The Three Pillars of Ignorance
News networks obscure information, the food industry poisons us, social media makes us unsociable; in short, the technology we rely upon to survive is simultaneously eroding our natural behaviour…
These are symptoms of a problem, too well understood to require any further description – we get it. And yet somehow it doesn’t worry us – we get that as well. Why is this and what do we do about it?
The anatomy of our Ignorance involves the interleaving of three different factors;
1. Circumstance – The Cause
To understand the trajectory of modernity's problems, we have to return to the birth of civilisation.
Culture began at the moment that we moved out of the tropical rainforest. We can see that this move was fairly sudden, as our bodies apparently didn’t have time to physically adapt to the new environment of the savannah. Since we didn’t, for example, have sharp claws and teeth, the creation of tools became an immediate necessity for us with which to capture animals for food.
Without speed or the sharpened sensory perception of other creatures competing for resources and survival, there also came an urgent need to invent weapons with which to defend ourselves from potential predators. Furthermore, the lack of access to our original high fruit diet, necessitated culinary experimentation to make dangerous and inedible foods, edible and safe through various different methods of preparation.
From this anatomical mismatch with our environment and our consequent reliance on tools, we can infer that our rapid exodus from the forest resulted from necessity rather than desire, since it seems unlikely that a large group of animals would collectively decide – simply out of interest – to move out of their native habitat and into a new and extremely dangerous one with which they weren’t familiar.
Working from this assumption, the development of civilisation can be seen as a compensation for environmental failure, rather than some kind of “improvement upon nature.” What could, after all could meet an organism's needs better than the state of symbiosis in which the other animals live – each, exact reflections of the landscape they inhabit?
The following - lists the three major components of civilisation and identifies the specific anatomical incongruities between body and environment, that each was designed to remedy;
2. Behaviour – The Response
As stated, at the point of moving to the savanna - tools bridged the gap between the human body's natural capacities - and the new environmental demands that far exceeded these.
Language was the technology we created as we exited the forest, to compensate for our inability to instinctively read the new and alien landscape that lay beyond. Just as tools formed a physical bridge between our existing physiology and that which was now suddenly required of us, so too language formed an intellectual one between what we could decode of this new habitat instinctively and everything else we needed to know beyond that, to survive.
Whilst we commonly think of ourselves as having five senses – a sixth that exists is instinct – the tangible physical responses that occur by virtue of inheritance - to combinations of sensory inputs. This, in a way is a “felt sense of history” - or a physical teaching, written into our DNA. It is our instinct, for example, that makes the experience of eating raw fruit, pleasurable to us – there has been an adaptive advantage to this behaviour for our ancestors – so that those who enjoyed the sensation were more healthy, had more children and thus passed on that inherited sense of informative enjoyment to the next generation.
Crucially, our instincts also prompt the correct response to danger – so that even today, we still recoil from the mere sight of our archaic tree-dwelling predators such as spiders and snakes. Our felt sense of caution when at altitude is also likely to have come from our arboreal past since those without it, would have been more likely to fall.
Thus, whilst still living in the forest - the landscape within which our instincts were shaped - we could rely upon them to render the environment entirely legible, guiding us from one life preserving response to another without any need for external instruction. After moving to the savannah though, we started encountering many objects unfamiliar to our instincts, and this forced us into a different way of decoding our environment. Through the mental technology of symbolism - we began engaging in a willed and ongoing itemisation of the objects we saw around us, creating iconic representations of new things we encountered for future reference and comparing new presentations of familiar objects with the existing back catalogue we'd encountered and classified before.
Our mistake in modern times is to believe this mode of "seeing" is the natural one common to other animals. It is actually an impressive feat of conscious endeavour but one that came at great perceptual expense in other areas.
Whilst we can not know how radical a shift this new way of thinking was for our ancestors - the circumstance necessitated it, as moving to a place, unreadable to our instincts would have been a bit like modern man, moving to a landscape whose components did not correspond with his visual equipment. If we were not able to see objects, but were still physically affected and indeed endangered by them – we would have to create some kind of technological interface between us and them to “make them visible” to us, artificially.
And so it was in ancient times; as though casting veils of fabric across mysterious new objects, invisible to our limited biology, we found we could use symbolism to adumbrate those environmental features that were relevant to our survival. From that point in history onwards, this system formed a kind of internal monologue through which each infant would have to be taught and conditioned to engage with reality.
Effecting a mental schism that was to become the lament of future religions the world over, each interaction with nature now had to be undertaken, not directly - but through the intellectual meniscus henceforth required to keep us from harm. The habitat that could once be treated as a contiguous extension of ourselves, now needed to be seen as a separate entity with whom we would have to negotiate.
If we think of language as this internal map of reality, made from symbolic representations of those features unknown to our instincts, then speech itself can be seen as a mere facet of its function - the channel through which individual maps are shared and created.
In common with most animals, humans had at that point evolved instinctive elements of speech that remain to this day such as crying, laughing, screaming and - we can infer from our wide vocal range and harmonic recognition - singing. Presented with the task of mapping out, understanding and surviving the hostile landscape, collaboration was vital for informing others about learned dangers within it - such as poisonous plants and potential predators. It was also required for cooperating in innovations such as tool-making and the new need for increasingly complex strategic thought. As our internal maps were emerging, we therefore paired their features with novel mouth noises or "words" with which we could collaboratively communicate these abstractions - to build a pool of shared information about the challenges we faced.
This way of seeing however, is really only functional in the short term as it inevitably becomes limited over longer periods. Whilst evolutionary instinct in other animals, also causes them to read the environment in the sole terms of those facets that are relevant to them – the evolution that shapes their mode of understanding is - in its omniscience - the choreographer of nature's dance in its entirety. In this way, it naturally organises its living components as a unified system, correctly arranging which threads of understanding must run through the awareness of each organism to maintain the health of the whole.
Once Man began operating from his individualised perspective however, he held himself apart from nature's evolutionary guidance, which would after all have killed him, had he not. Finding his own way forward, he now learned through trial and error in his brave attempts at taming the chaos of unfamiliarity, with symbolism. As he continues, he is limited by perceptual confines that make him oblivious to many of those things that are truly important to his survival, long term.
Our third component of civilisation is, like the previous two, a behaviour – but it diverges from them somewhat in that it is invoked as much by their development as it is by our move from forest to savannah.
Religions are in a large part, the conceptual and behavioural bridge we have devised to stem the gap between the regulatory instincts or “morals” that man's false environment requires of him, to operate it safely – and the regulatory instincts he actually feels biologically. The reason for the shortfall in the latter is that - again - our biological signalling systems and behavioural instincts have been shaped by the rainforest and so are consequently unfit for their new modern context.
The need for religious practices which encourage us towards “right action” in our lives - highlights an experiential problem that religions frequently articulate – that a human's natural biological inclination towards instinctive moral behaviour feels stunted and dysfunctional. When labelled as “sinners” few of us would deny this a fitting epithet – it is a common, almost definitive experience of being human that our biological signalling often guides us away from doing that which we know to be morally right. Morality, by virtue of existing at all is therefore evidence of a biological deficit presenting within the context of modernity - its invention indicates its necessity.
For every natural circumstance and behaviour, regulatory instincts that protect Man and his environment have been written into our DNA which then guides our reaction appropriately. Morality and the various religions that embolden it, therefore always pertain in some way to artifice; the appearance of some kind of man-made ethical signpost always signals a need for mitigation against artificiality's confusing effects. What impairs the clarity of this dynamic is that many of our actions today involve a mixture of nature and artifice - although the gradients this causes are not sufficient to hide the correlation.
As we have established, the anatomical mismatch we experienced between our body's capabilities and the savannah's demands, meant that without the creation of some kind of buffer between the two, survival was impossible. The technological and linguistic interface that we therefore had to invent became a bit like a cocoon of artifice – in that only through it could we reach for the environment beyond.
However, this man-made layer through which we started having to engage – created a kind of recursive echo of that original problem; anatomical unfitness for purpose. Now not only would we have to find ways of adapting to that first change of environment, too fast for our biology – but our task, going forward, would be to adapt on a rolling basis to our false and enveloping interface - continually moving through “new improved” but increasingly artificial iterations of itself.
This technological cocoon's inception thus began a kind of momentum, that would, from then on perpetually grow the gulf between our corporeal capacity and the environmental demand. The path that this takes is one that can be predicted as is discussed later in this passage and labelled, “The Portal Effect.”
As previously outlined, the major problem here is that to our instincts, artifice makes our environment illegible – but in a felt sense, because we are so used to our self-generated method of reading it, it appears to us to be completely transparent. We are therefore, unaware of our incapacity to operate in informed ways within it.
Our ignorance of this perceptual disability is the greatest challenge we face in improving our human experience. Though this difficult lesson is the one encoded in all major religions whose practices are specifically designed to mitigate against it, our hubristic idea of progress as improvement, appears to have clouded our ability to understand this correctly.
If we look then to modern life for examples - one instance of our inability in the West to forumlate a functional sense of reality – comes from the fact that we now gain our food and materials for survival from remote locations. As a result, we rely on our capacity to make accurate ethical judgements about their manufacture at a remove. Having never before been exposed to such a circumstance, historically though, we have not yet evolved reliable emotional acuity for those things we do not encounter first hand.
We may be fooled into thinking we can make good emotional judgements using only our imagination – since we can create very sharp visual and conceptual models in our minds, but whereas this kind of modelling has long been needed by humanity - it has only very recently been important to have a strong emotional apprehension of things unseen to us. Anything that lay beyond our range of physical interaction in the past, was almost always beyond our control - meaning that to remain emotionally engaged with it, would have been a waste of energy – and so we did not.
Thus, the anatomical purveyors of empathy and emotion that include such things as the mirror-neurons in the brain – have essentially evolved for local phenomena alone. If we empathise with people who are remote, it is usually because they are or have been close to us in some kind of meaningful way - genetically, physically or spatially – or because our imagination of their circumstance has been made more immediate through visual media imagery; an imitation of first hand experience. The further from ourselves a person, animal or organism gets, the less able we are to feel into their experience. While this was not a problem historically - in the modern world, it becomes a threat to others, and then in turn to us.
The wave of veganism in the West has been a recent example of what a difference the visual presentation of previously well understood concepts such as animal agriculture can make to people's ethical decisions to perpetuate certain industries. As Linda McCartney predicted on the subject, “If abattoirs had glass walls, we'd all be vegetarian.” The relevance of this simple assertion, to us today is – abattoirs may now be transparent – but the circumstances of most of our transactions remain completely opaque. For environmental sustainability which is of course vital to our own survival, this circumstance demands our ability to work from a properly informed perspective - but our bodies have not evolved this capacity and our minds are not equipped to detect the deficit. We are simply not, therefore, physically capable of operating our own lives in the modern world with any degree of morality.
And here it is pertinent to remind ourselves that morality is not merely a charitable act – but rather it is an imitation of the cooperative instincts crucial to keeping our species alive and maintaining the health of the habitat that supports us. It is a literal intelligence of what exists beyond us, without which we are effectively driving in a dense fog, vulnerable to environmental forces, beyond our comprehension.
Understanding that we no longer have the appropriate biological apparatus to render our artificial environment in any way legible to us - is the first step towards understanding the need to mitigate against our erroneous felt sense that all is well with human progress. Established religions of all kinds – have in common an acute apprehension of this – and so have made emboldening and inducing "moral" or properly informed behaviour, their sole purpose through myriad different strategies.
Buddhism, for example, goes to great lengths to explain the nature of our mental confusion and the "karmic" accumulation of artificial forces that cause our suffering from generation to generation. These, discussed further here, suggest that our current state of being has been clouded by artifice. In doing so it offers an explanation as to our inability to properly perceive the impact of our technology on the environment - and also our blindness to the essential nature of reality.
It then provides guidance as to those practices which essentially minimise the impact of material and behavioural artificiality in different areas of a person's life. Experiences that register as "magic" called "Sidhis" which occur through the intensive practice of meditation - may prove to be the result of the brain restoring some of its original function as the man-made linguistic activity is forcibly "jammed" through the use of a mantra, focus or concentrated mindfulness. Brain scans show that practices such as meditation do indeed change the structure of the brain long term, reducing activity in areas associated with rumination. It could therefore be that the many years of this practice associated with attaining enlightenment are indeed able to re-cultivate an increased circumference of felt acuity; an accurate apprehension of one's interconnectedness with the environment.
Christianity's approach seems not to fight against technological progress by renouncing materialism. Instead of offering systems so consuming that practitioners must simplify their lives to engage in them, Christianity seems almost to resign to the idea that its own enlightened image of man, Jesus Christ, must be sacrificed in order for modern man to survive - albeit in a state of unenlightened sin. Recognising the pervasive state of humanity's ignorance - which perhaps relates to our stunted felt sense of connectedness or "morality", it does not do what Buddhism does in helping us to restore that experiential "Enlightenment" but instead helps to guide us intellectually with written rules instead. It believe that if these are followed in faith if not always understanding, they can still function as morals.
In addition to practical exercises; mass, prayer, song, confession and guidance on ethics, Christians are helped with their physical apprehension of morality through the introduction of “Godfear” or the idea of punitive consequences for wrongdoing. By essentially hijacking one's existing emotional circuitry with a concept, strongly ingrained through conditioning, the fear of God can be helpful in emboldening a felt sense of right and wrong, through our very palpable biological drive torwards self-preservation. By encouraging us to follow its rules in "Faith", Chritianity's workaround for the role of "Understanding" provides a very practical alternative to the time it takes Buddhist monks to attain a level of clarity to feel through instinct what really is objectively right and wrong action. This is effectively the prioritising of Man's technological progress over the preservation of his connection with reality or nature. With this outlook in the West, we move forward very fast to our perception, but as we do, the price of the perceptual and therefore moral blindess that allows this, makes us sinners for the compromise we've chosen.
Outside religion, ideologies and different iterations of a “State” have been our secular attempts at enforcing moral behaviour – the limitations of which are discussed in more detail here. In short, a primary problem seems to be that rules within these systems are far less “timeless” than those of religion, influenced as they are by their creators' belief that the man-made iteration of reality they see around them at any given time is a reflection of objective truth. The general absolutes that constitute ten commandments, for example, may prove stronger in the long term than those ever-changing guidelines on the minutia of modern social intercourse.
Without acknowledging the underlying situation that creates our need for artificial self-governance, humanity is on a clearly discernible path to destruction. If, for example, we as consumers believe the numbness we feel about purchases that may involve cruelty to animals and humans - then we may translate our felt experience to deduce that the situation must not be as bad as our conceptual understanding of it would imply. We may therefore continue to buy the same products without further investigation - and uphold the demand for these cruelties' endurance. Whilst this behaviour, in itself constitutes a failing – it is also foundational in the damage we cause to the environment – a phenomenon that has been our greatest existential threat since the inception of the first tool.
What a clear understanding of our physical unfitness for purpose can give us – is self-compassion. We are sinners in one sense, when viewing the consequences of our actions – but our actions are the result of being physically disabled in the context of the unreadable environment within which we are required to be literate. As with symbolism and language, our mitigating technologies of religion and state governance can never have the efficacy of emergent regulatory instincts and behaviours that arise in nature, because they do not come from nature's omniscient perspective. Even those that have proven most effective in steering populations through the maze of modernity – find they struggle more each day to retain relevance and purchase in the face of the changing cultural environment.
This is however, merely one more step in the dance between circumstance, behaviour and anatomy that continues around and around in a spiral of destruction – and requires action to counteract.
3. Anatomy – The Consequence
3.1 The Shrinking Human Brain
After our move to the savanna, the fossil record shows a trend that seems counterintuitive to the modern perspective - that the human brain has been shrinking for thousands of years.
Though this sounds somewhat unlikely, as such a phenomena if real, would surely be more publicised and studied – it seems that unfortunately, the very agent causing the physical problem is also to blame for our lack of concern about recognising its occurrence. Because we have not evolved to feel appropriate responses to abstract concepts that do not involve things like gathering food and protecting loved ones - upon hearing this news, we fail to feel panic and urgency about addressing the cause. Our mistake is to believe this felt inclination.
In the past 30 thousand years, the human brain has lost about a tennis ball's worth of volume. There is a clear mechanism of action that has been proposed by Tony Wright to explain this phenomenon... but the trouble with being open to that, is that if correct, it would mean humans are in some sense, becoming less intelligent. And basically - it really doesn't seem that way to us!
Environmental pressures favour those traits and behaviours in a species that will help it thrive within that context – and this applies even where its context is artificial. Within the false environment of our man-made cocoon, linguistic adeptness, innovative thinking, physical dexterity and strategic thought have all been advantageous and so genetically selected for over time. A general capacity to adapt well to change - be that in diet and behaviour have also been extremely useful.
Many of these qualities have therefore come to represent our impression of what "intelligence" actually is and this broadly seems to constitute an ability to doctor one's immediate environment in favour of one's short term survival. Meanwhile, the augmented empathy, self-awareness and creativity brought about by psychedelic substances and spiritual practices that hint at archaic, now dormant capabilities, may not actually register to us as intelligent at all, since we can not currently understand their relevance to our survival. Indeed as our brains lose volume, our false environment does seem to be effecting a relegation of these sections as nutritional resources are stewarded to prioritise language, strategic thought and innovation, all driven by a desire for control.
As a result, we find that to access these latent capacities at all in modern times, does require tools such as meditation, sleep deprivation or chemical substances which serve to adjust neurological function. As we do, we may experience the resulting change in consciousness as a welcome break from our regular experience or an interesting and pleasurable exercise - but as our ancestors were aware - these states are possibly glimpses of a restored connection to the environment beyond our man-made cocoon.
Although the confines of modern experience may make the presentation of altered states register to us as "supernatural" or "spiritual", they may well be the common experience of other organisms in nature - a subject we will explore later on in this book. The ultimate experience of accurate connectedness, a felt sense of one's actions influencing every other aspect of existence would make perfect biological sense in our edenic state of symbiosis - as it would form an extended nervous system beyond ourselves that would furnish us with a natural and possibly ecstatic moral inclination - the tendency towards appropriate action that we are currently missing. The blissful connection often reported from these experiences between existence and love may also prove to be an accurate apprehension of "The Whole" being a valuable extension of oneself, whose patterning is joyful to co-operate with and painful to degrade.
We will examine the exact mode of our brain-loss later on in this section but to first comprehend why the shrinkage is occurring, we can start with an understanding of what initially caused our brains to expand when we lived in the tropical rainforest.
Eating as they did, more fruit by weight, than any other creature at the time – our human ancestors were consuming several pounds a day of material, replete with highly complex hormonal chemicals. Because fruit is a plant's sex-organ, these chemicals can be thought of as having a similar purpose to those you would find in a mammal's uterus – their job being to incubate, shape and build the next generation of their specific species. Plant hormones though – influence animal biology as well as their own – and so it was that our high fruit diets started flooding our bloodstream with chemistry capable of affecting the way our DNA would be read.
According to Tony Wright's theory, this chemistry that was native to a juvenile and womb-like environment, caused our DNA to start being realised by the body - in a more neotenous (or young-acting) fashion. As a consequence there was a dramatic expansion of the developmental windows through which each generation moved – including a significant increase in the age of puberty. Because the proliferation of brain cells as a child grows up is a process that stops after puberty – this delaying of adolescence, hugely increased the brain's period of development, causing it to rapidly expand from one generation to the next.
Indeed the fossil record reflects that the brain shrinkage we have noted, comes after our move to the savannah - which would make perfect sense, given that this was the point at which we had to radically shift our diet to foods like root vegetables and meat; which were so unsuitable, they actually had to be cooked to be edible at all.
With such a huge reduction in functional nutrition, the brain would now have to assign what diminishing resources it was getting to those areas that were absolutely crucial to survival on the savanna. Therefore, even without any environmental or behavioural alterations, this change of diet alone, would always have led to dramatic mass-loss. The patterning of this, though, would likely have been different, perhaps causing volume to be lost more uniformly so that each perceptual section suffered by a smaller degree.
Our examination of artifice and its impact on the human brain therefore agrees and combines with Wright's theory, to suggest that while diet was to blame for the shrinkage, the pattern and mode of the brain's degeneration and clouding has been dictated by our artificial repurposing of its original function.
To describe and possibly predict the ongoing course of this patterning; which sections will be favoured and which will be used less and over time phased out of physical existence, we will now outline a model, called "The Portal Effect." This illustrates the self-perpetuating-tunnel-vision into which habitual innovation draws human cultures - first behaviourally and then biologically.
3.2 The Portal Effect
To revisit our already stated premise;
Up until the point at which humans started relying on tools, our consciousness had evolved to exactly fit that which we needed to know and feel, to survive in the original environment that supported us. Because the introduction of novelty into this equation in the form of a tool, interrupted the co-evolution of animal and environment in its exactly matching symbiosis – it therefore acted as a force of consciousness-displacement.
In other words, the brain only has finite physical resources and if the degree of novelty and innovation it needs to deal with exceeds that which it has evolved to assimilate, it must borrow processing power from sections that have evolved for other specialised reasons. With these areas now engaged by new novel behaviours, their original function may be temporarily obscured or at the very least compromised – meaning that the price of mentally accommodating innovation may be the incurrence of commensurate perceptual blind spots in the human's overall picture of reality.
The location of these blind spots is likely to centre on those parts of the brain that deal with the aspect of survival that each item of novelty relates to.
If we may model this theory using the METAPHOR of our visual field – we only have a limited amount of retina-space on which to build our 2D image of the world. So long as we are in nature, our entire visual field will be filled with natural phenomena – but if a tool is introduced into our line of vision – it necessarily conceals from our perspective a tool shaped piece of nature behind itself. If we had been born into this environment, and were completely unaware that anything lay behind the tool we could see – we would consciously take its appearance as natural in itself - even if we knew it was artificial, its existence and function would seem proof of its validity and reason for being. We may however, still be biologically apprised of that which was concealed - through a strange feeling of lack. This would particularly be the case if the aspect residing behind the tool's concealment was something that found correspondence in our DNA – by virtue of having met a need in our ancestors that was now being met less well by the tool itself.
A simple example (outside our metaphor now) is the invention of processed and fast-food. Its validity and "improvement upon nature" registers through many of us preferring its taste to natural foods. However, if while unaware of its nutritional deficit, we ate nothing else – we might find that our bodies would start to feel some kind of lack and begin wanting for more. Although we may like to think this would result in us craving more natural foods – the reality seems to be that even in the full light of nutritional science – we create mental confabulations that give us permission to seek satiety from this same unreliable source – simply because it feels biologically pleasurable in the short term.
We can see from this example that what is being obscured by technology is not an intellectual apprehension of the world around us – but our felt sense of it. In many areas of modern life, we intellectually know we are doing wrong in some way but appear to ourselves not to change course.
In this way – the portal of technology, whose entrance is each tool with which we engage, draws humanity further into a tunnel of belief that our feelings of lack can be assuaged by simply creating better and more efficient iterations of the tool itself.
To return to our example of processed food – it is a difficult lesson - that we are struggling to accept, that if we can manage to “look behind” our beloved tool of processing, we will find in the natural foods this technology attempts to displace – the diet most effective in creating the conditions of good health in our bodies. Despite most of us possessing this basic common sense though, we are still far more likely to believe the advertisements that claim the same technology that caused the original problem can offer a better solution to itself than simply ceasing its use could. Dissuading us from scientific advice to abandon it in favour of the natural diet it obscures, it beguiles us further with promises that it can improve upon nature - with artificial enrichment, fortification, concentration and above all convenience.
In our 2D visual metaphor – reinforcing a tool or creating better iterations of it, makes its volume greater. This means that whilst we can never shape it to meet our corresponding need through biological co-evolution - the way the nature it obscures actually can – its greater volume still acts as a false affirmation of its increased importance within our lives. Simultaneously though, its growth obscures even more of the natural environment behind it and in doing so increases our innate but amorphous feeling of lack – perpetuating the cycle. To remedy this, we will again, seek to improve the tool that's causing the problem.
The Portal's Effect is greatly aided by technology's ability to effect a learned ignorance of how we might interact with natural alternatives in its absence. This dynamic is amplified for those of us who have lived our entire lives technologically so that we have never once engaged in natural versions of behaviour that for as long as we have lived, have been artificially facilitated. In instances like these, our re-engagement with natural versions of these behaviours would actually require us to enter into a kind of willed self-education – or to put it another way – conscious de-programming - of those items of artifice that had effectively been presented to us AS their natural counterparts.
3.3 The Portal's Anatomical Impact
So far, we have explored the behavioural impact of nature's displacement by artifice - but the way our brain is physically wired is also heavily affected by our actions. When we engage in an artificial behaviour that provides us with some kind of biological reward such as food or social interaction – our brain steers us towards repeating the action by creating neural pathways that release pleasurable chemicals in response to its future presentation. Because however, this is based again on our felt-sense of that behaviour's benefit, rather than whether or not it is genuinely beneficial – we can become addicted to activities that are actually bad for us.
It is therefore not just our conscious minds that are fooled by The Portal Effect through their increasing insulation from nature's symbiosis – but also our biological bodies that fall prey to the same phenomenon. And so, an even stronger guiding hand that has shaped us into technologists, comes from our irrefutable requirement for tools since our move to the savanna that conferred a strong adaptive advantage onto those who were adept with innovation. This means that, as discussed - the cultural impression we have that our technology is synonymous with intelligence itself – has also been genetically programmed into us over time – since those without this perspective, were more likely to perish.
This is not beneficial however, as it is a process of adaptation to a small and local cocoon of artifice, which will still ultimately have to adhere to the laws of the nature that sustains it. As we move away from what was once perhaps a positive felt sense of nature to a state of insulation from nature, we also turn from a clear understanding of our impact upon the environment. As we move further still towards societies that favour narcissistic and psychopathic personality types due to their driven individualism and insulation from people as well as nature, we gamble with the inner workings of our societies as well as their wholistic ability to co-exist with the natural environment.
Reinforcing this dynamic, is that for most, our lives have been sufficiently artificial for so long that we have physically adapted to artifice to the point of no return. An obvious example is that of communities for whom technology has permitted survival in cold climates. The fair skin they have evolved as a result practically necessitates technology of some sort to survive. Survival on home territory would be hard without shelter, but so too would braving warmer climes as these would likely be too harsh for their skin.
Our modern uncertainty about diet, also reflects evolution into artifice. Despite what seems like a forced move away from our original frugivorous diet onto far inferior staples such as meat and root vegetables that had to be cooked to be edible – a simple reversion to an all fruit diet, has proven difficult for those modern humans who try it. Perhaps so much artificially guided evolution has ensued since our original condition of symbiosis with nature that this former diet – as perfect as it was at the time, no longer corresponds with the way our bodies have adapted.
3.4 The Social Anatomy of Change: The Third Pillar Enjoins The First
Whilst the flatly measurable and predictable effect of technology reverberates through society in myriad mundane ways all around us, the magnitude of its consequence on our collective modes of being goes routinely unnoticed. At this point however, we can now perhaps acquaint ourselves with a few of the more obvious man-made reflections of our original definitive trauma involving rapid environmental change.
Each tool we use habitually is effectively enacting a kind of robbery; from a person's physical brain in terms of processing power; and from their existing array of natural behaviours in terms of their time and attention.
Whilst those aspects of awareness and behaviour that these resources were previously being applied to, consequently disappear, what stands in their place are the tools that obscure them. This means that if we do instinctively perceive some kind of lack whilst engaging these technologies – (again, due to our genetics, priming us to receive the hidden aspect of reality they obscure) - we will not have a felt sense of recognition for what seems to be missing, even if it is explained to us to the point where we intellectually understand it.
If we take television as another example – its act of drawing attention into its virtual world means it is simultaneously displacing and stealing the same from the real one. Perhaps it stands to reason then that Generation X became the first to want fame for its own sake - since these children grew up in households where their parents' attention was diverted away from them and onto TV screens instead. Without any experience of the greater connection they would have had in TV free homes – increased eye contact and more focused engagement for example – children of this time, accepted that growing up with this diminished intimacy was the normal course of family life. It was as though something natural in their field of vision was being obscured by something artificial – but that they took this circumstance to be quite natural in itself.
This conditioning did not, however, seem to stop them feeling the lack of attention within their being – they, like any human before them - had evolved to need and to seek more interpersonal reflection of their existence in the home than they were getting. The hunger that resulted caused many to feel that finding fame – getting into that screen that their loved ones were looking at, themselves – provided a great deal of motivation and attraction. Rather than seeking satiety for the hunger TV was causing, by switching it off - so that real-life connection could was restored - Gen-X had actually been conditioned to equate that real-life domain with a feeling of lack so that TV seemed the sole path to the intimacy it stole through displacement. Indeed many youngsters, recognise and understand narcissistic traits in themselves that they know have arisen from a lack of genuine connection, and yet many would still knowingly shun the prospect of more of this, to advance in the virtual domain where more of our culture resides.
Thus a mass exodus from reality into the on-screen domain was invoked, as a uniform desire to be behind glass, created the demand for social media. In masquerading as the cure for a problem it caused, television and its successive iterations will continue to draw society deeper into its portal, as our memories of how to interact in reality fade and Virtual Reality provides increasingly palpable though childishly distorted immitations of the connection we miss.
And so it is with The Portal Effect that every item of Artifice creates a demand for more iterations of itself, each exacerbating the original problem of consciousness and behavioural displacement they initially caused.
A major problem in walking back along the path we took into any given portal, is society's habit of using these tunnels as girders to reshape itself, in the image of the first few who found ways of exploiting their function to gain disproportionate influence or resources. Unfortunately this action erases the disproportionality of the advantage a tool is capable of bestowing – so that the tool loses a great deal of its original social function. Because however, society at large had adopted it, returning to conditions before its inception becomes virtually impossible – what's the use of advertising on billboards in an age where your competitors are using Google Ads? So not only are we forced by market forces into adopting trending technology into our lifestyles, but those same forces also render these ineffective in due course. At which point we're stuck with them – until even they become inadequate, superseded by more complex iterations become the new normal.
Television as our example, was once a “broadcasting channel” bestowing disproportionate influence on the transmitters who used it as a medium. Their theft of domestic attention however, created a desire in the masses to seek the same level of advantage, and so through market forces, invoked a new incarnation of television to come about - in the form of social media. The problem was, this promptly collapsed the ability of television to function in the way it was designed to – to transmit from the one to the many.
With everyone now broadcasting to everyone else, the televisual screen, through which we're increasingly unable NOT to operate – is becoming akin to simply speaking in a public space. This normalisation of “social media” now robbing social behaviour from reality in addition to the attention its predecessor stole, means the televisual screen is fast becoming our second skin.
If we return to our other assertion – that innovation to the brain, functions as a form of consciousness displacement – it may be worth bearing in mind that the more complex a society becomes, the more perceptual blind-spots this complexity may be creating in its population at large. If escalating complexity seen through the lense of fairly static biology, increases environmental illegibility – how much harder will an environment that is entirely virtual be to decode?