.  The ancestral spirits of the deceased were believed to exist in these invisible realms surrounding the tribe; a realm believed to include upper and lower floors, above and below the earth.

Many early tribes believed they, along with their ancestors could travel to both above and below worlds and extract information necessary for the survival of the tribe.  Whether travel to the upper and lower worlds meant communing with the deceased, a deity, or the spirit of Nature.

Despite the depth of their ever-increasing phenomenology, these early humans didn’t necessarily have a religion par se.  All these ideas were universally understood as a natural part of their interpretation of the environment.  They believed that our material world and the spiritual world were one in the same (Wright, 2010).   Even within the verbose of their languages, there were no words to describe the supernatural as a separate world from our own.  It was as much a part of their environment as the ground they walked upon and the air they breathed.   As they saw rain come down from the sky, and the winds blowing through trees, or the waxing and waning of moon, they believed spirit beings controlled every bit of it.

Beyond the ego breakdown of spiritual ecstasy, within the threshold of liminality, is the passage into anew.  It is a transformative space, but who determines the progeny of the passage, the outcome of what an individual becomes on the other side?  Rites, ritual, and liminality in cultures all over the world are bound and directed by the traditions of which they are encased.  However, when the traditional frameworks are removed, and there is no expectation for what one is to become on the other side, what happens?  Chaos abounds of course, but out of that experience of ego-loss the individual falls into a post-liminal condition where they do transform into something else.  Is this something else dictated by internal desires for change? Yes possibly, but is this the extent of it?

The same way that the liminal condition opens one up to spirit possession within ecstatic trance rituals, can this same ‘possession’ occur with larger bodies of intelligence, or systems in nature if they do in fact exist as deeper levels of our own psyche?  Take the collective unconsciousness of the human species of Jung hypothesis for example: is it possible for this oceanic intelligence to awaken within the body and mind of someone within that state?  Could an expansion of relational consciousness come to include the Noosphere as put forth by Teilhard?  It would certainly account for the depth of visionary experiences found in accounts of religions ecstasy describing moments of oneness and unity.  The ‘hive-mind’ experience occurs post ego-loss, and gives one the sense of feeling connected to the whole history of humanity as well as feeling a kinship with all of those around you, part of the ‘group-mind’ (Lewis, 1971). Could this momentary possession of the larger body of intelligence in fact dictate the outcome of what the individual will become post-liminality; moving forward with this expanded awareness and the harmonization to a grander system; becoming possessed and essentially ‘downloading’ the ethos of the planet?

As the cultural theorist Kate Distin writes,

 

My conclusion is that information can never exist in isolation, but must always be transmitted to a receiver that can interpret it and respond appropriately.  Information is any variation that a receiver discretely represents, and it can only be acquired from a representational source if the receiver discretizes it in the same way that the source does.  This means that evolution depends on each generations ability t o interpret and express the information that it inherits. (Distin 2010, p. 35)

 

From Animism, to Polytheism, to the God of Abraham who eventually came to be called Yahweh and went on to lead the conquests of Judaism, Muslim, and Christian religions, when all began a split between the material world and spiritual world, when God became detached from the world and from the body, something made from something else, the separatist entity that existed far and away from our human world-out in the cosmos somewhere, dimensions disconnected from our own, until the rediscovery and integration of Eastern philosophy with the West, until now, when the coming religion of our globalized society seems a hybrid of past traditions.  This hybridization of spirituality seems to include science and magic, imagination and quantum mechanics, ancient religious archetypes and mathematical languaging; exemplifying that the true spirit of man’s religion has always been his progression in interpretation (King, 2005).  Spirituality has always served as a fundamental component of our human nature, truly infused with the same transformative animation which gives life to all of us.

What is interesting is that although religion now spans such a wide range of diversity within belief systems and practices, the practice of shamanism in our archaic history was virtually the same cross-culturally (Wright, 2010).  Despite the fact that these early tribes were separated by mountain ranges, bodies of water, and entire continents, the archeological record tells us that these groups thrived for thousands upon thousands of years in isolation from one another, and yet all practiced the same form of religious rituals (2010).  Even their mythologies were so similar to one another that it suggests religion at its fundamental core is innate.  This suggests that over Millennia there has been an ongoing dialogue between the self and the other, between Man and Nature, and God and Man.  It is this dialogue with the earth and cosmos that has produced our mythos, our prophecies, our internal societal values, and moral systems of living.

Historically ever since the Descartesian split between mind and body with emergence of modern science, spirituality has been left in a grey area. With the domination of rational thinking, the magical consciousness of the premodern world was abandoned, and along with it went our animistic-magical thought processes. As we moved into the modern world, we lost our power gods and mythical hierarchies. The mystical was catalogued as hallucination and schizophrenia; a state of delusion brought on by brain dysfunction and psychological stresses. Fatigue, emotional distress, mental illness, were all thought to be the primary perpetrators of mystical experiences.  Freudian’s believed that mystical states were triggered by a neurotic regressive urge to reject a reality which was unfulfilling to the individual, in an attempt to recapture the bliss which we knew as infants (Hay and Socha, 2005).

In 1997 Jeffrey L. Savor, and John Rabin wrote in The Neural Substrates of Religious Experience:

Religious experience is brain-based, like all human experience.  Clues to the neural substrates of religious-numinous experience may be gleaned from temporolimbic epilepsy, near-death experiences, and hallucinogen ingestion.  These brain disorders and conditions may produce depersonalization, derealization, ecstasy, a since of timelessness and spacelesness, and other experiences that foster religious-numinous interpretation.  Religious delusions are an important subtype of delusional experience in schizophrenia, and mood-congruent religious delusions are a feature of mania and depression. (Sabor and Rabin 1997, p. 198)

In Saver and Rabin’s study, they found that religious experience was very common among both children and adults leading them to believe that it was universally frequent everywhere.  In a national survey conducted in the United States, up to 60% of individuals report having spiritual or mystical experiences at some point in their lifetime (1997).

Alistair Hardy, founder of the Religious Experience Research Centre, attempted to identify the various forms of mystical experiences people were having universally.  He came up with a typography of mystical states and then ordered them by their frequency of occurrence amongst individuals (Hay and Socha, 2005).

1) A patterning of events in a person’s life that convinces him or her that in some strange way they were meant to happen

2) An awareness of the presence of God, or ominous presence,

3) An awareness of receiving help in answer to a prayer or ritualized intention

4) An awareness of being looked after or guided by a presence not called God

5) An awareness of being in the presence of someone who has died

6) An awareness of a sacred presence in nature,

7) An awareness of an evil presence

8) Experiencing in an extraordinary way that all things are “One.”

 

As Alistair Hardy pointed out in his study, the interpretation itself can then be subdivided into multiple categories of explanation, no matter how divided the interpretation, the fundamental source is neurologically universal among all humans (Hay and Socha, 2005).

In a study done out of the University of Pennsylvania, brain scientists Andrew Newberg, Eugene D’Aquili, and Vince Rause developed a theory they called “The biology of belief,” a title shared by author Bruce Lipton.  In their work, Why God Won’t Go Away, they tie together modern brain science research with what we know of religious experience.  What they go on to claim is that mystical experience is made possible primarily by a neurological functioning (Newberg, D’Aquili and Rause, 2002).

Similar to Hay and Socha’s idea of the relational consciousness, Newberg, D’Aquili, and Rause, claim that mystical experience is the result of a dimensioning of the sense of self and the absorption into a larger sense of reality. This occurs when the brain’s orientation area is cut off from neural input (2002).  The orientation area is the part of our brain which determines our spatial and temporal grasp. Sensory deprivation tanks work in the same manner. Once the mind is cut off of all external sensory input, rather than being inhibited by quiescent activity, the arousal system is stimulated by this neurological spillover.  The end result is an intensely altered state of consciousness. Blocking this neural information can be done through meditation, becoming deeply relaxed, or through the repetition of a religious ritual, chanting, or strongly rhythmic music.  All these methods produce the same effect of depriving neural input from the brain’s orientation area; a process Newberg, D’Aquili, and Rause call ‘defferentiation’ (2002).

Newberg, D’Aquili, and Rause found that the varying levels of experiential intensity depend the level of neural blockage.  By the same degree that blockage could vary in increment, the same is true of the varied spectrum of unitary states possible to achieve. They called this spectrum the ‘Unitary Continuum’ (2002).

According to Newberg, D’Aquili, and Rause, at one far end of the ‘Unitary Continuum’, the experience becomes so intense that moments of ecstasy and hyper-lucid vision occur (2002).  It is in these moments that mystics will claim a spiritual union with ‘God.’ These advanced unitary states are rare, even for the longest practicing and most devout mystic.  The human body simply cannot sustain physical ritual intensity for the amount of time needed for such an intense level of differentiation to occur.  Mystics have traditionally understood this.  They are also aware that the experience requires inexhaustible meditation in-tandem with ritual to carry them into this far-end of the ‘unitary continuum’ (2002).

Beyond the brain and alternative states of consciousness, much of our spiritual selves depend on the chemicals flowing through the rest of our body. According to a recent issue of Psychology Today, there is even a fundamental molecule associated with our moral behaviors; oxytocin (Zak, 2012).  Oxytocin, when supplemented outside of its natural form, has been found to bring about the empathy required to insinuate a sense of moral.  Paul Zak, the author of The Moral Molecule, claims that what makes humans unique are our fully developed moral sentiments.

Oxytocin is found in all mammals, it is what makes mothers care for their offspring, and what causes animals to live in herds, fish to be living in schools, or foxes to live in burrows.  Humans release oxytocin during breast-feeding, massage, sex, prayer, and of course dancing. Oxytocin infusion increases feelings of empathy.  According to Zak, it is empathy that makes us connect to other people, and makes us help other people, and empathy that makes us moral.

In Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments published in 1759, he argues that we are moral creatures because we are social creatures who share emotions with others (Zak, 2012).  If we do something that will hurt someone else we will feel their pain, on the contrary if we do something that brings joy to someone else we will also feel that joy. At the basis of Zak’s conclusion, morality and the release of oxytocin describes biologically how we are connected with other people.  It makes us feel what other people feel.  People who release more oxytocin are happier people and have stronger relationships with people and communities at large.

For this particular thesis, if morality has a chemical origin, then spirituality may have been an adaptation of our evolution, primarily a biological adaptation.   Psychological researcher Jonathan Hiadt sought the basis of morality across different cultures and came to the conclusion that the basis of morality had something to do with our evolution as a species.  He finds self-transcendence to be a basic universal about being human (Haidt, 2006).  Ego-loss, and the experience of the ecstatic, has for centuries been described as uplifting, elevated, and part of a higher state of consciousness.  The experience almost always leads to the dissolution of the moralistic self.  Post ego-loss, an individual becomes more loving, empathetic and forgiving.

According to Hiadt, the many religions of the world are representative of methods people have discovered for climbing this staircase of consciousness (2006). Methods of meditation, psychedelic drugs, dancing, people going to rave, are all about the experience of dissolving the self and incorporating the collective.  Emile Durkhiem theorized that the human is a homo-duplex or a two level man.  At the lower is the profane.  At this ordinary level we are interested only in satisfying ourselves as individuals our own personal desires or goals.  Durkhiem saw the second tier to be that of the sacred, which was our desire to work in groups and to carry out goals that satisfied the collective (Haidt, 2006).  Durkheim saw the level of the sacred as the level that bonded us into teams, tribes and nations (2006).

For Durkheim, the central function of religion was to unite people into a moral community (Durkheim, 1917).  It is for this reason that people will organize themselves around anything that causes them to work collectively as a team.  They will assemble the collective around the central source of their assembly, often found in the power of religious symbolism. Haidt questions is if this is a feature of our design, a product of natural selection, or if it is it a fluke in the system, a random byproduct of the mind (2006)?

In The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin writes about the evolution of morality that our virtues serve groups and not individuals:

 

If the one tribe included a great number of courageous, sympathetic, and faithful members who were always ready to aid and defend eachother, this tribe would succeed better and conquer the other.  Selfish and contentious people will not have cohere and without coherence nothing can be effective. (2006, p. 56)

 

In the last half million years, our ancestors joined into groups and tribes.  They divided labor, created various cultures, and worshiped gods specific to their groups.  As Haidt concludes, once we were locked into ‘tribes’ we could then reap the benefits of cooperation.  The benefits of cooperation are what Haidt believes unlock the most powerful force of our species human cooperation (Haidt, 2006).  Haidt states:

 

If it is an adaptation then the implications are profound.  If it is an adaptation then we have evolved to be religious.  I don’t mean that we have evolved to join gigantic organized religions, those came along to recently, I mean that we have evolved to see sacredness all around us and to join with others as a team around sacred objects, people, and ideas. (2006)

 

THE MORAL FOUNDATION

`            Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconsciousness stems from the idea that the actual experiences of our early ancestors, the development of prehistory, and the continuation of our societal progress is being catalogued into a shared plane of memory, one of which we all have access.  As mentioned earlier in this article, Jung believed that this storehouse of human memory is of considerable importance to the creation of myth and religious dogma.  It is expressed both in our humanity and all life-forms, plant, animal, and mineral alike.  It is expressed in our nervous system, and describes how the structure of the psyche autonomously organizes experience.  Jung writes:

 

My thesis then, is as follows: In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche, there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals.  This collective consciousness does not develop individually but is inherited.  It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents. (Jung, 1968)

 

Many Anthropologists interested in the origins of myth believed that Jung’s collective unconsciousness was a part of a larger foundation of knowledge mentioned earlier in this article, the Perennial Philosophy.  The perennial philosophy is believed to be at the core of mystical experiences.  It includes the ideas that:

 

(1) The phenomenal world is the manifestation of a transcendental ground.

(2) human beings are capable of attaining immediate knowledge of that ground.

(3) in addition to their phenomenal egos, human beings possess a transcendental Self which is of the same or like nature with that transcendental ground.

(4) this identification is life’s chief end or purpose (Lewis, 1971).

 

While the existence of both Jung’s collective unconscious and the perennial philosophy are widely disputed, there are few other comprehensive theories that support the theosophical ideology that all religion’s share the same fundamental basis of truth.

In the vantage of the world at large, in consideration of its myriad of belief systems, god-heads, and intertwining narratives of myth it would seem the invisible world around us is comprised of innumerable creatures, omnipotent characters expressed through our differing religions are fighting one another to the death for rule over us and our collective vantage of the world and who upstairs is in charge. So where is the real battle fought?  Is it only expressed in the war amongst religions down here in the realm of the earth?  Or are their really mighty creator beings up their amongst the stars duking it out with one another for rule over our little blue-green sandbox of dust and wax?

While dogma is disputed, where religion is the most pragmatically intertwined with society is in the value systems they offer communities. Value is the delimiter of moral choice, the underlying reasoning behind our actions, the infrastructure of culture.  Mark Lupisella writes in his article The Coevolution of Culture and Cosmos and the Creation of Cosmic Value’,Think about culture as the collective manifestation of value—where value is that which is valuable to “sufficiently complex” agents, from which meaning, purpose, ethics, and aes­thetics can be derived” (Lupisella 2010, p. 322).

Spiritualists and New Age thinkers have for a long time viewed this as a layer of spiritual information.  They think in the abstraction of a metaphysical atmosphere of angelic dialogue streaming from a demagogue.  Sociologists however, view this as a stratum of value systems that inform culture:

 

Value orientations are complex by determinately patterned (rank-ordered) principles resulting from the transactional interplay of three analytically distinguishable elements of the evaluative process- the cognitive, the affective, and the directive elements-which give order and direction to the everflowing stream of human acts and thoughts as these relate to the solution of ‘common human’ problems. (Blake and Davis, 1954)

 

Anyone who has read Robert Prisig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance should remember the main character’s long internal dialogue with himself unpacking of the metaphysics of ‘quality’ (Prisig, 2006).  While this divulges a brief history of philosophy and Eastern vs Western thinking, his exploration into ‘quality’ leads him to an investigation of ‘value’ as an underlying determinate of all action.  What I took out of Prisig’s examination of ‘value,’ and its determining whether something was ‘good,’ was a deeper insight into this universal and evolutionary code which dictates the mechanisms of culture.  For many evolutionary theorists today,‘value’ is the formative algorithm.

Harvard psychologist Marc Hauser recently claimed that there exists a universal moral code embedded within not only our human nature, but the nature of the world on a whole (Hauser, 2007).  In Hauser’s book, Moral Minds, he discuses the possibility that there is this underlying set of moral laws which dictates the ‘human universal,’ something universal not only in our biology, but in our moral operations.

If there is a universal moral code, then there would be a basic algorithm underlying culture. However it is also true that we all do not follow the same set of moral norms (2007).  This part of the argument seemed to be disparate among our various cultures, and while it seemed that monotheistic religions offer access to a shared moral truth, even these are altered quite a bit par each religion.  James Rachel writes in The Elements of Moral Philosophy, that differing human groups have different sets of moral codes (2002). As Rachel writes, “Cultural Relativism, as it has been called, challenges our ordinary belief in the objectivity and universality of moral truth. It says, in effect, that there is no such thing as universal truth in ethics; there are only the various cultural codes, and nothing more. Moreover, our own code has no special status; it is merely one among many” (Rachel, 2002 p. 18).  Fundamentally, right or wrong is the point of demarcation where moral differs across various cultures.   Right or wrong may not have been universal across all territories of the world. Obviously if some Muslim group could consider jihad morally righteous, or the bloody Christian conquest of Pagan Rome just, individuals will argue moral to be embedded only within eye of the beholder.

In the diversity of moral traditions we find another argument for cultures dependence on the biosphere.  Right or wrong could also be relative to what is ‘good’ for keeping a symbiotic harmony with the environment specific to the local biological world.  What is ‘good’ in one part of the world must not be the same for another location.  Within the jungle of the Amazon, the frozen Tundra of the Yukon, or the concrete jungles of the world’s major cities, which vary in degree of resources, what is harmonious to survival and progressive evolution towards the ‘good,’ differs according to each alternate environment (Alexander, 1987). Jarod Diamond pointed out in the Pulitzer winning book Guns Germs and Steel, that human groups take alternate routes along their path of civilizing civilization.  Some evolve faster than others, and all by various means.  Some struggle for population, others for industry, others for technology.  Outcomes depended most on who had the most access to steel, the greatest amount of weaponry, and the ability to ward off horrible plagues. At the root of Diamonds conclusions he argues that the various differences between cultures and their rates of evolution were dependent most upon environmental differences which either enabled or disabled a groups (Diamond, 1997).

What is ‘good’ for man and ‘good’ for nature are not always in alignment.  It is argued that there are various systems of moral embedded in nature and work concurrently and dynamically (Alexander, 1987).  The only way these systems are able to work in a dynamic and balanced manner is through some process of moral-organization.  Moral organization must itself be an advantage for specific cultures who have discovered processes of organization.

In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “On the Psychological Selection of Bio-Cultural Information,”  he defines spirituality as a system of organizing consciousness (Csikszentmihalyi, 1985).  For Csikszentmihalyi culture is not the operating system, Culture is the operation.  If society were an empty canvas, culture was what was being painted upon it, then whatever creative inspiration that was moving the painters brushstrokes was moving culture on a whole.  Spirituality was nature’s creativity, natures divine inspiration which directed, channeled, and brought forth harmonized cultural systems across the planet. Csikszentmihalyi writes:

 

It is a doubtful tribute to the resilience of the human mind and its capacity for irrationality that this doctrine of a cultural realm, separate or separable from man, where invisible strings are pulled to make the human puppets dance, is embraced mainly by materialists who , because they hesitate to grant man too mc in the way of will, creativity, and control, are sure they constitute a bulwark against mysticism and supernaturalism. (Opler, 1964 p. 515)

 

Csikszentmihalyi’s also believed that spirituality was  constituted by memes, the cultural counterpart to genes mentioned earlier in this article. This is where we come full circle and return to the organization and transmission of information; hence Csikszentmihalyi’s definition of religion as a ‘system of organization of conciousness’.

There is no doubt that the values underlying our religions control much of the world.  While this process may seem invisible to our contemporary world, our recorded history has made this symbiosis transparent.

The anthropologist Clifford Geertz attempted to establish a new theory on culture and religion building upon the work of Durkheim’s theory of Collective Effervescence, Weber’s Verstehenden methodology, Freud’s parallels between personal and collective rituals, and Malinowski’s distinction between religion and common sense.  While these theoretical perspectives served as the foundation for building an anthropology of religion, Geertz felt it could be taken one step further.  According to Geertz, “religion tunes human actions to an envisaged cosmic order and projects images of cosmic order onto the plane of human experience,”  While Geertz writes that this idea is not new, he also points out the fact that it is hardly investigated (Geertz, 1993).  In “Religion as a Cultural System,” Clifford Geertz writes:

 

The tracing of the social and psychological role of religion is thus not so much a matter of finding correlations between specific ritual acts and specific secular social ties…..More it is a matter of understanding how it is that men’s notions, however implicit, of the “really real” and the dispositions that these notions induce in them color their sense of the reasonable, the practical, the and the moral. (Geertz 1993, p. 124)

 

Author Robert Wright, aforementioned in this article, calls this the ‘Anatomy of Wisdom;’ also his ‘Divine Algorithm,’ known to the ancient Greeks as ‘The Logos.’ The Logos were all the natural laws, which dictate all order from our physical world to the astrological, by which both the earth and the cosmos were bound (Wright, 2010).  According to the ancient Greeks, God set forth these initial ‘parameters’ and let the whole cosmic universe, earth moon and sun alike spin forth in a divinely blessed equilibrium.  Which according to Wright, not only animated men but ‘animated history’ with a ‘moral-ambition’. He writes, “God formulated the Logos the way an architect might have conceived a blueprint or the way a computer programmer might design an algorithm” (Wright, 2010).

When we look into our written history we know that religion has always played a major role in the establishment of our human ethos. The form that it has taken and the functional role it has played within society itself has varied over the years.  What we do know is that it has been reflective of the state of society and the level of our civilization.

For every phase of our human history, the agricultural revolution, the rise of state societies, the industrial revolution, and even now in our age of information, the face of religion has been in as much of a stage of constant progression as civilization itself.

Spirituality, mythology, God, and moments of ecstatic revelation, are fundamental components of the human consciousness, and function as drivers for the progressive evolution of human culture.

In our modern world, secularism has moved our dominant culture so far away from the vestiges of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, or Krishna’s monologue given to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, or the mighty word of Allah passed down to Mohammed through the angel Gabriel.  Religion once dictated much of society, but is now dissolving from its frame.  However, in the history of religion and culture sacred symbols dictated people’s ethos and worldview.  It provided them with a comprehensive idea of the order of things, including their place in society.  No longer did their stories solely harmonize a single tribe, they had grown to include the world.  Geertz considered religion a dimension of culture, an algorithmic blueprint of society. From Geertz work, he defined religion as:

 

(1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic. (Geertz 1993, p. 90)

 

In the growth of our civilization, religion emerged as a phase of our cultural evolution.  In our history it has served as a primary outline for organizing consciousness.  It strengthens individual psyches, it mobilizes groups of people to make change in the world, it creates and projects the decisions and values that drive culture at large.  Therefore is the reason that religion has been viewed as an underlying system of information which directs the evolution of culture.  Their moral codes dictate and shape our lives. Even Nietzsche who was claiming “God is dead,” believed that morality was responsible for the transmission of judgment from one generation to the next (Nietzsche, 1974).

The evolutionary interpretation of religion seeks to understand what is the most life-giving organization of consciousness, which in turn is what Phillip Heffner believes is to seek an adequate spirituality for the next phase of our planetary evolution (Heffner, 2003).

CONCLUSION

As Henri Lubac points out in the book Teilhard de Chardin:  The Man and his Meaning,  Teilhard came from a Christian upbringing, and was himself a theologian (Lubac, 1965).  Much of Teilhard’s concepts are rooted in Christianity.  Teilhard himself was known for using the term ‘the total Christ’ for what he felt was feeling a presence in the universe (1965).  Part of Teilhard’s aim was to integrate science and his Christian faith, or as Lubac puts it to ‘harmonize or reconcile his work and his prayer’ (1965 p.81).  More than a mere reconciliation however, Teilhard felt as though he were stumbling upon a point where science and religion met.   He felt that the core beliefs of the Christian faith were expressed in nature as evolution (1965).

It was Charles Darwin who said “There is grandeur in this view of life,” speaking of his perspectives on evolution (Midgley, 1985).  While science and religion seem to be waged in an all out war with one another, it may very well be the summit of evolution where they find a sexing unison.

It was Robert Jastrow, the leading NASA scientist and cosmologist who said “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”  Darwin’s tale was a powerful piece of folklore in its own right.  Who’s to say that the creation legends of primitive man were not as logical and methodically informed in there own time as Darwin’s Origin of Species was in his?  From the beginning of human history, the development of our human yarn has been woven to the extent of our knowledge of the ecological world.  All of our mythos have some fundamental relationship with what’s real, whether its believing that the world is riding on the back of a sea turtle, or if the whole blue ball is floating in an infinite vacuum of hydrogen.

The conquests of science and religion are one in the same; to expand our awareness of the cosmos, find our rightful and purposeful place within them to shed meaning on our world, and to discover the unity and interconnectivity of all living things.  The encampment there at the top of the hill of Jastrow’s story, find themselves starring up at the starry and inky black of all the heavens above scratching their chins in curious amazement.  In the theory of evolution, its guiding forces, and ‘Omega Point,’ we find the telos of the universe alive in direction and animation. It is within our understanding of our integral and inescapable unity with this larger system that both our spiritual desire for wholeness, and our need of a rational explanation are jointly satisfied.

Gopi Krishna the author of Kundalini: An Autobiography, believes that evolution is the answer to the gap between science and religion.  He brings attention to the obvious explanation that the human brain is still in a state of evolution and that the extraordinary phenomena of spiritual experience and ‘erratic’ manifestations of higher states of consciousness are what will bridge the gap (Krishna, 1967).  Our acquisition for language was a biological adaptation that segued into the birth of our culture, simultaneously, our acquisition for spirituality channeled a dialogue with the ecosphere as much language had bridged our communication with one another.  Spirituality therefore, is more than a phenomena of the mind.  It is a phenomena of the planet- in the sense that is represents its ability to communicate a profoundly complex strata of information to all its living inhabitants.

Theologian Ursula King believes that our study of humanity as a part of nature ultimately means that our spirituality is also embedded in nature.  This new outlook on human spirituality is an expanded awareness that is needed to bring our human ecology into global ecology of the planet. King writes:

Studying the epic of evolution, the history of an evolving universe, the history of our planet and its living forms, can create a new kind of religiousness, a deep sense of wonder and mystical awareness of oneness which links up with earlier mystical experiences, yet also contains something new. (King 2005 p.84)

King further claims that through a process of ‘ultrahominization’ the Biosphere is domesticating us the same way we’ve domesticated dogs, and it does this through our connection via the noosphere/biosphere (King, 2005).  As mankind becomes more and more connected through globalization and the expansion of our communication technology a new hybrid spirituality will emerge out of our interconnectivity.  As our knowledge and new perspective on spirituality and religion shift through this transition I believe that we will begin to see the religious dimension of our humanity- not in the esoteric, metaphysical, or even sacred sense as it has traditionally been perceived- but as a new form of communication with the grander ecological system of which we are a part.  As we continue to evolve as a species, and come to understand this channel of communication more deeply- what was once the unseen dimension, the invisible terra beyond our world, will come alive in our daily lives as a new stratum of sensory data to embold our experience of life on, and with, planet earth.

 

 

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