Many, if not most, people nowadays are pretty sensitive to the various kinds of chauvinism; national, gender, religion, age and so forth. One pretty big one that goes unremarked is what might be called historical chauvinism or prejudice against the past. This goes hand in hand with what I've called The Myth of Progress, the casual assumption that things are continually getting better, and we're getter smarter, more moral and probably better looking.
I've doubted this for some time, and I'm not the only one apparently. Here's a thought-provoking essay by Jared Diamond about The Worst Mistake in Human History. (spoiler: it was the invention of agriculture.) I've often thought that the high point in human history was the Cro-Magnon period. By high point, I mean the time when people were happiest. Who wouldn't rather be out hunting wooly rhinoceros with the boys than digging in the dirt for your over-lord in Sumer?
Something I've often wondered is how different our minds are from those of our ancestors. Various writers have broached this subject, but most like Julian Jaynes with his Bi-Cameral Mind theory, begin by assuming that the present model is more correct and interpreting ancient ways of knowing in a manner that makes them equivalent to pathologies.
Some time ago I read an article by a Christian writer about angels (sorry no reference, I'm winging it here, no pun intended.) He had one quirky idea that stuck with me. He suggested that the invention of perspective in the Renaissance wasn't really an invention at all. The odd flat scenes in Medieval painting wasn't a lack of technique. It was, he said, a faithful representation of the way people actually saw things.
Then came a shift in human consciousness around the middle of the 15th century and suddenly we were seeing things in 3-D. We had entered fully into the material plane and while gaining a better perception of that realm, we lost contact with the spirit realm.
I'm not sure I buy this theory, it sounds too much like a classic Calvin and Hobbes routine. But in a broader sense, I think he's on to something. Something did change around then, and arguably not for the better. The religious hysteria that gripped Europe for two centuries was perhaps a symptom of a loss of contact with higher consciousness, and a desperate attempt to refind it. When the dust settled from the Reformation, there followed the Scientific Revolution and the increasing knowledge and mastery of the arena left to human consciousness, the realm of matter and form.
In my more optimistic moods, I think this may be a phase we as a species needed to go through. Perhaps we needed to work out a deeper relationship with matter before we could return to spirit with fresh insights; an upward turn of a spiral. In my pessimistic moods, I think it was the beginning of the great crash of our species.
In no case do I buy the view that we are wiser than our ancestors. Nothing comes without a price, and our culture's descent into materialism has cost us dearly.
May 23, 2007
Anonymous posted this on the "Mind and Body" thread;
check out the work of the late professor Dr. John Lorber on the student without a brain who went on to graduate with an honours B.A in Maths at the university of Cambridge.You can read about this case here: Is Your Brain Really Necessary?
Most of current knowledge is simply the 'party line' cross it at your peril.
This case is by no means as rare as it seems. In 1970, a New Yorker died at the age of 35. He had left school with no academic achievements, but had worked at manual jobs such as building janitor, and was a popular figure in his neighbourhood. Tenants of the building where he worked described him as passing the days performing his routine chores, such as tending the boiler, and reading the tabloid newspapers. When an autopsy was performed to determine the cause of his premature death he, too, was found to have practically no brain at all. Professor Lorber has identified several hundred people who have very small cerebral hemispheres but who appear to be normal intelligent individuals. Some of them he describes as having ‘no detectable brain’, yet they have scored up to 120 on IQ tests.This comes from a web-site with a lot of fascinating and strange stuff, Alternative Science.