HUMAN DESTINY – PART VII – HISTORICAL VIEW – WILL DURANT

“As humanity, or at least their leaders, become more fully aware of the nature and origin of civilization and the manner in which it has hitherto developed they will discover firmer foundations on which to build, more efficient ways of eradicating the inevitable and congenial errors of the race, and of stimulating patient and fruitful reconstruction and reform” ­– J. H. Robinson, Encylcopaedia Britanica, 1929.

 

Our first two historians, Fiske and Toynbee, see in man’s future the elimination of conflict and warfare and a religious or spiritual enlightenment. Now we look at the last of our historians Will Durant, an atheist philosopher and anarchist in youth, who matured into the author of the remarkable 11 volume The Story of Civilization. (Much of his later writing was done with his wife Ariel.)

Durant defines progress as the “increasing control of the environment by life.”1 Civilizations transmit progress from one to another, that is, progress is not continuous or universal; but overall the average man alive today is experiencing the high point of human progress. On the other hand, the only certain thing in history is decadence just as there is nothing certain in life but death. New civilizations develop from the “slow blending of many peoples joined in the conquest of the environment.  The mixture has the same rejuvenating effect as in the conjugation of protozoa.”2 “The moral for America is obvious; our ‘blood-chaos’ is the prelude to a new people, a new stability of soul, and a new civilization.”3

Durant believes the future will depend on social institutions: educational, governmental, and religious. Education rather than pedigree or biology will transmit and extend civilization; but religion is essential because without it civilization has ‘science without wisdom’ and ‘cleverness without conscience.’

Regardless, Durant advises us not to fret about the future. No great civilization entirely dies; elements of it are transferred to the next. Man’s “precious achievements have survived the vicissitudes of rising and falling states: the making of fire and light, of the wheel and other basic tools, language, writing, art, and song; agriculture, the family, and parental care; social organization, morality, and charity; and the use of teaching to transmit the lore of the family and the race. These are the elements of civilization, and they have been tenaciously maintained through the perilous passage from one civilization to the next. They are the connective tissue of human history.”4 And because writing permits its transmission, “civilization need no longer die. Perhaps it will outlive even man, and pass on upward to a higher race.”5

Interestingly all three of our historians have optimistic views of man’s destiny. Fiske imagines the evolution of human kindness and intelligence into world peace and religious (Christian) apotheosis. Toynbee foresees a world order founded on the coalescence of religions into a common human heritage. Durant projects progress in control of nature and an increasingly rich human culture that may outlast man and be adopted by a later species. Next we look at how several great philosophers see human destiny.

1Durant, Will and Ariel, The Lessons of History. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1968. Page 98.

2Durant, Will, The Pleasures of Philosophy. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1957. ISBN 0-671-58110-4, page 264-265.

3Ibid. Page 267.

4Durant, Will and Ariel, The Lessons of History. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1968. Page 100.

5Durant, Will, The Pleasures of Philosophy. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1957. ISBN 0-671-58110-4, page 271.

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HUMAN DESTINY – PART VI – HISTORICAL VIEW – ARNOLD TOYNBEE

“To achieve a genuine world order, its components, while maintaining their own values, need to acquire a second culture that is global, structural, and juridical – a concept of order that transcends the perspective and ideals of any one region or nation.”– Henry Kissinger.1

Last time we saw how John Fiske saw the destiny of man as the evolution of kindness, justice, and intelligence and the extinction of warfare. Next we examine the future of man as envisaged by the great British historian and philosopher, Arnold Toynbee. In his monumental A Study of History, he identifies 28 civilizations in the past 6000 years of human history. The central thought of his analysis of civilizations is the cycling of “challenge and response,” with final failure to challenge leading to breakdown of a society. He does not believe the death of a civilization is inevitable, but emphasizes that the timeframe of all human civilizations is short on a geological scale making them virtually contemporaries. As such he cautions against “parochialism,” – our civilization is not fundamentally different from the others and may continue or collapse.2

Toynbee finds occasions when history repeats itself (such as the American Civil War and the war for German unification), and this tendency towards repetition mirrors biology; that is, repetition is creative and “in accordance with the general rhythm of the Universe.”3 Optimistically, he notes “the effort to create a new manifestation of life – be it a new species of mollusk or a new species of human society – seldom or never succeeds at the first attempt. Creation is not so easy an enterprise as that. It wins its ultimate successes through a process of trial and error.”4

Factors for existing civilization to endure include: (1) a constitutional co-operative system of world government (probably through federation), (2) economic compromise of free enterprise and socialism, and (3) placement of the secular super-structure back on religious foundations.5 In that last regard, he notes religions last longer than civilizations and religious tolerance must be the future of man as intolerance leads to violence, sin and death. “A time may come when the local heritages of the different historic nations, civilizations, and religions will have coalesced into a common heritage of the whole human family.” 6  However this will take time; revolution cannot leapfrog the intermediate pain of experience. Utopia cannot be rushed, but depends on the internal growth of men, and in any case is not a simple return to the past or to Nature.7  But “our future largely depends on ourselves. We are not just at the mercy of inexorable fate.”

At the end of A Study of History, is Toynbee’s essay titled Living Happy Ever After. 9 In this he suggests once we have a World Society in which Mankind has rid itself of war and class-conflict, solved the population problem, and limited need for work, what will man do with his leisure time -previously the domain of a privileged minority and responsible for the great achievements of man in arts and science? Will life be just a monotony of mechanical work and insipid leisure? He thinks not-  the effect of meeting man’s bodily needs may be to liberate his spirit for “fulfilling the true end of Man by glorifying God and enjoying Him once again.” 10

 

1Kissinger, Henry, World Order; Penguin Press, New York, 2014. ISBN 978-1-59420-614-6, page 373.

2The Great Ideas Today 1961, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., Chicago, 1961. Pages 530-531.

3Ibid. Page 538.

4Ibid. Page 538-9.

5Ibid. Page 539.

6Toynbee, Arnold, An Historian’s Approach to Religion. Oxford University Press, London, 1956. Page 298.

7Toynbee, Arnold, A Study of History Illustrated. Oxford University Press, London, 1972. ISBN 07-065129-9, page 245-7.

8The Great Ideas Today 1961, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., Chicago, 1961. Pages 539.

9Toynbee, Arnold, A Study of History – Abridgement of Volumes VII-X by D.C. Somervell. Oxford University Press, New York & London, 1957. Pages 345-349

10Ibid. Page 349

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HUMAN DESTINY – PART V – HISTORICAL VIEW – JOHN FISKE

“The greatest things that man has done, he owes to the painful sense of incompleteness of his destiny.” – Madame de Stael (novelist 1766-1817).

In the last six posts we have reviewed speculations on human destiny by an anthropologist (Richard Leakey), biologist (George Gaylord Simpson), physical scientist (Fred Kohler), and cosmologist (Fred Hoyle). Leakey seems the most pessimistic – man is unlikely to evolve within culture and may cause his own extinction sooner or become extinct naturally later, although he notes the average species naturally endures for some 12 million years in which case man would have tremendous time. The other three are more optimistic seeing human evolution leading to increased social integration and knowledge, and shared or universal consciousness. Next we will look at the predictions of three great historians.

The first is John Fiske who was a historian1, philosopher, and librarian at Harvard in the 19th century. His comments predate the two World Wars and perhaps seem naïve given that later history. Much of his work builds on the philosophy that came out of Darwinism, especially that of Herbert Spencer. In his short book, The Destiny of Man,2 he begins by reviewing the science of evolution as it was understood in his time. Man appears to him to be the ultimate outcome of a God-directed evolution, making him what Simpson calls a finalist3 (he is also a Christian).

He finds it “impossible that any creature zoologically distinct from man and superior to him should ever exist upon the earth.”4 In his opinion “the most essential feature of man is his improvableness.”5 Evolution now involves the perfecting of humanity especially through psychical (mental) development.  His summary of human history is a three phase advance from empires conquering without incorporating the defeated, to empires conquering with assimilation of the defeated, to the final stage of non-violent federation of nations. In the future, strife leading to warfare will become extinct, and humans will evolve higher levels of kindness, sympathy, justice, and intelligence – giving new meaning to Christ’s prediction, “The meek will inherit the earth.”6

Death for humans will be followed by an afterlife of the permanent spiritual element of man. Death he believes, like Euripides, is the “dawning of true knowledge and of true life.”7 He concludes “The future is lighted for us with the radiant colors of hope. Strife and sorrow shall disappear. Peace and love shall reign supreme. The dream of the poets, the lessons of priest and prophet, the inspiration of the Great Musician, is confirmed in the light of modern knowledge.”8

Fiske’s prediction of the evolution of kindness and enhanced intelligence in humans and a future of peace on earth sounds Pollyannish and may be derived from his faith more than his study of history, but it remains a refreshing point of view of our destiny. Perhaps the 20th and early 21st centuries were mere oscillations in the story of man’s painfully slow growth as a species. We can only hope that evolution of kindness, justice, and intelligence occurs before man destroys himself and the planet.

1Historical works include: The Critical Period of American History, The Beginnings of New England, The War of Independence, The Discovery and American Conquest of America, Civil Government in the United States, and New France and New England.

2Fiske, John, The Destiny of Man; Houghton, Mifflin and Company, New York, 1884.

3See Human Destiny – Part III – Biologic on this site – September 4, 2019.

4Fiske, John, The Destiny of Man; Houghton, Mifflin and Company, New York, 1884. Page 31.

5Ibid, page 70.

6Matthew 5:5.

7 Fiske, John, The Destiny of Man; Houghton, Mifflin and Company, New York, 1884. Page 117.

8Ibid, pages118-119.

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HUMAN DESTINY – PART V – A COSMOLOGIST’S SPECULATIONS

“The tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors has been replaced by a cold, immense, indifferent Universe in which humans are relegated to obscurity. But I see the emergence in our consciousness of a Universe of a magnificence, and an intricate, elegant order far beyond anything our ancestors imagined.” – Carl Sagan. 1

In the middle of the 20th century, there was still a vigorous debate regarding the nature of the cosmos. On one side was the Belgian priest and physicist, Georges LeMaitre, who thought Edwin Hubble’s finding of the accelerating expansion of the universe indicated its origin in the explosion of a primordial atom and on the other, a British astronomer, Fred Hoyle, who argued the universe is maintained by a continuous creation of new matter. In a radio broadcast on the BBC, Hoyle sarcastically and unwittingly gave LeMaitre’s theory a name which stuck – the Big Bang.2 The rest is history.

But don’t be misled: Hoyle was a serious scientist, the author of the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis.3 In any case, he published a book based on those BBC broadcasts that summarized cosmology as understood at the time. The last chapter of that book, his personal view of the future, is the subject of this blog.

Hoyle is careful to preface his remarks by noting there is no agreement among scientists on the future and emphasizing the views as his own. Starting with astronomy, he does not predict a dramatic change in the understanding of the universe over the near term and even thinks there is a possibility that astronomy will regress as it did after the Greeks; not because of an apocalypse, but because of an “increasing tendency to rivet scientific inquiry in fetters.”4

He rejects materialist or deterministic theories and there is no connection between life (an accidental machine) and the universe as a whole. He argues materialists leave consciousness unexplained and can’t account for the existence of the universe. History has proven that scientific inquiry eventually explains the apparently unexplainable.

He also rejects theological accounts as illusions and sees no advantage to self-deception. He is intrigued by the mystery of the human mind and predicts that in the future it should be possible to determine the physical relationships between mind and body. He believes the greatest lesson of his adult life is that one’s own consciousness in not enough. We all would choose to share consciousness with great individuals like Shakespeare, Mozart, or Gauss. He postulates “an evolution of life whereby the essence of each of us becomes welded together into some vastly larger and more potent structure, I think such a dynamic evolution would be more in keeping with the grandeur of the physical Universe than the static picture offered by formal religion.”5 His hope appears to be based on an earlier observation: no fictional or imaginary description of the Universe is as fantastic as the reality uncovered by astronomical science. Perhaps integrated consciousness will become another fantastic and unexpected actuality.

 

1Sagan, Carl, Billions & Billions. Random House, New York, 1997. ISBN 0-679-41160-7, page 213.

2Hoyle, Fred, The Nature of the Universe. Harper & Brothers, New York, 1950. Page 124. He writes: “Some people have argued that continuous creation introduces a new assumption into science – and a very startling assumption at that. Now I do not agree that continuous creation is an additional assumption. It is certainly a new hypothesis, but it only replaces a hypothesis that lies concealed in the older theories, which assume, as I have said before, that the whole of the matter in the Universe was created in one big bang at a particular time in the remote past. On scientific grounds this big bang assumption is much the less palatable of the two.”  Interestingly theories of the multiverse seem to require a steady creation of matter at that higher level.

3 Hoyle also had some odd beliefs including panspermia, wherein aliens supposedly seeded hospitable planets with life and were thus responsible for life on Earth.

4Ibid, page135.

5Ibid, page 142.

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HUMAN DESTINY – PART IV – PHYSICAL SCIENCE (CONTINUED)

In the last post I discussed Fred Kohler’s analysis of the apparent contradiction of the evolution of matter and life and the second law of thermodynamics and his theory that man in societal structure represents the highest level of order yet to appear in that process. Today we will review his projection of this trajectory on the ultimate future of man.

He begins by reminding us that the formation of the societal organism for the human species is proceeding surprisingly fast compared to other creatures, therefore it is reasonable to expect the human societal organism will come to be a distinct bio-social entity with far greater capabilities than currently. In his view that process has just begun and comparatively speaking, the current human societal organism is quite primitive.

He thinks it is not yet possible to determine the relationship between the individual and the societal organism of the future. However it appears certain that further human progress will not result mainly from biological improvements of individual humans, but from an integration process.  Eventually multiple societal organisms may develop on different star systems, and these may further integrate in the distant future into a ‘super-societal’ organism. That would allow a higher magnitude of understanding than capable by the individual human mind. Such a ‘supersocial’ organism will control great expanses of non-living matter and perhaps even cosmic processes. The final extrapolation of this evolution is a fully integrated supersocial organism that effectively becomes the entity of the universe itself – a conscious universe.

This science fiction like destiny for man and his descendants may seem farfetched, and Kohler admits it is of a low order of validity, but given adequate time and the historical trajectory of evolution, it appears plausible. He ends his speculation on the following note: “This conclusion may seem utterly fantastic if considered in the light of present human limitations in contrast to the immensity of the cosmos. Still is it not equally fantastic, yet true, that the matter that constitutes man has, if considered as an entity, even now achieved some knowledge of its own structure, as well as the nature of other matter? So perhaps the glimmering of consciousness which man, a tiny portion of the total matter of the universe, has already achieved, is just the dawn of the great developments in evolution that are yet to come.”2

1Kohler, Fred, Evolution and Human Destiny. The Philosophical Library, New York, 1952.

2Ibid, page 118.

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HUMAN DESTINY – PART IV – PHYSICAL SCIENCE VIEW

“I believe we are here for some purpose, and the purpose has something to do with the future, and it transcends altogether the limits of our present knowledge and understanding.” – Freeman Dyson, Princeton theoretical physicist.

 

We turn now to the physical science view of Fred Kohler.1 His focus is on the apparent incongruity of the second law of thermodynamics – in a closed system there is a tendency to increasing disorder (entropy) over time – and the reality of the evolution of matter to more complex entities. He begins by noting that inorganic matter has been evolving into more complex entities since the Big Bang despite the second law because the improbability of higher order can, under the correct circumstances, permit matter to become more complex locally while entropy increases elsewhere. He uses the word ‘extropy’ for such an increase in order.

Evolution essentially began with subatomic particles aggregating into atoms which then combined to create molecules. Later, when circumstances allowed, crystals formed in some places as for example on the crust of Earth. In the right chemical environment – for example a supersaturated solution – crystals spontaneously enlarge and multiply. The next higher level of complexity was colloidal structures such as proteins which formed from primitive amino acids. But inorganic structures were limited by the availability of specific chemicals for incremental growth. Life transcended this limitation when early cells began to use sunlight to sustain and reproduce themselves using only simple readily available compounds, giving them a distinct advantage over inorganic substances.

It turns out that as entities become more complex, there is a narrower range of ambient conditions in which they can endure. In Kohler’s opinion, this is why highly complex matter must be able to synthesize its structure. Unicellular organisms or protozoa solved this through reproduction by fission and the ability to correct inevitable cellular damage by conjugation (the mixing components of two cells to create a healthy cell).

Complexity increased further when metazoic cells appeared and began to aggregate into cell colonies. Over time these developed a new form of reproduction – fusion of specialized germ cells. However this came at a price: (1) eventual death of the parent organisms as mutations and injuries could no longer be corrected through conjugation, and (2) specialization of component cells such that they were no longer able to exist outside the larger organism. The pattern of evolution then is clear – a trend of ever-increasing extropy coupled with innovations for species preservation.(51)

Order increased further with societal organisms, such as insect colonies, which involve more complexity than individual organisms. Individuals in societal formations also become specialized and are increasingly unable to exist outside the group. The integration into colonies requires a concomitant increase in the organization of their environment (e.g. the bee hive) and the development of a reproduction system characteristic of a multicellular organism with specialized units for reproduction (e.g the queen bee) (66).

Kohler’s thesis is simple – man represents the highest form of societal order to date. Man evolved into a societal organism using language, learning, and tools to sustain his social structure and to increase the orderliness of his immediate surroundings. The history of civilization is a trend to increasing size and complexity of cohesive units of society.

(continued next post)

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HUMAN DESTINY – PART III – BIOLOGIC (continued)

In the lasts blog we introduced George Gaylord Simpson’s analysis of the meaning of evolution. His approach to human destiny is consistent with that  understanding. Evolution will continue in human and nonhuman species. Future evolution cannot be predicted, but we can discuss possibilities inherent in man and current life. First he thinks if man becomes extinct, it is unlikely that a similar (primate) species will evolve, though other animals may evolve intelligence and some human characteristics such as prehensile forelimbs. Second, while man exists, no other animals will develop human level intelligence. Ominously he predicts that  man will cause the extinction of other species while also noting that man is the first species ever that could cause its own extinction.

Future human organic evolution will be slower than societal evolution, and ,in fact, it is as likely that natural selection will lead to regression as to progression among Homo sapiens. Meanwhile targeted human evolution entails significant ethical problems.  Still, man can and likely will add purpose to evolution especially societal evolution where the goal is likely to be to an increase in knowledge including discovery of desirable traits for mankind. Even now we know man is not perfect and in theory can  be  improved . The most beneficial improvements are likely to be an increase in maximal intelligence and life expectancy both which will facilitate a higher order of knowledge. And since ethical  eugenics must be voluntary, that may be preferred by individuals once desirable traits, genes, and mutations are known.

Last he feels the future ethics of man in an apparently purposeless universe where man has choice and thus responsibility must be based on the proposition that knowledge is good and blind faith is morally wrong. The ethical society will likely be democratic wherein the integrity and dignity of the individual is maintained. He concludes that the chaos of our time can be reduced to order only with responsible human knowledge. I find this remarkably reminiscent of the teaching of Socrates who asserts that virtue is synonymous with knowledge.

Next we will investigate a physical science conception of the trajectory of evolution in the universe and the consequences for  man’s possible future.

 

1Simpson, George Gaylord, The Meaning of Evolution. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1949. Chapter IX.

2Ibid, Chapter X.

3Ibid, page 261.

4Ibid, page 262.

5Ibid, page 281.

6Ibid, page 286.

7Ibid, page310.

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HUMAN DESTINY – PART III –  BIOLOGIC

“Your destiny, O River,

It is even as the destiny of man.

O, ye are brethren,

Souls unharboured,

Seeking to regain the sea.” – Madeline Mason-Manheim

Last time we looked at the destiny of humanity as seen by the great paleoanthropologist, Richard Leakey. Today I would like to consider human destiny form the standpoint of the 20th century Harvard biologist, George Gaylord Simpson. His take on evolution is somewhat different; he notes few or no major classes of life go entirely extinct, rather species are replaced, based on randomness and sensate opportunism.1 He identifies three theories on the forces acting throughout the history of life: (1) materialistic, (2) vitalistic, and (3) finalistic.

The materialistic theory argues that the evolution of life is simply an extension of the evolution of all matter with only the difference of the organization of life. The vitalistic theory suggests the possibility of forces peculiar to and inherent in life. The finalistic theory assumes a force that brings progression toward foreordained goals or a transcendental purpose. Simpson tells us that all three theories have adherents, but he accepts the materialistic theory, as do most scientists.2

He points out that “evolution is not invariably accompanied by progress, nor does it really seem to be characterized by progress as an essential feature.”3 There is general but inconstant expansion of life, varying sorts of progress among different lifeforms, but no evidence of a supernatural perfecting principle. He admits that “man, is on the whole but not in every single respect, the pinnacle so far of evolutionary progress.”4

Nonetheless “the first grand lesson learned from evolution was that of the unity of life.”5 Man is an animal, albeit fundamentally a new kind with a second order of evolution – the ‘inheritance of learning’ or ‘societal evolution.’6 This new phase of evolution does involve purpose and plan unlike organic evolution. Man “can choose to develop his capacities as the highest animal and try to rise still farther, or he can choose otherwise. The choice is his responsibility and his alone.”7 Therefore while organic evolution is amoral, societal evolution is moral with social and individual facets.

(continued next post)

 

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HUMAN DESTINY – PART II – ANTHROPLOGIC

“It is deplorably anthropocentric to insist that reality be constrained by what the human mind can conceive…The limits of our mind are just not the limits of reality.” – Colin McGinn.1

 

It seems fitting that we begin our search for the meaning of human destiny with the view of an expert on the origin of man, the great paleoanthropologist, Richard Leakey, who echoes the maxim of his father: “The past is the key to our future.”

He starts with the simple reminder that all living humans belong to one species, Homo sapiens, with a particular evolutionary history and a particular relationship to the rest of the natural world. Humans are an accident or perhaps more accurately a chance event in Earth history. Optimistically he notes that humans appear to have evolved to cooperate; whereas violence and warfare are later cultural developments of the shift to agriculture.2

In speaking of the hominid line of evolution, he emphasizes that the “probability of a particular species going extinct is determined as much by external factors such as catastrophic change in habitat as by internal factors such as how well adapted or fit they are.”3 For example, it remains unclear whether Neanderthals went extinct by assimilation, destruction, or competition by our species.

He notes the evolution of reflexive human consciousness is the fourth great biological revolution. This led to our great creativity, but also great arrogance; to the point that we have an anthropocentric view of the world and perhaps the universe as well. He imagines that a visitor from a more advanced extraterrestrial civilization “might point out that the quality of consciousness of which we are so proud is in fact a fragile entity, a cognitive illusion created by a few neuronal tricks in the midst of gray matter.”4

In thinking about human destiny, he takes us back to the fossil record where we learn species do not last long on the cosmic or geologic time scale – about two million years for vertebrates. “Species go extinct for the most part not because they are in some way inferior, but because they succumb to the vagaries of mass extinction.”5 Our species is young, perhaps 100,000 years or so, and the periodicity of the extinction pattern suggests the next major event is not due for about twelve million years, so our prospects should be good. But a looming cause of human extinction would be humanity itself, that is, the ‘sixth extinction,’ in which case Earth’s biota will recover without humans and eventually a new intelligent life form may evolve.

He considers the alternative that humans might evolve into descendant species, but guesses this is unlikely as culture may block further evolution and genetic intervention or deliberate breeding programs would entail difficult ethical issues. But he concludes that a future Earth without humans is likely. The main lesson of his investigation for us is that we need to be better tenants of planet Earth.

It seems to me the anthropologist’s inevitability of human extinction mirrors that of our own individual deaths, but similarly does not eliminate the meaning of our species any more than mortality makes a meaningful life impossible.

1Leakey, Richard and Lewin, Roger, Origins Reconsidered. Doubleday, New York, 1992. ISBN 0-385-41264-9, page 310-311.

2Ibid. Page xiii-xxii.

3Ibid. Page 70.

4Ibid. Page 310.

5Ibid. Page 355.

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