• Posted: Sep 25, 2008 10:56:57
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A biologist once commented to me, "A chicken is an egg's idea of how to have more eggs." It's a fascinating thought that in one swipe almost completely wipes away the entirety of self-important human cultural history with the implication that almost everything we hold to be important within our conscious thoughts is for the most part irrelevant to the plodding mechanisms of biology. Can you hear the screams of protestation??
What is the biological function of conscious thought, anyway? Is there any? As a mechanism for creating dissonance, disruption, and destruction it seems to work quite well. Biologically, it is a source of variation, variation which environmental conditions can then select for. The most adaptive variations increase the long term viability of ours or even other species. Regardless of the intent, disruptive consequences reshuffle the cards and reset the entire game. Good consequences, bad consequences? It doesn't matter. Variation is a substantial part of the fuel by which biological life evolves.
Ah, biology might not care what the consequences of our thought and actions are, but we do. And there is the rub because "we" is not a universally equivalent thought like, for instance, the number 2. "We" is a relative term, relative to the speaker and his or her like-minded compatriots. The concept of "we" hardly ever is meant to include the entirety of the human species. Only scientists and a few humanistic writers talk in such terms. Politicians, religious leaders, parents, and most teachers do not.
Biologically speaking, is there any meaning to the term "we"? Certainly "we" must include breeding pairs. Without them the species ends. Aside from Jesus Christ, parthenogenesis has not been observed in humans. Humans do form larger social structures, like clubs, tribes, cities, political parties, corporations, states, and nations. But almost universally those larger structures are formed with the concept "we" in opposition to the concept "them", meaning those who will not be included in the group. Very few groups are formed with the intent to band together and meaningfully coordinate with other groups in service to the entire human race. Very few groups exist without the concept of a "them" in mind.
What that seems to tell us is that no matter what humans think they are accomplishing, they will likely forever be at each other's throats providing dissonant, disruptive, and destructive variations in the service of biological evolution. Alternatively, common sense suggests we'd increase the long term viability of more of our species if we'd abandon competing selfish and parochial interests in favor of coordinated inclusive activities more consonant and cooperative with the mechanisms of nature.
June 1969 Chicago