Science's Blind Spot
You are freed from the spell of the primate drama when you understand human behaviour in its correct context. But unfortunately, science has a blind spot that for centuries has caused it to stand in the way of the search for the true understanding of life.
True science began with the work of Aristotle, in an effort to systematically analyse our surroundings—the lines, the curves, the way a stone would fall—for the understanding of our environment and from there, the universe. Through observation, measurement, and reflection, a detailed picture of reality and its mathematical underpinnings emerged over the centuries, independent from the folklore of the times.
Thus the edifice of science was built in tiny increments, as facts that could be mutually verified accumulated through pure research done in the quest for knowledge.
The Mechanical Philosophy
In the 1600s western society was making swift progress in the invention of machines, and some intellectuals declared that the universe, too, is a big machine. These ideas were termed The Mechanical Philosophy and included the Christian belief that the human is divine, and that God put the rest of nature here for us to use. Humans were designated as being supreme over other living things, which were classified as being mechanical in nature.
This view has been assumed by biology ever since as it evolved with the goal of serving humanity.
Though biology is defined as being 'the study of life,' it virtually gave up the study of living things and killed them instead. With the exception of lab experiments, the trend was to poke deeper and deeper into their cadavers, particularly following the discovery of the microscope and other technologies enhancing the human view. Society reflected the teaching that animals are here for our use, and treated them as objects without a second thought for their lives.
Yet the pet phenomenon was visible to all as the centuries passed, and would be impossible if animals were mechanical. By definition, a machine cannot act 'as if' it can think and feel. A common excuse for treating animals cruelly is the statement, “Just because they act like they feel pain, does not mean that they really do,” yet this preposterous argument requires that the alleged machine imitate consciousness on cue.
The assumption of the truth of The Mechanical Philosophy has resulted in a total failure to understand nature or develop a science of the living. The play of life across the planet, how it interacted with the atmosphere, the seas, earth, rivers, and the falling of rain, was simply ignored. Had the rest of science followed this pattern, we would know nothing of the universe surrounding us.
At the heights of science's glory, for example, why has it had such a destructive effect on the planet upon which we all depend? Why has it failed to make any discovery of the sort that would offer guidance to humanity as civilization expanded, by controlling international events or finding practical solutions to such serious developments as the threats of nuclear annihilation and human population growth? These have resulted in dire global problems including the sixth mass extinction.
How can it be that a species that is exploring the solar system and holds detailed concepts of what to look for in terms of signs of life, is also destroying the plant cover of its own planet?
Living things are the most complex of all the natural manifestations we know, built from the atoms and chemicals upon which physics and chemistry have focused, and animated through a process which remains completely mysterious. So the study of life should have emerged as the most important science, based as it is, upon the knowledge of physics and chemistry.
Further, given our situation as the dominant species on a delicately balanced planet with nothing but an icy void for an infinity of light years around, human biology should have been its most important aspect.
In any search for the truth, the only rational position to take is the acceptance of reality.
Yet, life is one of science's biggest blind spots, and due to biology's failure to apply the scientific method, the human civilization, a planet-wide population of a highly territorial species, has developed without reference to its environment.
Cut off from life
When any animal evolves through competition with others of the same species, rather than through interaction with its environment, the direction it takes does not enhance its survival abilities. Yet that is what humanity has been doing.
Like peacocks evolving a fabulous tail, competition among us has resulted in the hectic pace of modern life, and many other undesirable effects. This has happened because the link between humanity and nature has been broken and science has kept this fact in its blind spot.
So the position that biology takes against animals is highly questionable. Indeed, given the size and nature of the universe, and the mysteries concerning the presence of life and of consciousness, there is every reason to consider life to be precious, and that its appearance on our planet in this solar system is remarkable.
Overwhelming evidence reveals that we live on a planet filled with conscious life forms, in spite of what we have been taught.
Those studying wildlife behaviour have to be meticulously careful that all conclusions are objective, and uninfluenced by one's perspective as a primate. But anthropocentric biology, serving industry and working under the assumption of the divinity of humanity, ignores this essential basis for the maintenance of scientific objectivity and integrity.
The uniformity of life
We are surrounded by evidence of the uniformity of life. Not only do all vertebrate animals share the same general body plan, but on the microscopic level our cells, from plants to man, have the same design, all packed with tiny bodies and molecular structures of mind-boggling complexity that support their lives. Further, modern genetic studies have confirmed that from primates (99%) to fish (85%) a high fraction of the genes of animals are shared with humans.
Ideas about what represents the difference between animals and man have fallen, one by one, from tool use to the appreciation of beauty. Every time it has been examined, evidence of sentience has been found in animals from insects to sharks to elephants; even the one-celled paramecium is able to learn and remember.
Amoeba present cognitive behaviour that was thought to depend on brain circuitry, while plants have been found to behave very similarly to animals, but more slowly. They tend to use chemical signals to communicate, and manifest self-awareness in their own ways, but they do show all of the signs of intelligence that animals do, while 'intelligent' machines fail these basic tests.
Everyone who studies the behaviour of the vast display of animal life cavorting upon this planet, begins to wonder what is wrong with humans. Universal patterns are evident that have allowed the multitude of networking species to thrive while sharing the planet's finite resources. These patterns provide the key to the understanding of humanity, whose behaviour is otherwise indecipherable.
The most basic example is the phenomenon of masculinity and femininity. These are clear to see across the classes of animals, even in sharks, who diverged from our evolutionary tree nearly half a billion years ago. Countless expressions of the two genders working together in harmony reveal a comprehensive understanding of their interconnected roles, which could provide much needed insight to those trying to understand the opposite sex in the modern world.
For example, humans are dimorphic, meaning that males and females look different from each other. In other dimorphic species, the roles of each are different too, and complimentary in such a way as to enhance the survival of the species. In our society, males dominate, and this is a cultural as well as biological fact in terms of physical power. The problem is that the female role has not been valued, resulting, in the past century, in female retribution, which has badly upset the society.
Try, for example, to find another female creature for whom the most important thing is NOT her children. The failure to support women in their important work in raising the next quality generation has badly damaged society. However, had society been guided by knowledge of human biology, this would not have happened.
Similarly, millions suffering under the stigma of homosexuality would have been greatly relieved to know that love between members of the same gender is natural, right, and good, but this scientific information has been suppressed because it contradicted the teachings of the Christian church.
But the scientific quest has the transcendent responsibility to seek the truth and reject such oppressive and harmful ideas that might issue from the folklore of the times.
Biology's refusal to recognize intelligent awareness in animals has been balanced by its refusal to recognize humanity's true nature. Through its belief that homo sapiens is divine, instead of being a life form like the others, philosophical science has denied the presence of our instincts and their power, so that instead of studying them for the benefit of humankind, it has supported and facilitated human instinctual behaviour, no matter how irrationally it presented.
The territorial instinct
The level of violence in human society concerns everyone, whether it is hidden in the family, criminalized in the community, or expressed internationally in wars. It is a direct result of the territorial instinct, which produces aggression between members of the same species. As life expanded, it was the territorial instinct that ensured the best distribution of individuals for reproduction through the available habitats, and it is now basic to human behaviour.
Each territory has two important places: the nest, which provides a safe place to sleep, store treasures, and raise off-spring, and the border where intruders are repelled. So a conflictual attitude to those on the other side of a border, be they other tribes, nations, races, religions, sports teams, the neighbours who encroach on your land, or the person who takes your possessions, is built into our genes, just as a hard-wired love of sugar and fat is evident to us all.
Modern history is an account of wars and domination by one culture over another, a spectacular affirmation of the power of human instincts over reason.
In a world in which the current alpha males have science fiction weapons to use in their dreams of world dominion, there is every reason to consider this type of instinctive aggression as being highly dangerous. Yet, in an astounding display of denial, science supports the continuing efforts to create ever more destructive weapons, and the news as I write today is laced with flagrant attempts by those in power to arouse everyone to militant enthusiasm for yet more war.
Like us, animals will establish borders and have intermittent scuffles upon them, though only in humans do these wars result in intentional mass killings.
Animals always fight much more furiously the closer they are to their nest, and less confidently when in another's territory. And in human wars, a common error occurs when the attacker underestimates the opposition that will be launched against him by what he had assumed was a weak country. One good example is the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour; a second is the American war on Vietnam.
Acknowledgement of instinctive drives
But if the violent inclinations that humans feel were accepted as being natural, providing alternate outlets for our pent up aggression could become part of our culture, from the family, to the educational system, the community, and the nation, until the brute force method fell out of favour.
Recognition that borders remain in about the same place in spite of wars—whether between humans, apes, or chickens—could result in a mutual decision to simply respect the ones we have now. There are no new territories to conquer. Our races and cultures establish our backgrounds, and, as a result of globalization, the earth's people are travelling freely among the countries and seem to like each other.
Mutual respect for each other's territory would free the nations to enjoy competing in ways other than war. Enthusiasm can be raised in young people for causes considered worthy by all human beings, including science, art, and sports.
The territorial instinct is also behind our intense competition for material gain and monetary earnings. The major goals of most peoples' lives involve acquiring bigger and better houses, vehicles, properties, and always more money. Just as the animals with the biggest territories are most respected, so are people with the biggest accumulation of material possessions on display.
Yet, human behaviour is considered to be dependent on reason and cultural tradition alone.
Certain lab experiments have shown that deprived lab animals are actually more compassionate than the humans experimenting on them, a situation which leads to the question of why and how biology could have freed itself from the observation of any ethical standard, much the way a cult might.
Modern biology sacrifices millions of animals yearly, wild ones as well as the species now considered to be nothing more than "lab animals." All individuality is denied to them as they are experimented upon as the researcher sees fit, and a high fraction of these experiments have been unnecessary, frivolous, and intensely cruel.
While this curious situation could be considered as an affirmation of science's belief in The Mechanical Philosophy, cruelty is also widespread throughout human society in many forms, including torture and human entertainments of various kinds.
But though science has been anxious to find ways in which humans stand out from other animals, never has our capacity for cruelty been mentioned, possibly because to do so would contradict the assumption of our divine superiority.
Long observation caused Konrad Lorenz to conclude that the grotesque cruelty displayed by our species is due to a lack of the inhibitions that control aggression in most other social animals. Like sharks, animals that have evolved dangerous weapons will also have evolved behavioural strategies to keep them from mortally injuring others.
But, when the animal has not evolved big teeth and jaws, a sharp, strong beak, or a powerful, clawed stroke, there has been no selection pressure to develop inhibitions against killing others. Animals of such species can kill another one slowly and cruelly in situations in which the victim cannot get away.
Though the weapons crafted by human societies are, in almost every case, their greatest achievement, man lacks the ability to refrain from using them against his fellow man. Though no dog will bite another who makes the gesture of submission, humans do not hesitate to shoot people who are begging for mercy.
Since we are the only lethally aggressive species who invented, and did not evolve our weapons, we are the only one lacking the inhibitions which would otherwise have evolved in synchrony with them. Our evolution has fallen behind our ingenuity, and according to the way it works, a lot of killing will have to take place before it catches up.
Many books have detailed the crimes against nature that have resulted from the position that traditional science has taken against the rest of life, so I will not go into detail.
But the destruction and suffering it is causing chills the soul.
Awakening to the primate drama
Understanding the root causes of things has always been the method used to control them, and if human biology were given the important position it deserves, a major adjustment of attitudes towards humanity and our place in the universe might come. It is not demeaning to see ourselves as an intrinsic part of the powerful expansion of life that has blossomed upon the planet Earth.
We remain a species developing without reference to its true environment, and our situation is a grand example of the peculiarities of human cognition, led by a pseudoscience in a state of disconnection from the facts.
Humans are presumably the first living creatures to gain understanding of the difference between their instinctual reactions, and those wiser choices that they can make through reasoning. Perhaps that is the final test of the human spirit—whether we will we have the intellectual power to get past the need to act on our animal instincts and to develop a culture that values wisdom and understanding instead.
Other writers have predicted an "awakening" to save us from the usual fate that befalls over-populated and highly aggressive species, and if one appears, it will necessarily involve the acknowledgement of our instincts, and the conscious effort of all humanity to understand and rise above them.
(c) Ila France Porcher,