Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy


    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

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Evolving intelligence – starting point for human understanding

Posted by robertpriddy on September 21, 2009

The “crib” of life conditions
Every living being grows up within a particular set of environmental influences. This is so even from before birth. In the womb, the egg, the seed and so on, the conditions for life and growth vary for each individual and species. After millions of years of evolution, humans are no doubt subject to the same principles, and this extends beyond our physical natures to the experienced product of our brains… our consciousness and intelligence. Even so, each person develops uniquely according to circumstances, which understanding of any person must therefore always take into account. Because of the ingrained traditions and sheer inertia of primitive superstitions and pre-scientific thinking where one could understand nothing about all but relatively very few natural causes, one believed that the human differed from all natural beings in being endowed with a God-created spirit or soul. This is called ‘creationism’, which is disproved as thoroughly as any idea can be though the massive evidence and explanatory power of evolutionary evidence. We were not born in the lap of the gods, but in the crib of the earth.

Speaking figuratively, the “crib” from which every person begins to experience the world represents the entire yet specific influences which form his or her individuality. Even when the baby leaves the actual crib and walks into the world, the figurative crib of the home and its family (if any) continues its influence for a majority of youth until physical maturity is reached. Though the nurture which develops us physically can be determining for those whose lives become physically oriented – such as in bodily labour, sports, and other careers where bodily features are paramount – the most important life influences for the majority are of a mental nature. This includes the handed-down skills, knowledge, and beliefs imbibed in “the crib”, and these extend to education and personal adjustment to the society in which one finds oneself (often called ‘socialization’).

Each “crib” is obviously limited. The outlook of even the most brilliant child of the most well-informed and broadly-experienced parents is still limited when maturity is reached, compared to the outlook of the greatest men and women of history. Though age is not a guarantee of maturity of mind, it is a necessary condition of it. Despite that, age is not correlated with mental maturity. Intelligence as a potential, rather than an actuality, may be measured to some extent – if not in all respects, of course. Actual intelligence, however, is quite another quality to any IQ measurement, however sophisticated, because it embraces all aspects of human life and understanding. Understanding relies on experience, breadth and depth of experience, accuracy of information and scope of knowledge… little of which can be measured other than by limited sampling of a person’s awareness, memory and mental agility. In short, intelligent understanding of the whole of existence – as far as this is possible – is not attainable before a considerable level of experience – and thus also age – is reached, all other pre-conditions which limit scope of knowledge being present.

The individual’s personal, social and overall intellectual evolution is doubtless no straightforward or ‘linear’ development. Though knowledge can cumulate progressively (even when much information is necessarily forgotten or discarded) the underlying assumptions and conclusions which are inevitable in all understanding can change most radically throughout life. That is invariably more a sign of development than of changeability, more an indicator of learning through trial and error than simply a catalogue of mistakes. Those who pursue many different viewpoints, languages, theories, faiths in the course of a lifetime- and whose horizons are not bounded by one nation – are far more likely to reach a higher level of mental evolution and moral sophistication than those who remain strictly within a single profession, one language, one part of the world, within a single faith and so forth. It is not possible for those professional intellectuals who never plunge into life beyond their libraries, laboratories or universities to attain to the kind of evolution of the spirit open to others who do not. By ‘spirituality’ one should not understand any other worldliness such as in religious beliefs and practices, but the unfolding of the human spirit of investigation and enterprise in the world of the present. How fully this ‘unfolding’ can extend is dependent naturally on many circumstances and there are no limits in any direction of interest, making complete mastery of possible knowledge or understanding impossible to anyone.

Though the above views are not supported here by empirical evidence, the likelihood of their truth is probably quite evident to most mature persons who – to one or another extent – fit the requirements they describe.

What conditions make up the “crib”? Evolutionary science has already shown in amazing breadth of detail, considering the relative brevity of its existence since Darwin, how conditions right back to the emergence of life forms on earth have successively formed the basis for the succeeding steps. There are relatively few important gaps in the overall chain and none which any longer could challenge its overall validity. It is a leap in human intelligence compared with the total ignorance of this entire realm of scientific discovery only two hundred years ago and its denial by so-called ‘creationists’ (i.e. religious believers) since then. Other sciences received great impetus from evolutionary science, not least paleontology, anthropology, psychology, sociology and other human sciences in which the consequences of evolution have stimulated to both new basic assumptions and increased inter-disciplinary research. So much for the physical “crib” and natural selection regarding life apart from humans. The more intricate and wide-reaching questions of human evolution now relate to the nature of the human “crib” as sets of both a physical, social, cultural and intellectual conditioners and influences.

The evolution of human knowledge – as a product of human intelligence – is much illumined both by social anthropology and history. The history of cultures, especially those which have predominated in the impetus to civilised world order, is of great significance in evaluating knowledge, its roots, consequences, and not least its limitations and possibilities. Which forms of knowledge represent objective progress as determined by their consequences are contested on political, social and not least religious grounds. Certain advances in science and – to a lesser extent in social thought – are firmly established on a very wide basis and proven empirically through the efficacy of their consequences, whether or not these effects are desirable to all. Such advances represent a standard by which the historical progress of understanding in a culture, nation, population or other grouping of people can be estimated. There are no accurate overall measures of progress of understanding, though there are many reasonable measures of a wide variety of types of personal development of understanding and knowledge. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that sub-cultures where there is understanding and general acceptance of relativity and quantum physics, of evolutionary science and genetics are more advanced than those where this is not the case, or where these are contested on religious or similar grounds. The same applies, with lesser exactness and reduced reliability to many aspects of knowledge about ourselves as social and psychological beings.

The consciousness that prevails most in any social group or sub-culture – even sometimes in a whole population – can characterise it as belonging to a former era in human intellectual and social development as distinct from the prevailing consciousness among those who have surpassed that level in general or as a significant number of the issues which concern a society. An image may help here, it is as if different individuals, – and often also groups of people – exist within a “time-space capsule” which can be roughly dated in terms of the history of human thought and action.

See also The Nature of Human Understanding  and  Unique diversity in human brains (minds) and their cognitive modifiability

also On the validity of personal (i.e. ‘subjective’) experience

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