Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ancient styles of thinking

Many of us are unsuspecting of the degree of insecurity that governs our perceptive abilities. We focus on the immediate and seemingly ignore the long-term, despite the long-term having the greater urgency in scale. Our social institutions and media continue to reinforce the immediate and short-term, thus stregthening our social myopia. As a telling example a recently published report in the UK, titled Beyond Terror: The Truth About the Real Threats to Our World, focused on the disproportionate attention given to terrorism in the ‘short-term’ compared to the threats that although resulting in more fatalities were classed as ongoing ‘long-term’ problems. The report stated that in 2001 in the US alone the following number of Americans were killed from various causes:
Malnutrition - 3, 500
HIV/Aids - 14, 000
Pneumonia - 62, 000
Heart disease - 700, 000+
Suicide - 30, 000+
Traffic accidents - 42, 000+
Fire-arms related - 30, 000
Homicides - 20, 000+

Whereas international terrorism stood at around 2, 500. This shows our ‘old mind’ at work, how it perceives and prioritizes events. It is also a mind that goes very far back into our species evolution; a mind that evolved to deal with a very different world. Our early history equipped us to live in relatively stable environments within small communities; challenges were short-term and nearby. The human mind thus evolved to deal with slow-impact short-term changes. The world that made our mind is now gone, and the world we have created around us is a new world; paradoxically it is a world that we have developed limited capacity to comprehend. It is fair to say that we now have a mismatch between the human mind we possess and the world we inhabit today. Most of the momentous changes in our cultural history have taken less than one hundred years; these days we don’t have that luxury of time as events are rapidly changing around us before human cultural evolution has had time to readapt. Cultural evolution has worked more or less well until the present century; now it finds itself hampered by an outdated human perceptual system. Contemporary society still relies too heavily – and unconsciously – upon ancient modes of thought and ancient styles of thinking. This begs the question: can a collective and rapid ‘change of mind’ occur on this planet? In the words of one neurologist, ‘conscious evolution needs to take the place of unconscious cultural evolution’.

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