The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
Inquire about purchasing the book | Table of Contents | Annotated Bibliography | Class on Nature of Mind

These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

The Origins of Civilization

Sometime in the neolithic past, humans discovered agriculture. At about the same time they started creating cities. Beliefs coalesced around religions and political structures arose. One way to look at this story is that the transition from hunter-gatherer to farmer caused a new way of thinking that yielded religion and cities.

Another way to look at this story is that a new way of thinking (due to a physical change in the structure of the human brain) led to religion and philosophy, and this new way of thinking manifested itself in agriculture and cities.

A very small change in the genome can cause a very big difference in the brain (after all humans share 98.5% of their genes with chimps, and the genome of Homo Sapiens is virtually identical to the genome of the Neanderthals) and a very small change in the brain can cause a very big difference in behavior.

The traditional narrative is that humans discovered agriculture and created cities, and then religion/politics evolved because agriculture/cities fostered  a new way of thinking, and this new way of thinking was more rational than the previous one; but one can also view it the other way around.

For whatever reason the bodies of Homo Sapiens change over the centuries. The most visible feature is the height: we are way taller than neolithic people. There might also take place more subtle changes in the brain. When the brain  changes in some individuals, the other individuals call it "madness". However, when the change is caused by diet, pathogens or some unknown biological law, it can spread just like any epidemic. As more and more individuals acquire the new brain, eventually they come to rule: their brain is now the “modern” brain, and their thinking is superior to the old thinking of the “traditional” brain.

The new brain causes a new way of thinking, initially viewed as madness but later simply accepted as "modern". The modern way of thinking causes new behavior. Eventually only the children born with this new brain are accepted and reproduce. The others die away.

According to this alternative narrative, at some point the “modern” brain of the neolithic individual started forming symbolic systems that we now call "religion" and "politics". That new way of thinking caused a change in behavior, from hunting/gathering to agriculture and cities, not because it is more rational and efficient, but simply because their brains started thinking that way. Needless to say, a brain tries to prove to itself that it is the best brain ever.  (Whatever you think the brain is, it's your brain talking about itself). The new brains convinced themselves that the transition to agriculture was the right thing to do and that such a transition constitutes "progress", that it was rational discovery when in fact it was irrational self-delusion.

Because the archeological record does not show which one happened first (agriculture/cities or religion/philosophy), historians assumed that agriculture  happened first; but it may well be the other way around: first our brains  started (accidentally) believing in deities of fertility, rain dances and river  spirits; and then we started farming and creating cities. That is idea that the French archaeologist Jacques Cauvin proposed.

In that case we may have been doing this for thousands of years.  We think it has been constant rational progress, i.e. better adaptation to the environment, but in fact changes in behavior have been driven by random changes in the brain; which means that sometimes we adapt better and sometimes we don't. But every time our brains convince themselves that we adapted better.


Back to the beginning of the chapter "A History of Consciousness" | Back to the index of all chapters