Of biology, thinking, and the need for change

It is useful to remind us how much of the living experience is determined by basic biological demands and changes that affect our brains, bodies and the perception of reality and needs.

The mere realization of this feature of human constitution is by itself a product of evolution, an indeed even a weird one. Setting up the world to your liking gives you advantages of survival to a point, take it too far you might be endangered from what you —as a race — are attempting to control.

Even the act of thinking very much defining existence as first viewed by Descartes, is a tool in the brain originally designed not to be too much conscious about the self as an entity, or you as an individual, it is more to allow for the group experience “the collective sharing” that has been preferred from generation after generation of our ancestors. That the pinnacle of evolution allowed the brain to not only formed the bonds with other individuals as a society; give them enough thought-power to organise themselves, but also — in some individuals — be conscious of themselves, their reality, and reflect of what being is; constitutes a transforming event of proportions and legacy still unknown.

The contemplation of the self, and the transmission of the most inner thoughts by written or orally preserved accounts from a few ancients (of a special kind), opened the possibility of accumulating wisdom, and transmitting to other generations for them to improve even further. However, after millennia, of succession and betterment of thought the human biology is still driven mostly just by natural forces, in many ways outside our control, and very much rooted in the natural structure of our own brains. The acceptance of this fact by the inheritors of Socrates legacy has been one of the most difficult conflicts to solve across the history of humankind.

Right functioning for the human brain is about responding to the stimulus primarily from its own body. The signals to feed, rest, socialize, get in movement towards something, and later in life procreate and protect their own progeny dominate the thinking and guides attention of the mind. Even on the spaces of time where these signals are less predominant the body, — through its main directive organ the brain — is not content with stillness; like a burning candle that will eventually use all its fuel, our biology asks for action. As if, everyday in everybody’s life was one important to take further the species, to leave a legacy, to give the best one can be is key to survival. And the brain has chosen to evolve that mechanism to ensure humans cannot just rest quietly, and constantly feel that sense of urgency — even if there is not one clearly present — because change in nature is a constant, and only the best adapted to it will remain. Very deeply in our conscious, and at a primal thought level, evolution is at work; in the chemical signals it sends our body so we feel yesterday successful work is not enough for tomorrow; and that, however good a human setting might look, it needs to be changed, and eventually brought to destruction for a new one to be built out of it.

Some people are just content to respond to the basic needs and clockwork of the human body — actually, for most people in the planet even getting food on the plate is still an activity that captures most of their living attention. For others, when basics are filled, the feeling of needing to do much more is quite overwhelming, so they look for something beyond them to handle that emptiness, this is where religious or non religious organizations, with a bigger purpose that the one a lone individual can attempt, might fill the void. However, there are ones that are not even content with that. Where just filling the void is not enough. They want to understand it, they want to describe it; they want to feel the void on the everyday as a motivation to change their own living experience. They are self-conscious, and even question what consciousness and reality really is; they set on a path that uses a human feature designed just to keep us alive, to describe and understand the living experience. They are the ones where knowledge has a meaning by itself, and leaving something behind to be perfected or improved by further generations becomes their life purpose, where feeling in control of oneself and expressing it in their creations is not merely an option, but more a duty of being human.

In biological terms, that the mind has a feature that gives the sense of something else needed to be done (keeping us alive) and in the other hand, provides with a clinging to live mechanism when circumstances put us in extreme jeopardy (hope), is quite an extraordinary achievement of evolution. There is no other way a limitedly physically endowed ape cousin was going to be able to survive in the open wild. Being able to go beyond the basics —for some — provided tools, social norms, religion, and wisdom that has push forward the many of us.

How much more to discover in the brain chemistry driving drive our deepest realizations, emotions and creativity, while at the same time, knowing how overwhelmingly vast and random it is, that most likely, we will never be able to grasp the entirety of it. From the famous “I only know that I know nothing” to another one from the same known source “the unexamined life is not worth living”; his conflict (our conflict as well) is realizing the certainty of human limitation while not being deterred to overcome it.

Like a butterfly moved randomly by the wind, our thoughts are shaped by many things outside our consciousness, giving us the impression of being one thinking, while in most cases just responding to an inner chemical stimulus — not very different from a caterpillar responding to a pheromone triggering the building of its cocoon. The reduction of being human to just its biology, is unacceptable to most of us, while paradoxically the same rejection probably being a natural reaction deeply rooted in the evolution of our brains. Knowing something for sure is the end of a search, and life cannot evolve with ends and certainties, unknowns and randomness becomes the very logical driving force guiding the blueprint of nature.

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