Chapter 3- The Development and Evolution of the Ability to Share Thought

 

‘I know this world is ruled by infinite intelligence. Everything that surrounds us- everything that exists - proves that there are infinite laws behind it. There can be no denying this fact. It is mathematical in its precision. ‘

        -Thomas Edison

                The starting point for the development of thought is also the starting point for the history of the species of animal classified and referred to as Homo sapiens.  All factual information we have points to the belief that we evolved from something with less capacity to think than we currently possess.  The fact is though that for the discussion of this book it is completely irrelevant whether we evolved over millions of years or if perhaps the concept of Adam and Eve ever occurred.  All we know is that we are here now and we have a collection of information from humans that have come before us from which to piece together a puzzle.  Most of that information is in the form of written language but also from artifacts left behind.

                So where did language come from?  All life forms communicate.  Inanimate objects such as rocks, sand, water, the sun, the moon, etc. reflect, transmit, or are transparent to light to varying degrees.  It’s the lowest level of communication as there is no a true interaction and the communication is basically a one-way street.  They don’t process information and emit different signals in response to changes in their environment.   All life forms have a higher level of interaction in that they have the capacity to sense their environment and respond accordingly to what they believe to be is in the best interest of the survival of the individual.  Collectively, over many thousands of years the process of natural selection (Darwinism) allows for the species take advantage of little tweaks in the DNA, which is the universal recipe code of life, to respond and hopefully survive to changes in environmental stimuli.  There’s also the whole realm of study of the minutest life forms such as viruses and it is questionable if they are even true life forms as all they do is transfer DNA.  For anyone who has studied molecular biology and DNA, it is a pretty astonishing to think that nature could produce a system equal to or better than man’s ability to create something such as the computer on which this book is typed.

                Next, you have higher levels of life forms such as plants and animals.  They have highly developed sex organs and means of communication.  In the plant world, pollen is a means of communication and in the animal kingdom there are all varieties of communication.  Whales emitting vibrational frequencies to attract a mate and a monkey having a conniption, a sort of ‘sign language’, to get the attention of his fellow comrades of present danger are two examples.  Their communication serves two main functions:  surviving each present moment and reproducing the species.  They all have varying degrees of sensing the world around them, processing that information, and responding accordingly.

                To the best of our knowledge, we know that humans have been prancing around the Earth for about 200,000 years starting in Africa [The Smithsonian Institution, Human Origins Program].   Of which, only about 5000 or 6000 years is actually recorded through words.  Humans have 5 highly functioning senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing.  Some animals do have the capacity for higher function in one or two of the senses, as dogs do with hearing and birds with sight, but none have all five and a highly functioning brain to process that information and respond.  That is what makes us unique and is such a special gift.  Through this brain of ours we have developed highly functional communication that we know as speech.  It is one of the basic essentials to being human and even if you never develop the ability to write for whatever reason it is something that you pick up from the previous generation without even ‘thinking’ about. 

Speech is nothing more than the brain telling the body to exhale air and do so while simultaneously changing the vibration of the vocal cords and constriction of the muscles of the tongue and lips.  Thus, providing a sequence of vibrations in that exhaled air for the recipient human’s hearing to pick up and their brain to interpret.  Our brains become extremely learned in a whole set of patterns of those vibrations within a group of people and we call that a language.  There are literally thousands of languages that have arisen over the course of human existence, some of which have been lost or absorbed into other languages like Latin for example.  No one language is better than another but there are definitely some that have elected to follow the K.I.S.S. rule and some that have not for whatever reason.  The English language for example has 26 letters/characters while the Japanese language numbers in the thousands.  Languages through history formed all over the earth simultaneously and independently from others as most civilizations were for the most part isolated. 

                The first quantum leap in the quest for consciousness was when humanity started assigning a visual component to go along with that ball of sounds referred to as speech.  The first signs of writing were found between the 6th and 4th millenniums B.C.   Writing was derived initially as a more precise means of tracking the exchange of commodities at a time when monetary systems as we are accustomed to today did not exist.  Business was done along the lines of a bartering system where I trade you three cows for your two horses.  The precision to which humans could keep track of everything rather than relying of our minds, which are coincidental at times conveniently forgetful(oops, I forgot to give you your three cows!  Are you sure we said three cows?), resulted in writing evolving relatively quickly relative to how fast language evolved over the previous ~200,000 years.  People had been communicating with pictures and oral stories prior but it was writing that allowed ideas and thoughts to be expanded upon by future generations.  The first signs of alphabets as we think of today where a symbol is assigned to specific phonetic sound emerged around 2000 B.C.

                Prior to written language, science was extremely rudimentary.  Rudimentary communication that lacks a defined written component is referred to as a pidgin language.  Humans basically shared ideas through the oral exchange of stories.  The creative and intuitive aspects of their brain were used to try and explain the natural phenomenon that the 5 senses were telling its brain was occurring.  Science had yet to evolve to account for the information that their brains were receiving.  As is the case with Greek mythology, these oral stories were later documented following the advent of writing.  They developed into a complex array of stories about how things are as they are and also how each human should live amongst each other, being the inherently social creature that it is so as to be at peace with all people and nature.  These stories became a core set of ideas that it then became considered socially unacceptable to challenge; they became a religion.  

                Language now at this point in history was made up of two parts, a spoken (phonetic) and a written component.  Language was being used to communicate ideas and thoughts on everything from economics to religion and government.  Science and technology was advancing more rapidly as each subsequent generation was able to learn what the previous generation knew without having to ‘re-invent the wheel’ so-to-speak through all the challenges of oral learning, particularly the fact that the human brain forgets a lot!  Oral communication limited technological progression because thought and ideas being exchanged required both individuals to be present to speak and to listen.  With writing, which was done on walls and scrolls initially then later books, thoughts could be exchanged over great distances and generations with much greater precision.  Great works of art, architecture, and science sprung forth in these stationary civilizations with writing as exemplified by the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.   Great philosophers and scientists expanded upon each others’ thought as they observed the natural world around them as well as watching humans interact with each other.   

Some civilizations, particularly those that were transient, such as the Native American Indians did not develop writing to the same extent and thus exploration of science did not progress as readily.  They remained in a state more in harmony with nature.   Basically, they perceived themselves as a product of the Earth.  In the civilizations that made progress in terms of the capacity to think scientifically and communicate ideas with greater precision through written language, often there was a divergent movement towards not being one with nature.  That somehow, knowledge made them different; somehow superior.  These opposing views were readily apparent in how North and South American natives were brutally treated by the early European settlers.  Much of the early European settlers destroyed much of the historical written information left behind by native cultures of the western hemisphere.  From what information that does remain of the Mayan civilization, they were well balanced in terms of reverence for life and development of thinking as exemplified by their scientific advancements in architecture and astronomy.   

In today’s world, it only takes one natural disaster as in the case of Haiti’s earthquake, the tsunami in Southeast Asia, or Hurricane Katrina for us to realize that ultimately the natural world is in control and natural law will always take precedence.   The basic premise of natural law is that all life must respect and live in harmony with other life.  No life form is superior to another life form and it is only thinking that makes it so.  The Earth will always exist as long as the Sun continues to burn, along with a variety of life forms.  It is up the humans to decide if they want to live in harmony with the planet and be one of those life forms.  This does not mean the human race has to convert to being vegans and riding bikes everywhere but they do need to think consciously about things like energy consumption, use of natural resources, and monitoring population expansion.

The literacy rate around the world remained extremely low for many centuries even after written language had been developed.   The ability to communicate via written language was restricted to mostly only those in power which was mainly clergy and politicians.  There also existed a small circle of intellectuals/philosophers who usually were involved with government in some capacity or another.  The vast majority of humans were just trying to survive and put food on the table.  People did not have time to devote to formal learning as most people’s vocation was in agriculture and spent the majority of their existence working long hours in the fields or tending animals.  Often, as was the case with great intellectuals such as the Roman philosopher and politician Cicero, their education and use of it to challenge conventional thinking ultimately lead to their own unfortunate murder.  It really wasn’t until the 1600’s through the persuasion of religious organizations interested in having their followers able to read their sacred texts did widespread literacy improve.  Also, the foundation of governments based on principle’s of freedom along with the works of leaders in education reform such as Horace Mann in the United States during the 1800’s expanded education and literacy further.  Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, mainly political unrest and lack of governments that support individual liberty, the world’s literacy rate has dropped by nearly half in the last 40 years[1].

The act of writing itself was an arduous and time-consuming task for most of humanity’s history as everything had to be written by freehand.  Sects of people arose whose entire purpose in life was to record the thoughts of others as well as record history.  These scribes often worked in isolation in monasteries for the duration of their lives.  Then the second quantum leap occurred:  The invention of the printing press in Germany around 1440 by goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg.   The Chinese also concurrently made significant advances in paper production that replaced using sheets of treated and dried animal skin called parchment paper.  This combination drastically reduced the cost of producing books and allow for mass production of books.  Prior to these advances of the 14th century, books were extremely rare and expensive.  For example, the University of Cambridge which is England’s 2nd oldest university was recorded in 1428 as having only 122 books total in their library[2].   Each of those books had a monetary value equivalent of an average-sized farm of those times.  The decrease of costs in the production of books during the Middle Ages lead to drastic increases in the numbers in circulation thus increases the exchange of thoughts and ideas.  The printing press played a critical part spreading the word of Protestant Reformation of the Catholic Church initiated by Martin Luther in 1517.   

Exploration and intercultural mingling was also occurring simultaneously with improvements in transportation, particularly navigation and ship building.  Individuals such as Marco Polo began traveling between different civilizations for a variety of reasons.  The exchange of language and books that occurred with such travelers brought widespread Eastern and European thought together for the first time.  Prior to the Middle Ages, Eastern and Western thought were generally mutually exclusive.  That is why when you look at all of religion presently you find the is really only two main branches: East and West.  From these two evolved nearly all the religions that we know today.  This will be discussed further in the next few chapters.  Most travelers like Marco Polo and later Christopher Columbus sought financial gains, but some also sought to discover new lands, join religious crusades, exchange knowledge, and escape persecution.  During the time period of around 1200 - 1700, written language began to be translated into multiple languages and through those translations the potential existed for many mistranslations. 

All languages, particularly those that have different origins, do not have perfect words in each language that match up perfectly.  It is the nature of languages that were founded apart that they do not have synonymous words in each to transmit a thought.  Hence the saying, ‘lost in translation.’  The Bible for instance has been translated many times throughout the centuries and the version most commonly cited today, the King James I version, is only one version.  Through the centuries it has gone through many revisions particularly in the early part of Christianity and some of its content lost or changed.  No spiritual text can truly claim to be the absolute written word of God which there can be no others, yet our minds often want to think that way.  It is instead to all of our benefit to perceive the wisdom and teachings of the highly enlightened individuals upon which the various religions are founded upon as God working and communicating through them.  Each text offers thoughts on consciousness in their own unique way.  And like human nature, within these various religious texts you will find examples of ego intertwined however big or small within their words as they are all products of human enterprise.    

  Books were still highly coveted and considered a relatively prized commodity even following the advent of the printing press.  The founders of the United States went to great lengths to acquire books from many of the great thinkers of history.  The books of contemporary philosophers and economists of the times such as Adam Smith, John Locke, Rene Descartes, and Thomas Hobbes were highly sought after.   John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin spent many years living in Europe prior to and during the American Revolution.  During that period they amassed great collections of such literary works which they brought back with them to the colonies.  The thoughts and ideas contained in those books ultimately served as the guiding principles used in the contracts that were written to govern the newly formed United States. 

Many of the principles under which the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were established were merely theories derived from those books and had yet to be attempted; hence George Washington referred to the United States as ‘America, the Great Experiment.’  In light of the turmoil occurring in European governments with the tyranny of monarchies, Benjamin Franklin’s deemed the newly formed United States as ‘The world’s last, great hope.’ It was to be a government founded on the premise of liberty for all.  Abraham Lincoln most eloquently stated in his Gettysburg Address, ‘…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.’

The late 19th and 20th centuries brought a flurry of advancements, all of which brought about improvements in the exchange of thoughts.  There were the inventions of the telegraph, telephone, photography, phonograph, automobile, radio, television and photocopier all of which drastically increased the accuracy and speed of communication.  Prior to such developments, all that humans had were letters via some form of physically carrying them between two people to communicate.  This was so slow and unreliable relative to what we have today.  For example, it took nearly 2 months for the southern states of the newly formed U.S.A. to receive word in 1776 that a Declaration of Independence had be signed and delivered to the King of England.  Imagine not knowing who ruled your country for 2 months in today’s world and the social upheaval that would result.  These advances in the new age of communication permitted thought to flow freely from physical barriers such as mountains or oceans.  People no longer needed to go to the information.  The information was pumped into their homes through the airways. 

The final quantum leap in communication which we are currently in the midst of is the Information Age, particularly the proliferation of the internet.  The advent of the personal computer, email, and subsequently the internet by far has brought on the most rapid exchange of ideas.  It is increasing in velocity and has grown exponentially over the last 10 years to a point now that perhaps was barely fathomable 20 years ago.  We have the capacity to send mail instantaneously, video talk via networks like Skype® from anywhere around the world, and attend online universities thereby attaining degrees without ever leaving the confines or our homes.  There are also social networks like Facebook® and Twitter® to keep in touch with anyone we have ever had any type of relationship with.   Digital devices that store written information such as Amazon’s Kindle® and Apple’s iPad® are becoming more prevalent and will most likely eventually replace books in terms of how we know them today. 

What is interesting to note is the continued importance in the written word today despite all the technology we have to speak directly to each other through all forms of media.  This can be best exemplified in massive expansion of texting in the cell phone industry as well as online communication networks such as Facebook® and My Space®.  It is the written word that is responsible for allowing each generation to expand upon the thoughts and ideas of the previous generation(s).  Therefore, the written word that accounts for much of the progress made by humanity will always be a vitally important form of communication.  It is also why business deals are done with contracts rather than just handshakes and is why perhaps the greatest contract ever written regarding human nature, the Constitution of the United States of America, must be preserved in tact if we wish to preserve individual liberty in the world.

We also at the present time in communication observe the world in virtually instantaneous real time through video cell phones any and all occurrences from the most mundane to the most heinous.  Crimes against humanity are being committed for the whole world to see.  We watch this through video surveillance around the world in countries undergoing social turmoil in defiance of government sanctioned oppression such as Iran.  We watch live cameras a mile under water film the carnage caused by corporations not being as conscious as possible while supplying our energy needs.  The internet and websites like wikiLeaks.org are making all forms of secrecy much less possible.  People, big corporations, and governments will no longer be able to hide acts done in the service of ego.

In this new era we never really lose touch with each other.  We are able to create digital worlds that seem such a part of our identity it is hard to distinguish physical barriers such as oceans and mountains when you are still in touch with everyone with whom we have ever had any relationship.   We are becoming one completely interconnected network where thoughts and ideas readily flow from one side of the planet to another.  If someone moved more than a few miles away from a person just 100 years ago, they would basically be completely disconnected from their social and family network unless they wanted to pack up the mule and trek over to say grandma’s place for a few weeks.  However, daily life and the need to tend farms on which most people lived didn’t permit such ‘luxury’ trips and so it became difficult to maintain relationships in the same manner we do today. 

The advancements in technology are now coming so rapidly that many of our social structures existence as we have known them are being challenged.   The dwindling use of the U.S. Postal Service, drops in the number of circulating newspapers, and the pirating of copyright information are examples of the increasing difficulty to adapt to these rapid changes in communication.  Questions are arising all the time in these unchartered waters in terms of government such as:  Do we need six days of postal mail delivery?  Is the U.S. Census as accurate and cost-efficient as possible, particularly if it were to utilize the internet?  Do taxpayers really need to finance politicians to fly all over the country and world when we have live video conferencing?  And would eliminating such interactions, cause special interests like banking moguls who don’t have the interest of the whole country loosen their stronghold? 

 The future is not too far off where we could have the opportunity if we want to just live [cradle to grave] in the reality world of a computer.  It would be possible to create the perfect life where nothing bad ever happened.  We could plug our minds into a software program where all that we experience is happy thoughts.  But, is that what we really want?  Are we incapable of accepting life as it is and prefer the comfort of creating a false life inside the world of a computer?  At the present moment, we already have companies developing virtual vacations where you can go and spend a day on a tropical island to relieve the stress of your current environment.  Why do it for a day if perhaps you can afford to do it for a lifetime?  Is that considered then an addiction?  Is that the essence of any mind-altering drug use or addiction, the perceived need to escape reality?

Even more foreseeable in the future, is the potential to insert a microchip into each of us.  In that chip could exist, if we choose, the ability to do whatever we can think up.  We could do good things while maintaining a free society such as electively putting a medical chart on it.  Or, we could do things that inhibit freedom such as a GPS tracking devices to know where everyone is at every moment.  Or, perhaps deliver a shock like an Invisible Fence® dog collar when we do something ‘wrong.’  Whose job is it to decide what is right and wrong? 

                The trends in human communication through the ages are readily apparent.  With each quantum leap, the rate at which thought is transferred from one human to another has risen exponentially.  We are now at a point in our existence where we have absolute command of any piece of information that has ever been available to any human through history.  And we also can access it anywhere with the advent of internet phones.  We are near maximum capacity in terms of the flow of communication.  Currently, our only rate limiting factor is our own brain’s ability to take in information through the senses, i.e. read or listen.    This can be a great thing in a society and a world that is founded on the concept of freedom.  There are and will be plenty of ethical questions to coincide with these changes and the biggest question is ‘Who?’ will answer them.  Will it be a world full of and ruled by egoic maniac(s) or will it be a world premised on liberty and consciousness to make those fundamental decisions that will decide the fate of humanity?

 

‘No man is an island unto himself.’

                -Henry David Thoreau

 

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literacy

[2] Wikipedia: History of writing