RE: Why do we seek to transcend ourselves?

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Mon Jul 15 2002 - 11:47:40 MDT

Gordon Worley wrote:
> > According to Freud, in his great book "Civilization and its
> > Discontents," it
> > comes from the fact that large parts of our brains want us to run wild
> > as
> > animals, yet civilization forces us to constrain our activities in ways
> > that
> > are "unnatural" to these parts of our brains.
> Bleh, sounds like, as usual, Freud was starting to think about the right
> things, but, because of the times and his own lack of rigor, failed to
> reach a conclusion that matches up with what we now know about the human
> mind.

I don't think that modern cognitive science contradicts Freud's ideas; it
just provides a different sort of perspective.

For instance, a huge percentage of kids today are diagnosed with ADD or
ADHD. We can identify the parts of the brain involved with this, and
address the problem with chemicals. But it seems to be true that in a
primitive lifestyle, the traits associated with ADD and ADHD are mostly
positive ones. It's modern culture that has made this sort of natural
personality trait undesirable. This is an exact example of the sort of
thing Freud was talking about.

> > According to David Bohm, in "Thought as a System," it comes from the
> > "fragmentation of mind" that modern culture has brought, as opposed to
> > the
> > "wholeness" of the primitive mindset and the greater wholeness of the
> > animal
> > mindset before it.
> Bohm seems to have this a bit backwards. The human mind starts out very
> fragmented and has to be cultivated towards wholeness, which is away
> from the primitive mind.

I think he is more right than you do.

I think modern culture does bring a lot of personality fragmentation.

> As for more primitive humans having less of this feeling (and this may
> not be true; this could be stuff out of anthropology the pseudoscience),
> they simply have less of this desire than more advanced humans. If they
> had evolved with more desire to be better, they'd be more advanced and
> we'd be the primitives or their peers. Personally, I suspect that the
> level of desire for betterment is about the same in all humans and
> primitive people only continue to exist for geographical and cultural
> reasons.

I don't think that humans from Stone Age cultures are neurally very
different from the rest of us.
The primary differences are almost surely cultural rather than due to
evolution on the DNA level.

Most primitive cultures are "steady-state" cultures (see Gregory Bateson's
work for a discussion of this, e.g. in Steps to an Ecology of Mind). This
is a very different orientation from the one in modern culture. Colin
Turnbull has described the preindustrial model of time as being spherical
rather than linear, an insightful metaphor.

-- Ben G

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