Why one is Needed and How it might be Derived




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Developing a Universal Religion

Why one is Needed and How it might be Derived


David Hockey


Smashwords Edition


Copyright 2009 David Hockey


National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication.

Hockey, David, 1932-

Developing a universal religion : why one is needed and how it might be derived / David Hockey.

Includes bibliographical references.


ISBN 0-9731156-1-0

1. Religions (Proposed, universal, etc.) 2. Religion-Philosophy. 3. Religion-Moral and ethical aspects. I. Title.


BL390.H62 2004 210 C2003-905343-1


Cover photograph of the Tarantula Nebula.

High-speed ejecta from exploded stars (lower right-hand corner) create luminous filaments seen throughout. New stars are being formed in the central region.

Photograph created by The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI/NASA).


This text can be read (and edited) in Wikibooks. It is freely available to anyone under the GNU Free Documentation License.

This edition has been modified to simplify electronic readability. It has not been updated.


Contents


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

INTRODUCTION

PART ONE: THINKING AND MORAL PROBLEMS

INTRODUCTION TO PART ONE

CHAPTER ONE: THINKING

CHAPTER TWO: SOLVING PROBLEMS

CHAPTER THREE: MAKING DECISIONS

CONCLUSION TO PART ONE

PART TWO: RELIGIONS AND THEIR SOURCE

INTRODUCTION TO PART TWO

CHAPTER FOUR: RELIGIONS' ORIGINS

CHAPTER FIVE: REVELATIONS AND CONVERSIONS

CHAPTER SIX: PRESENT DAY RELIGIONS

CONCLUSION TO PART TWO

PART THREE: PURPOSE

INTRODUCTION TO PART THREE

CHAPTER SEVEN: THE UNIVERSE

CHAPTER EIGHT: LIFE

CHAPTER NINE: LOOKING FOR A PURPOSE

CHAPTER TEN: LIFE AND EXPLOITING

CONCLUSION TO PART THREE

PART FOUR: DEVELOPING A UNIVERSAL RELIGION

INTRODUCTION TO PART FOUR

CHAPTER ELEVEN: WHY BOTHER?

CHAPTER TWELVE: POSSIBLE APPLICATIONS

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: DETERMINING MORAL BEHAVIOURS

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: A UNIVERSAL RELIGION

CONCLUSION TO PART FOUR

CHAPTER POSTSCRIPTS

CONSCIOUSNESS AND CONSCIENCE

PURPOSE AND MEANING

RATIONALITY IN SCIENCE AND RELIGION

CREATIVITY, FREE WILL, A REVELATION

GÖDEL'S THEOREM, GENERAL SYSTEMS THEORY, THE CONSERVATION LAWS

ORIGIN THEORY MODIFICATIONS

MULTI-YEAR TARGETS

CHAPTER AND POSTSCRIPT ENDNOTES

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY


Acknowledgements


I wish to thank my readers. David Mess, who valiantly ploughed through several early attempts to write this book and so often helped me rethink what I wanted to say. John Radley, who emailed corrections and many helpful suggestions from the other side of the world. Phil Brady and Rob Preston, both of whom stressed the need to simplify, then showed how this might be done; they might still see the need for more. And my daughter, Mandy Brady, who somehow managed to find time in her very busy family and professional life to copy edit; I owe her so much. Where I have gone amiss is entirely my fault, not theirs.

This book is dedicated to my wife and children (because I would like them to have a record of what I have spent so much time thinking about), and to my grandchildren (because I would like them to have an easier time than I had, should they ever start looking for something rational to believe in). It is also offered to readers who like to think for themselves. May they all find something of value within its covers.


Introduction


Our understanding of reality predisposes what we choose to value-

a place in heaven after death, or a heaven on earth while alive.


What is a "universal" religion?

A universal religion is one intended to accompany, not replace, existing religions. One that might act as an "umbrella," covering the gaps between existing religions and providing moral guidance when none seems otherwise available or suggesting alternatives when religious differences seem insurmountable. One that looks far into the future and whose focus is on guiding civilizations, nations and communities rather than individuals. One that all beings, of any or no religion, might feel worth adopting, because it complements and enhances their current thinking and beliefs. One that any and all life forms would recognize as relevant to them, be they simple cave dwellers or advanced aliens living far away in other galaxies. One that might guide moral behaviour for as long as life exists.

Why develop a universal religion?

Because, in short, humanity lacks the means to make moral decisions recognizable by all as universally applicable. Without the common purpose that a universal religion could provide, international discussions become quagmires of national interests, organizations owe allegiance to no greater ideal than a hotchpotch of those held by their executives and stockholders, and terrorists deem their warped illusions to be beyond anyone's reproach. Other, and perhaps more compelling reasons to develop a universal religion, are presented and discussed in the second half of the book.

Furthermore, the need for some kind of universal religion and for the purpose that would have to be placed at its head, may already have made itself known to some of us. The first appears as a vague pull toward some kind of spirituality; the second as the brutal recognition that life can seem meaningless. Both urge us to respond.

Is it possible to develop a universal religion?

I don’t know. This book suggests one way, but what do you think?

The book's design

To properly understand the need for a universal religion, we must first understand why religions are needed. Part One of this book examines the neurological and environmental conditions that create the mental need for a religion. Essentially, our minds are problem-solving and decision-making entities, handling practical situations proficiently but often finding moral ones difficult. Religions help by shaping the background "environment" that defines the moral problem that confronts us.

Unfortunately, none of our existing religions could become the basis for a universal religion. The rationale for stating so is developed in Part Two.

Part Three searches for a purpose that is significant enough to be used when universally applicable moral decisions have to be made. It gives reasons for stating that life's behaviour itself may provide such a purpose. Part Four presents some philosophical and practical reasons for using such a purpose then illustrates how it might be used to develop a rational code of "moral" behaviour. Part Four ends with a few suggestions about religion building.

The emphasis throughout this book is on the importance of choosing a suitable (i.e., universal, timeless and rational) purpose and using it to make decisions that impact upon civilization's progress. In that such a purpose will generate moral solutions, it may eventually head a "universal religion." However, this book explores only the reasons why such a religion is needed and how one might be derived; the possible development of one is a task that others might like to think about undertaking.

A few chapters may present too much scientific information for some readers. This amount of detail has been included because science has much to tell us about life and the universe, knowledge that must not be ignored when seeking the foundation for a new religion (just as knowledge of prevailing circumstances was used-albeit possibly with no conscious consideration-by the developers of our existing religions). Introductions are used to mitigate the possible problem of information overload and to help the reader stay focused. Summaries vary; where thought helpful, they provide point-form notes, otherwise they might simply broaden a point of view as a conclusion might. Endnotes and postscripts embellish but also separate the less essential from the main body of text. Almost all of the references are to be found in readily available books or journals. However, if some sections occasionally seem too much to digest, or if what is being explained is already understood, then by all means skim to find just the parts of interest. Reading each chapter's introduction and summary (then perhaps pausing for reflection) before reading (or skipping) the chapter itself, might be the best way to proceed.


Part One: Thinking and Moral Problems


INTRODUCTION TO PART ONE


Why do humans have beliefs and religions? This question puzzled me for many years. The answer, "to help us solve moral problems and make moral decisions," only introduces other questions. Why do we have moral problems anyway? Clearly, everyday living requires us to solve many practical problems, but where do moral problems come from?

To understand why humans need beliefs and religions we must first investigate how we think--particularly how we solve practical problems and make practical decisions. Understanding these matters explains why solving abstract problems of morality requires us to invoke beliefs and construct religions. And this, in turn, equips us to examine, with some impartiality, the religions we now employ (we attempt to do this in Part Two).

Chapter One tackles the first task. It discusses the brain, moves to the idea of a mind, and ends by exploring what we usually mean when we say we are thinking. We will find that a great deal of our thinking has to do with solving problems.

Chapter Two shows that all problems originate in, and are structured by, the various environments that we inhabit; practical problems devolve from the practical environment, social problems from the social environment, and so on. But moral problems, issues of "right" or "wrong," originate entirely within our minds, and it is the mind's lack of an environment (other than the one each of us constructs--more about this in Part Two) that makes these difficult to solve.

Chapter Three discusses decision-making. It points out that the desire to attain a purpose is basic to making any decision, be it practical or moral. Moral judgements are metaphysical judgements, so we must have some metaphysical purpose in mind (and also want to attain it) before we can make moral decisions. Religions provide such purposes. They also provide various metaphysical environments; these create and structure our moral problems, as we shall see.

In short, Part One demonstrates that we cannot solve moral problems or make moral decisions without valuing the attainment of some kind of purpose (which can be spiritual or secular). We do not do this because there is (or is not) a god. We do not do this because we follow a religion. We do this, as we will shortly discover, because we try to think rationally when solving important problems and when making important decisions.


CHAPTER ONE: THINKING


A discussion about thinking must begin by saying a little about the brain and the mind. The first exists in concrete form: it is pinkish-grey in colour, weighs about three pounds, and has the consistency of jelly. It contains about a hundred billion neural cells supported within some thousand billion neuroglial cells, consumes about twenty percent of the body's energy, and can be dissected and examined microscopically. But the mind is quite a different kettle of fish. In fact, some neuroscientists refute its very existence. They prefer the simpler explanation that thoughts occur in the brain, and claim that what we call the "mind" does not exist. However, it is simpler to discuss the two separately, and this is how they will be treated in this book.

1. The brain

The brain's chief job is to store and operate the controls that command many inherited (or instinctive) body functions. This section discusses a little of what happens during this process, so that the difference between what the brain does and what is involved when thinking can be made clearer.

Instinctive behaviours are transmitted from one generation to the next through gene codings, as has been demonstrated many times. For instance, fruit flies normally wake up with daylight, nap in the afternoon, then fall asleep at dusk. This behaviour is controlled by a gene, the so-called "period gene." If this gene is removed from male and female flies which then mate, their descendants sleep at random times. If the gene is then returned to these time-less progeny, they and their offspring will resume regular sleep patterns. The first, tiny part of this instinctive behaviour started as the result of a mutation1 eons ago that caused one fly to sleep during the dark, with the concomitant reduced danger of being eaten compared to flies that were sleeping during the day. Surviving and passing this mutation to its descendants, this fly became the progenitor of successive generations that also fell asleep at dusk, so surviving in greater numbers than those lacking this trait.2

Jonathan Weiner provides an example3 that nicely illustrates the value of instinctive behaviour in animals larger than fruit flies. He describes an experiment that uses a blackened piece of cardboard or wood cut into a bird-like shape. When this shape is moved in one direction across a light sky or ceiling it appears to be the silhouette of a goose flying; if it is moved in the other direction it resembles a hawk. When newly hatched goslings, raised in an incubator and having had no contact whatsoever with any adult goose, are shown the cut-out moving in the goose-resembling direction, they pay no attention. When the same cut-out is moved in the opposite direction, they scatter and attempt to hide.

Instinctive behaviours, like all others, depend upon the brain recognizing the significance of signals received from body sensors, or from the presence or absence of chemicals in body fluids. The question slowly being answered4 is, "how does the brain know what to do when it receives such signals?" Neurons in the brain (Hercule Poirot's "little grey cells") hold the answer.

Most human neural cells (neurons) resemble minute, spiky blobs with tails. The blob, or body, is called the soma. The tail, a long, thin, branching, tube-like extension, is called the axon. The hundreds of short, spiky structures fringing the soma are called dendrites. When activated, electrical signals in the form of electrically charged chemical ions travel from the dendrites, through the soma, along the axon and its branches (the fanout5), to a number of bubble-like terminating vesicles. Ions arriving at the vesicles cause the discharge of neurotransmitter chemicals into the minute gaps that separate one neuron from another. These chemicals are detected by so-called synaptic knobs on dendrites belonging to neighbouring neurons, where they may start new ion flows within receptive neurons.

Neural networks store information for later use. This is done in a two-step process. First, flows of chemical ions circulating in tiny closed networks of neurons hold data temporarily. Much information from eyes, ears and other sense organs is temporarily stored in such neural loops while being screened for significance. Since the majority of incoming information is of little interest, most of it is discarded. (Cutting off the energizing nutrients prevents the loops from becoming significant.) Second, information having a relationship to other pre-stored or incoming data that is deemed significant can be kept active by constantly re-energizing the loops. This induces the growth of synaptic knobs on dendrites.6 Additional synaptic knobs facilitate the transmission of neurochemicals across the dendritic gaps and thus build pathways of lowered electro-chemical resistance connecting one neuron to another. These pathways form neural networks that can retain the bytes of information that induced their formation for many years. Millions and millions of neural networks, each storing tiny bits of information, are to be found within everyone's brain (most laid down during our first few years of life).7

The brain analyzes and interprets information coming from the senses8 by routing it through earlier-formed neural networks. These respond (think "resonate") to the presence of specific, tiny, chunks of information that match the chunks that earlier caused the network to form. This can be illustrated by electronically tracing what happens to information received by the eye, a well-explored example that helps us to understand what the brain does with data from other body sense organs. Light, reflected from the object we are looking at, enters the eye and falls upon the light-sensitive rods and cones in the eye's retina. This creates millions of tiny signals, and these travel along the optic nerve to the brain. Key aspects of the component signal, such as information bytes denoting vertical edges, excite existing neural patterns (i.e., tiny memories) of the kinds of objects that have vertical edges. The same "analysis" is done for horizontal edges, relative sizes, colours, shapes (for instance, the vertices of any triangular aspects the object may possess), and so on.9 This process continues until the brain excites a pattern that matches stored patterns of objects similar to the one being viewed and the object is "recognized." "Recognition" is complete when additional characteristics, retrieved from other neural networks storing "memories," can be added.10

Memories of objects and events are built up by a reverse process. Early in life, a toddler, staring at a fir tree, for example, would have stored information in his or her brain about its general shape, colour, branch pattern, leaf shape and other characteristics. Each aspect would have been broken into smaller bytes, temporarily then permanently stored and linked by neural pathways to other related bytes (including, but added much later, bytes representing the name of the tree). If more fir trees were noted, neurotransmitting chemicals would continue to induce the formation of synaptic knobs linking and reinforcing stored memories of tree parts and whole trees. Eventually, neural networks storing relatively detailed memories of fir trees would be built. Information received upon seeing a maple tree, having many similar features, would connect into many of the same neural patterns used by the fir tree memory, but would, of course, connect into other quite different ones. (At least, it would for those who had learned the difference between a fir and a maple. Those who had not discovered the similarities and differences would have to make do with a generic tree-memory.)

Whether or not any of this knowledge affects survival would be a matter of circumstance, but it is clear that memories built up through experience do greatly affect what we know,11 as well as what we come to believe and how we behave. Much more about this later.

Information that depicts frequently seen objects travels along, and reinforces, the same neural pathways, making them evident by the thousands of synaptic knobs (as many as 10,000 or more) that form on the dendrites of neurons along these routes. Such large numbers of synaptic links vastly increase the brain's sensitivity to similar stimuli,12 thereby decreasing response time-an important survival feature in potentially dangerous environments. Conversely, seldom-seen objects take more mental effort and may be only slowly recognized. Because our brains can carry out many functions simultaneously, we experience signal analysis and recognition as though it happens instantaneously. However, information flow along neural axons and across synaptic gaps is slow compared to information flow in computers.

Of course, recognizing the significance of incoming stimuli involves a lot more than described above. To better appreciate how information from our senses is used within our brains, consider what must be happening if, for example, we suddenly notice that we are about to walk into the branch of a tree. Before the brain can induce any action, it must, at the very least, understand the following. First, it must understand the nature of the tree's relationship to us (e.g., that the tree will do nothing to us if we do not bump into it). Second, the brain--as well as the mind--must have access to, and be able to use, memories of what actions have succeeded in the past (e.g., that we can avoid trouble by simply ducking our head or by stepping sideways). Third, the brain needs to be constantly aware of the body's abilities and limitations (e.g., it must know that we can't jump out of the way if, for example, we walk with a cane). All these things, and many more, must be known to the brain just so that it can cause the body to act in a suitable manner.

It is important to note that most of what has been described above is not thinking, for even simple life forms perform many of the same functions. They react to stimuli, and show evidence of possessing memories by using the information stored in these memories when reacting. Amoebae move away from acidic areas. Earthworms sense the void of large holes in the ground and move around them. Spiders feel their web trembling and emerge to envelop prey, and so on. All living entities respond to changes in their environment by sensing stimuli of one kind or another, then acting upon what these stimuli represent to them.13 These sensing, analyzing and danger-avoiding activities are continually being carried out, even by primitive animals. Advanced animals have inherited these same abilities, most of which occur within the brain. But almost all of these are programmed activities which take place without any thought.14 They form what may be considered to be a lower level of neural functioning. Although collecting, storing and recognizing signals are important and necessary functions significant to thinking (just as buying and storing tools and materials are important functions in a factory's operation), they are not "thinking" per se. They are simply operations that trigger the release of action-inducing chemicals. In as much, these functions are similar to many others that support and maintain the body's welfare. Section three of this chapter clarifies this distinction.

2. The Mind

We will have much to say about the mind, memories and thinking, so these terms should first be defined. It is reasonable, for our purposes, to say that the myriad of neural networks of stored information that we call memories, when considered together, form what we might call a "quiescent" mind--a mind that is ready to handle information, but is not actually doing so. (A person with such a mind would be called "brain dead," and the kind and amount of information that such a "mind" might be reactivated to handle would vary greatly with circumstances.) An "active" mind would be one where chemical ion flows are carrying information from place to place. All living minds are constantly active.

The term "memories" includes all of an individual's mentally stored facts, theories, opinions, personal experiences, recallable emotions, past thoughts, ideas, etc. "Thinking," for most of our purposes, can be defined as the act of seeking relationships between these memories, or between memories and current stimulations being received from body sensors. (What occurs during thinking is examined more thoroughly in the next section.)

Animal behaviour studies suggest that many animals possess rudimentary thinking abilities. Tool making is considered to be evidence of the ability to think and many creatures make and use tools. Racoons pick up and use stones to break open clams. Beavers not infrequently shape wood as they construct dams to hold water to store and preserve food they need during winter. Chimpanzees use rocks or heavy sticks to crack open hard-shelled fruit and nuts; they also fashion drinking cups and rain-sheltering umbrellas from banana leaves, and use sticks to extract insects and grubs from small holes.15 Birds also make and use tools.16

Many animal behaviourists contend that their studies demonstrate animals can think. Hausser declares that animals think,17 but simply lack the ability to express their many thoughts and emotions to others.18 Calvin states that animals can assess their environment, consider alternative actions and make decisions--all necessitating the ability to think.19 That animals can think implies that thinking, like every other biological feature and process, has evolved over the ages. Thinking certainly did not suddenly spring, fully formed, into existence in humans.

The specific content of any mind (animal or human) is currently hidden to investigators because the mind functions only when neural networks are biochemically or electrically activated, and, to date, scientists have no technique precise enough to find out just which memories of the multitude locked in the brain's neural patterns are being activated at any particular instant.20 Nevertheless, neural networks are real; they can be seen (and photographed as they develop) increasing in complexity as infants age and learn. (The increasing complexity of an adult's learning brain is hidden within, and masked by, its multitude of existing neural pathways.) The biochemical flows that retrieve and carry information stored within these neural patterns is also real. In short, neural networks whose paths store memories within the brain constitute the mind, and thinking depends upon biochemical flows activating some or many of these networks, so releasing (and making available for potential use) the information they hold.

3. First- and Second-level Thinking

Just what does the human mind do when it thinks? Here I must conjecture a little.

Thinking seems to occur on several levels. (The term "level" will be used to distinguish one kind of mental activity from another.21 These thinking activities overlap, and are not actually separate and distinct. They could be described as different "modes of thought," but separating the process into three "levels" aids explanation.) Before we begin, let us discount what happens purely autonomically-the brain's control of body functions mentioned in section one. As has been stated, what the brain does reflexively is not considered thinking; we will mostly ignore this kind of activity from here on.

3.1. First-level Thinking-Awareness

In what will be called the "first level" of thinking, the brain simply absorbs information from its sensors (predominantly the eyes for humans). First-level thought amounts to little more than a general awareness of one's surroundings. Cassirer writes about this mental activity as follows. "In the realm of mythic conception" . . . (which preceded the use of words and language) . . . "thought does not confront its data in an attitude of free contemplation, seeking to understand their structure and their systematic connections, and analyzing them according to their parts and functions, but is simply captivated by a total impression. Such thinking does not develop the given content of experience; it does not reach backward or forward from that vantage point to find 'causes' and 'effects,' but rests content with taking in the sheer existent."22

Animals, certainly, have this ability. Most mammals mainly comprehend their environment visually, as we do, but many obtain the same kind of awareness predominantly through a different sense--that which has become their most highly developed one. Bats, we know, rely upon their ears, much more than their eyes, to build instantaneous mental pattern-pictures of their surroundings. Dogs are likely to develop odour maps of their territory.

First-level thinking is restricted to this kind of activity; the mental equivalent of simply displaying information within the brain. It exists only as temporary neural ion flows that form patterns, none of which become associated with previously stored patterns, for memories are not needed to generate this kind of awareness. These experiences never (unless linked to other memories during subsequent second-level thinking activities and recalled as an impression of some kind) form part of any permanent memory.23 "First level" might be defined as the direct and continual subconscious mapping of one's awareness of surroundings. It is the mental equivalent of images forming on a screen at the back of a pin-hole camera, or on a table-top placed beneath a camera obscura. The images are clear and colourful, active and information rich, but transient.

3.2. Second-level Thinking-Association

Second-level thinking occurs in two forms, subconscious and conscious. It is defined to be occurring when the mind discovers meaningful associations between stored memories (i.e., earlier-formed, data-storing, neural networks) and incoming information, between two or more sets of incoming data, or between stored memories.24 Second-level thinking happens continuously at the subconscious level and intermittently at the conscious level. (This implies that subconscious thought precedes conscious thought, a phenomenon that brain-scanning has verified. We will refer to this again, in Chapter Five.)

Scanning incoming data for relevancy and significance is second-level thinking's most important function. A living entity's most relevant and important concern is almost always survival (resulting in a constant search for active threats or potential danger,25 and for food and water). Its second most relevant and important concern is the possible opportunity to reproduce. The nature of this kind of thinking means that information is almost always stored in conjunction with emotional overtones.26

Almost all subconscious second-level thinking is immediately discarded (as most habitat environments are benign and otherwise not of much significance). When meaningful relationships between incoming data and stored memories are found, they may trigger body reactions (such as danger-avoiding activity) and may break through from the subconscious into the conscious mind, where they are further considered.27

Again, animals make these associations and comparisons (continually at the subconscious level, and periodically, with varying degrees of ability, at the conscious level). Animals generally ignore non-threatening events but react to potential danger situations, demonstrating that they know from past experience or instinct (remembering the gosling experiment) how to distinguish one from the other.

(Animals can do more than simply react to situations; they can plan ahead, using a knowledge of prevailing circumstances--social as well as situational. Dunbar [after describing how an old, ousted, male chimpanzee used rewards and punishments to manipulate an alliance with a weak young chimpanzee and so regain and retain control of a harem from its new, stronger leader] concluded that the behaviour of monkeys and apes showed that they can predict the outcome of their actions.28)

Associating memories and/or stimuli in meaningful ways forms the basis of second-level thinking; language is certainly not needed to make such neural network linkages. Infants demonstrate that they can make associations and comparisons long before they can speak; for example, they react with surprise if some aspect of a frequently observed image has been changed.

The critical aspects that distinguish second-level thinking from first-level thinking are that, during second-level thinking, two or more sets of information are compared, differences are noted, and the relevance of any found variance is sought. The degree to which any detected difference is understood depends upon the sophistication of the animal--its evolutionary level, past experiences, education and intelligence. Simple animals may understand little about any discovered differences; humans may understand much.

The discovered relationship may, as previously noted, be immediately discounted and forgotten. However, those deemed to be significant may become stored as part of a new neural network if one or more links are forged between pre-existing patterns. The simple example that follows might clarify this important process.

Imagine that I want to drill a hole through a block of wood, and that I have the required drill but the drill bits are too short. What would I do? Well, I would look around to see what I had that might be long enough. When this first happened to me, it took a little while to think of cutting the head from a long nail then using the nail. However, the second time this occurred, I quickly remembered my previous solution.

The first situation above entailed second-level thought, the second occurrence did not. In the first situation, my mind had to mentally list the properties a useful bit must possess (strength, hardness, rigidity, length and so on) then cause me to seek something that possessed such properties. The two data sets (the neural network patterns that stored information about what was required, and the streams of data coming from my eyes as I looked over my workshop) were compared, and matches that denoted relevance to the problem induced temporary ion-flow loops between corresponding aspects. Once a solution was found, once I had spotted a nail and realized that it would serve my purpose, the temporary links29 that were significant were retained long enough to be made permanent through the growth of synaptic knobs, thus becoming available for future use as part of my neural network complex. Linking and learning turn out to be the same thing.

Simply remembering something done, heard, seen or read about is not second-level thinking, it is merely reactivating previously formed neural paths. No new links are made, and nothing new is learned during simple recall.30 In other words, recalling memories to mind is similar to looking at a picture or running a movie in one's head, whereas second-level thinking is more akin to looking at two pictures or running two movies side-by-side, while constantly comparing and contrasting the two.

Infants, with brains containing well over 100 billion neurons, make neural links continuously as they attempt to join sensory stimuli with information that is stored in memory.31 Infants and young children learn quickly and easily, because stimuli are being stored and linked on a more-or-less "tabula rasa" (a term meaning "blank slate," first used by John Locke in 1690 in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding to describe the mind of a newborn). That many of these associations will turn out to be incorrect and unusable is inconsequential; the links that matter are the ones that are subsequently reinforced through use. Billions of early made connections remain unused throughout all our lives, slowly atrophying. Christian de Duve pointed out32 that neurons initially make many loose connections; these are strengthened only if useful, and are discarded if not. The associations that are used, of course, are those connecting memories that, by being linked, provide useful understandings: the name of a toy, object or a sibling; the idea that certain results always follow certain activities (things fall to the ground when released, for instance); how to call for food, etc.33 Adults learn more slowly, because their minds first attempt to fit new stimuli into previously existing networks, and only when this can't be done do they progress to looking for, then forming, completely new links. In other words, adults do not immediately think when reacting to a stimulus; they first search, very rapidly and almost entirely subconsciously, for past associations and use them, whenever the fit seems close enough.

Realizing that second-level thinking is little more than electrochemically comparing memories with incoming data (or comparing memories already in storage), recognizing relationships of significance between them, then making new neural links, tells us again that this kind of thinking cannot be unique to humankind. The brains of many animals do this.34 In fact, we should expect linkages to form between memories and incoming sensory stimulations in all animate entities, because sense receptor cells and neurons exist to provide information so that similarities and differences between incoming and stored memories can be detected. Animals and humans learn what these variations may imply and use this knowledge to survive and to mate.35 In short, humans are not the only life forms that think--animals do too.

However, thinking did not become what we generally understand it to be today until early humans discovered the use of words and languages. The next section shows how this ability led to a more comprehensive level of thought, one that we will be calling third-level thinking. Third-level thinking is, primarily, a human activity.

4. Third-level Thinking and Language

The advances brought about by human thought have made modern life so different from the way it was just a few hundred years ago, that folks of those days might rightly have called us sorcerers or magicians, were we and a few of our many technologies to suddenly have appeared among them. People of such times would never have been able to understand how others many kilometres away can be heard, how their image can be projected upon a screen, how heavy machines can fly through the air, how joints and body organs can be replaced, or how pest- and disease-resistant plants can be developed. Today most of us take these developments for granted.

How has it been possible for humans to discover and accomplish so much in just a few thousand years? Many other species have existed for tens of millions of years; why have none ever attained anything even remotely approaching human achievements? Why did their cognitive ability not develop as it has for humans? The answer, we know, is two-fold: humans possess opposable thumbs (whose manipulative capacity has been enhanced by bipedalism-allowing unrestricted hand usage and maximizing latent abilities to build and use tools) and, even more importantly, we have developed and use languages.

Language development probably began when sounds were used to express emotions. This practice is widespread among animals and birds who can be heard declaring their feelings when they grunt, cry, bark or sing. Such sounds sum their current emotional state and declare it to the world, conveying meaning to other sentient species around them. Intentional sounds--those that are not just involuntary reactions to a stimuli--are commonly expressed to improve the survival chances of the originator and its species.

There is an important difference between publicizing one emotion and vocalizing a series of them. A cry of pain can be an instinctive reaction, requiring no thinking ability--a behaviour discussed previously. A cry of pain followed by one of anger, then one of threat, may well be demonstrating the use of something like a language because the animal is attempting to make others understand and respond to its mental or emotional state.

The development of any language, like most evolutionary change, would doubtlessly have taken place sporadically, in dribbles and spurts. Significant advances were likely only made whenever a particular kind of vocalization could be repeatedly used to convey some special meaning to another, or when an exchange of sounds enabled an exchange of intentions, and such an interchange was reiterated with some consistency.36

Animals can, and do, use languages with some proficiency. Gerbils have developed a fairly complex language to warn one another of the presence of predators. Dolphins, like whales, exchange complex information sonically; they can also recognize, and respond appropriately to, the meaning hidden within the grammatical structure of human hand signals. Chimpanzees use primitive language forms, and many have been trained to select symbols that convey their desires for food, drink, or toys. They are also able to express a whole range of other reactions in response to questioning. Several have been trained to use sign language, and one such chimp subsequently taught others this communication method.37

Primitive language usage would have emerged a great many times as species developed,38 but it has never developed to any significant extent (as far as we know) in any species other than our own. Two evolutionary developments contributed to our ability: a deep-set larynx (which forms a large, resonating chamber, possibly helped into position as we began walking upright) and vocal chords (which can vibrate and are controllable). These features allow us to form and vocalize an almost unlimited number of distinctly different sounds.39

Thinking by using word equivalents became possible as soon as words began to be used. A simple proto-language (employing nouns, verbs, subjects, objects, and simple sentence structures) would have begun to take shape from the outset.

Language use would have improved our species' ability to recall memories (the first step in discovering links or relationships between them and incoming stimuli). Once relationships had been found and named, early humans would have used this knowledge within their clans to enhance their group's survival. Third-level thinking and language development would now continue forever hand-in-hand, because an improvement in one concomitantly produces an improvement in the other.

Cassirer, discussing these early phases of language development, stated: "Before the intellectual work of conceiving and understanding of phenomena can set in, the work of naming must have preceded it, and have reached a certain point of elaboration. For it is this process which transforms the world of sense impression, which animals also possess, into a mental world, a world of ideas and meanings. All theoretical cognition takes its departure from a world already preformed by language."40

Word arrangements, syntax and sentence structures are essential components of all languages.41 Thus the ability to sequence thoughts must have developed before language could have evolved. Calvin suggests42 that this skill first arose as our ancestors learned how to throw rocks and sticks accurately, an ability which requires the careful sequencing of vision, arm, and finger movements to be successful.43 This is likely to have happened about two million y.a. (years ago), when Homo erectus descended from trees to live on the African plains, and throwing from an upright posture became a common occurrence. Sequencing (of data) is a necessary part of comparing memories and incoming stimuli; it simplifies the discovery of meaningful relationships between mental data, and, as earlier noted, relationship-discovering is the quintessential feature of second-level thinking.

Various kinds of evidence exist indicating Homo's early use of language. Rudgley, in The Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age,44 refers to work done by Dietrich and Ursula Mania, on findings that date to between 350,000 and 300,000 y.a. from the Bilzingsleben Lower Palaeolithic site near Halle in former East Germany. This site contains evidence of workshop areas, complete with anvil stones (where tools were made) and stone, wood and bone remnants (all showing tool markings). Four artifacts with a series of parallel-cut incisions were also found. It is thought that a clan of considerable dexterity lived and worked in this area, one which very likely used some rudimentary form of language, and that the parallel lines probably conveyed some specific meaning.

Rhulen, a linguist, by investigating word origins, has found evidence that supports the theory that all languages originate from one, proto-sapiens, language, which existed some 100,000 y.a.45 Nichols has examined syntax and other structural mechanisms used in languages, and dates their origins even further back, to at least 132,000 y.a.46

Words and language are central to what we are calling third-level thinking. We may not always select and use actual words when thinking consciously, but a few moment's reflection about how attention is being directed from one aspect to another within our mind when thinking consciously makes it apparent that we use sentence-structure equivalents. (Tattersall and Matternes go as far as to say that we could not even conceive the idea of thought if we did not use a language.47)

Third-level thinking manifests itself as if we were talking to ourselves. For instance, when we are preparing to express a point of view we fabricate sentences, developing and rejecting trains of thought within our minds. We usually attempt to follow one main track when thinking, but our central theme is always surrounded by a plethora of other, loosely associated, thoughts and images, each offering more data for potential inclusion. Our thoughts wend their way among these submissions, and only finally crystallize when we mouth or write a statement, or act upon a thought. Cassirer again: "only symbolic expression can yield the possibility of prospect and retrospect, because it is only by symbols that distinctions are not merely made, but fixed in consciousness. What the mind has once created, what has been culled from the total sphere of consciousness, does not fade away again when the spoken word has set its seal upon it and given it definite form."48

Third-level thinking is slow compared to the speed of second-level thinking because word selection and arrangement takes time. Moreover, third-level thinking is always preceded by second-level thinking. Although we may feel that our conscious thoughts occur immediately, experiments (particularly those with people who have sustained brain damage49) show that unconscious emotional signals--a component of subconscious thinking, alluded to earlier--always precede conscious thinking, and certainly affect decision making.50

The consequences of prior subconscious second-level thinking have been often noted by novelists. They, not infrequently, state that their characters "took over" and wrote the story. Actually, their subconscious second-level thinking would have continuously explored and developed associations between memories of characters, and the results of this activity would have been fed to their conscious second and third level of thinking, giving rise to the feeling that their characters were in control.51

Language development facilitated huge improvements in Homo sapiens' ability to problem solve,52 and this significantly increased their survival ability. Language use allowed early men and women to teach weapon construction, organize group hunting, deploy themselves to previously determined purposes, and so on, considerably enhancing their chances of obtaining food, killing animals or besting enemies. Greater skill and efficiency in these areas left more time for other activities--in animal and plant domestication, artistry and creativity, pottery and ornament production, culture and recreation, to provide just a few examples. Thinking, language use, problem solving, and the practical application of what has been learned form a spiral of constant and accelerating improvement that continues in humans today. (But only as long as the whole is reality-based: introducing fanciful assumptions about the nature of things warps and obstructs the whole process. More about this in later chapters.)

5. Language and Uniqueness

This might be a good time to note that, although we use words as though they mean to others exactly what they mean to us, this is never the case. The precise meaning or nuance of every word differs from one person to another for several reasons.

We learn a language by linking mental images of objects and events to words and phrases that we memorize. But the library of mental images we each must have before we can begin to learn a language is built from life experiences, and these are unique to each possessor. Every word a speaker or writer uses is defined for that person by the bank of memories carried within their mind. But, each person hearing or reading these words interprets their meaning using their own memory set. (A couple of crude examples: one person says "tree," thinking of a small fir tree in a garden; the other person hears "tree," and thinks of a large maple tree in a forest. Or, one person says "look at that car," admiring its colour; the other says "yes," seeing its model and thinking of the engine that powers it.) We can never convey precisely what we have in mind to another person. Furthermore, each of us defines what we consider to be true by referring to what we know about ourselves and our universe (i.e., by referring to the memories of reality that life has delivered to our minds since infancy) and this is constantly changing, as our knowledge about objects and events keeps changing.53 Thus, even our personal definition of the "truth" will change as we ourselves age and mature.54

The fact that word meanings change over time and become more precise as we understand more, can be readily illustrated by considering the word "atom." Two thousand years ago there was debate about whether such a thing even existed. Two hundred years ago a few believed that atoms existed, but no one knew anything about their structure. Twenty five years ago physicists wondered about the possibility of quarks existing within atoms; today we know that quark trios make up the protons and neutrons that are nuclear components of every atom, and that quarks are possibly composed of dimensionally bound energy fields.

Now, not everyone knows such details, but some do. And the images that the word "atom" conjures up in the minds of those who do, are clearly more meaningful, precise, potentially useful and valuable than the mind images of those who do not know about such things.

Remove language, and third-level thinking will disappear, mental consciousness55 will degenerate, and what we have been calling second-level thinking will be all that remains. Uninhibited feelings and emotions may then dominate behaviour as they once must have done in dinosaur days.

6. Thinking and the Universe

Linking sensory data together, as second-level thinking does, can produce meaningful results precisely because everything in the universe is linked to every other thing through causality. Causality simply means that nothing in the universe happens without some preceding cause. This more-or-less obvious fact (known to René Descartes over three hundred years ago) actually reveals several other important details about the universe.

Causality states that everything that happens has been caused by some previous event or events, and it means that everything that exists today was created from some thing or things that existed in another form at an earlier time. In other words, events and things don't just appear out of thin air, something causes them to appear.

It is easy to understand that everything is made from smaller pieces, and that these are, in turn, made from even smaller fragments. Also we can readily understand that the properties of any structure depends upon the properties of its components. For example, we don't build railway bridges out of wood these days; it's not strong enough. We use steel made mostly from iron, because iron atoms are tightly bound together by an electromagnetic force. (Wood is made from larger, widely spaced, carbon-based molecules that are only weakly held together.) The properties and behaviour of everything can be similarly explained in terms of more fundamental properties, once we know enough. The point is, we wouldn't discover any such relationship through second-level thinking, nor develop any such explanation with all its useful predictions, if the universe was not causal.

Causality affects everything about us; it allows us to learn and it allows us to make things that work. Consequently (although not consciously) we have built this concept deep into the roots of the languages we use and the thinking we do.56 However, we don't usually go around saying that the universe is causal; we just expect it to behave rationally or logically. Rational behaviour has been defined as behaviour that is consistent with, or based upon, reason or logic, and neither is possible without the existence of limitless causal relationships. One single break in this chain of causality would negate every one of the explanations and predictions we so much rely upon in all aspects of life.

The fact that the universe is causal has a number of very interesting linguistic consequences. One is that the very words and languages we use must grow out of, and conform to, the reality that surrounds us. This cannot be otherwise. We might try to invent a language not limited by the nature of the universe, but what could it possibly be? Existing words could not be used, for each one carries some of our understanding about the nature of things. Words would have to be invented, but none of these could refer to anything within the universe, by definition of what we are trying to do. We would end up with gibberish, not a language. It would convey no meaning and bring about no understanding. In fact we could not even invent such a language, because we are unable to think without being affected and constrained by the logic and rationality of the knowledge about the universe that we carry within our brains.

Steven Pinker57 argues that a "Universal Grammar" underlies and constrains all languages. He further claims that the existence of a Universal Grammar is evidence that culture is not just a matter of nature and nurture, as the standard social science model would have us believe. This, he suggests, means that morality cannot be relative to time or situation, but must be universal and becomes built into our minds by our use of a language. I would amend his claim and state that all languages are constrained by the physical cause-and-effect rationality of the universe. It is this causality and rationality that underpins and structures language's "Universal Grammar."

As for morality; we devise our moral statements using words whose definitions vary from one language to another, and that change from time to time and from person to person, as previously noted. Thus, no humanly stated moral law or ethical principle can be universal or permanent.

7. Thinking and Intelligence

Webster58 defines intelligence as follows.

the power or act of understanding; mental acuteness or sagacity; the power of meeting any situation, esp. a novel situation, successfully by proper behavior adjustments; the ability to apprehend the interrelationships of presented facts in such a way as to guide action towards a desired goal.

Any of these definitions may be applied to second-level thinking. Third-level thinking enhances and continues this process; it amplifies "mental acuteness or sagacity." Thus, thinking and intelligence amount to much the same thing. Chapter Two investigates this connection a little more fully by discussing the mental gymnastics of problem solving.


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