The core concept of Jeremy Griffith's explanation of the human condition is what occurred in the human species when our intellectual, or conscious thinking, ability emerged in the presence of our already established genetic, or instinctive self. The following is a brief summary of the explanations put forward in Jeremy Griffith’s five books Beyond The Human Condition, Free: The End Of The Human Condition, A Species In Denial, The Great Exodus, FREEDOM, and in The Human Condition Documentary Proposal.
Note: You can view Jeremy Griffith giving a brief presentation of the following explanation of the human condition in Section 1:7 of Video Series 2 found on the WTM’s website homepage.
What distinguishes humans from other animals is that we are fully conscious. Consciousness is a product of the nerve-based system’s ability to remember. It is memory which allows understanding of cause and effect to develop–once you can remember past events you can compare them with current events and identify common or regularly occurring events.
This knowledge of, or ‘insight’ into, what has commonly occurred in the past enables you to make predictions about what is likely to occur in the future–and with feedback or ‘experience’ predictions can be refined.
Sufficiently developed, this capacity to understand the relationship of events that occur through time gives rise to the ability to self-adjust.
Being aware or ‘conscious’ of how experiences are related puts the intellect in a position to manage events to its own chosen ends; it can wrest management of life from the instincts.
Anthropological evidence indicates that the human species became fully conscious and able to decide for themselves how to behave some two million years ago. Prior to that time humans were controlled by, and obedient to, their instincts–as other animals still are.
Unlike the intellect or nerve-based learning system, the instinctive or gene-based learning system is not insightful and cannot become conscious of the relationship of events that occur through time.
Genetic selection gives animals adaptations or orientations–instinctive programming–for managing their lives, but those genetic orientations, those instincts, are not understandings. When our conscious mind emerged it was not sufficient for it to be orientated by instincts. It had to find understanding to operate effectively and fulfil its potential to manage life.
The problem is that when the intellect began to experiment in the management of life from a basis of understanding in the presence of already established instinctive behavioural orientations, an unavoidable conflict emerged between the two.
As the intellect began experimenting in self-management, by understanding existence, it resulted in behaviour that was sometimes different from our instinctive orientations. But the instincts, being in effect ‘unaware’ or ‘ignorant’ of the intellect’s need to carry out these experiments, ‘opposed’ these understanding-produced deviations from the established instinctive orientations.
The instincts in effect ‘criticised’ and ‘tried to stop’ the conscious mind’s necessary search for knowledge. Unable to understand and thus explain why these experiments in self-adjustment were necessary, the intellect was unable to refute this implicit criticism from the instincts. This left the intellect no choice but simply to defy this unfair ‘opposition’ from the instincts.
The intellect’s defiance expressed itself in a number of ways: it attacked the instincts’ unjust criticism; it tried to block-out the instincts’ unjust criticism from its mind; and it tried to prove the instincts’ unjust criticism wrong. Humans’ upset, angry, alienated and egocentric state–precisely the divisive condition we humans suffer from–appeared.
This conflict was then greatly compounded by the fact that the angry and aggressive behaviour was completely at odds with humans’ particular instinctive orientation, which was to behave lovingly and cooperatively.
From an initial state of upset, humans then had to contend with a sense of guilt which greatly compounded their insecurity and frustrations, making them even more angry, egocentric and alienated.
This escalating situation could only be ended by the dignifying, relieving understanding of why we became upset in the first place–an understanding that depended on the arrival of science and the ability to explain the differing natures of the gene-based and nerve-based learning systems.
Eugène Marais, who was the first to study primates in their natural habitat, described the emergence of the conflict between instincts and intellect in his remarkable 1930s book, The Soul of the Ape:
‘The great frontier between the two types of mentality is the line which separates non-primate mammals from apes and monkeys. On one side of that line behaviour is dominated by hereditary memory, and on the other by individual causal memory…The phyletic history of the primate soul can clearly be traced in the mental evolution of the human child. The highest primate, man, is born an instinctive animal. All its behaviour for a long period after birth is dominated by the instinctive mentality…As the…individual memory slowly emerges, the instinctive soul becomes just as slowly submerged…For a time it is almost as though there were a struggle between the two.’ (Written in 1930s, published 1969)
We all know that many bird species are perfectly instinctively orientated to migratory flight paths. Of course, this is not a conscious understanding of where they should or shouldn’t fly, it’s an innate, born-with orientation.
What would happen if we imagined putting a fully conscious brain in the head of one of these migrating birds (who we will call Adam Stork)? (The species chosen are storks, which migrate from Africa to their nesting sites on the roof tops of Europe.)
With his newly acquired conscious mind Adam Stork now needs to understand where he should and shouldn’t fly. Not having any understandings, he has to find them by experimenting with different understandings.
Looking down from his migratory flight path, Adam sees an apple tree on an island and he thinks, ‘Why not fly down for a feed?’ Not knowing any reason why he shouldn’t, he goes ahead with this first experiment in self-management and heads off to the island.
As soon as he does, however, his instinctive mind tries to pull him back on course–it is, in fact, inadvertently trying to stop his search for knowledge. His instinctive self in effect criticises him because it is unaware or ignorant of his need to search for knowledge.
Adam is in a dilemma–the equivalent of the human condition. If he obeys his perfectly orientated instinctive self he will be perfectly on course but he will never find understanding.
If he defies his instinctive self he will find understanding, however, he will have to live with the ignorant criticism from his instinctive self. But unable to throw his brain away, he has no choice but to persevere with his experiments in understanding and battle the criticism.
Unable to refute the criticism with explanation of why these mistakes were necessary all Adam could do was retaliate against the criticism, try to prove it wrong or simply ignore it. He did all three. He became angry towards the criticism, he tried to demonstrate his worth–prove he was good and not bad–and he blocked out the criticism. He became angry, egocentric and alienated–in a word, upset.
This is similar to the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve take the fruit from the tree of knowledge–go in search of understanding–except that in this presentation Adam and Eve are heroes not evil villains. They had to search for knowledge and defy ignorance.
Upset was the price we had to pay to find knowledge. As it says in the song The Man of la Mancha, we had to be prepared ‘to march into hell for a heavenly cause’.
Finding the understanding of the fundamental goodness of humans ends the unjust criticism that has so upset us. The burden of guilt has been lifted from humanity. The human condition of having to live with an undeserved sense of guilt has been relieved. Our anger, egocentricity and alienation can now subside. Adam would not have become upset if he could have explained why he was not bad to fly off course.
For further description of the biological explanation of the human conditon, watch Parts 3 and 4 of Video Series 1: The Biological Explanation of the Human Condition, or read their transcript in Freedom Book 1.