An Unnatural Equilibrium

AutumnI’m surprised each year at how fast autumn falls, how dark the evenings get, how dim the days. To us, this consistent and progressive loss of sunlight and warmth can feel like doom. Our ancestors felt so uncertain of this time that they went to enormous superstitious lengths to attempt to bring back the sun.

And yet to the flowers, trees, animals and bushes it’s known that this time will come. The pattern is part of their being. As a one-off event it may look like death, but to nature, who knows the pattern, it is just a time to acquiesce, part of a known cycle. The sun will return.

What separates us from nature is our consciousness, the ‘me’ inside that identifies me and you as being separate from each other, separate from the bees, the table, the ground and the water. Without this internal self we would be separate only in the way a cog is separate from the machine; it is an individual part of the whole and without the whole and its part to play, it is worthless.

It’s our individuality that makes us separate from nature, that makes us think that a cog has worth on its own without the machine and that creates uncertainty and self-doubt. The story of this realisation that we’re separate from nature is documented in many ancient philosophical and religious writings, most famously perhaps in the story of Genesis and the Fall. The Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve were evicted from was the state of being intrinsically part of nature and in constant communion with it in that personification of it, God. By gaining self-awareness, humanity gained consciousness and self-determination but lost that direct link to God. All human societies since that awakening, wherever and whenever it happened, have spawned cultural devices, called religions, to try to get back to oneness with nature and, or, our creator gods.

Religions have two purposes. One is to aim to explain the complex world and add meaning to people’s lives, attempting to answer philosophical questions such as ‘who am I?’ and ‘what happens when I die?’. The other is to maintain a stable community through some mode of control system. Religion is therefore just a shared model and set of beliefs that can create a mode of behaviour that can glue people together to make a society. It doesn’t require gods or God, just a set of shared beliefs in anything. This is why talk of ‘getting rid of religion’ is a pointless and impossible task as even agreeing on that task is itself a religion. This also why a ‘religion verses science’ is a pointless debate, you might as well debate which is better ‘Oranges or Tuesdays’. Science is a method of attaining knowledge through testing and measuring. Religion is a shared model for behaviour. The two naturally  compliment each other.

I believe all religions (or models for society if you prefer) want peace (although they may differ on how to get it). By peace we want not to be interfered with so we can go about our business. But we also want a piece, a piece of the action. We want what we can get. We have these two modes, of collaboration and antagonism. They’re have been referred to as hawks and doves. It’s a model that shows simplistically why we have war and peace and why one needs the other.

If you have a society of doves, that is a collection of creatures whose nature is to collaborate, have community, but never fight to either attack or defend, you have a model of a utopian peaceful society where every individual is equal.

If you have a group of hawks, a collection of individual aggressive fighting creatures, who will kill to get what they want, you’ll have a hierarchical society, a pyramid of power, with the most successful fighter at the top and everyone else in their place. Here too you will have a model of a utopian peaceful society, this time where every individual knows their level. As soon as weakness is perceived in a level above, that individual will be removed, everyone jostles for position before a stability is reached again.

But if you put just one hawk into the society of doves, you have disaster. The doves, who will never fight back are wiped out, enslaved or, are transformed into hawks just to stay alive. This is the story of conquest and invasion, from Barbarians, Vandals, Vikings and Romans to the Third Reich and beyond.

If you put one dove into a hawk society, he will most likely be destroyed. But if you continually put in a dove, eventually, some hawks will transform into doves, a dove mentality will sweep through the community. This is the story of Moses, Jesus, Ghandi and others.

In the hawks and doves model, neither of the pure societies are stable, both are easily overturned into chaos.

The answer to this paradox is found in nature where we see hawks and doves, spiders and flies, lions and gazelles, all co-existing in equilibrium. There is always just the right amount to balance societies of each other alongside the available natural resources they both need.

But we are individuals. We don’t want to be the one who has to die for the good of society. We’re far too selfish for that. But neither do we want to willingly sacrifice the most vulnerable within our society; the young, the old, the sick and the lame for the greater good. We’re selfless enough to care about the weak. What makes us human, and unique is that we are both selfish and selfless at the same time. We are both hawk and dove in one creature.

This is the paradox of the human condition which lifts us up above function and survival. We want to win, but we don’t want others to lose. We want to conquer, but we have mercy. We want freedom from dominion and judgement and yet we seek out our creator God. We plan for the future and yet we waste resources today.

Our human dilemma is that we feel comfortable in the extremes, which is unnatural and which is where danger lies. We want the ultimate society – but that requires sacrifice and the loss of individuality. We want to be individually free – but that means the breakdown of shared values.

What we need is equilibrium. Just as in the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, ‘to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven’ (you may know this entire passage as the lyrics to the 1965 hit, ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ by the Byrds).

Now we have our consciousness, I don’t believe we should surrender it to ‘get back to nature’ to lose free will, to lose self determinism and dissolve the ego, as some systems promote.

Neither do I think we should abandon the search for oneness, meaning and the deep questions of the universe, as other systems suggest.

We need, what is to us, an unnatural equilibrium, to embrace these paradoxes, to live within art and science, with logic and chaos, with strength and meekness; at the same time. We need to have a greater knowledge of patterns, to work with and within nature, to accept and reject power and to strive for a balance in all things.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

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The bicameral brain and the origin of leadership

You think you know about the so-called Left and Right brain? Left is logic and Right is arty? Right?

What if it was far more interesting and paradigm shifting than that…

What if the two hemispheres operated as two almost separate brains, two almost different individuals? Today we are beings that have a single identity, our two brains work together to create a consciousness we describe as ‘me’.

But what if that wasn’t always the case? What if the two brains operated as two different identities? The Left being the ‘doer’ and the Right being the ‘instructor’…

What if there was a time, many thousands of years ago when, some psychologists have proposed, that mankind did not have the same kind of consciousness that we have today?

Almost all modern humans today have free-will governed by a stream of consciousness thought conversation that appears to be in our heads. Our heads appear to have a silent, private place where we can weigh up decisions and think through thoughts. Instead of this, ancient man may have been unable to weigh up decisions and not had this internal space.

Julian Jaynes (1920–1997), a psychologist at Princeton University, USA, proposed in 1977 in his controversial but critically acclaimed book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind that humans operated under a previous mentality he called the bicameral (‘two-chambered’) mind. In the place of an internal dialogue, bicameral people experienced auditory hallucinations directing their actions. These hallucinations were interpreted as the voices of chiefs, rulers, or the gods.

The Left and Right brains provided an external voice and an externalised voice. With no internal dialogue, the ‘bicameral’ man would have had to talk out-loud, and not to himself, but to his other voice which he would have heard as if it was external and separate from himself, outside his head. This external voice, originated in his right hemisphere, would communicate decisions and information to him which he heard as auditory hallucinations.

Today, some people still do hear voices telling them what to do. We label them as schizophrenic. If the voices they hear tell them positive things the person tends to think of the voice as coming from an angel (and does not often report the fact). If the voice is negative and nasty people often seek medical advice and label the voice as demonic.  (Various studies suggest that 4% of the population regularly hear voices today).

In a civilisation where everyone externalised their inner voices, the society was used to living amongst angels and demons, or good and bad gods. Their world was structured by individuals responding to the voices of their own personal gods, giving them orders and telling them what to do. We have written accounts that many people not only hallucinated voices, but many actually saw their gods too, sometimes as humanoid beings, sometimes as anthropomorphised animals or talking objects. Some civilisation worshiped the dead, decorating their bodies and brining gifts. They did this not out of loss for the deceased, but because the dead person would still be talking to them and still giving orders from within their crypt.

Such societies were highly organised in strict pyramidal chain of command structures. When the bicameral mind broke down, perhaps due to stress from some natural disaster, those people were left lonely and scared.

Jaynes puts the development of modern consciousness to around the end of the second millennium B.C. in Greece and Mesopotamia with the transition occurring at different times in other parts of the world due to local events or clashes with non-bicameral groups. An example is when the Spanish invaded South America and the bicameral Aztec civilisation collapsed overnight.

The newly conscious people could suddenly no longer hear the voices of their gods and didn’t know what to do. They had no orders to follow but an overwhelming desire to follow. They sought solace from those that could still hear the voices and obeyed their orders instead, setting them up as oracles. When these sought-after individuals became scarcer they were given even more power and priesthoods were invented.

Eventually only the insane or a few rare prophets heard voices at all. Some of the priests would turn to narcotics and rituals to invoke what connection with the gods that they could and would attempt (often successfully) to hear the voices.

Then, for most people, with no reliable connection with the gods was available, the societies had to rely on faith in the old stories and start to guess what the gods may desire them to do today. With the leadership structures still identical to before, things could continue as before, albeit with laws now having to be mutually agreed and the requirement for law enforcement.

The old bicameral command structure is still used in an almost identical way in most religious orders, armies and dictatorships today. Anywhere else, the system doesn’t work with non-bicameral brains as non-bicameral people will think for themselves and often question orders. This has become even more prevalent in the last 50 years, since the end of the Second World War in the West, where the youth have grown up with less and less command structure in their lives. Many people today lack the ability and discipline needed to follow orders as well as a lack of faith in authority, whatever it’s source.

In our wholly post-bicameral age, the voices of the gods are long silent. We need a different kind of leadership based on example setting and inspiration if we are ever to work together again.

(If you’re interested in the Bicameral theory, do read the books The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind and Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes’s Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited)

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

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The Battlefield of Ideas

‘Ideas’ seems to be such a positive word. We all like ‘ideas’ and yet there’s a dark side to the concept. You just need to take a look at the news to see that there are plenty of problems caused by different ideas. It’s never religion that causes war, but the difference of ideas (See more on that here).

Ideas are like electricity, fire or money: they can be used for good or evil.

New ideas move the world forward. Powerful ideas shape the future. But dangerous ideas, of which there are far too many, damage the future.

We need more ideas, not because there is not a shortage of ideas in the world but because there is a shortage of new, powerful and positive ideas. There’s an even shorter list of people with enough confidence and opportunity to take those ideas forward and act on them.

We need those new, powerful, positive ideas and the people to carry them through. We need them to combat the noise of bad ideas and the threat of dangerous ideas and those powerful people who proliferate them.

There is a war of ideas going on right now in the battlefields of the minds of the young, the old, across different cultures, at home and at work.

Dangerous ideas of division and hate appear to spread like weeds through the field while beautiful ideas like the flowers of reconciliation and positive change need to be tendered, fed, watered and protected.

Let’s turn the field into a garden, by planting and nurturing the ideas we want to grow, for ourselves and for the future.

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