Saturday, August 05, 2006

Arthur Koestler (1)

It was through a copy of his book Janus: A Summing Up this disillusioned former Trotskyite cadre :) set along the path to Buddhism. Though now I think he was quite wrong on some areas such as neo-Lamarckianism and parapsychology, he opened my eyes to quite a few new ways of thinking. I no longer have a copy of Janus (I lost nearly all my worldly posessions in Thailand) which means I'm going to have to write most of this from memory.

A bold statement: the human race reached a turning point on August 6th, 1945 (61 years ago tomorrow) with the first working test of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. At that point, humanity had reached the capability of exterminating itself. Therein lies a paradox, a species so advanced and technically sophisticated that it can build a nuclear weapon, and yet so stupid and barbaric that it would want to.
Koestler related this to the evolution of the human brain resulting in a structure that can be compared to a man riding a horse riding a bicycle. At the lowest level we have the brain stem and various bits and pieces that haven't really changed much since the crocodile. Surmounting this we have the older cortex, with commonality with the cleverer mammals. Thirdly, there's huge, new cortex, that in humans is vastly superior to any other animal (supporters of whales and dolphins might wanna challenge this). The latter is a puzzle; how on earth did this arise? Obviously there's an evolutionary advantage, but how come it didn't stop at the chimp level, say?
The problem lies in that the 3 areas are, to a degree, separate. Worse still, our emotions stem from areas better connected to the ancient areas, so inherently emotions will almost always cloud our rationality. Think of all the people who would willingly die for their country or class, or some other human construct. Worse still, they would usually willingly make other people die for their side. A recent example of our the dominance of our emotions here.
One story he liked to quote was that of Abraham in the Old Testament offering to sacrifice his son, but God telling him it wasn't necessary. Whatever theologians make of this, Koestler's conclusion was we're all stark raving bonkers. :)
Moreover, because of this fundamental flaw, politics is not going to save you. You could try making nuclear war illegal... The Police wrote a pop song about this, Spirits in the Material World, which puts it quite succinctly:
There is no political solution
To our troubled evolution
Have no faith in constitution
There is no bloody revolution

Our so-called leaders speak
With words they try to jail you
They subjugate the meek
But it's the rhetoric of failure

Koestler's hope in this grim scenario was that one day someone would invent a pill that would heal the split between the brain areas. Those that took it would gain such marvellous lives in which rationality and emotion functioned smoothly together, that it would become an instant 'must have'. The alternative is one of inhumanity and constant outbreaks of warfare, not one to be savoured in which the military has some very dangerous new toys.

The Buddhist view of this forms a remarkable parallel with the nine consciousnesses. The first five are the senses, the sixth, their integration and the seventh, the layer in which we make judgments and decide on actions. The eighth consciousness dominates them all, the alaya consciousness, the storehouse of all the causes we made in this and previous lifetimes, our karma. Because our karma clouds our senses and judgments, we're prone to making the same mistakes again and again. If you react with violence, for example, you will bring violence into you your life and probably react with more violence. We're like the hamster running in it's wheel.
The solution lies in the ninth consciousness, our Buddha nature, with its infinite reserves of wisdom, courage and compassion. When you put it in charge, it trumps the alaya consciousness and leads to sane, rational behaviour. Of course doing this is somewhat more difficult than typing a line in a blog; it's what Buddhist practice is for.

A software solution rather than a hardware one.


Post a Comment

<< Home