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What follows after the jump is a portion of the penultimate chapter and the concluding chapter of a section in the book The Emergence and Nature of Human History, Volume One. In this section I trace the rise of consciousness from the origin of the physical Universe itself to the spread of Homo sapiens sapiens across the surface of the Earth. To put the steps of this process into chronological perspective, I used Carl Sagan's technique of imagining the Universe's history had taken place in a single Earth year. The first moments of the Big Bang would therefore have taken place on 1 January at midnight; the current year would be midnight on 1 January of the New Year. I also provide a timeline scale of 1,000,000 meters for those who think in a more linear fashion.

In this perspective, the first stars began forming about 5 January; the first galaxies emerged about 13 January, with the Milky Way galaxy itself having formed somewhere between 14 February and 12 March; the Sun was formed about 31 August while the Earth formed the next day, 1 September; the first life forms on Earth appeared about 18 September; one-celled life forms dominated the Earth from about 29 September to 14 December (with photosynthesis being "invented" during this time); the evolution and spread of animal life in the oceans began about 14 December; the Plant Kingdom began to colonize the land about 18 December; and the Animal Kingdom began to colonize the land about 20 December.

In this scale the reptiles and synapsids began to evolve about 22 December; the most devastating mass extinction in Earth's history, the Permian-Triassic extinction began about 24 December; mammals began to evolve around 26 December; primates began to evolve early in the morning of 30 December (but perhaps as early as the late hours of 29 December); the earliest possible members of the genus Homo evolved around 10:30 pm on 31 December; anatomically modern humans (AMH) began their dispersion over the Earth's surface about 11:57:30 pm on 31 December; and the last 5,000 years of human life began at 11:59:49 pm on 31 December.

The Last Minute Before the Historical Era

On our time scale, which condenses the Universe’s history into one year, a single minute is about 26,000 years long. In that minute, from about 31,000 to 5,000 ybp, Homo sapiens sapiens became the sole possessor of advanced consciousness on the planet Earth. The AMH brain created new realities and explored new possibilities. We will, in the volumes to come, examine how what was created in this minute laid the basis for the world we inherited. We will examine how humans brought a variety of other animals under human control. We will see how the grasses of the Middle East, eastern Asia, and elsewhere were systematically cultivated, and the immense changes in human life this brought about. We will look at the pre-agricultural settlements that sprouted up in scattered areas, and then watch as the commitment to farming tied humans to specific places. Then we will note the increasing, synergistically-driven technological breakthroughs—metallurgy, irrigation, and in some places, the wheel—and witness how each one both expanded the realm of human possibility and initiated multitudinous chains of unintended consequences. We will see humans learn the ways of war. We will see the first true cities beginning to take shape in Mesopotamia, in south Asia, in northern China, and elsewhere as humanity began its transition from rural to urban life. We will see the rise of the gods, the temples, the priests, and the faiths. And finally, we will witness the transition from the oral tradition to one of the most profoundly important developments in our entire experience—the advent of ways to store information outside of our heads. With those ways was born the external brain—the written record.

By 5,000 years before the present, the primates whose ancestors had arisen uncounted millions of years before in southern, central, and eastern Africa now stood on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, on the banks of the Ganges River, and in the Ituri rain forest. They were cultivating rice in the Yangtze River valley, forging metal in the Balkans, and hunting the herds of animals that roamed through the open land in the middle of North America. They were carving out ways of life in the Amazon basin, learning to survive in the Australian outback, and beginning to build elaborate tombs in northern Egypt. Crucial synergies continued to gather momentum, unnoticed by those immersed in them. Not every area of the planet had been reached by Homo sapiens sapiens by the time some humans were beginning to use written expressions. The Hawaiian islands, to cite one example, still lay undiscovered in the middle of the Pacific, as they would for several thousand more years. Nor was every region of the great continental landmasses, by any means, yet the scene of the expanding human drama.

But advanced consciousness was now widely established on the little world. Each of its possessors was, in effect, carrying an entire universe inside of their heads, a universe constructed out of nerve cells, blood, and neurotransmitters. Probably none of them knew its true dimensions. And there was no way the bearers of consciousness could have foreseen the fantastically complex, convoluted, utterly unpredictable story that consciousness was about to help write in the next 50 centuries.

In terms of our condensed 365 day history of the Universe, it had taken unconscious energy-matter and space-time 364 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes, and 49 seconds to produce this outcome.  

HUMAN LIFE SINCE THE ADVENT OF WRITTEN RECORDS

FROM ABOUT 11:59:49 PM, 31 DECEMBER; ABOUT 999,999.6 METERS UP THE LINE

And so the whole of our recorded experience since record keeping began in Mesopotamia can now be seen in its proper perspective. Everything we have gone through in the last 5,000 years or so is contained within this appallingly brief moment, the last 11 seconds of our metaphorical Universal Year. Everything I discuss in the rest of this book is essentially a description or an analysis of aspects of this moment, or a description of its inhabitants, or an account of the events and broader phenomena that contributed to its characteristic features. Of course, it is important to remember that the majority of the estimated 100,000,000,000 members of the genus Homo that have lived did so (or do so) in this time period, and so it is hardly insignificant when considering the breadth of the human story. The majority of all human experience and human consciousness is therefore to be found here. Certainly, the epic advances of human technology, human learning, human social organization, and overall human numerical growth make this the most significant period, in many ways, in our genus’s history. But it came only after 99.9996% of all that had happened since the Big Bang’s eruption had occurred.

Within this eleven seconds the population of the human community grew from a few tens of millions, perhaps, to more than 7,000,000,000. Within this eleven seconds empires rose and fell in every region of the world. Within this eleven seconds hundreds of major wars and thousands of minor ones raged at various times, in all corners of the world. During this eleven seconds humans went from moving slowly on foot across endless expanses to sending vehicles past the orbits of the most distant planet in the Solar System. In this eleven seconds, humans moved from being the center of the Universe to being a forgotten backwater. In this eleven seconds, whole peoples migrated across the surface of the Earth, whole cultures rose and disappeared, thousands upon thousands of languages were spoken, quadrillions of hours of work were done,  tens of billions of people were born and died, thousands of gods and spirits were worshipped, and countless prayers were offered up. Religions rose and fell and spread and evolved and transformed themselves and touched tens of billions of lives. Billions of stories were told, tens of millions of books were written, billions of drawings, sketches, paintings, and carvings were done, treasures were made and lost, and millions upon millions of buildings were raised and then destroyed. Every physical sensation from searing agony to glorious ecstasy was experienced. Every kind of crime and vile sin was committed, and every kind of ordinary good deed lifted someone up. There were oceans of tears wept, and trillions of laughs sounded. There was more grief than there should have been and more suffering than there should have been and more hunger and fear and hatred and cruelty than there ever should have been and more joy than has ever been imagined and more celebrations than anyone can count and more love and love-making than anyone can conceive of. Humans looked out on every imaginable landscape and seascape, and lived their lives wrapped in a mystery they could sense but not necessarily express. In the last 11 seconds, they have attempted all things, transformed entire continents, built ways of life of bewildering complexity, suffered every defeat, won every victory, and lived every kind of life. They have known the day and the Sun, the night and the stars, the wind and the rain—and, for better or worse, each other.

Over the last 11 seconds billions of members of the genus Homo have walked across the stage of the world anonymously, their names forever lost, many of whom—so many—died as children. Most humans have lived the quiet drama of ordinary life in ordinary places and times. On occasion they have been swept up in the tsunami of events about which they understood nothing. As a species, they were on a long journey, headed…where? Despite the narratives of Promised Lands and Nirvanas they devised in their heads, no one really knew for sure. They kept going, ultimately, because…what else could they do? They survived because… they had to. No one knew, really, what, if anything, it all meant or why it had happened at all. But in the last 11 seconds of the cosmic year, the sum total of their actions and words helped build the world we were born into and inherited, and we became the ones who sought to survive because…we had to. The long journey continued. Its ultimate duration and destination? Unknown, and unknowable.

In this section, we have traced the sequence of events that brought about the rise and spread of human consciousness. We have seen that the basic forces of the Universe and the fundamental units of energy-matter came into existence in the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang, and how these units formed (and still form) the substructure of physical reality. We saw in succession the synthesis of the first elements, the aggregations of simple gases that formed the earliest stars, the nucleosynthesis within stars and supernova events that created the remainder of the elements, the formation of galaxies, the formation of “our” galaxy, the origin and nature of “our” star, the creation of the Earth, the physical processes that drive the Earth’s operations, the origin and evolution of the first simple replicating molecules (possibly preceded by metabolic processes) and then replicating carbon-based molecules, and then, in succession, the origins and evolution of the multitudinous life forms that make up the biological reality that exists in the thin layer that sticks like a film to the outer crust of the Earth. We have seen the development of life in the ocean, then the colonization of the land, and all the intermediate steps (of which we are aware) that led finally to the evolution of the primate line. With the advent of the primates, there now existed an advanced order of animals nimble in both body and mind, its members using the powerful tools of prehensile appendages, vision that allowed a fuller examination of the physical world, and brains more advanced than the reptilians who so often threatened them. And from the primate line we saw the emergence of the primate with the most advanced brain of them all, one capable of conceiving every great, ordinary, and terrible thing, the one that came to dominate the planet’s surface.

It is important for us not to give this sequence the attribute of inevitability. The long unfolding of physical reality from the Big Bang until now did not, by necessity, have to bring forth us. At each stage there was an increase in the possibility that something like human consciousness would come to be, nothing more. Even when advanced consciousness evolved and began to spread around the globe, there was no guarantee that it would survive. In the early history of our genus, any number of events could have snuffed it out.  We can look back on the long sequence of circumstances and events that led to the evolution of humans and conclude that the process was completely the result of natural phenomena. At no point was any supernatural intervention necessary. The sciences have not, by any means, explained everything about the multi-billion year history of the Universe and the life it brought forth. But there is the dawning sense among many humans that if everything has not yet been explained, it is at least ultimately explicable. There is no need to seek answers to our questions about the unfolding of physical reality outside the realms of empiricism and mathematical deduction.

Of course, none of this eliminates the philosophical possibility that there is indeed an intelligence governing reality, the motives and methods of which are as far above our understanding as the mind of Albert Einstein would be to an ant. And yet, one gets a sense that if such an intelligence is indeed overlooking the great epic of physical reality, that it is not actively causing anything specific to occur within it. The Deistic conception of a creator initiating the processes of the Universe and then letting them take their course seems to be the most credible picture of such an intelligence that we can have. Most humans have a sense that something beyond themselves exists, and in the last 11 seconds of the cosmic year they have evolved elaborate belief systems both to express this conviction in concrete form and to establish some kind of connection with this perceived hidden plane of reality. These conceptions may yet be proven right, and such an intelligence may yet reveal itself to us and enfold us within itself. But there is no certain way to prove that any such events, however much the promise of them gives us hope, will ever occur.

Originally posted to Yosef 52 on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 11:24 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Your imagination is as good as any other. nt (6+ / 0-)
  •  But what was before the Big Bang? (8+ / 0-)

    What did the Big Bang blow up into?

    Boehner Just Wants Wife To Listen, Not Come Up With Alternative Debt-Reduction Ideas

    by dov12348 on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 12:24:14 AM PST

    •  Well...(from another section of my book) (16+ / 0-)

      The Universe, in some pictures of its creation, is said to have simply bubbled out of the fabric of reality itself. Perhaps it was here that pure mathematical randomness asserted itself. The Universe was possible; therefore, in an expression of probability, it became. Maybe it was just as likely as it was not that all the features out of which physical reality is composed came into being through what Peter Atkins calls a fluctuation. This was caused, in his view, by an extreme simplicity that gave rise to a set of points, a geometry, a pattern brought forth by sheer chance, in our case a pattern that contained both time and three spatial dimensions, an arrangement which was conducive to expansion and an increasing elaboration.3

      Atkins is describing being emerging from non-being—something emerging from nothing. But how can this occur? It seems impossible, and yet physicist Paul Davies has answered in this way:

      The lesson of quantum physics is this: Something that "just happens" need not actually violate the laws of physics. The abrupt and uncaused appearance of something can occur within the scope of scientific law, once quantum laws have been taken into account. Nature apparently has the capacity for genuine spontaneity.
      It is, of course, a big step from the spontaneous and uncaused appearance of a subatomic particle-something that is routinely observed in particle accelerators-to the spontaneous and uncaused appearance of the universe. But the loophole is there. If, as astronomers believe, the primeval universe was compressed to a very small size, then quantum effects must have once been important on a cosmic scale. Even if we don't have a precise idea of exactly what took place at the beginning, we can at least see that the origin of the universe from nothing need not be unlawful or unnatural or unscientific. In short, it need not have been a supernatural event.4

      As Davies notes, particles (and, we should add, antiparticles) spontaneously pop into existence all the time, even in a perfect vacuum. It is the nature of the vacuum, many scientists believe, that gave rise to the current Universe. This is related to the phenomenon known as Zero Point Energy. In order to grasp Zero Point Energy, we need to remember Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, wherein we cannot simultaneously know the exact location and momentum of a particle. A particle has both motion energy and positional energy. ZPE is the smallest amount of energy that motion and positional energy can add up to according to quantum principles. Since it is impossible for a particle to be completely motionless (for in that case both its location and momentum would be known at the same time), we must assume that it retains a minimal but still real ZPE. The fluctuations that cause particles to spontaneously (if only briefly) emerge will therefore, by necessity, imply the creation of energy. In other words, if the Universe began as an example of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, the creation of energy in this instance would have been unavoidable.5

      Matter is created out of energy, since they are aspects of the same thing. In 1988, Hawking maintained that the energy to create matter has been “borrowed” from the Universe’s gravitational energy, a process which was particularly intense during the rapid inflationary period of space-time. Hawking said this debt will not have to be “paid back” until the very end of the Universe itself. This would imply, mind-bogglingly enough, that the net energy of the entire Universe is zero.

      Cosmologist John Barrow challenges all notions of creation out of nothing. Barrow argues that since the concept of an infinitely dense, infinitely hot point from which the Universe sprang is no longer tenable, that it is completely possible that our Universe is part of an eternal sequence of Universes. He points out that a number of scenarios are possible in this regard, from a Universe that was static (before the time we perceive as the Big Bang) and which began the expansion we now observe to a Universe in eternal expansion, to a Universe that “bounced” into being from the decay of another Universe.  Moreover, Barrow contends that gravitation does not behave as we once thought it did. A Universe in which gravitation is always universally attractive does not square with our observations of the Universe’s expansion. Something is overcoming the force of gravitation, and driving the Universe to entropy. (As we saw earlier in this book, that something may be dark energy.) 6

      The consensus that seems to be emerging, therefore, is that we do not yet know what happened at the very moment of the Universe’s origin (or the origin of its most recent incarnation). There appears to be no inherent contradiction or logical fallacy in asserting that the Universe we inhabit is part of a larger, perhaps eternal space-time reality, but as yet nothing along this line can be demonstrated. There also appears to be no inherent contradiction or logical fallacy in asserting that the Universe is the result of random quantum fluctuation in the vacuum of nothingness. German theoretical physicist Henning Genz puts it this way:

      If there was time before the Big Bang, time in which the world originated, we will never know within our model [the standard model of the hot Big Bang]; the first frame of our motion picture is independent of anything that might have preceded it. Increase of temperature eliminates information…no information whatever can be passed on at infinite temperature. To repeat: We have no way of telling whether anything preceded the Big Bang, whether time had its origin together with our universe. 7
      If there was indeed an “explosion” (so to speak) of energy-matter at the beginning of the Universe, there should be detectable traces of it today, and indeed there are. The traces are in the form of what is known as the cosmic microwave background radiation. This remnant of the Big Bang was first detected in 1965 by two American radio astronomers, and it was measured and “seen” in effect by the COBE satellite in 1992, a monumental discovery. The density and distribution of this radiation confirms many of our conjectures about the Big Bang and the early Universe. The Universe in which we live is both largely  homogenous and isotropic—in other words, one which appears to be structurally uniform throughout and one in which all directions seem to yield a similar view. The irregularities within the cosmic microwave background radiation, the level of its anisotropy, constitute about one one-hundredth thousandth of its content, or one one-thousandth of one percent.8

      In 1983 Stephen Hawking and fellow physicist Jim Hartle proposed what they believe to be a plausible picture of physical reality, one known as the No Boundary Universe. In its original form, it defined a Universe that was both finite and unbounded (in the same sense that the surface of a sphere is unbounded, although Hawking and Hartle do not see the Universe as a spherical object). Such a Universe would not have begun with a singularity. In a 1988 public lecture, Hawking explained his view in this manner:

      The proposal that Hartle and I made, can be paraphrased as: The boundary condition of the universe is, that it has no boundary. It is only if the universe is in this ``no boundary'' state, that the laws of science, on their own, determine the probabilities of each possible history. Thus, it is only in this case that the known laws would determine how the universe should behave. If the universe is in any other state, the class of curved spaces, in the ``Sum over Histories'', will include spaces with singularities. In order to determine the probabilities of such singular histories, one would have to invoke some principle other than the known laws of science. This principle would be something external to our universe. We could not deduce it from within the universe. On the other hand, if the universe is in the ``no boundary'' state, we could, in principle, determine completely how the universe should behave, up to the limits set by the Uncertainty Principle.9
      The term “Sum over Histories” was taken from the work of Richard Feynman. You may recall that Feynman demonstrated, through quantum electrodynamics, that a beam of light explores every possible path between Point A and Point B, and the sum of the probabilities it explores appears to be a straight line. Hawking is arguing that the Universe itself represents the sum of all possible Universes, and that its appearance was basically an act of quantum spontaneity. Hawking spoke again about this theme in a 2007 lecture that recapitulated many of his earlier points. But he elaborated on his previous remarks by saying that the picture he and Hartle had developed of the spontaneous quantum creation of the Universe could be likened to the bubbles that form in heated water. The various bubbles that appear and then disappear again would represent microscopic Universes that spontaneously appear and disappear again after undergoing a very limited expansion. Hawking then added that a few of these bubble-like Universes would attain sufficient size to escape the possibility of collapse, and would continue to expand at increasing rates. It was these Universes, Hawking said, that had the potential to last long enough to produce stars, galaxies, and life.10

      In 2008, New Scientist reported that Hawking, Hartle, and physicist Thomas Hertog proposed that the early Universe was describable as a wave function, meaning that all possible Universes initially came into being but the one that prevailed was the most probable one, the one that we inhabit, the Universe that now appears to act in accordance with the rules of classical physics. Moreover, according to their calculations, this most probable Universe allows for a rapid inflation, inflation consistent with the evidence we have gathered from measuring the cosmic microwave background radiation. In short, according to this view, there was no singularity. Rather, from a dense thicket of possibilities, the most probable one grew into the Universe we inhabit. Hawking also pointed out that in this model there would be small fluctuations in the expansion of the Universe, and it was these localized fluctuations that permitted the emergence of stars, galaxies, and all the other structures of which we know in the Universe. 11

      Read a preview of Volume One of my book here.

      by Yosef 52 on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 01:02:36 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  There was no before, and no"into" (6+ / 0-)

      There was no before the big bang. Nor was there anything that it blew up into. The big bang formed space and time. Mater and energy form one half of the equation, space and time the other, and they exactly cancel out, leaving nothing. This, all of it, adds up to nothing. It doesn't need a cause, a location, or any external scale of time.

      Asking what was before the big bang, or what it blew up into, is like asking what flavor green is.

  •  I appreciate your attempt to match the... (10+ / 0-)

    poetry of the reality we inhabit with written poetry. Far too often, the beauty of the universe and its history and ours is intentionally reduced to the most anti-poetic language possible.

    "The Democratic Party is not our friend: it is the only party we can negotiate with."

    by 2020adam on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 01:09:08 AM PST

  •  On of my favourite questions.... (9+ / 0-)

    ...has long been, "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

    By that, I don't mean it strictly the way it seems most mean it, which is simply a way of asking "How did the Universe begin?" Indeed, most physicists answer it in such terms; quantum fluctuations, ekpyrosis and other mechanistic answers, which while satisfying in their own terms, do not get to the meat of the real question, which s simply "Why is there anything rather than nothing?

    For instance; quantum fluctuations; Davies' answer  is perfectly good, and accurately sums up the math that QCD provides, but it begs the question of why there exists any framework within which QCD could operate, rather than nothing. Likewise for ekpyrotic theory (banging branes) or anything else.

    Why should there exist any sort of framework of energy or structure within which ANYTHING could happen, rather than the infinitely more likely possibility of absolutely nothing whatsoever?

    It's a puzzler :D

    Sunday Afternoon Composer: Like Monday Morning Quarterbacking, with music!

    by Freelance Escapologist on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 05:37:26 AM PST

    •  Well, (3+ / 0-)

      because in all the other places where there is nothing, there is nobody to ask the question 'why is there nothing'.

      :)

      •  Weak Anthropic Principle (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NancyWH, MarkW53, DBunn

        ...it serves us well, of course, but I don't mean my question in even a "local" sense. I mean it in a truly Universal one; why should ANYTHING exist?

        If there are universes or pockets of spacetime which have true nothing (true vacuum), that's "local". I mean the question in the truly, mind-blowingly, complete, absolutist sense; why should anything, any natural laws, any framewoks for quantum weirdness, any energy, and forces, anything exist?

        It's a tough question to even get your mind around in that sense; one keeps moving back to "well, because this", but's that's still causative. I'm referring to true nothing, no time, no space, no laws, no forces, which is, if you think about it, far more likely than anything.

        And Anthropic principles don't help either, because there's nothing to refer to in that sense; I've never liked the AP either (strong or weak) because it ignores the true meat of the question.

        Am I making sense yet? It's so tough a question to frame correctly. I've asked a few people and even physicists think I'm asking the question that you answered, instead of the horrible one I really did...

        Sunday Afternoon Composer: Like Monday Morning Quarterbacking, with music!

        by Freelance Escapologist on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 09:19:59 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  On what basis (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          NancyWH, Freelance Escapologist

          do you assume that nothing-ness is 'far more likely' than non-nothingness? Likely implies probability, and probability implies time. If there's no time, then there is no probability, so your question and assumptions don't really seem coherent.

          •  You're kind of missing my point... (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            MarkW53, DBunn, 207wickedgood, side pocket

            ... which is understandable, since I'm not expressing myself clearly! :)

            Every theory of "Where The Universe Came From" requires, in some form or another, a functioning framework within which things can exist. Quantum fluctuations require a "sea" of forces within which a fluctuation can occur. Ekpyrotic Theory requires a bulk universe in which the branes can collide. Hawking's boundary hypothesis still requires a pre-existing quantum framework for anything like a boundary condition to exist. Even in the most rarefied theories, physicists never speak of creation ex nihilo</>, because such a thing cannot be described.

            My question is simply why? Why do such things exist? It's a pretty coherent question, but it's one that I believe may not actually have an answer, since any answer would almost certainly give rise to infinite regress ("and so where did x come from? And y? And then z?...")

            My point about the "likelihood" of nothingness was nothing to do with probability (and in the quantum world, infinite time and zero time actually equal the same thing, since the equations are time independent), but rather the observation that true nothingness (no-time, no-space) requires nothing; any "something" requires something in place beforehand, no matter how you try and sidestep it, even if that "something" is as esoteric as a framework within which forces and fields can exist. And the question then still pertains; why do they exist?

            I'm probably still meandering up the garden path on this; it's a tough concept to nail down in my mind to express correctly, since every time I try I fall into the same traps that I seem to have done with you, namely ideas of time and the notion of probabilities and so on, but in it's truest form, my question transcends such considerations. Why is there anything, rather than true nothing, with no possibility of anything, ever, because there is nothing to work with in any sense.

            Sunday Afternoon Composer: Like Monday Morning Quarterbacking, with music!

            by Freelance Escapologist on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 11:38:41 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Love your approach (2+ / 0-)

              Especially your last paragraph.

              I would like to suggest that tossing in the ingredient of consciousness as a basic quality inherent in the the stuff of the universe makes it an even more exciting proposition!

              Thanks for your post. I look forward to reading more.

              •  The Consciousness Problem... (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Yosef 52, side pocket

                ...knotty philosophy!

                I'm glad i'm starting to make some sort of sense here, though. It's so inherently inhuman a concept that even trying to parameterize it gives me existential headaches. You find yourself thinking, ” yeah, well, but eventually....” and you have to so yourself and say ” no, there's nothing at all.” It's a bizarre thought, when you get right down to it...disturbing, but oddly...calming.

                Sunday Afternoon Composer: Like Monday Morning Quarterbacking, with music!

                by Freelance Escapologist on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 02:18:51 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Serious comment (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  side pocket

                  So how about this as an answer to your ultimate existential question: All of this, all of existence, all of every- or anythingness, including any necessary pre-conditions of mathematical or logical truth, all of it... is but an idea or dream in the mind of God.

                  This concept is not my invention-- it might belong to a guy named George Berkeley, aka Bishop Berkeley, who lived from 1685 to 1753 (Wikipedia)

                  I do not literally believe this, or subscribe to any notion of some magic mega-person named God. I'm just waiting for a better explanation.

                  It's a mystery.

                  •  The idea that this is all God' dream (3+ / 0-)

                    is a non-falsifiable proposition. Bishop Berkeley is responsible for the idea of idealism, which to my mind is as dangerous and misleading an idea as solipsism. No, I do not think the world comes into being only when someone is observing it. A few years ago, in response to another person on DKos, I wrote this assessment of idealism:

                    philosophical idealism strikes me as a form of solipsism--"the world doesn't exist unless I am looking at it." I judge all forms of solipsism to be fundamentally irrational. Secondly, as I said, the Universe predates any intelligent life form capable of observing it. Its existence was a necessary pre-condition to the evolution of consciousness. To think that the fact of observation causes something to spring into existence is to confuse cause with effect. Observation causes perception to spring into existence (in a sufficiently evolved brain), and nothing more. Something logically had to exist capable of being perceived. Yes, the perception itself is "subjective" in that its nature is dependent on the kind of being doing the perceiving, but the physical reality that stimulates the perception is necessary.

                    Finally, there is the test of consistency. Let's say we take 100 Americans who were all raised in homes that had a kitchen, and show each of them a model display kitchen of some sort. Although the observers will naturally notice different details, and those with more experience in cooking will be more knowledgeable about the functions of various pieces of equipment, it is highly likely that all 100 of these observers will call the display room a kitchen. Why? Why is it that 100 different people, each supposedly with the ability to cause reality to exist merely by perceiving it, perceive a kitchen, and not, variously, a dragon's lair, a zoo, an airport, or the Grand Canyon? Could it be that they each perceive a kitchen of some sort because the kitchen objectively exists as a physical object? That it constitutes some sort of independently existing entity? I think it likely that it does. We may not perceive the "real" reality, the Thing in Itself. But that doesn't mean that a normally functioning human nervous system is completely disconnected from reality. Its relationship to reality may be tangential, but it is an authentic one nonetheless. And the more our perception shares common ground with other humans, the more likely it is that the object being perceived exists independently of us. If you and I both look at a series of colors and each of us identifies the same set of colors in the same way, it is therefore likely (although not absolutely certain) that we have both been looking at an object that exists outside of us.

                    Read a preview of Volume One of my book here.

                    by Yosef 52 on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 11:16:02 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Agreed! (3+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      RiveroftheWest, side pocket, Yosef 52

                      Solipsism and idealism are philosophical dead ends; they contribute nothing, and have little philosophical rigor. And, to continue my uber--pedant course, doesn't answer the question anyway.

                      If I may provide the only pseudo-answer I have come up with over the years to my query, ” it just is”.

                      As I said before,I don't think there's any way to avoid infinite regress in any description of why such frameworks or forces exist in a mechanistic way; such a thing can either have always existed (we're here because we're here because we're here...) or arise because of another force or structure that allowed it to exist, and so on. As mind-bogglingly amazing and beautiful as the universe (and your diary series!) is, the fact that it exists at all, that the ”multiverse”/bulk/quantum basement/what-have-you, enables such things as universes to arise in the first place, is almost more breath-takingly stunning.

                      Sunday Afternoon Composer: Like Monday Morning Quarterbacking, with music!

                      by Freelance Escapologist on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 04:52:58 AM PST

                      [ Parent ]

        •  Why should anything exist? (3+ / 0-)

          Why shouldn't it? Both are equally likely, it seems.

          Read a preview of Volume One of my book here.

          by Yosef 52 on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 01:00:34 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Who Says Consciousness Has To Be Anthropomorphic? (5+ / 0-)

          Why not re-examine the quality of consciousness as a basic element of the universe? That opens up many more fascinating possibilities. Energy equated to consciousness is an important avenue of exploration, in my opinion!

          Loved your post as I have asked those very same questions many many times.

          By the way, your Hinterland is beautiful!!!!  Simply wonderful!

  •  Not only kudos to (8+ / 0-)

    Yoseph 52 for presenting these diaries but kudos to the Rescue Rangers for bringing them to our attention.
    If I may, a little humor:

    In the beginning, there was nothing.
    Then Ceiling Cat said "Let there be light".
    And there was still nothing.
    But now you could see it.

    Ceiling Cat rules....srsly.

    by side pocket on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 06:51:14 AM PST

  •  Let us know when the book comes out (5+ / 0-)

    I would read it.

  •  Beautiful and brilliant. A joy to read. Thanks! (7+ / 0-)

    muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

    by veritas curat on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 10:53:24 AM PST

  •  Very nice. Thank you. (5+ / 0-)

    My take on the whole thing is that if it was all shepherded by a conscious being, s/he has a truly incredible amount of patience.

    And furthermore, just where the heck did s/he come from?

    Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    by maybeeso in michigan on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 11:08:07 AM PST

  •  I know it sounds crazy, (5+ / 0-)

    but I love this stuff!  I have found I [will] need to re-read it many times, though, because at different times I read the same writings very differently. Thanks for taking the time to put your thoughts into words!

    "The light which puts out our sight is darkness to us." Thoreau

    by NancyWH on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 11:20:00 AM PST

  •  Oh, ants understood Einstein just fine. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yosef 52, DBunn, side pocket

    Can eat Einstein? Not if moving. Einstein might eat me? Yes.  Run.

    Ignorance is Curable.

    by skids on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 01:36:31 PM PST

  •  A Review of Scientific Cosmology (4+ / 0-)

    You write beautifully...and with more of an open mind than many scientists.

    I especially want to comment on your statement:

    "Even if we don't have a precise idea of exactly what took place at the beginning, we can at least see that the origin of the universe from nothing need not be unlawful or unnatural or unscientific. In short, it need not have been a supernatural event."
    I have a slightly different conclusion in that this condition does not preclude supernatural events. Science's consistent adherence to it's methodology results in a very narrow-minded view, even when commenting on the creation of something out of nothing.

    Yes, something out of nothing does express the limits of our observation techniques at this time, but left at that it continues to limit and exclude other important philosophical memes. While I am not a deist, and abhor creationism's missionary approach at re-scripting things, I sense that science's evolving cosmology has missed including attributes of reality that it cannot see...as it always has...but now should revisit because it's current findings are indeed pointing out that there indeed might be 'something' about nothingness.

    I'm very glad to have discovered your post and plan to read more of your writing! Thank you.

  •  I love this narrative overview of deep history (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    side pocket

    I hope to read your long version some day. I'm especially interested in the early stages of violence and warfare, and how those institutions became embedded and still are.

    I would like to suggest an amendment to your rendition. It's one almost nobody knows about because the field research that has revealed it is only a couple of decades old, and because it hasn't been assembled and presented in any scientific fora or public media, yet, and because it violates probably the most deeply held beliefs in human history: the belief in human exceptionalism.

    The widespread assumption that has held up in the absence of better evidence for at least 5 or 6 seconds by your reckoning, is that: "In that minute, from about 31,000 to 5,000 ybp, Homo sapiens sapiens became the sole possessor of advanced consciousness on the planet Earth."

    If you'll bear with me for just a minute of conventional time, I'd like to introduce you to another intelligent mammal that has shown cultural faculties without parallel except in humans, that uses language (or call it symbolic interaction or referential communication if you like) to mediate traditional behavior that controls the entire spectrum, including diet, mating, associations, communications, etc.

    The mammal is the orca. The landmark study "Culture in Whales and Dolphins" was published in 2001. The bottom line in the paper is: "The complex and stable vocal and behavioural cultures of sympatric groups of killer whales (Orcinus orca) appear to have no parallel outside humans, and represent an independent evolution of cultural faculties."

    To date 25 or 30 distinct cultural communities of orcas have been identified worldwide, all inhabiting overlapping ranges with other communities, and yet each maintains rigid mating rules that prohibit cross-mating, so that each has remained genetically distinct for thousands of generations, and each shows its own physical characteristics such as size, markings, etc.

    So I would suggest amending the sentence to say:  "In that minute, from about 31,000 to 5,000 ybp, Homo sapiens sapiens became the sole possessor of advanced consciousness and the ability to substantially alter its physical surroundings, on the planet Earth," because of course orcas have no hands or opposable thumbs.

    In terms of their ability to alter themselves, however, orcas are second to none, as demonstrated by dozens of field studies worldwide.

    I realize this is almost impossible to accept intellectually or emotionally unless and until influential intellectuals and the media begin to discuss the possibility seriously, but having been immersed in the emerging evidence for over 30 years I find it intriguing and potentially highly instructive. Orcas appeared in their present size, form and presumably brain capacity, about 8-10 million years ago. In all that time they've had no predators and have been the undisputed big dog on the block. They've had all this time as possessors of advanced consciousness to figure out how to live on Planet Earth. There's no way to reconstruct the evolutionary history of orca cultures, but in their current forms there is virtually no aggression, either within or between cultures. There are a very few exceptions, but the rule is to avoid violence.

    Maybe we could learn from that. I'm not implying that orcas were endowed with some divine inspiration lacking in humans, but the environmental conditions in marine habitats, and the vastly longer scale of time in which to refine their behaviors, seems to have resulted in cohesive communities that meet the needs of the animals without the stresses of threats of violence, as hard as that may be to imagine.

    Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge. -Carl Sagan

    by howardfromUSA on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 08:01:36 PM PST

    •  Fascinating information, indeed. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, side pocket

      I am very interested in cetaceans and in the section on language (in another volume) I will take up the issue of cetacean linguistic capacities. Elsewhere in my work I refer to the ability of hominids to alter the world because of their combination of brain, upright posture, and prehensile hands, whereas cetaceans were precluded from constructing advanced material cultures. I have always suspected that dolphins, whales, etc. have a large capacity for learning, and they may indeed have evolved linguistically-conveyed non-material cultures. In my view, however, the use of hands was crucial for the development of consciousness, inasmuch as the skills necessary for their use and the information they are capable of communicating back to the brain establish a strong synergy. Hands give evolutionary advantage to the brains that control them; good brains in turn help develop better hands.

      I have a chapter in Volume Two called "Consciousness as a Continuum in the Animal Kingdom" and I will find your research to be very valuable in it. I will look into this, I assure you.

      Thank you so much. I'm going to put the address of your link in my research file.

      Read a preview of Volume One of my book here.

      by Yosef 52 on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 10:51:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  So as far as Jesus riding on the back of a (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yosef 52

    Triceratops, he missed it by just THAT MUCH!

    RW Christians, eat your hearts out!

    Offer your heart some Joy every day of your life, and spread it along to others.

    by Truedelphi on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 08:38:16 PM PST

  •  "Natural" & "Supernatural" (0+ / 0-)
    We can look back on the long sequence of circumstances and events that led to the evolution of humans and conclude that the process was completely the result of natural phenomena. At no point was any supernatural intervention necessary.
    (Bolding mine)

    And on what evidence do we base our distinguishing "natural" from "supernatural"?

    What really is "natural" also not a "perception"?
    Likewise, what is "supernatural"? Not a "perception"? Beyond the labeling, then, do we really have an understanding of what these concepts are (thing itself) other than our perceptions, so much that we can make such absolute claims like "completely" one thing and "at no point" another ? What if what we perceive as "natural" is "supernatural" or "supernatural" "natural," when observed from a different viewpoint? Really, how much do we understand about "natural" phenomena that we can tell with certainty what it is not?

    And yet, one gets a sense that if such an intelligence is indeed overlooking the great epic of physical reality,

    What if "It" IS the very essence of the "great epic of [what we experience as] physical reality," not the "overlooking" one? This concept of an [intelligence] overlooking at a landscape with bird-eye-viewpoint sounds a bit comical if not stupid when interpreted literally, and you must know that, Yosef. I remember previously giving such an example to describe what is usually indescribable as a metaphor, not to be read literally.

    Let me repeat it: The "overlooking" one is the human intellect that is distancing (metaphorically speaking) itself to "see" the "whole picture." It is not about "God overlooking from heights." There are no heights in space; all measurement of distance (time/space) are making of the "mind." And that makes sense since for the longest time we experienced the earth as "flat" continuous linear structure that went forever, or until it came to the end where the oceans poured down into the abyss (lol!)

    That lasted until we explored and mapped the whole globe,traveling North, South, West, and East, and in between. Then we wanted to "fly," and we did. Before even flying (by the very act of 'distancing ourselves from our local perspectives,' a.k.a exploring the world, meeting other people and discovering other lands) we began to figure out the "whole picture" about the earth, that it is a round globe, indeed. I read this as our "minds are also round, globe." To see reality about ourselves (the whole picture) then we must perceive globally.

    When we traveled in space, we really had a look at the earth "from a distance." And boy it was "round."

    Therefore, to me, all linear logic (and linear science) are doomed to inadequacy when We eventually "observe" the reality "from a distance" and see that reality is not a linear "clockwork universe," set up by an isolated "Deity" (who is busy scratching his beard on planet heaven since then, btw) to function mechanically all by its dumb self until...it comes to the "end" where the oceans pour and the ships fall into the "abyss" :)...

    Nope. The reality is a living organic continuous cycle, emerging/unfolding from the history (time). It is round and it is global. We will see that roundness only when we distance ourselves from our locality, expanding our horizons. And seeing that roundness, we discover our true nature: non-linear, and certainly not dumb.

    The Deistic conception of a creator initiating the processes of the Universe and then letting them take their course seems to be the most credible picture of such an intelligence that we can have. Most humans have a sense that something beyond themselves exists, and in the last 11 seconds of the cosmic year they have evolved elaborate belief systems both to express this conviction in concrete form and to establish some kind of connection with this perceived hidden plane of reality. These conceptions may yet be proven right, and such an intelligence may yet reveal itself to us and enfold us within itself. But there is no certain way to prove that any such events, however much the promise of them gives us hope, will ever occur.
    (Bolding mine)

    Actually, we have been looking at this "perceived hidden plane of reality" for sometime (since the days of the flat and the linear earth where ships fall from the end) in our labs and institutions of science and exploration, and we know that it is not hidden, by any means. The technology behind your cell-phone was not based on the linear calculations of the classical Newtonian science, for example, Yosef. It is, as round and as global as it can be.

    What I don't understand, in the end, is why must be appeal to our ignorance, instead of admitting what we all "see"?

    Regards

    "Corruptio Optimi Pessima" (Corruption of the best is the worst)

    by zenox on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 08:28:37 AM PST

    •  zenox, I enjoy our dialogue very much. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      zenox

      I hope that you do not misinterpret me, however. My thinking about the world is anything but Newtonian and Euclidean. In my book I (very briefly) touch on relativity; the multiverse/parallel universe hypothesis; quantum mechanics, especially the Many Worlds hypothesis and quantum entanglement; string theory; dark energy and dark matter, and many other similar topics. I am quite aware that my cell phone was not made possible using only the classical physics that culminated with relativity theory in the early 20th century. As I write:

      By the early 21st century, the picture of physical reality and the rules by which it operated was radically different than that which had existed in the year 1700. It was apparent that physical reality was not what it had once seemed to be. And those who studied the nature of reality and the place of humans within it had to take this new, radical vision of the Universe into account if a coherent picture of the human experience were to be constructed.
      It is, in fact, one of my book's objectives to upend traditional physical notions of the Universe.

      In regard to your point concerning the word supernatural, we may be bogged down in semantics here. So let me clarify my view. To my mind the word supernatural means not subject to any empirical or deductive examination. Literally beyond the physical plane. You seem to be conflating the term supernatural with the discoveries of quantum physics. Nothing could be farther from my meaning. By definition, quantum principles and effects are NOT hidden from us. We may not comprehend them (yet) but we are certainly aware that they exist. There is nothing "supernatural" about the quantum world. Spooky it is, yes--but not beyond the physical plane. I am quite aware of the shape of the world and the fact that much of the world's true nature is hidden from our everyday perception. Keenly aware.

      Finally, when I speak of an intelligence overlooking physical reality, I am speaking metaphorically, trying to convey the idea of a transcendent being quite apart from space-time, which is the classic theistic view (a view I reject, by the way).

      In all honesty, I think you completely misunderstand me, probably because I haven't provided you with enough of my own thought. I am the ULTIMATE global thinker. If you read my broader work, this will be readily apparent to you.

      Read a preview of Volume One of my book here.

      by Yosef 52 on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 04:24:41 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I plan to read your book... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Yosef 52

        ...whether I agree with you or not :) That much is given. My comments (rantings) can be  a bit convulated at times, I know, but I do mean well. Thank you for reading and for fhe kindly responses.

        "Corruptio Optimi Pessima" (Corruption of the best is the worst)

        by zenox on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 07:18:53 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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