Writings

I begin where my forefather’s left me
I begin where my fore bearers bared me
I began my own invention from recollections of their conventions
Relocated lived experiences
Reproduced
You begin where your forefather’s left you
You begin where your fore bearers bared you
You have began your own invention recollecting our conventions
Relocating lived experiences
Reproducing
In here, I cry
In the womb I heard her weep
There is a place where screams … reaches
The abyss of nowhere exists
In the mouth of creation

VV- 2017

The Category NarrativeGuyan Porter 2017

Man Made is a problematic concept. It connects us to a hierarchy of thought, behaviour and gender that places male Homo sapiens at the top of the food chain, with an anthropocentric view of the universe that is itself man made. It refers to a condition where human beings are the arbiters of category, the administrators of mortality and the dictators of reality. The parameters of what is man made have been stretched, with tools, with beliefs, with bio medical innovation, with concepts of who and what we are, along with the categories that have shaped those concepts.

Ten thousand years ago Homo sapiens had reached a physical form similar to that of contemporary humans. They had come to dominate their physical environment, out competing other life forms. Their ability to imagine would shape their ability to change, and the narratives developed would shape those changes. They had become master story tellers, weaving myths that would suit their ambitions. They had created pantheons of religious belief, gods in their own image and an afterlife to deal with the problem of death.

Over time conflicting views developed around what it means to be man made. The drive for power, security and comfort shaped the human world as the products of that world took on ever more elaborate form. [1] Human beings would separate themselves from the other animals, classify species, races and creeds with distinct cultural, economic and ideological constructs. Technology would shape intelligence, interlinking creativity and identity. Diet, landscapes and even the measurement of time would be shaped by a view of a universe at which men were firmly at the centre.

At the heart of man made are distinctions between the fabricated and the organic, between things that are perceived to be natural and things that are not. By the end of the 20th century unparalleled technological and agricultural advances had taken place, along with self inflicted environmental disasters and genocide on an unprecedented scale. Movement had taken place from feudal clans to interconnected global species, striving to control the environment while developing systems that could create freedom from illness and hunger. As medical innovation increased, interventions with the body and the environment would shape the next generation of change in human evolution, changes that would fundamentally alter the perception of the natural by human intervention.

Somewhere between 1.9 and 1.6 million years ago changes in the hominid brain began to accelerate, with dramatic increases in size and neuroplasticity. [2] As a greater range of connections between the hominid brain and hand took place, the use of and design of tools instigated a critical evolutionary leap.

About 1 million years later Homo sapiens and their close Neanderthal [3] relatives began diverging from a common ancestor, with the two groups separating permanently around 300,000 years later. [4] By 40,000 years ago what is now known as Europe and the Near East were colonised, firstly by Neanderthals and then by Homo sapiens. Language had developed amongst the hominids that shared in a range of early cultural activities, including the development of decorative artifacts, body adornment and early forms of organised religion.

Neanderthals [5]differed from other hominids in a number of ways. They were taller and stronger than Homo Erectus, they were larger boned and more heavily muscled than most modern humans, and they had brains that were considerably larger than the average human brain found in the 21st century. [6] They were advanced in fire-making and hunting, establishing temporary camps when needed, cooking their food and living in small communities. They were the first hominids to engage in ritualistic rites of passage, leaving evidence of sophisticated body painting and careful preparation of the dead.

While both male and female Neanderthals took part in the relatively dangerous activity of hunting, Homo sapiens would develop more distinct gender divisions. The females would concentrate on child rearing, collecting vegetables, nuts and fruits, [7] while the males would develop greater pack hunting skills that would take them away from their dwelling sites for extended periods of time. This would require safer and more permanent homes to return to, allowing greater child rearing periods.

The brain of a modern human uses about 20 Watts of energy, approximately 400 calories per day, accounting for about 20% of the total energy consumption used by the human body.[8] Hunting for larger animals in greater numbers, using new tools and techniques, meant that early Homo sapiens would gain increasing amounts of energy, allowing the development and sustenance of larger and more complex brains. The gradual mastery of environment would create more time and energy to develop specialised and more efficient tools, along with a wider variety of problem solving systems.

Increasing social activities, greater diet and greater lifespan would all play their part in the developing complexity and connectivity of the brain. With radical shifts in behavior and technology, humans were moving beyond the limits of finding food and avoiding predators. Considering more abstract problems they were developing skills to pre empt the future, through planning and imagining what could lie ahead.

With increasing self awareness the individual and the group were forced to acknowledge life’s most difficult problem, and new rationals were developed to circumnavigate the omnipresence of mortality. Religious structures and mystical realms would offer solutions to the vast array of problems that hominids were now facing, as societies grew more complex and greater in size. Worship and prayer would be organised and ritualised, with new means of communication designed to give structure to increasingly organised labour and social hierarchies.[9]

Between 60 to 10,000 years ago complex paintings began to appear deep within caves, adorning the rock walls. The interconnected schema created pictorial and theatrical spaces, with hundreds of drawings and paintings being added to complex collections of diagrams that covered the caves being used. Some of the paintings were executed on a large scale high above the floor, pointing to the utilisation of lighting, scaffolding and a degree of planning and collaboration. The caves themselves seem to suggest areas for reflection, contemplation or theatrical spectacle, evoking philosophical thought and religious ceremony.

Cave painting and other creative activities would illustrate a critical shift in the behavior, thinking and development of the human brain. Creative thinking, problem solving, intentional adaptation and the ability to cooperate would all play crucial roles in increasing the ability to survive and interpret existence. Increases in creativity would not only allow people to think differently, to imagine new ways of living and problem solving, they would have a direct impact on quality of life, giving meaning and accomplishment beyond the base survival instincts of killing, eating and breading.

In 2013 a group of scientists were working in the Bruniquel caves [10] in southwest France,  analysing extraordinary forms hidden for eons deep within the cave systems. Structures had been built with nearly 400 stalagmites, [11] roughly cut to similar lengths. Some of the stalagmites would form a large circular shape measuring nearly 22 feet (6.7 meters) across, with a second group aligned in a smaller semicircle. [12] Created around 176,000 years old, these structures predated the Homo sapien arrival in Europe by more than 100,000 years. Their discovery would instigate new research offering evidence that would contradict a fundamental concept in human history; that art was the invention of a species called Homo sapiens.

As the human brain developed greater integration, so too did the ability to control and expand mental processes and to think in abstract terms. The capacity to remember the past at will, to consider and imagine the future, to consider oneself as different from other animals, to wonder about events that have not yet happened or events that had not been directly experienced were being shaped over the course of history. With the evolution of memory and internal language came awareness of mortality and loss, bringing with it the development of ideas of mystical realms.

With the population explosion of the 20th century, large social groups would create ever greater competition and social hierarchies of increasing complexity. The capacity of the human brain would increase exponentially. [13] [14] In the 21st century the kinds of intelligence that will dominate are yet to be seen, as is the role that technology will play in shaping ideas of what we can be, and what we should become.

[1] During the first 990, 000 years of human existence human lifespan may have struggled to reach 20 - 30 years, with a child mortality rate of 40 - 60% dying before the age of five.  (see Prof. Bryan Caplan. Weeks 1-2: Aggregate Demand and Aggregate Supply. Econ 311. Fall, 1999.)

In the 1800’s the human population had reached 1 billion, and by 1930 it had reached 1.5 billion, with one out of seven people living in urban environments. By the late twentieth century the human population had reached 6.6 billion, with half the worlds population living in urban environments. The human population is estimated to reach a tipping point of 9.2 billion by 2050.

[2] In the early twentieth century evidence has shown that the brain’s abilities and structure are malleable. In the principle of neuroplasticity, the brain is constantly changing in response to experiences, input and environment. Behavior, learning, environmental change and physical injury may all stimulate the brain to reorganize existing neural pathways or to create new ones, fundamentally altering the processing of information. The understanding of neuroplasticity challenged traditional views that cognitive abilities became immutable once a person had reached adulthood.

[3] Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens shared around 99.5% of their DNA.

[4] Based on the estimated divergence date of 4-5 million years ago for humans and chimpanzees, estimates state the human and Neanderthal divergence at 550,000-690,000 years ago. The age of the common human ancestor, using the same procedure, is about 120,000-150,000 years ago.

see Krings, M., A. Stone, R. W. Schmitz, H. Krainitzki, M. Stoneking, and S. Pääbo. 1997. Neanderthal DNA Sequences and the Origin of Modern Humans. Cell 90:19-30.

Ovchinnikov, Igor V., A. Götherström, G. P. Romanoval, V. M. Kharitonov, K. Lidén and W. Goodwin. 2000. Molecular analysis of Neanderthal DNA from the northern Caucasus. Nature 404:490-493.

[5] Neanderthals lived around 300,000 - 28,000 years BCE. During these times the Neanderthals developed ceremonial burials of the dead, indicating greater concern for and awareness of mortality, as well as the possibility of early formed religious beliefs.

[6] Neanderthal skulls were far larger than that of a modern human, with a cavity carrying a significantly larger brain. 37 The average modern adult human brain weighs around 1.5 kg, or 3.3 lbs. Brain sizes can vary substantially from 974.9 to 1398.1 cm3 in women and 1052.9 to 1498.5 cm3 in men. Hominid brain size has changed dramatically over time, with early examples of Homo Habilis (living approximately 2.8 to 1.4 million years ago) being around 600 cm3, and Homo neandertalensis (living approximately (400,000 to 40,000 years ago years ago) being around 1600 cm3, the largest brain in the hominid line. While [6] Brain weight in relation to body weight is relatively large in modern humans, but brain size is not the only deciding factor when it comes to language development or flexible thought, with diet, culture, environmental pressures and usage all affecting the brain’s neuroplasticity.

[7] see http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2014/06/neandertals-ate-their-veggies-their-feces-reveal.

[8] Edwin Lee, Failure is Not an Option, It’s a necessity.  Rev. 9/18/ 2005.




The human brain uses roughly 20 watts of energy, about 20% of the body’s total energy budget. It evolved to be fueled by the body, enhancing its survival. To some extent the brain has evolved to avoid making changes or initiating actions that consume mental or physical energy out with immediate survival needs.

[9] J. Perrot. Excavations at Eynan, 1959 season. Israel exploration journal, 1961.

[10] The Bruniquel Cave is located in southwest France, in a region that has many decorated caves and significant Paleolithic sites.

[11] Cone-shaped rock formations that rise from cave floors, formed by dripping, mineral-rich water.

[12] The site included stacks of other stalagmites, lain out in order, as if waiting to be used.

[13] Jeremy Genovese, Snakes and Ladders: A Reappraisal of the Triune Brain Hypothesis. p.6

[14] see Robin Dunbar and Susanne Shultz, Evolution in the Social Brain.

 

Man-Made Alienation by Alex Golding

‘Forgetting pain is convenient.

Remembering it, agonizing. But

Recovering the truth is worth the

Suffering’. Cheshire Cat.

‘I want to forget! Who would

choose to be alone, imprisoned by

their own broken memories’. Alice Liddell

Alienation hits us from the inside out although one may notice it from the outside in. Being alienated is surely a feat known only to man. Our chimpanzee brothers appear not to stroll around the jungle cut off from their deeper sense of selves. A baboon seems not to feel a disconnect with the work it does: gathering food and building shelters. Neither does a fruit fly seem isolated from its fellow fruit fly. These ideas follow Karl Marx in his claim that us humans can be alienated from our true selves, our work and other people. We have become instruments in the vast network of economic enterprise, severed from our roots and the nature that once held us.

A baboon,

A chimpanzee

A fruit fly

And

Us.

Since the last time I looked, baboons were not in the habit of contemplating their own nature in contrast to that which lies around. A chimpanzee does not ask if it belongs where it does. So, who are we humans? And, how are we so distinct from our animal foremothers and fathers?

For the triumphant rationalists out there, genetically speaking, we are not that different from a fruit fly; we are told apart by the interactions of our proteins. That is where you will find the real story of contrast. The genome and its number is not the key. Genetically man and animal lay side-by-side, nestling into their similarities. A familiar home. Welcome.

My guess is that our human selves arise out of our embodiment and the interplay with the environment. A fine-tuned bootstrap effect: one gently nudging and encouraging the other. Animals cannot help but be embodied since they lack the developed frontal cortex, the extra layer of thought that initiated the emergence of language. Despite Jane Goodall’s attempts, no chimpanzee has ever learnt to embed a thought within a thought, or a phrase within a phrase. Recursion runs the other way. So why is it that we humans, with our fine frontal cortex, become so detached from who we are?

The very existence of civilisation could be the root of our discord. Our industrial society denies certain essential truths about who we are, leaving us empty and wanting for more. It listens. It knows. It provides the answer in distractions to fill our lonely cavities. It glances back as we turn to stone and tells us that we are truly selfish. That is our nature. What a story. What a book deal. What a commodity to sell.

The physician Gabor Mate calls the alienation of which I speak, the egoic mind. It is this bolshie personage that creates a barrier between us, our deeper selves and others. It tells a story. It weaves a narration of want and wanting. What was I yesterday? What am I today? And, what will I be tomorrow? The timeline of our existence is borne from our memories. It slices with our language and intellect to construct the finer details of our lives. And, it is here we surpass our living, breathing primate beings. This is the crowning glory of human kind, our autobiographical selves, yet behind the light lives the shadow of the human ego. It squeezes through the cracks. Our lack of connection allows it to burst forth, untamed. It speaks the words of our conditioning as our habits are placed on endless repeat.

When we live without the observer, the part that notices, our habits swell with pride, gaining ground. They glue us to our categorical selves: what gender are we? What status do we have? What money do we earn? We forget to listen. We forget that everything is in constant flux: moving, evolving. If we could just be still for a moment and find the pulse. Our bodies recreating anew, recreating anew, recreating anew. This is where the baboon lives, I suspect. The baboon does not narrate nor tries to forget. There is no inner narrator that can pull him or her apart. The baboon knows not of this pain because he or she has not lost the connection to their essential self. The baboon has not learnt to suppress.

When our stories overwhelm, we become entrenched in the forgetting and the avoidance of pain. This is the point of lost connection. We then begin our quest to find it in the unlikeliest of places: addiction, chronic illness and our inability to relate. ‘I still can’t find it’, we say timidly. The words barely leaving our mouths. We look for other stories to distract ourselves from our empty lives. We cannot be here; here is too painful, but there is OK. Over there is where the pain ends. The hope of better. These two contradictions, that which seemingly cannot work with the hope that it can, are held in mind. ‘If I just distract from my own story, all will be well’. As Kierkegaard reminds us, humans are marked by their capacity to have faith in the impossible. The founding truth behind all religion, and the apparent crux that makes us truly superior.

Chimpanzees, baboons and fruit flies stand aside…

… I introduce the human. God’s highest creation.

 

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