NOTES FOR A LECTURE ON HUMAN BEHAVIOUR OR A LITTLE BOOK
Some people have the gift of telling other people how unpleasant they are, without giving offence. A few have developed this into such a fine art that the public pay them vast sums of money for the privilege of being insulted. Desmond Morris performed this trick in his books ‘The Naked Ape’ and ‘The Human Zoo’, which sell in huge numbers. A well known exponent of the art of insult was Barbara Ward who died in 1981, aged sixty-seven. She did it so well that she earned a Peerage, a Professorship, numerous Honorary Degrees, and a Governorship of the BBC; Popes and Presidents loved her. The President of the United States wrote to her, "Dear Barbara, you’re gracious and generous note brought a wonderful brightness…. you have given me much more than your priceless friendship, you have-brought wisdom and inspiration." That was Johnson, not Nixon. Barbara and Nixon did not get on too well.
What did Barbara Ward say about everyone to make her so popular? She said, looking about her, "It is though one had strayed into a science fiction narrative and landed on a planet in which only fear, and greed, were institutionalized; a planet inhabited and ruled by anthropoids, with only fossilized and vestigial intelligence, and a hideous preoccupation with death". She did not mean us of course or our rulers, we live on a different planet called our local area or town.
Let us, just for fun, visit this other planet, which Barbara called Earth and report what we find. Thus, we can discover if she had any justification for calling its inhabitants, crazy, stupid, murdering apes. For that is what she did say, loudly and repeatedly.
Firstly, we can report on the general health of these strange creatures of another world :
Earth population is now about 4,400 million I980 (6000plus Million 2000 see the latest World Population Figures) and is increasing at the rate of one million every five days, nine-tenths of this increase is in the poorest and already food short nations. Eighty per cent of the resources of the planet, are consumed by twenty-five per cent of the population, who have an expectation of life of 71 years as against the 54 years of the remaining seventy-five per cent. At least 600 million people suffer from hunger and severe malnutrition, some 35 million are now blind due to vitamin A deficiency or waterborne infections. In 1978, over 12 million children under the age of five died of hunger and these figures are not changing for the better. See, new figures.
Secondly, we report on their Tribal Organizations :
There are some 155 Independently Governed States. In 30 of these, over eighty per cent of the population is illiterate, and it is estimated that 1,500 million people (over one-third of the population of the planet) have no chance to become literate! Most states are either Totalitarian, and, or, Prison States. In only about 30 States is the government elected, by the free choice of the people in a secret ballot. In over 60 States, torture is widely used and officially condoned. The torture of children and babies, in order to extract information from their parents is not unusual. Refugees, from war and political persecution number about 10 million.
Lastly, we report on their past and present behavior :
Throughout their recorded history, humans have been engaged in continuous warfare and in periodic, deliberate, wholesale massacres of their own species. In the last century, over 200 plus million people have been killed or have died, as a direct result of these activities. Since the end of World War 2, about (not quite sure of this figure – my Dad’s handwriting) wars have been fought causing the death of some 30 million people. Current, annual military expenditure is at the rate of 600 thousand million dollars – just over one million dollars every minute. This expenditure is escalating rapidly and an arms race is in progress, despite the fact that the destructive power available in Nuclear Weapons now in place is sufficient to destroy both East and West Europe some 30 times over. America some 20 times and to extinguish all life on Earth. It is noted that over the next 5 years, America plans to double military expenditure from 162 thousand million dollars to 343 thousand million dollars. Millions of dollars have been authorized for nerve gas and chemical warfare. Obviously, Russia is undertaking a similar program of escalation.
These are the facts of the present situation, but as they are difficult to remember, you may like to take note of three simple elements:
1. Military expenditure – One million dollars per minute.
2. Increase in numbers of the desperately poor – One million per week.
3. Child deaths from starvation – One million per month.
There has been much ill informed comment on these figures, and I commend to you two authoritative reports. Just published is ‘Global 2000’ this is a 1000 page report to the U.S. President by the U.S. State Department. It is very expensive, but available from your local library. Pages 1 to 5 of volume 1 summarize the major findings and conclusions, and pages 39 to 42 predict conditions in the year 2000. Those interested in the World Situation, particularly parents, would do well to take photocopies of these few pages and study them. I would advise everyone to buy a copy of ‘North-South’. A Programme for Survival known as the Brandt Report published by Pan Books at £1.95. The ‘Times’ describes this as the most important document of the decade.
This report, betraying the same sentiments as Global 2000, suggests how for a tiny fraction of military expenditure, all malnutrition, plague, and illiteracy, may be eradicated from the planet within a relatively short period and proves the necessity of doing so regardless of moral considerations. It is Utopian, in as much, in my opinion: the will to do so does not exist.
To convince a Housewife in Halifax that the health and education of a Hottentot, can affect her or her children’s future, is an impossible exercise. As all politicians know, it is immediate domestic issues that concern nearly everyone; the future is another day, to be coped with when it arrives. Anything more than a few years ahead, may be handed on to future generations to deal with as best they can. Development Aid seldom reaches the poor. It is embezzled by Dictators, squandered on armaments, and used to keep on their feet systems of cruel tyranny.
I will now attempt to explain, in the light of recent brain research, how the present World Situation may have come about. For the World we have created and are in the process of creating for a future generations, it is the product of our brains. Only by understanding how brains work, can we hope to have insight regarding individual and group behaviour. This understanding may enable us to make sensible predictions or at least informed guesses, regarding the future.
In order to be as objective as possible, let us pretend that we are intelligent visitors from another planet, reporting on a species of animal called Man. Hominid, which is in fact what we are. Being able to take in the whole of human history at a glance, we would immediately notice the striking contrast, between the technological achievements of the species and its utter incompetence in the conduct of its social affairs. In particular, we would observe that humans are the only animals to engage in intra-specific warfare and massacre, competition and conflict between individuals and groups within other species ends, with the flight or surrender of the loser and seldom in death or even in serious injury.
Please now refer to Chart 1.
This Chart covers nearly 2,500 years that is the latter half of the 5000 years, during which Hominids have been able to read and write. The chart shows the periods of their major wars, also some interesting massacres to which I may refer later. It may be seen that if minor wars were to be included, there would in effect be a continuous river of blood flowing down both sides of the chart. This culminating in the frenetic intra-specific slaughter of over 200 million individuals in the last 80 years. Humans have now positioned the equipment to kill this number instantaneously by pressing a single button, which is a great improvement.
Please now refer to Chart 2.
Chart 2 is an ‘overview’ of the evolution, behavior, and population growth of humans. The last 40,000 years drawn to an approximate scale.
Box A shows the principal stages in the evolution of hominids from algae and bacteria, over a period of some three thousand million years. Evolution is a fact, not a theory. Except for a ‘lunatic fringe’, argument today is not about evolution itself, but about matters of detail. (The various evolutionary stages are particularly well explained and illustrated in ‘Life on Earth’ by David Attenborough, the book of his much praised Television Series).
Box B is taken from one of Richard Leakey’s articles in ‘The Listener’, which supplemented his recent book and Television Series ‘The Making of Mankind’. It is important to realize as Leakey and many other anthropologists point out. There was nothing preplanned about humanity, it exists solely as a result of a series of accidents and climate change; any other notion is sheer arrogance. The Nobel Prize Winner, Jacques Monad writes in his famous book ‘Chance and Necessity’. "Our number came up in the Monte Carlo game. Is it surprising that like the person who has just made a million at the casino, we should feel strange and a little unreal?"
As the only animals that can look at their own past, document it, and consciously plan their future, humans have special and awesome responsibilities, but no privileges. Not the least of these responsibilities is for every educated person to take a good hard look at our origins and our past, and present behaviour. Only by doing this and making time to think about these matters, can any individual acquire a balanced understanding of the present. Only by doing this can you have the knowledge in order to arrive at an informed opinion? Free of vacant optimism and wishful thinking regarding the future. By this, I mean, the sober assessment of probabilities, certainties about the future being the province of some Political Ideologists and Religious Fundamentalists or Fanatics.
Firstly, let us take an overall look at Chart 2
Before considering any particular feature in depth, all figures are approximate and have been rounded off. For example, Leakey gives the advent of Homo Erectus (which evolved from Homo Habilis) at one-and-a-half million years and the brain size as 1000 cc : this being based on his discovery of the intact cranium of the hominid specimen known as KNM – EB 3883. Again, some authorities consider Neanderthal Man to be a link between Homo Erectus and Modern Man, but others take the view that Modern Man is directly descended from Erectus. They maintain that Neanderthal Man was an evolutionary failure, like many other past species. No doubt, further fossil finds will eventually settle this question. See the latest news from www.bbc.co.uk. This article was produced long before the www.
Be that as it may, the important point to note is the rapid brain expansion of Homo Erectus. The brain leaves its signature, so to speak, on the inner surface of fossil craniums, which makes it possible to study its general organization. This is much more important than mere size, which does not in itself give a measure of intelligence. It is generally agreed that the most rapid, one could say, explosive brain development took place during the last 250,000 years, under the enormous pressure of cultural factors, rather than slow biological evolution. As Wallace wrote to Darwin, "Natural selection could only have endowed the Savage with a brain a little superior to that of an Ape, whereas he possesses one, very little inferior to that of an average member of our Learned Societies"! Genome for the Chimpanzee will be finished in three weeks time. Humankind’s Genome is done. There is little difference! See again www.bbc.co.uk and a radio program ‘Chimpanzee’. It now has been done as I correct this article. Go to ‘Ape’ www.bbc.co.uk.
Chart 2 shows a period of 30,000 years, during which modern man was a Nomadic Hunter, with a life-style somewhat similar to certain Primitive Tribes today. See ‘Tribe’ on the BBC. With the invention of agriculture, settled communities began to develop. Competition for the best land and differing customs caused a modest amount of tribal and ritual warfare, but with the growth of Villages into Cities of 50,000 people and more. Differing classes developed priests, tradesmen, craftsmen, and slaves. Smart priest kings, having a special relationship with the Fertility Gods, invented writing in order to record names, events, and transactions. These Priest Kings organized professional armies for the conquest of weaker communities, to keep internal order and to preserve their own privileged positions. Territorial and Ideological Warfare began to be waged on an ever increasing scale, bread became dear and life cheap. A situation which persists to the present day. In Greece 2,500 years ago, logic, reason, and the investigation of the actual; rather than the imagined workings of nature, became important to some. This attitude of mind was short lived and died off for 2000 years, until its renaissance 500 years ago, against a tremendous opposition.
Hominid history, may, therefore, be divided into three phases.
Prehistoric : up to the invention of writing.
Phase two : from writing to science ‘proper’.
Phase three : from science onwards.
You will note that barring an astronomical accident. Such as the explosion of a near by stars, astronomers tell us that planet earth can be a comfortable home for a further six thousand million years. There being no good reason to suppose that the Sun will behave differently from any other star of its class. We have a main Sequence Star of a spectral type G.
Chart 2, also shows, the population growth of our species over a period of 3000 years. In the past 15 years the population has grown by one thousand million, but in the next twenty years, whatever steps may be taken, it will grow by another two thousand million. This huge population explosion is in the words of the President of the World Bank, "The gravest issue the World faces short of Nuclear War". The importance of the message in Box C is to make clear the fact that in the context of evolutionary time, we are literally, only just down from the trees. For only a fraction of one per cent of the time, during which we have been able to speak, have we been smart enough to figure out our origins or even to know how our blood circulates. Yet there are many who imagine themselves so clever or favored as to be in possession of Eternal Truths. This, of course, is a form of madness.
Box D is a fair summary of the group behavior of our species during recorded history. And Chart 1 provides the inescapable evidence for this conclusion. I stress the word ‘group’, because for the last 3000 years there have been a few individuals who have diverted from normal human behavior and have rejected warfare, cruelty, and superstition; advising others to do the same. Their efforts have met with little or no success as the past record and present nuclear stockpile indicates so clearly and tragically.
The most difficult thing in the world is to change anyone’s mind in a direction, which conflicts with deeply embedded attitudes and prejudices. This is as true today, as it ever was. Unacceptable information, such as I may be giving you is either distorted. Orwell’s, "double-think" to make it fit existing beliefs, and current trends of thinking or it is totally ignored by a mechanism, which psychologists call ‘denial’. Two trite examples will illustrate what is meant by ‘double-think’ and by ‘denial’.
1. Many lecturers have had the experience of being congratulated by otherwise intelligent audiences for expressing a viewpoint, which was actually opposite to the one the lecturer was putting forward.
2. The B.B.C. report that they receive numerous letters and telephone calls, which indicate clearly that the brains of many ‘viewers’ of current affairs programs only receive the pictures, and the spoken words which explain the pictures are either grossly distorted to fit preconceptions or virtually ignored.
Earlier this century, Freud pointed out that humanity has had to endure two great outrages upon it’s naive self-love.
The first, was when it had to accept that our Earth was not the Center of the Universe, but a mere speck in a system of inconceivable magnitude.
The second, was when it was robbed of its privilege of being specially created and relegated to a descent to the animal world. It took nearly a century for the first outrage to penetrate European Consciousness, and today one hundred and twenty years after Darwin, the second outrage has not been universally accepted, nor its consequences understood.
Evidently, Aristotle was right when he said, "’Man is a being who flies away from truth even as he pursues it".
In the last few years, a third outrage has been inflicted on what Freud called our naive self-love.
I refer to the discoveries of Dr. Paul MacLean, one of the world’s foremost brain researchers, and to the work of Arthur Koestler distinguished author, sociologist, and contributor to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Please now look at Chart 3 and study it carefully.
Like our other organs, the brain has taken millions of years to evolve and its present structure reflects all the evolutionary stages, through which it has passed. At the base is the brain stem and lower part of the brain, which we have inherited from our Reptilian Ancestors. See Box A on Chart 2. MacLean has shown that this Reptilian Brain or R-complex that plays the dominant role in aggressive, reproductive, and ritualistic behaviour.
Deep inside our heads is something like the brain of a crocodile. Surrounding the R-complex is the limbic system inherited from the Lower Mammals which governs our emotions. As the chart shows, enveloping both these structures is the Neocortex, inherited from our primate ancestors, which enables us to use symbolic language, perform the intellectual tasks of reading, writing, and arithmetic, and to reason logically.
MacLean writes, "The human brain, in today’s parlance, amounts to three interconnected biological computers, each with its own subjectivity, sense of time, and space, and its own memory and other functions. Speaking allegorically of these three brains within a brain, we might imagine that when the psychiatrist bids the patient to lie down on the couch. He is asking him to stretch out alongside a horse, and a crocodile". As I explained earlier, evolution has superimposed a new superior structure on an old one, at an unprecedented speed. But, and this is the important point, without providing the new one with a clear-cut power of control over the old. There is nothing improbable in this, evolution has made many mistakes.
In fact, as Koestler points out, "The fossil record is a waste basket of the Chief Designer’s, discarded models". The result in our own case is a mentally unbalanced species, in which the three brains are at loggerheads. On the one side : the pale cast of rational thought of logic, suspended on a thin thread, too easily broken. On the other : the native fury of passionately held irrational beliefs, reflected in the holocausts of past and present history.
Before you reject or should I say, and deny this analysis : may I remind you that the system we humans, in our wisdom, rely on to ensure the continuance of life on our planet is called M A D (Mutual Assured Destruction). Professor Edward Thompson, the eminent historian writes, "The deformed human mind is the ultimate doomsday weapon. It is out of the human mind that missiles and neutron warheads come". It has been said that the reduction of illusions is the most urgent requirement of survival : so let us now look at
This chart gives, as succinctly as possible, Koestler’s six points in evidence of a paranoid split in the Human Brain. As a rider to these points Koestler destroys any illusion that our disastrous history is due to our aggressive urges. He maintains that, on the contrary, the principle trouble with our species is an excessive capacity for devotion, devotion to Nation, Church, Class or Cause, even if its tenets are contrary to reason and moreover, detrimental to the self-preservation of the individual who embraces them. Fanatical devotion, by millions of people often educated and intelligent to charismic leaders; peddling spurious secular, and religious ideologies, is a fact of history, ancient and modern.
Professor Edward Wilson, in his seminal work Sociobiology ‘The New Synthesis’ writes, "Human beings are absurdly easy to indoctrinate, in fact, they seek it. Most men would much rather believe than know". Rather believe, than know, I would ask you kindly to refer again to Chart 2. Koestler’s slightly paraphrased writes, "Suddenly, 2,500 years ago, a brilliant group of philosophers appear, as if from nowhere, and begin to discuss objectively the origins of the Universe; the Evolution of Man from primitive organisms, atomic theory, and advanced social systems. After that came a period of hibernation, lasting for fifteen centuries. During all that time, the march of knowledge was not only halted, but actually reversed. In the fifth century BC, the educated classes knew that the Earth was a spherical body, floating in space. A thousand years later, they thought it was flat disc, centered on Jerusalem. For the 40,000 year history of ‘Fully Modern Man’, totem and taboo, dogma and doctrine, guilt and fear, has driven us back again, and again, and again.
What St. Augustine called, "The filthy Devils of Knowledge".
For most of this time, the marvelous potentials of the Neocortex were only permitted to exert their powers in the service of emotional beliefs, in magic, motivated cave paintings, in the religious art of Asia, and of the European Middle Ages. Reason’s task has been to act as the Handmaiden of Faith. The faith of medicine men, squabbling theologians, mad murderous Mullahs and power crazy Marxists. The fault dear ‘Brutus’ is not in our stars, it is the crocodile and horse we carry in our skulls".
"It is time we put faith where it belongs, amongst the dirty words". An excellent expose of faith is given by Professor Richard Dawkins FRS, the brilliant young biologist in his book ‘The Selfish Gene’.
"Faith means blind trust in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence. Faith can justify anything. If a man believes in a different god or even if he uses a different ritual for worshipping the same god, faith can decree that he should die, on the cross, at the stake, skewered on a Crusader’s sword, shot in a Beirut street or blown up in a bar in Belfast". You may now say to me, "Suppose for a moment that I go along with the horrendous theory that humans may be the victims of an evolutionary mistake, like the poor turtle, which is so top heavy that when it falls on its back it cannot get up, so starves to death, where does this get me and how is a man to act under such circumstances"?
This, of course, is both an ethical question and a supremely important practical one. Before attempting an answer, I would like you to consider the meaning of freedom that much used, but misunderstood word. Freedom is a word rather like time, everyone thinks they know what it means, but cannot define it.
The foundation of freedom is knowledge and without knowledge, no man can be free.
That is why religious and secular dictators throughout history, have burned and censored books, closed universities, imprisoned professors, and do so today in Russia, Eastern Europe, China, Iran, and many other Nations. Freedom is the ability to choose courses of action, and to make decisions that are based on an objective knowledge of the World. Without such knowledge, primitive subjective feelings, values, and goals, remain the primary determinants of human action. Knowing this, the sophisticated and unscrupulous, manipulate the credulous. True freedom is frightening to many because it necessitates the individual breaking out of the cocoon of half truths, ignorance, and ready made opinions, in which most of mankind is happily and comfortably imprisoned.
No man can be free until he seeks objective answers to three questions, namely. "Where am I ?. What am I ?. Why am I ?" For, it is the ability to frame these questions that separates us from the rest of the animal world and nothing else. And, it is the approach to finding the answers that distinguishes the educated from the ignorant, and the cultured from the philistine. Any attempt to answer these questions must be made with a ruthless determination to avoid conclusions that are based on poor evidence or on a desire to see the world as so many wish it to be, magical and made for us. I say, any attempt to answer these questions, because for psychological reasons that is beyond the scope of this lecture. Few people will ever try to do so.
Most prefer what Huxley called, "The sleep of everyday living". Even the brilliant Voltaire wrote, "Through a quarter of my lifetime, I was absolutely ignorant of the reasons for everything I saw, and heard, and felt, and was merely a parrot, prompted by other parrots". Winston Churchill spent 40 years looking at the countryside, but noticed nothing before he started painting it.
Knowledge and freedom are nowadays regarded as values, but the role of values in human behavior has always been a difficult problem. As values are expressed in poetry or in prose. I have selected examples of both in order to make a particular point.
Roaring Boys and Whores
While food has flavor and limbs are shapely
And hearts beat bravely to fiddle or drum
Our proper employment is reckless enjoyment
For too soon the noiseless night will come
While food has flavor and limbs are shapely
And hearts beat bravely to fiddle or drum
Our proper employment is reckless enjoyment
For too soon the noiseless night will come
"Our species has been favored on this planet, although we have not always been good caretakers of our globe’s resources. Our stay here, in the spaces of geological time has been brief. No one can tell us our business. But I think it is something more than to consume as much as we can and then blow the place up".
"We have, if not a duty, then a need deeply engraved within our culture to pass the place on, no worse than we found it. Those of us, who do not expect an after life, may see in this our only immortality to pass on the succession of life, the succession of culture. It may even be that we are happier, when we are engaged in matters larger than our own wants and ourselves".
Undoubtedly, Auden’s poem represents the viewpoint of many, right across the age and social spectrum, whilst Thompson’s prose suggests that a different attitude to life is desirable. Both viewpoints are tenable, but whilst the poem contains only one fact, the fact of death, the prose incorporates a number of scientific statements.
What I wish to suggest is that values may be obtained from knowledge and the more comprehensive our knowledge, the more worthwhile are our values likely to be. The great Dr.Bronowski wrote, "I believe that science can create values and will create them precisely as literature does, by looking into the human personality, by discovering what divides it and what cements it".
Science is not technology. Science is a Latin word meaning knowledge. One of Bronowski’s great achievements was to show the ‘unity of art and science’. Can a few lines of poetry contain as much knowledge as a prose passage, and thus create worthwhile values? You may consider that Wordsworth accomplished this seemingly impossible feat when he wrote:
The world is too much with us; late and soon.
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away…
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away…
Look around you, I think, Wordsworth’s poem contains a number of testable scientific facts about the human brain and human behavior, and he used this knowledge to create values.
The essential message of Thompson’s prose and Wordsworth’s poem, is that, we are part of the evolving animal world and that this fact, which individually and collectively, we prefer to ignore. We pretend we are god like creatures playing with nature, not subject to her inexorable law. Smart organisms survive, and those that fail to make sense of their environment perish. We must understand ourselves and our place in nature or die. There is no choice about this. The only choice is to recognize it and do so in time.
If you take the trouble to study the evolution of primates, Hominids (us), and their brains, ancient and modern group behaviour, and how you have come to have certain loyalties and attitudes, a structure will appear. All the meaningless little pieces of knowledge will form a coherent whole, perhaps, what you now consider sensible will seem, trivial and ridiculous.
A new kind of freedom will have been achieved.
Population figures can be obtained easily from the UN and other Web Sites.
Devotion, empathy, and the latest science about the human mind can be found in the easily readable books by, Vilaynur Ramachandran. The Emerging Mind BBC Reith lectures and in ‘Phantoms of the Mind’. Ramachandran writes, "So I agree wholeheartedly with what Thomas Henry Huxley said in the Nineteenth Century : contrary to the views of Bishop Wilberforce, and Benjamin Disraeli," We are not angels, we are merely ‘Sophisticated Apes’. Yet we don’t feel like that – we feel like, angels trapped inside the bodies of beasts, forever craving transcendence, trying to spread our wings and fly off. Really a very odd predicament to be in, if you think about it".
Many books by the world famous Professor Richard Dawkins FRS. Richard Leakey ‘The Making of Mankind’ and the book, ‘Lucy’ by, Johanson and Edey. A book by Dr Nigel Spivey TV series called ‘How Art Made The World’. The fact that cave paintings were of a dream like world and not representations totally of the ‘real world’. This shows the ‘start of man’ being more interested in this state of mind (dream world) than any other.
‘Virus of the Mind’ by Richard Brodie. The Lamarckadian thought evolution, which Vilaynur Ramachandran talks about. Mirror neurons that we posses, and are now proved to be 20% of our brains power.
‘The Fabric of the Cosmos’ by Brian Green and other books. ‘Life’ by Richard Fortey and ‘Earth’.
These few Author / Scientists, seem to have modern, very complimentary works, and through them one could make some very good sense of the world that we live in.