Sunday, February 12, 2012

Loren Eiseley: humanization and evolution

In discussions about evolution, usually three factors are brought in as the selective forces behind the development of species: climatic, geological, and competition for survival needs. Loren Eiseley here suggests that there may be a fourth factor in the evolution of the human species.

"Although there is still much that we do not understand, it is likely that the selective forces working upon the humanization of man lay essentially in the nature of the sociocultural world itself. Man, in other words, once he had "crossed over" into this new invisible environment, was being as rigorously selected for survival within it as the first fish that waddled up the shore on its fins. I have said that the new world was "invisible." I do so advisedly. It lay, not so much in his surroundings as in man's brain, in his way of looking at the world around him and at the social environment he was beginning to create in his tiny human groupings.

He was becoming something the world had never seen before--a dream animal--living at least partially within a secret universe of his own creation and sharing that secret universe in his head with other, similar heads. Symbolic communication had begun. Man had escaped out of the eternal present of the animal world into a knowledge of past and future. The unseen gods, the powers behind the world of phenomenal appearance, began to stalk through his dreams.

Nature, one might say, through the powers of this mind, grossly superstitious though it might be in its naive examination of wind and water, was beginning to reach out into the dark behind itself. Nature was beginning to evade its own limitations in the shape of this strange, dreaming and observant brain. It was a weird multiheaded universe, going on, unseen and immaterial save as its thoughts smoldered in the eyes of hunters huddled by night fires, or were translated into pictures upon cave walls, or were expressed in the trappings of myth or ritual. The Eden of this eternal present that the animal world had known for ages was shattered at least. Through the human mind, time and darkness, good and evil, would enter and possess the world."

-- Loren Eiseley --
from The Immense Journey

I wonder what Loren Eiseley would say about cyberspace: is it a further development of the "invisible world," the universe inside the brain, or is it something entirely new? Since Eiseley frequently maintained that evolution had not stopped, he might well speculate about the effect that life in cyberspace could have on the evolution of the human species in the future. I wish I could ask him.

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