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Never Ever Will I Miss....

Evolution- Never Ever Will I Ever Miss…


What’s a phrase your grandparents used that you never hear anymore?

Galavanting.

For the time being.

Turn up the wireless.


The world mourns the loss of Dearly Polemical Prince Philip today as news of his passing breaks. I think of our old people, our sages, our Crazy Aunts and Uncles. They sit somewhat outside the cyber-fire that warms our fledgling century, mumbling slightly inappropriate, very politically incorrect comments that make us chuckle and remember where we come from. Like old beliefs, these solons fade and become heart held memories, echoes of the past. In missing them, we honour them, letting them guide us still as we evolve.


I, for one, will miss Prince Philip’s fabulously frank commentary on the century that best represents Humanity’s cognitive evolution as a species. His assertion to Malala Yousafzai, Human Rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, that children “go to school because their parents don’t want them in the house” in October 2013 was but one of the pearls of homespun wisdom HRS has bequeathed to future generations. And thanks to the unique human cognitive ability to store learning over time, innovation can occur when these pearls of knowledge are mixed with courage and stupidity. No one is quite sure of the exact proportions of the alchemical elixir for cognitive evolution. Therein lies the magic.


What we do know is that the ability to innovate grows exponentially with iteration. Sam Beckett’s drop of sagacity “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better,” (Worstward Ho, 1983) sums it up well. The 20th century was a long, dark night of the soul for humanity as we hatched from the chrysalis of imperialism, colonialism and genocide, into a new century; one that will hopefully bear forth new dreams that end the silk farming of the voiceless to clothe emperors.


The current sum of the parts of collective human knowledge, the internet, grants access to all. “By 2021, more members of the global population will be using mobile phones (5.5 billion) than bank accounts (5.4 billion), running water (5.3 billion), or landlines (2.9 billion), according to the 11th annual Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast for 2016 to 2021.” And with more egalitarian platforms available, more representation is made possible. This is important.


Children may well go to school because their parents don’t want them in the house, and Prince Philip and his ilk are the ones to tell us these and other disagreeable truths. So, while genetic evolution of heritable traits may take an objectively “long time,” changes in societal mores and values may happen much more quickly. Look no further than the quirky and questionable psychological experiments of the 20th century, The Stanford Prison Experiment, The Monster Study and The Milgram Experiment. What we learned unseated many lingering beliefs from before the holometabolism. In education, Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky revolutionized our understanding of learning and knowledge construction. We learned a little more about the courage/stupidity : stored knowledge ratio to create cognitive fairy dust. We grew in self-awareness and learned to say, Me Too. We are working on our capacity to say, I’m Sorry. To raise up our voice when we should, and be silent, to just listen, when that is required.


This is progress.


13.8 billion years after the Big Bang, humans are arguably one of the most complex organisms in the known universe, but that is not to imply that we are the most evolved species, or that there is any kind of linear logic to the rambling nature of the evolutionary path. Life developed from a single cell organism in the primordial sludge, this is true according to our current best-guess hypotheses. However, we can only ever know as much as we already know. The curious, and advantageous thing about Humans is that we engage in Collective Learning, the ability to retain pearls from the past. This allows us to climb up the current mental scaffolds we construct through ideologies, philosophies and pathologies, and use them as foundations for even higher order knowledge construction. We are building this pearly staircase as we climb. The steps below are an essential part of our ascent, and yet we must not try to bring them with us as we climb, or the structure will not hold.


Trial and error, failing forwards, and occasionally, blowing oneself up is what allows humans to innovate and evolve. We are in equal parts stupid and brave. But also, the ability to pool our smarts, and to share it through the spoken and written word allows humans to thrive in the world, to dominate, and to rule over our planet.


Miracles that would have left our Renaissance counterparts swooning in their jerkins provoke not a “meh” nowadays. Zoom calls are the modern equivalent of summoning a spirit. Video footage is a séance. Online shopping is telekinesis. We invented all this stuff that makes life warm and safe and sanitary. We look better, live better and smell better than any humans that ever came before us. Our evolution has been exponential and fantastical. One of the undersung ingredients for this collective mental connectivity is known as intersubjectivity.


We’ve all heard of objective and subjective knowledge. Objective knowledge, based on quantifiable facts and data is considered superior to the subjective, feeling intuitive ways of knowing. Intersubjectivity is this interchange of thoughts and feelings, both conscious and unconscious, between two persons, as facilitated by empathy. (Cooper-White P., 2014). It’s the space where the Venn-diagram circles meet. This intersubjective space is where we understand each other on a visceral level, where mirror neurons in your mind respond as though the observer was the one performing the action. Rizzolatti, Giacomo; Craighero, Laila (2004). Monkey see, monkey feel.


This is really rather remarkable. Humans can “know” the emotions, attention, intention and beliefs and knowledge of others because our brains have evolved to learn socially, collectively.


Spring is springing. The first lockdown in Europe, to flatten the curve, is going - ongoing. They have recently celebrated their one-year anniversary of discovering the first case of Covid-19. The long and lugubrious evolution of pandemic style restrictions over time has caused certain changes in cognitive expressions of our common humanity. We are collectively astonished at the things we are missing:

*Airport Security

*Flying Long-haul

*Jetlag

*Sand in the bedsheets.

We have amassed a whole new raft of terminology- flattening curves and herd immunity and mRNA Vaccines now trip blithely from our tongues. A year ago, I didn’t know an AstraZeneca from a kick in the ass. Like this vaccine, my knowledge base has evolved from nought to one hundred in the orbit of the sun.


It is still too close to the event to have any perspective on Covid-19 and its evolutionary fingerprint. Or rather, to have many perspectives on it. Which amounts to the same thing. Subjective experiences manifest themselves like snowflakes, unique and valid, one and all but we need the collective 20/20 hindsight to learn from them. The pandemic has already highlighted the need to respect scientific expertise. It is also highlighting the need for connectivity that hums in even the most introverted of us.


Some claim to be so feral they now need to be lured from self-isolation with treats. But the children have been away at school all day, and we miss them now. We all have one or maybe two souls from whom we would don a mask and hop on board a red eye in a heartbeat. Intersubjectively speaking, it is the very essence of our species. And that is an objective fact.

First Published in The Nanjinger, March 2021

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