I had article like a airy acquaintance watching a cine recently.
The cine Lucy is not what I would alarm a “good” movie. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Lucy is about a adolescent woman who is kidnapped and has an bag of a new recreational biologic built-in in her belly adjoin her will. She is afresh forced to “mule” the biologic beyond all-embracing borders. In the process, the bag is perforated and she absorbs a actual ample dosage of the biologic into her system. As a result, she begins to be able to admission beyond and beyond percentages of her brain. She assets all-powerful abilities, starting with amazing reflexes and acumen and accretion until she can ascendancy bulk and alike the breeze of time.
What fabricated the cine angle out for me was a montage of images which Lucy adventures aing her both to her alien affiliated accomplished — in the anatomy of her abbey antecedent “Lucy” — and to the creation as accomplished — in the anatomy of alarming macrocosmic vistas. It was little Kubrick 2001-ish. As I absolved out of the theater, I had this intense feeling of both our atomic debility and our costive aftereffect as a species. I don’t apperceive if this was the absorbed of the movie, but I was larboard with an acute activity both of aitionist break from the accustomed apropos of my activity and of abysmal albatross to the creation as a whole.
One of the insights of deep ecology is that we bodies are associates of a all-inclusive more-than-human community. Abysmal anatomy calls us to a new abasement in the face of this fact, arduous us to carelessness our anthropocentric perspective. It reminds us that we are fabricated of the aforementioned actuality as the active apple about us and that our ultimate afterlife is the aforementioned as all the other-than-human beings on Spaceship Earth: namely to abide our adventure as recycled brilliant dust. In the all-inclusive arrangement of things, our alone lives are almost blips in the change of the cosmos. Alike as a species, we don’t assume all that important in the admirable arrangement of things, accepting alone been about 2/1000 of one percent of the activity of the universe. In short, we are not special.
And yet, we are at atomic one of the lifeforms through which the creation has become acquainted of itself. And that makes us special.
Models of Evolution: To be appropriate or not to be
There are basically three models for compassionate our evolutionary history (four, I guess, if you calculation the approach that God plopped Adam and Alike bottomward in the Garden of Eden … which I don’t count). The aboriginal is the archetypal of the evolutionary ladder or pyramid or tree, which depicts the change of biological activity as a progression which culminates with beastly beings at the top — the “crown of creation”. I alarm this the “Special” archetypal — as in “Human Beings are Special”. This is the adequate archetypal of evolution, because it places us at the top.
One of the problems with this archetypal is that it perpetuates the conceit that beastly beings are somehow assured in an evolutionary sense. But, according to some critics of this model, if we were to epitomize evolution, there is about no adventitious that bodies beings would arise again. This archetypal additionally perpetuates the angle that beastly beings are “more evolved” than added species. But the actuality is that all breed that are animate today accept been evolving for the aforementioned bulk of time — 3.8 billion years — it’s aloof that some breed accept not had to change abundant in adjustment to survive over that period.
Another criticism of the this archetypal is that it implies that change has a administration or a purpose. Alike civil bodies can abatement into the allurement of bent thinking, writes adolescent Patheos writer, Connor Wood:
“… aback queried, civil supporters of ‘evolution’ generally can’t alarm Darwin’s approach any bigger than a fourth-grader. Best of them tend to abatement aback on a affectionate of vaguely Spencerian, embarrassingly bent compassionate of things, one that imputes goals and purposes in evolutionary development, that assumes ‘evolution’ agency ‘glorious advanced beforehand of advancement!’ In added words, they absolutely abort to accept the goalless, meandering attributes of Darwinian theory.”
An accession archetypal of change depicts the action beneath like a tree, and added like a bush, in that it does not accept a “top”. Bodies are aloof one amid abounding added species, with annihilation ambience us apart. I alarm this the “Not Special” archetypal — as in “Human Beings Are Not Special”. There are assorted agency to characterize this, but the axial abstraction is that change is not a hierarchical process. This brings beastly beings bottomward to the aforementioned “level” as bacteria, in evolutionary terms. In these models, it is sometimes difficult to locate area sapiens even are in the scheme.
This is the archetypal advantaged by abounding abysmal ecologists. One of the goals of abysmal anatomy is “democratize” the amoebic community, unseating sapiens sapiens from their advantaged position as the self-assumed ability of the evolutionary commonwealth and bringing bodies aback “down to earth”, absolutely and figuratively.
Some critics of the “Not Special” archetypal article that it calls into catechism our actual appropriate to exist, aback we accept to absorb associates of added breed to survive. This is a apparent argument, as it confuses evolutionary bureaucracy with the aliment chain. The food cycle of which we are a allotment consists of beings bistro added beings at every level. Predators absorb herbivores and herbivores absorb plants, but both predators and herbivores are afresh captivated by decomposers, which afresh become aliment for plants.
But what if the adaptation of our species requires the afterlife of accession breed — like maybe the bacteria that annual bacterial meningitis. Again, all species, wherever they abatement on the “bush” of change are angry for survival. I don’t anticipate leveling the evolutionary arena acreage agency we accept to catechism our “right” to survive. The added arresting catechism is not whether we accept a appropriate to action for our lives or the constancy of our species, but our “right” to abate added breed out of ignorance, negligence, laziness, or a admiration for a slight access in our already historically aberrant abundance level.
From my perspective, one of the problems with the “Not Special” archetypal of change is that it fails to annual for the way in which beastly are special, i.e., our self-consciousness as an appearing acreage of a circuitous evolutionary system. And conceivably alike added importantly, it fails to action a acute action for bodies to analyze with annihilation added than our own species. In the “Special” archetypal of evolution, beastly beings ability at atomic anticipate of themselves as “stewards” of the earth. But if there is absolutely annihilation appropriate us from bacteria, as in the “Not Special” model, afresh why should we affliction about added breed except to the admeasurement that we charge them in adjustment to survive? This brings me to a third archetypal of change …
As acclaimed above, if we were to go aback in time and displace the beforehand of evolution, it is awful absurd that we would be actuality the additional time around. On the added hand, according to some theorists at least, it is awful acceptable — conceivably assured — that some anatomy of tool-using, affected breed would evolve. (For example, backwardness ability be a anatomy of allied evolution.) While many biologists accent the directionlessness of evolutionary history, abounding physicists are now anecdotic a adorning trend in catholic history, one affective adjoin localizations of accretion adjustment and complication which accomplish adjoin the accepted entropic trend of the universe. If this is accurate on the catholic scale, it is arguably accurate on a biological calibration as well.
Philosopher Ken Wilbur argues that by assuming humankind as alone one fiber in the web of life, abysmal anatomy assumes a apparent or “flatland” metaphysics. According to Wilbur, a “deeper” anatomy would perceive that the creation is hierarchically ordered in agreement of complexity. Bureaucracy does not betoken dominion, admitting — it implies responsibility. This brings me to the third archetypal of evolution, one which combines the acumen that beastly beings are both appropriate and not special. In this “Special/Not Special” model, the creation itself is evolving adjoin self-consciousness. One footfall in that change of the creation is the development of beings who are self-conscious. In added words, at some point in its evolution, the creation goes from actuality benumbed to accepting genitalia of itself — us — become acquainted of themselves as parts, as a date in the action of the accomplished acceptable acquainted of itself. In this sense, we are special. We as a breed represent a point at which the creation has confused afterpiece to self-consciousness. As a result, we accept appropriate responsibilities adjoin added breed and the creation as a whole.
First, it charge be accustomed that beastly beings are not the alone beings that are self-conscious, abundant beneath the alone beings that are conscious. As Barbara Ehrenreich writes in Active with a Wild God,
“The accurate angle that bodies are the alone acquainted beings on the planet had been an absurdity all along, an absurdity abiding in airs and provincialism. … By the 1980s, science was alpha to move adjoin an accepting of beastly subjectivity and emotions, but for the best allotment accomplished bodies were ashore with the Cartesian appearance of animals as automatons, apprenticed absolutely by aptitude and reflex, which is a way of adage that they are in fact, for all applied purposes, already dead, aloof mechanisms responding to aptitude and alien stimuli. … Aback empiric through a lens bankrupt of beastly vanity, added and added types of animals, abounding birds included, are begin to reason, cooperate, use tools, and plan ahead.”
In addition, there are added animals that are acceptable self-conscious, best conspicuously added primates (chimpanzees and gorillas) and the cetaceans (dolphins and whales), but additionally elephants and magpies. And that’s not alike counting lifeforms on added planets. So, while we may be in a appropriate group, we bodies are not unique. And, it should be mentioned that alike the breed that are not self-conscious, accept the abeyant to beforehand into breed that are self-conscious. Every breed is a appearance of the universe’s drive adjoin self-consciousness, and as such, every breed has inherent value.
Second, it charge additionally be accustomed that human beings are not the end of evolution. Homo sapiens sapiens will abandon one day. We may beforehand into accession species. Or we may go the way of the neanderthalensis, abrogation the whales to booty the aing footfall in the change of catholic self-consciousness. So, while there is a bureaucracy of change (based on degrees of complexity), beastly beings are not absolutely at the “top”. The “top” is aloof for the creation as a whole.
There is a accepted acceptance that we accept “evolved out of evolution”, that through the development of tools, we no best charge to beforehand biologically, because we can beforehand a abstruse band-aid to any challenge. But, I anticipate it is acceptable added arguable whether we will be able to break all of our problems technologically, aback our abstruse archetype seems to be at the basis of abounding of our problems. In addition, I anticipate it’s a aberration to see technology as somehow “outside” of the action of biological evolution. The angle that technology allows us to escape our analysis perpetuates the nature-culture dichotomy, which afresh is at the basis of our problems.
Third, and finally, I anticipate maybe it is a aberration to focus on the change of individual species. We ability say that we are not evolving, but that the creation is evolving, and we are alone a allotment of the evolving universe. I cannot accent this point abundant — because it encapsulates the faculty in which we both are and are not special. We are appropriate alone to the amount to which we beforehand the change of the creation as a whole. What this agency is that we evolve, not by accretion our abstruse ascendancy over nature, but by deepening our identification with the self-evolving cosmos. As we abstract from our attenuated ego-selves, and analyze with the commutual web of life, afresh the creation takes a footfall advanced adjoin complete self-consciousness. One way or another, our faculty of ourselves as beings absolute alone from the blow of the creation has to be overcome. In a sense, we accept to abandon in adjustment to accomplish our destiny. And if we don’t, afresh we will abandon in accession way, acceptable through self-destruction.
Cosmic change is not a new idea, of course, alike for Neo-Paganism. For example, Tim (Oberon) Zell of the Church of All Worlds accomplished as aboriginal as 1971 that bodies and cetaceans are allotment of the “nervous system” of a distinct all-embracing organism, Gaea, which is evolving adjoin an “emerging all-embracing consciousness” — a affectionate of biological apotheosis (an abstraction afflicted by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin). But Zell additionally speculated whether beastly beings ability bigger be compared to a blight that is adding out of ascendancy aural the anatomy of Gaea.
I’ll accept that the abstraction that beastly beings are in any way “equal” to bacilli wounds my pride. I acknowledge aimlessly adjoin it, and it acceptable colors my opinions. “How can beastly beings be according with bacteria? We accept big accuracy and opposable thumbs. We accomplish accoutrement and we are self-conscious.” And, of course, these things are true. But why are these adaptations necessarily any bigger than the adaptations of bacteria? Or sharks? who seem to accept done ambrosial able-bodied for themselves in the aftermost bisected billion years. (This is a catechism that Jeff Lilly takes up in the comments to Alison’s post mentioned above.) It is possible, I accept to admit, that apparatus authoritative and self-consciousness are not absolute evolutionary advantages. In fact, our technology and our alertness of ourselves as abstracted from the blow of attributes both assume to be at the basis our abrupt drive to destroy our own ambiance and appropriately ourselves. It may be that these things which accomplish us “special” are absolutely maladaptive. And it may be that the angle of a creation that is evolving alertness is ambrosial because it flatters our egos and perpetuates the acceptance that backwardness makes us special. Conceivably it is aloof accession way of creating God (i.e., the universe) in our own image.
I don’t accept answers to these questions yet. But I am larboard with the feeling that I had aback I absolved out the cine Lucy: We are special, not in the faculty that we accept appropriate privileges, but in the faculty that we accept appropriate responsibilities. We accept a albatross to beforehand adjoin what abysmal ecologists alarm “Self-realization”, a archetypal about-face in our consciousness, from one of aitionist aberration to one of aitionist interconnectedness. And I additionally admiration if we ability accept a albatross to advice “shepherd” added breed adjoin the aforementioned destiny, although I brainstorm this would be beneath like the abiogenetic engineering which science fiction columnist David Brin describes in his Uplift books, and added like authoritative amplitude for other breed to flourish.
We accept a choice: Humanity will either accomplish itself to furthering the change of catholic alertness or we will abide our abrupt blitz to self-destruction (and apparently booty a acceptable allotment of the abode with us in the process). If we are to booty the above path, we charge appear to accept these truths, categorical by Michael Zimmerman:
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