Friday, 19 October 2007

The Apple

The more i read about human history, and the currents of change and development that emerge through slotting pieces into place, the more it seems that humanity has never had any reprieve...we have always been pushed and pulled, tossed by innumerable spirits and contraflows, malign forces which never let us rest, never give us space to breath but always tug and drag and pummel the human spirit to different heights and troughs - different but not new, for the human condition remains the same now as twentyfive hundred years ago. Still, we ask the same questions, still, we await any answer, still, the challenges of work, society, war, family, friendship and love are what ultimately drive us.

Twentyfive hundred years is not long in the span of the world. To geology this is nothing. But it makes up most of recountable human history. It is the entirety of our sociological context, and more. The Upanisads, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Buddha, Plato, Jesus and Muhammed...Al-Ghazzali, Averroes, Maimonides, Aquinas, Copernicus, Newton, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche and Einstein. All these, but none seem to have really asked any new questions...just variations on ways of saying 'why are we here?'

But still I the metaphor of Genesis, we were expelled from the Garden of Eden, from the blissful existence of animal-like consciousness at one with the world around us. We took the advice of the serpent and our eyes were opened, we became like God, able to see and analyse, aware of ourselves as distinct entities. For what? What has this knowledge done for us? What has our Godlike ability to know good and evil enabled us to do? To sit in our centrally-heated houses, eating junk food, watching brain-dead entertainment, and working our lives away to be able to ensure our children have the same mundane existence we do. And this is the lucky ones. The rest are struggling to survive in war-torn nations, the environment so torn from nature and so overpopulated that there aren't enough natural supplies to even feed the local population. What have we done with the knowledge we suffer for?

Eve condemned to suffer in labour, the reduced gestation period of the human race: human offspring are almost twice the mass when born of our nearest primate relatives, and most of this is carried in the head. Evidence shows that naturally, the gestation period would have been much longer (as the human newborn is so pathetically incapable) but for the development of bipedalism, which restricted the birth canal and made childbirth the painful (and dangerous) experience it is now. These two factors, increased intelligence and walking on two feet conspire to force the human young into artifically increased dependence...meaning both that community becomes crucial to sustain young and protect women in labour, and that the neural pathways are immensely malleable: the knowledge which would otherwise have been hardwired into the brain in the womb, instead has to be learnt. This all gears us towards increased adaptability, flexible intelligence and dependence on others throughout every stage of our lives.

Interestingly, the first curse of Genesis - that placed on the serpent - is also evident in evolutionary terms. Many snakes are born with withered legs, useless for transport but obvious as a genetic throwback.

So, I find myself asking the question that has perplexed humanity ever since we developed the ability to wonder: Why are we here? What does the future hold for our species? Is it even to the future that we should be looking, when we seem to be getting the present so badly wrong? Is it transcendence that we're searching for, and if so, transcendence to what and where? Or is it merely transcendence of our own etiolated, concept-bound selves? If the future does not hold hope of some new, heavenly existence (either for our children in a material utopia or for us all in a spiritual realm), why do we persist in making the present a place of struggle?

Genesis offers no answers. This is the final of the three curses, man doomed to till the soil with the sweat of his brow. Perhaps this simply is our punishment for leaving eating the apple and presuming the Knowledge would make us happy.

There's plenty of info around on the irregularities of human gestation and development relative to other primates. Ashley Montagu's Growing Young (p66 onwards) is a good introduction, and also available free on Googlebooks.

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