|The development of the individual||
The coordination of the individuals so developed into a functioning unity
The animal brain took approximately 600 million years to evolve from a pinhead-sized knot of nerves in slime-dwelling creatures to the complex 35-ounce brain of Homo erectus, our most recent "apeman" ancestor.
The Homo habilis species of mammals proved superior to others because of its ability to develop and use tools. Though Homo erectus had developed a large brain, this species lacked an essential capability which would prove to be the distinguishing characteristic of Homo sapiens, "intelligent man."
In a mere tenth of a million years after the appearance of the Homo erectus species, a split-second, Homo sapiens emerged, capable of:
- Inventing finely crafted tools
- Building huts and shelters
- Creating carved ornaments
- Designing vivid cave paintings
- Behaving intelligently
- Solving problems through planning and carrying out plans
- Building cohesive groups
The pace of evolution accelerated from a slow walk to a frantic dash when human intelligence burst onto the scene! In what ways had Homo sapiens developed to cause such an unprecedented change in human evolution?
- Brain size? Homo sapiens' brain is four times as big as that of our ape ancestors. But whales and elephants have brains four times the size of human brains, so the answer is not the sheer size of the brain.
- Change in makeup of the brain? Human brain cells function similarly to those of a fish or squid and the makeup of a human brain is almost identical to that of a chimpanzee or other apes.
- Change in genes? 97% of the genes of a human are identical to those of a chimpanzee.
Homo sapiens unlocked the awesome power of their brain through the invention of language.
- Language enables humans to develop such internally directed activities as reminiscing, imagining, thinking rationally, and being self-aware.
- Homo sapiens developed the voice box and flexible tongue that allows us to speak in rapid collections of words, and also the greatly increased brain capacity to control this new equipment. Thus humans can speak and understand speech at a rate of more than five syllables a second - a 'rate of handling' which is about six times faster than for any other sensory system. The human brain cannot deal with a succession of visual patterns or non-speech sounds with anything like the same speed.
"We must recollect that our primitive [Homo erectus] ancestor had no words with which to name and tell about things. He was speechless. His fellows knew no more than he did. Each one learned during his lifetime according to his capacity, but no instruction in our sense of the word was possible. What he saw and heard was not what we should have called seeing and hearing. He responded to situations in a blind and impulsive manner, with no clear idea of them. In short, he must have thought much as a wolf or bear does, just as he lived much like them."
James Harvey Robinson. (1921), The Mind in the Making
Modern man's advanced development began with the appearance of homo sapiens, the first creatures who, through their creation of language, were capable of understanding. Prior to homo sapiens, members of the homo habilis and homo erectus strains had trained themselves in such skills as fire-making, hunting, shelter-building, and food gathering. But to them, human experience was merely a series of events without long-term significance.
With humankind's development of language it became possible to pass down one generation's accumulated understanding to the next generation, to create what we now call a culture.
"All animals gain a certain wisdom with age and experience, but the experience of one ape does not profit another. Learning among animals below man is individual, not co-operative and cumulative."
James Harvey Robinson. (1921), The Mind in the Making
When homo sapiens tribes invented language, they represented events and objects by written and spoken signs and gestures, which they understood to have meaning, that is, they signified some entity such as a person, animal, plant, place, thing, substance, quality, idea, action, or state.
A sign, such as the word, "fire," could be communicated from one person to another. Now humans could not only see, feel, and make fire, for example, but understand its significance: warmth, cooking, protection from predators, sterilization, and destruction.
With the development of language, the communication of meaning began. Now, meanings could be transmitted from one person to another, one generation to another.
The Magic of Meaning
Meaning is truly a magical element. Perhaps the best way to grasp the mystery of meaning is by thoughtfully viewing the movie "The Miracle Worker," the story of the early life of Helen Keller.
As a young blind and deaf child, Helen lived much like an animal, rushing from one sensation to another. Within a month after becoming Helen's teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan was able to impart the gift of language to her. The awakening to meaning, as demonstrated in the film, was the event which made it possible for Helen to begin understanding instead of simply repeating what Anne was teaching her. Helen had been trained to repeat the word "water," but it wasn't until she combined the experience of feeling water and trying to communicate the word "water" simultaneously, that Helen gained the magical gift of meaning--and hence language and understanding.
Up to that point, Helen had been like a well-trained animal, memorizing words, communicating them, and receiving praise from Anne. But now, suddenly, it came to her! The word "water" actually referred to, pointed to, meant this marvelous liquid reality that ran through her fingers.
If we look discerningly at children learning to read and write, we can perceive the magic of language:
- First, children must learn to form sounds and recognize parts of the written alphabet
- Next, they must learn to form words and sentences vocally and in writing
- Then they must learn to recognize the meanings contained and conveyed in vocal and written words
- And if they are fortunate enough to have a teacher with a higher understanding, they learn:
- The difference between the common (socially normative) meaning of words and the higher meanings of words (for example, the common meaning of "personal freedom" and the higher meaning)
- How language can inspire (a very advanced knowledge)
"For language, as Richard Trench pointed out long ago, is often 'wiser, not merely than the vulgar, but even than the wisest of those who speak it. Sometimes it locks up truths which were once well known, but have been forgotten. In other cases it holds the germs of truth which, though they were never plainly discerned, the genius of its framers caught a glimpse of in a happy moment of divination.'"
Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy
Homo sapiens won out in the evolutionary race for survival because their invention of language allowed them to develop mentally and psychically:
- To solve problems by reflection and planning
- To remember the past and imagine the future
- To understand what is in their individual best interest and the best interest of their group
- To be self-aware and improve performance
"Minds are formed by the character of language, not language by the minds of those who speak it." Giambatisto Vico
Though humankind had invented language and developed beyond the mere beast, the human mind was still largely a "hive mind" phenomenon, not yet capable of reflecting in a thoroughly self-aware and rational manner.
"The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato"|
It's easy enough to understand that technological objects--such as a computer--and social structures--such as democracy--are human inventions: at one time these things did not exist and some person, or group of persons, thought of and developed them.
It's difficult for us to realize that the powers of mind that we call " rational intelligence" were actually invented by Plato and the thinkers who followed in his path. When it comes to critical thinking we find it hard to understand that at one time this capability of the human mind did not exist and had to be deliberately invented.
It's also a challenge to understand that humankind's capability of critical thinking is a proficiency that can be LOST. That is, reason and reflection can become no longer available to a particular culture if the capability of critical thinking is destroyed through abuse or neglect, or abandoned.
"Out of Plato come all things that are still written and debated among men of thought."|
A culture is formed around a distinct ethos: a collection of public and private mores expressive of its coherence as a social unit. This ethos or "tradition" requires embodiment in formulations which both delineate and enforce the normative behavior patterns.
By adherence to and preservation of these formulations the culture develops a common consciousness and a distinctive set of values. The ethos is embodied in verbal expressions such as constitutions, laws, literature, and drama. The normative archetypes of the ethos become the content of education, entertainment, and human behavior.
Prior to Plato (347-427 B.C.E) Greece had transmitted its cultural ethos through the oral tradition of the major Greek "poets" from Homer to Euripides. In such a preliterate society the ethos must be preserved and transmitted in the memories of successive generations.
A preliterate culture's survival depends on its collective social memory, which must be passed down in a linguistic form which can be memorized and constantly re-presented.
The verbal configuration that guarantees the preservation of a preliterate culture is rhythmic statements in metrical patterns unique enough to retain their shape as they pass from mind to mind. In other words, Greek lyric and epic poetry, music, and drama!
This is the phenomenon the Greeks called mimesis presently defined as "art’s imitation of life: the imitation of life or nature in the techniques and subject matter of art and literature." Contemporary scholars sometimes mis-identify mimesis with "poetry," "music," and "drama" in our current meaning of those terms
Once we recognize the comprehensive reach of the Greek term mimesis, which encapsulates all verbal and behavioral formulations of the ethos, we can understand that Plato was referring to something much different--and more inclusive--than our term "poetry."
"All human civilisations rely on a sort of cultural 'book', that is, on the capacity to put information in storage in order to reuse it. Before Homer's day, the Greek cultural 'book' had been stored in oral memory. . . . Between Homer and Plato, the method of storage began to alter, as the information became alphabetised, and correspondingly the eye supplanted the ear as the chief organ employed for this purpose." |
"Once it is accepted that the oral situation had persisted through the fifth century, one faces the conclusion that there would also persist what one may call an oral state of mind as well; a mode of consciousness so to speak, and . . . a vocabulary and syntax, which were not that of a literate bookish culture. And once one admits this and admits that the oral state of mind would show a time lag so that it persisted into a new epoch when the technology of communication had changed, it becomes understandable that the oral state of mind is still for Plato the main enemy.|
"Plato characterized the oral state of mind as 'a crippling of the mind.' It is a kind of disease, for which one has to acquire an antidote. The antidote must consist of a knowledge 'of what things really are'. In short, poetry is a species of mental poison, and is the enemy of truth. This is surely a shocker to the sensibilities of any modern reader and his incredulity is not lessened by the peroration with which, a good many pages later, Plato winds up his argument: 'Crucial indeed is the struggle, more crucial that we think--the choice that makes us good or bad--to keep faithful to righteousness and virtue in the face of temptation, be it of fame or money or power, or of poetry--yes, even of poetry.' If he thus exhorts us to fight the good fight against poetry, like a Greek Saint Paul warring against the powers of darkness, we can conclude either that he has lost all sense of proportion or that his target cannot be poetry in our sense, but something more fundamental in the Greek experience, and most powerful."
He imbibed Greek poetry and drama which was constantly performed in the theaters, recited by his family and friends, portrayed in paintings and murals, represented in pottery, and referred to in his school lessons. He then repeated it and added to his repertoire to the limits of his mental capacity.
The primary psychological factors that helped the Greek layman to retain at least a minimal grasp of the cultural ethos were a state of total personal involvement and the resultant emotional identification with the essence of the poetized drama that he was required to keep in memory.
He identified with the words and actions of the poetic drama as an actor does with his lines. He "became" Achilles, he identified with his grief and his anger. Years later he could still automatically recite what Achilles said and recall what heroic acts he performed.
As Plato points out, such enormous feats of memorization resulted in the total loss of objectivity. You did not think about the drama; you merely memorized it. Plato recognized that this was a cultural indoctrination procedure, an entire way of life inimical to reflection and reason.
We must realise that works of genius, composed within the semi-oral tradition, though a source of magnificent pleasure to the modern reader of ancient Greek, constituted or represented a total state of mind which is not our mind and which was not Plato's mind; and that just as poetry itself, as long as it reigned supreme, constituted the chief obstacle to the achievement of effective prose, so there was a state of mind which we shall conveniently label the 'poetic' or 'Homeric' or 'oral' state of mind which constituted the chief obstacle to scientific rationalism, to the use of analysis, to the classification of experience, to its rearrangement in sequence of cause and effect. |
That is why the poetic state of mind is for Plato the arch-enemy and it is easy to see why he considered this enemy so formidable. He is entering the lists against centuries of habituation in rhythmic memorised experience. He asks of men that instead they should examine this experience and rearrange it, that they should think about what they say, instead of just saying it. And they should separate themselves from it instead of identifying with it; they themselves should become the 'subject' who stands apart from the 'object' and reconsiders it and analyses it and evaluates it, instead of just 'imitating' it."
"Control over the style of a people's speech, however indirect, means control also over their thought. The two technologies of preserved communication known to man, namely the poetised style with its acoustic apparatus and the visual prosaic style with its visual and material apparatus, each within their respective domains control also the content of what is communicable.
Under one set of conditions man arranges his experience in words in some one given way; under the second set of conditions he arranges the same experience differently in different words and with different syntax and perhaps as he does so the experience itself changes. This amounts to saying that the patterns of his thought have historically run in two distinct grooves, the oral and the written. . . . Plato . . . seems to have been convinced that poetry and the poet had exercised a control not merely over Greek verbal idiom but over the Greek state of mind and consciousness. The control in his view had been central and he describes it as though it were monopolistic." |
"The Greek tongue therefore, as long as it is the speech of men who have remained in the Greek sense 'musical' and have surrendered themselves to the spell of the tradition, cannot frame words to express the conviction that 'I' am one thing and the tradition is another; that 'I' can stand apart from the tradition and examine it; that 'I' can and should break the spell of its hypnotic force; and that 'I' should divert some at least of my mental powers away from memorisation and direct them instead into channels of critical inquiry and analysis. The Greek ego in order to achieve that kind of cultural experience which after Plato became possible and then normal must stop identifying itself successively with a whole series of
polymorphic vivid narrative situations; must stop re-enacting the whole scale of the emotions, of challenge, and of love, and hate and fear and despair and joy, in which the characters of epic become involved. it must stop splitting itself up into an endless series of moods. It must separate itself out and by an effort of sheer will must rally itself to the point where it can say 'I am I, an autonomous little universe of my own, able to speak, think and act in independence of what I happen to remember'. This amounts to accepting the premise that there is a 'me', a 'self', a 'soul', a consciousness which is self-governing and which discovers the reason for action in itself rather than in imitation of the poetic experience. The doctrine of the autonomous psyche is the counterpart of the rejection of the oral culture." |
Plato's momentous contribution to humankind's development was in creating or expanding:
In the new "oral tradition" that has overwhelmed our culture, we have a new Homer. Homer Simpson serves as a clear representation of the current "imitative," anti-intellectual, "whatever-feels-good," anti-mind, "truth-is-relative," barbarism.
Plato saw the oral, non-literate state of consciousness as a crippling or poisoning of the mind, the creation of a false "reality" which individuals are made to believe in. In our current TV-movie-pop-music culture a total counterfeit "reality" is created: people don't see what's really going on--only what the media tells them is happening.
This is why Homer Simpson is a revealing icon for the contemporary retrogression to a state of "exuberant ignorance." Homer is not only a TV character--one step from reality, he is also a cartoon character--another step removed. The fact that people watch this cartoon character means that they have become entranced by a shadow on Plato's cave, a phantom specter. They are losing any taste for reality.
"When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk: culture-death is a clear possibility."
Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death
Plato clearly recognized that man's evolutionary advancement required that he come out of the primitive mind-set and gain the capabilities of rational thought and self-consciousness. Plato had experienced first hand how anti-intellectual drama can cause terrible havoc. In 419 B.C.E, Aristophanes had written a treacherous play entitled "The Clouds" featuring a character by the name of Socrates who is a sophist, does not believe in Zeus or the Olympian gods, introduces new gods, and corrupts young people by teaching them tricks of rhetoric and setting them against their elders. This lethal, deliberately false image of "Socrates," created merely for the amusement of the theater audience, became part of the basis for the Athenian prosecutors' indictment of the real Socrates.
At the start of his self-defense, Plato's Socrates complains that his reputation has been smeared, and that the charges against him really came from Aristophanes' murderous caricature of him:
"I have had many accusers, who accused me of old, and their false charges have continued during many years; and I am more afraid of them than of Anytus and his associates, who are dangerous, too, in their own way. But far more dangerous are these, who began when you were children, and took possession of your minds with their falsehoods, telling of one Socrates, a wise man, who speculated about the heaven above, and searched into the earth beneath, and made the worse appear the better cause. These are the accusers whom I dread; for they are the circulators of this rumor, and their hearers are too apt to fancy that speculators of this sort do not believe in the gods. And they are many, and their charges against me are of ancient date, and they made them in days when you were impressionable in childhood, or perhaps in youth, and the cause when heard went by default, for there was none to answer. And, hardest of all, their names I do not know and cannot tell, except in the case of a comic poet."
Plato had seen first hand the power of incendiary burlesque to form prejudices based entirely on lies and falsehoods. Little wonder that Plato feared the corrupting influence of "popular art" (mimesis) on society!
In most cultures, the "ruling ideas" have fostered violence and class warfare. In only a few instances in history, have the "ruling ideas" fostered the betterment of common people and society at large. One example of such a benevolent era was the eighteenth century Enlightenment, which encouraged humans to develop broad understanding in all fields of knowledge. Highly educated, intelligent groups in Europe and America developed toward a democratic way of life, created constitutions, and founded institutions for public education.
During this Enlightenment period, words and phrases such as "liberty," "freedom," "natural rights," "pursuit of happiness," "consent of the governed," "informed citizenry," came into being for the first time or were first understood by humans through their own experience.
America has served as the beacon of these Enlightenment ideals, maintaining its faith in "the power of knowledge and reason in self-determination."
"There can be no real question that the Enlightenment promoted the cause of freedom, more widely, directly, positively than any age before it. It not only asserted but demonstrated the power of knowledge and reason in self-determination, the choice and realization of human purpose. |
"For the first time in history it carried out a concerted attack on the vested interests that opposed the diffusion of knowledge and the free exercise of reason.
"As thinkers the men of the Enlightenment were conscious revolutionaries, very much aware of a 'new method of philosophizing' that amounted to a new living faith, the basis for a new social order."
Culture as a creation of humankind is a neutral element--it can be used for positive or negative ends. Through the process of acculturation, the process beginning at infancy by which human beings acquire the culture of their society; individuals are stamped with social norms.
Vested, moneyed interests have constantly sought to demolish the American traditions of democracy, plotting to destroy the enlightening "diffusion of knowledge and the free exercise of reason." Their method of rule is not by "consent of the governed" or rational discourse, but by arbitrary dictate of a tyrant group's fascistic tactics.
|Humankind's Evolution and Possible Devolution
ment of Language
|The Oral Frame of Mind
ment of Reason
||Reversion to Oral Frame of Mind
||Back to the Stone Age
As our contemporary American culture devolves to the Homer Simpson "oral frame of mind," people are beginning to lose the very capabilities which have distinguished them from the lower animals: language and critical awareness.
|"On every societal front, nonsense is replacing good sense in our once-pragmatic nation. It is accompanied by a distortion of thought that weakens our ability to distinguish truth from falsity, the basic skill of a civilized society."|
Social and Cultural Madness in America
Among a large number of studies of the contemporary "oral" MTV culture of illiteracy, violence, and anti-intellectualism, one books stands out in exposing the ruinous nature of this barbarity, Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death.
"In saying that the television news show entertains but does not inform, I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?"
The invention of language enabled a species of ape to evolve into humans. Language, like any technology, can be used for creative or destructive ends:
| "So essential is language to man's humanness, so deep a source is it of his own creativity, that it is by no means an accident in our time that those who have tried to degrade man and enslave him have first debased and misused language, arbitrarily turning meanings inside out. "|
We are allowing our institutions of "learning" to deteriorate to the point that ordinary citizens are progressively losing the ability to use language effectively. We allow communication media to condition us with their truncated lexicon of meanings so that we lose even the awareness of essential concepts such as "inspiration" or "liberty."
An increasing number of people have no understanding of or competency in language and communication:
The Perennial Tradition has used different terms to refer to this advanced "type" of human:
"In confronting an environment, the superiority of the individual, of the population, of the race at our stage of human history must rest in large portion on the capacity to learn."
The Perennial Tradition distinguishes two different strains or "types" within the human species:
I am using the word "type" in a very specific manner, referring to "the general form, character, or structure distinguishing a particular kind, group, or class of beings or objects; hence, a pattern or model after which something is made." [Oxford English Dictionary]
"True Gnostics" (to use Clement of Alexandria's term) are not just superficially different in degree from ordinary humans; they are a different "type" altogether. They represent a distinct "type" within the Man (Homo) genus and the Homo sapiens species. They are distinguished from ordinary Homo sapiens by their:
Outwardly, participants in the Perennial Tradition appear the same as ordinary human beings; the difference is internal and spiritual and can only be discerned by members of the same "type."
An increasing number of people have no understanding of or competency in language and communication:
The Perennial Tradition has used different terms to refer to this advanced "type" of human:
He said: "I shall answer that when an opportunity for a demonstration of it occurs.'
Some time later that man and the one who had asked him the question were stopped by a band of soldiers.
The soldiers said: 'We have orders to take all dervishes into custody, for the king of this country says that they will not obey his commands, and say things which are not welcome to the tranquility of thought of the populace.'
The Sufi said: 'And so you should, for you must do your duty.'
'But are you not Sufis?' asked the solders.
'Test us,' said the Sufi.
The officer took out a Sufi book. 'What is this?' he said.
The Sufi looked at the title page. 'Something which I will burn in front of you, since you have not already done so,' he said.
He set light to the book, and the soldiers rode away, satisfied.
The Sufi's companion asked: 'What was the purpose of that action?'
'To make us invisible,' said the Sufi, 'for to the man of the world, 'visibility' means that you are looking like something or someone he expects you to resemble. If you look different your true nature becomes invisible to him.'" 1
Intangible Ideas, in Plato's conception--supersensible realities beyond human thought--are appropriated through words, as birds in our hands, and released by the act of discernment, setting the birds free. These Ideas reside in the words independent of the books or the sounds in which the words are encased.
"Yet how and where, in the interval between their setting down and their taking up, do they abide? By what secret tract is their existence in the mind of the author connected with their resuscitation in the mind of the reader? Why at the sight of certain lines and figures on the voiceless page do these particular thoughts spring up into renewed activity? What is the indiscoverable nexus between the physical vibrations of light and these immaterial substances of our noetic life?|
"And the riddle does not end here. This phantom world into which my soul is carried by the magic of petrified language has its own scale of degrees and distinctions. All these images and emotions are real in a sense, but not with the same order of reality. As in reflection I separate those which recur and hold me day by day from those which flit accidentally before me and as quickly disappear, I begin to understand that their power depends not simply on their deftness in embodying the past life of this or that eager soul, but on the greater or less correspondence with a world of inanimate Ideas which exist in their own right and cannot be created or destroyed by any mind, and to know which is truly to live. Not every man's thoughts and visions and desires, as by them he would remould the gross material of experience, are capable of passing into enduring literature, but rather those which conform with actual truths, visualizing a beauty finer than that comprehended by the seeing eye, grasping a law of justice more infallible than the tangled events of this earth ever obey, conveying a significance beyond any evaluation of the senses. By such distinctions I lay hold of a strange philosophy which tells me that the soul's assurance of truth is not a dream evoked arbitrarily by any man's imagination, but an intuition more or less perfectly grasped of veritable realities. These books on which I depend for most of my noetic life are effective just as they are a history of what has been known of these realities by other souls in the past and set down for the recreation of any who can spell out the record. So do they charm into peace because they lure us to the belief that some time, if not here and now, our soul may be lifted to that world of immutable Ideas which lie in all their splendour before the eye of Plato's God."
Though ordinary humans are rapidly losing the ability to understand reality, a small contemporary group is developing supernormal powers through revitalizing the Perennial Tradition.
|"Sufis believe that, expressed in one way, humanity is evolving to a certain destiny. We are all taking part in that evolution. Organs come into being as a result of the need for specific organs (Rumi). The human being's organism is producing a new complex of organs in response to such a need. In this age of the transcending of time and space, the complex of organs is concerned with the transcending of time and space. What ordinary people regard as sporadic and occasional bursts of telepathic or prophetic power are seen by the Sufi as nothing less than the first stirrings of these same organs. The difference between all evolution up to date and the present need for evolution is that for the past ten thousand years or so we have been given the possibility of a conscious evolution. So essential is this more rarefied evolution that our future depends upon it." 2|
Perennialists are a race of adventurers, dwelling invisibly among mankind, who have evolved to the point of being able to deliberately and actively return to the divine Fount of Reality. They have attained Being, union with the One, and teach these mysteries to authentic seekers. Because of this, they have a unique importance for the human race in revealing humankind's full potential and how this potential can be realized.