The evolution of the contemplative mind
In the novel, A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks, a character explains to his girlfriend why his brother is genetically, incurably schizophrenic. he tells her,
“––it’s like this. Species change because, as they breed, minute errors occur in cell duplications, which give minor variations to the offspring. Usually the change dies with the individual. But once in a million times this tiny change gives the individual a tiny advantage in his world, so he’s favored in breeding. The change is passed on and becomes embedded. The species has evolved. To survive better than your competitors, you need only minute advantages. But some freak change happened in human ancestors. It was not microscopic, it was gigantic. We needed only to keep half a step ahead of other primates and carnivorous land animals with large incisors. But instead of that we produced Shakespeare, Mozart, Newton, Einstein. We only needed a slightly more agile gibbon and we ended up with Sophocles. And the flip side of this colossal and totally unnecessary advantage was that the human genome was, to use our favorite technical term, fucked. It is unstable, it’s flawed, because so ahead of itself. One in a hundred pays the price for everyone else to live their weirdly hyper-advanced lives, they’re the scapegoats, poor, poor bastards– “
(Sebastian Faulks, A Week in December, a novel 2009)
There are, in the fossil history, evidences of these gigantic leaps, gaps and discontinuities in the otherwise somewhat smooth flow of evolution. Is this just because we haven’t found the missing links, or did the changes actually occur in this way? Did a humanoid just suddenly get born with a longer neck and the right bone structure for a larynx that would enable it to articulate a language, to speak aloud the thoughts it had been silently harboring for generations? Have we ever seen this kind of gigantic change anywhere else? However it may have occurred, it didn’t just result in the producers of the great books, however. It also made it possible for the production of great delusions and great fallacies, and along with them things like religions, dreams, ideologies, subtle and sophisticated cruelty, and disasters we might never have imagined had we not learned to communicate those irrational thoughts to our compatriots.
This is where we hope to go in this work. To look at this marvelous and frightening capability of speculation in its sometimes constructive, sometimes destructive manifestations, and the quandary we face in trying to understand it. Where and when did it appear? How can we separate its duality into clear and understandable parts, the blessing and the curse?