Just believe Chapter 6

Chapter 6. Believe in the uniqueness of every individual arising from genetic and other native differences influencing responses to life-experiences

P. Desikan

I am conscious that I am awake, sitting at my desk, trying to put some of my thoughts down in words on my laptop. Some eight hours earlier too I was alive, but apparently not conscious of anything at all, as I must have been in dreamless sleep. Is that all that consciousness is, the difference between a sleeping person and a person aware of what his senses are taking in? When I am in the latter, conscious state, I seem to be able to make decisions, to notice my surroundings and describe them verbally or otherwise to others, all of which indicates that I am awake and aware. I am aware too that the entire living human population on our planet, when not asleep, is similarly conscious, aware, awake. How am I unique?

Biologists know when a child could start sensing using its sense organs and its brain. Before I developed these organs and before my brain had developed, was I able to sense anything? Who was I at that time? Going way, way back through my parents and grandparents to an early ancestor who had not yet become man, I can gather that that creature too had sense organs and was therefore aware of its surroundings and their effects on it. It must have formed impressions and communicated them to its fellows somehow. It was, in its awareness of itself and in interacting with fellows also indicating its consciousness. It did not produce speech as such but that did not matter. Just as the cacophony of hundreds and thousands of human languages and dialects is not necessary for us to conclude that we are conscious, that we think and feel and that we convey our thinking and feeling to fellows. Michael Graziano explained through an article, how such consciousness could have been present  (https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/06/how-consciousness-evolved/485558/) in very early forms of life since roughly half a billion years ago. He wrote, “Ever since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, evolution has been the grand unifying theory of biology. Yet one of our most important biological traits, consciousness, is rarely studied in the context of evolution. Theories of consciousness come from religion, from philosophy, from cognitive science, but not so much from evolutionary biology. Maybe that’s why so few theories have been able to tackle basic questions such as: What is the adaptive value of consciousness? When did it evolve and what animals have it?”  He added, “The Attention Schema Theory (AST), developed over the past five years, may be able to answer those questions. The theory suggests that consciousness arises as a solution to one of the most fundamental problems facing any nervous system: Too much information constantly flows in to be fully processed. The brain evolved increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for deeply processing a few select signals at the expense of others, and in the AST, consciousness is the ultimate result of that evolutionary sequence. If the theory is right—and that has yet to be determined—then consciousness evolved gradually over the past half billion years and is present in a range of vertebrate species.”

Prehistoric tribes got along among themselves without a formal language nearly as well as any modern human communities having developed languages. Some of them manage with very rudimentary speech even now in far off isolated regions untouched by modern civilization. From a situation of having no languages mankind has not only developed many, many languages but has continuously been enriching the vocabularies as well. Mankind’s ability not only to sense and report but also to think, feel, imagine, record,remember, recall and so on is indeed remarkable and is helped along by other facilities, devices and equipment the human being is able to create. The human brains indeed seem to be evolving through generations to do all this in newer and more complex ways all the time. While the same old planet earth continues to revolve round itself and in its solar orbit, even the periodicity and predictability of natural phenomena on earth have been measurably affected by the activities of human beings backed by continuous increase in men’s knowledge.  In a previous chapter we read about the size increase of the human brain during the period of the development of the human mind. : “https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-has-human-brain-evolved/https://medhajournal.com/just-believe-chapter-4/comment-page-1/?doing_wp_cron=1581501330.8108010292053222656250

But it must be remembered that the brain size had not been on a continuous growth spree, and the growth had to a large extent meant only creation of more neurons than before and not any new kinds of neurons. There had always been scope for different ways in which the neurons could connect and network, and this is being kept much engaged, with mankind needing to create any amount of new products, facilities, processes, equipment, instruments systems and so on, including machines doing most of man’s work more efficiently than he can do, and machines which now think and plan for him. While the entire humanity is not involved in all these developments and activities, it had sufficed that a few specialists in every kind of creative activity and using a great variety of exclusive knowledge and skills are able to push humanity forward, for the sake of all humanity. Barring some who would act against all round human progress, if this many can move humanity forward in cooperation, where is the uniqueness of any one human being, such as myself?

It will come as a surprise to many of us to be told that it is the socializing attribute of man that has led to the uniqueness of every man. The more populated a region becomes, one may think that the entire population of that region would be similarly influenced by the geographical and other features of that region leading to homogeneity of activities and characteristics of the people. Thus, an outsider should find it difficult to tell one man of this region from any other, and the people of the region should all be just the same kind. But strangely, the very reason that homogenises, namely the crowding, leads also to pronounced differentiation. When facilities and opportunities must be shared, there is more cooperative action of course, but also more competitive action. In competition there will have to be successes and defeats and varying degrees of either. As a result, the possibility of equality continues to decrease meaningfully. Also, the so-called features and characteristics of a region are not constants but temporary observed averages and keep varying either continuously or sporadically and tend to influence the traits of the people of the region, uniformly in some ways and in great variety in others.

Even so-called identical twins cannot be delivered at the same time and are thus differentiated in their exposure to their environment from their birth onwards, if not prenatally. As they grow, their bodies and minds are continuously bombarded by approximately similar forces to a large extent. But the slightly differing details in the forces makes their susceptibilities, sensitivities and personalities sufficiently different.  The genes they inherited from their lineage influence most of their initial responses. After some time, they become very different indeed from one another.

Michael D. Breed and Leticia Sanchez, after examining several studies on cognitive behaviour and genetic makeup in living species other than humans

https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/both-environment-and-genetic-makeup-influence-behavior-13907840/  conclude, “Evolution has acted so that genes and environment act to complement each other in yielding behavioural solutions to the survival challenges faced by animals. Innate, or instinctive, responses allow animals to benefit from generations of natural selection on behaviour. Learning gives animals tools to respond to local conditions and changing environments. Understanding the relative roles of genes and the environment in determining human behaviour continues to create controversy. Behaviour is best seen as the result of evolutionary processes that sometimes create, through genetic coding, behavioural instructions for animals and at other times create flexible mechanisms to allow animals to solve problems specific to their environment.”

Despite uncertainties in extrapolating these animal studies to man, I tend to believe that the genetic make-up of a human individual will contribute substantially along with the environmental influences in his life to making him uniquely different from all other human beings. The uniqueness based on difference in gender will be significant too, because of the differences between the genders in physical and mental pathways.

I am not only different from all other people I come across in life in the lines on my palms or fingertips, colour of my skin, my hair or my eyes, in height or in weight. I develop my own tastes for what I want to eat and how I do what I do, differently from others. I think about every subject under the sun a little differently from my peers and vastly differently from many others. I reach levels of skill and proficiency in whatever I do, which are different from those of persons with whom I am active and still more different from people whom I never meet. In fact, as a citizen of my country, I have so many easy markers to distinguish me from every other fellow national that it is possible for my country’s rulers to create a unique identity card for me recording or noting only a few parameters out of several, which can indeed stamp me as a person different from every other human being ever born. None of these few parameters tell the world anything significant about the kind of person that I have become, which can be estimated in part, however by making enquiries about me from my close relatives, friends, and acquaintances including neighbours.

Recordable blunders that an individual may commit in the course of his life add unpleasantly to his noted identity, and recordable achievements add to the credit of his identity. But there is no doubt at all that every man is unique. There should be no difficulty whatsoever for any human being to believe in his uniqueness. A wise human being can understand and recognize the positive features in his identity and to convert them to advantage, both to himself and to others.

Much more than an individual’s own thoughts and actions contribute to his uniqueness. In times gone by, his life was influenced substantially only by his immediate neighbours. No longer. It can easily be understood that advanced communication facilities which make modern man reach out to all corners of this world and even beyond, will also enable people and influences from far away to be able to reach out to him and keep changing his own make-up and hence his prospects.  While such globalization may have the effect of passively converting an individual to be one of a large herd, once again the unique nature of the individual asserts itself, in varying degrees, both in accepting and resisting being brainwashed into sameness.

The uniqueness of a child entering a preschool may decrease temporarily when it accepts and is accepted by its peers there and starts absorbing what the preschool has on offer. Very soon, the genetic differences in its mental makeup start making it clear to the teacher that the child is a unique person, not just because it bears its own unique name, but certainly because, with the inputs being the same,  its development, its responses and their effects on its peers are all unique.

Without pondering the relative merits of the various methods of schooling children, we can all admit that almost without exception, every child born eventually learns to be a member of groups and communities larger than its family. Blending into groups and simultaneously demonstrating uniqueness within the groups, the child matures into a functional individual capable of survival and progress. Independent of his own exertions/initiatives an individual can have greater advantages or handicaps over his peers merely because of the accident of being born to his unique parents. The reasons do not need to be elaborated.

While advantages because of uniqueness can be celebrated by the person advantaged and people dear or close to him, are they not unfair since they do not reach others? A very large amount of unhappiness in the world can be attributed to the perception of some rather than all persons in a community receiving greater benefits either naturally or through human interaction. Understandably, benefits occurring selectively to a neighbour or close acquaintance seem to affect a person more severely than the advantages favouring unrelated strangers especially ones located far away.

The advances of humanity in the past few millennia have made the modern man a beneficiary of great technological progress on the one hand, and on the other, of the results of philosophical reflections on man and human society. There are philosophical inputs, which have provided some understanding about what is common to all of humanity and why such commonness or equality should be emphasized and encouraged against all odds. There is something to learn also from other forms of life, which lack the human advances in brain development, but still instinctively know the value of living and functioning in large groups to have reasonable chance of survival against predators and natural forces.

The website inequality.org describes the way the past few decades have steadily increased the disparity between the richest and the poorest around the world, in its article on global inequality https://inequality.org/facts/global-inequality/. It lays bare the inefficiency of the capitalist economies in reaching the advantage of human progress evenly among all the people they touch. To be fair to capitalism, it indeed does not claim to equalize. Its primary functioning involves competitive action with no holds barred, in which the winner gains from the loser on a continuous basis. New wealth is never created without a large portion of it becoming the asset of the richest. Advanced civilizations until a few centuries ago believed in the need for people being ruled by monarchs, who were born to that position. Even now several nations continue to have monarchs, whose powers of absolute suzerainty over their subjects have been taken away, with elected representatives of people forming national governments and the royal families having a merely decorative role to play. The absence of privileged monarchs and nobles in modern society does not however guarantee social and economic equality. Other factors have always developed, which create greater wealth and resultant power in the hands of a few people and disparities continue to remain. Most of humanity tends to be far less fortunate than the very few very rich persons of the world, who maintain their riches with the help of supporting financing institutions. Their children do enjoy the advantage of being born in wealthy families, wielding power and influence in many ways. Such selective good fortune enables their near and dear to celebrate their uniqueness, while the uniquely unfortunate ones can only rue theirs.

Philosophers from ancient times have understood the inevitability of social inequality, while never feeling comfortable with its presence in various shades and contours. Survival of the fittest had been a factor if not the main factor in all of evolution in the world’s life forms, playing it out in the more complex human stage in various ways. Discrimination and exploitation had dogged the lives of silent and disadvantaged people throughout human history. How humanity has been trying to look for and bring about a semblance of social equality with the help of improved systems of governance on the one hand and spiritual guidance and social activism on the other will form the subject of the next chapter.

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2 Replies to “Just believe Chapter 6”

  1. Thank you , Shri Partha for the very detailed and insightful analysis on the way consciousness develops, the variations in it and the extent to which this can be taken forward and the differentiation that takes place inevitably…helps a lot in clarifying many questions of evolutionary development.

    1. Thanks, Yamuna, for appreciating the main theme of this chapter that mechanisms do exist for differentiating individuals so that every individual becomes unique!

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