Very briefly, nerves were originally developed for the coordination of movement in animals, but, once developed, their ability to store impressions–which is what we refer to as ‘memory’–gave rise to the potential to develop understanding of cause and effect. If you can remember past events, you can compare them with current events and identify regularly occurring experiences. This knowledge of, or insight into, what has commonly occurred in the past enables you to predict what is likely to happen in the future and to adjust your behaviour accordingly. Once insights into the nature of change are put into effect, the self-modified behaviour starts to provide feedback, refining the insights further. Predictions are compared with outcomes and so on. Much developed, and such refinement occurred in the human brain, nerves can sufficiently associate information to reason how experiences are related, learn to understand and become conscious of, or aware of, or intelligent about, the relationship between events that occur through time. Thus consciousness means being sufficiently aware of how experiences are related to attempt to manage change from a basis of understanding.
What is so significant about this process is that once our nerve-based learning system became sufficiently developed for us to become conscious and able to effectively manage events, our conscious intellect was then in a position to wrest control from our gene-based learning system’s instincts, which, up until then, had been controlling our lives. Basically, once our self-adjusting intellect emerged it was capable of taking over the management of our lives from the instinctive orientations we had acquired through the natural selection of genetic traits that adapted us to our environment.
however, it was at this juncture, when our conscious intellect challenged our instincts for control, that a terrible battle broke out between our instincts and intellect, the effect of which was the extremely competitive, selfish and aggressive state that we call the human condition.
To elaborate, when our conscious intellect emerged it was neither suitable nor sustainable for it to be orientated by instincts–it had to find understanding to operate effectively and fulfil its great potential to manage life. However, when our intellect began to exert itself and experiment in the management of life from a basis of understanding, in effect challenging the role of the already established instinctual self, a battle unavoidably broke out between the instinctive self and the newer conscious self.
Our intellect began to experiment in understanding as the only means of discovering the correct and incorrect understandings for managing existence, but the instincts–being in effect ‘unaware’ or ‘ignorant’ of the intellect’s need to carry out these experiments–‘opposed’ any understanding-produced deviations from the established instinctive orientations: they ‘criticised’ and ‘tried to stop’ the conscious mind’s necessary search for knowledge. To illustrate the situation, imagine what would happen if we put a fully conscious mind on the head of a migrating bird. The bird is following an instinctive flight path acquired over thousands of generations of natural selection, but it now has a conscious mind that needs to understand how to behave, and the only way it can acquire that understanding is by experimenting in understanding–for example, thinking, ‘I’ll fly down to that island and have a rest.’ But such a deviation from the migratory flight path would naturally result in the instincts resisting the deviation, leaving the conscious intellect in a serious dilemma: if it obeys its instincts it will not feel ‘criticised’ by its instincts but neither will it find knowledge. Obviously, the intellect could not afford to give in to the instincts, and unable to understand and thus explain why its experiments in self-adjustment were necessary, the conscious intellect had no way of refuting the implicit criticism from the instincts even though it knew it was unjust. Until the conscious mind found the redeeming understanding of why it had to defy the instincts (namely the scientific understanding of the difference in the way genes and nerves process information, that one is an orientating learning system while the other is an insightful learning system), the intellect was left having to endure a psychologically distressed, upset condition, with no choice but to defy that opposition from the instincts. The only forms of defiance available to the conscious intellect were to attack the instincts’ unjust criticism, try to deny or block from its mind the instincts’ unjust criticism, and attempt to prove the instincts’ unjust criticism wrong. In short–and to return to our human situation because we were the species that acquired the fully conscious mind–the psychologically upset angry, alienated and egocentric human-condition-afflicted state appeared. Our ‘conscious thinking self’, which is the dictionary definition of ‘ego’, became ‘centred’ or focused on the need to justify itself. We became ego-centric, self-centred or selfish, preoccupied with aggressively competing for opportunities to prove we are good and not bad–we unavoidably became selfish, aggressive and competitive.
What is so exonerating, rehabilitating and healing about this explanation of the human condition is that we can finally appreciate that there was a very good reason for our angry, alienated and egocentric behaviour–in fact, we can now see why we have not just been ego-centric, but ego-infuriated, even ego-gone-mad-with-murderous-anger for having to live with so much unjust criticism. We can now see that our conscious mind was not the evil villain it has so long been portrayed as–such as in the Bible where Adam and Eve are demonised and ‘banished…from the Garden of Eden’ (Gen. 3:23) of our original innocent, all-loving, moral state for taking the ‘fruit…from the tree of knowledge’ (ibid. 3:3, 2:17). No, science has finally enabled us to lift the so-called ‘burden of guilt’ from the human race; in fact, to understand that we thinking, ‘knowledge’-finding, conscious humans are actually nothing less than the heroes of the story of life on Earth! This is because our fully conscious mind is surely nature’s greatest invention and to have had to endure the torture of being unjustly condemned as evil for so long (the anthropological evidence indicates we humans have been fully conscious for some two million years) must make us the absolute heroes of the story of life on Earth. Finally, God and man, religion and science, our instinct and intellect, the integrative meaning of life and the inconsistency of our behaviour with that meaning, are all reconciled.
And best of all, because this explanation of the human condition is redeeming and thus rehabilitating, all our upset angry, egocentric and alienated behaviour now subsides, bringing about the complete transformation of the human race–and importantly, understanding of the human condition doesn’t condone ‘bad’ behaviour, it heals and by so doing ends it. From being competitive, selfish and aggressive, humans return to being cooperative, selfless and loving. Our round of departure has ended. The poet T.S. Eliot wonderfully articulated our species’ journey from an original innocent, yet ignorant, state, to a psychologically upset ‘fallen’, corrupted state, and back to an uncorrupted, but this time enlightened, state when he wrote, ‘We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time’ (Little Gidding, 1942).
Yes, finding the exonerating, redeeming understanding of our dark, psychologically upset, meaning of life-defying, human-condition-afflicted existence finally enables the human race to be healed and thus transformed–it makes us ‘whole’ again, as Jung said it would. To quote Professor Harry Prosen, a former president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association, on this dreamed-of, greatest of all breakthroughs in science: ‘I have no doubt this biological explanation of the human condition is the holy grail of insight we have sought for the psychological rehabilitation of the human race’ (Freedom Book 1, 2009, Part 2:2).