Commentary & Opinion
Thu March 7, 2013
Jeffrey Reel: Evolution, Technology, and Energy
During its first weeks of formation, a chick is provided with all the nutrition it requires inside its shell. As it develops, though, the chick eventually exhausts its supply of fuel and begins pecking around in search for more, thus creating an opening in the shell and giving birth to itself. This is what Buckminster Fuller describes as “precession” when animals, seemingly inadvertently, but by nature’s design, are led to the next stage in their evolution.
Humans, too, are included in this elegant process. Like that chick, we also find ourselves inside our shell with dwindling resources: specifically, centuries-old combustion-based technologies that have not only outlived their usefulness but today degrade all forms of life. And, like that chick, we have been led, again seemingly inadvertently but by nature’s design, to the next stage of our evolution: the discovery and development of unlimited, clean sources of power. But unlike that chick, we are not compelled to leave our shell and embrace this next stage of growth. We can actually choose to remain inside with dwindling resources. But why? Ironically, it’s because of our semi-divine nature: that is, we are blessed and cursed with the ability to exercise free will. Humans find themselves operating at a level of consciousness above that of the lowest forms of life – which live out their lives in predictable and easily recognizable fashion – but well below the spontaneous exuberance of the angels. What this means, among other things, is that out of the 1,250,000 species of animals on this planet, we are the only species capable of making self-destructive choices.
And why is that? Well, in the end, it comes down to love, and truth. To paraphrase 17th-century Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, free will is required to achieve spiritual and social evolution. People have freedom in order to pursue, and love, the truth. It is only in a state of freedom that truth then becomes part and parcel to the man. Whatever does not enter into a person of his own free will will not remain in him because it’s not what he loves, and what he does not love he will not incorporate into his life. Dictators can coerce but people must eventually compel themselves and in this compulsion lies our highest freedom, our evolution and our salvation. This freedom to act, even on our worst impulses, is a condition necessary for our personal and social growth, and we rise and fall by it daily, as individuals and as a society.
In terms of human evolution, we have been accustomed to slow and incremental change, but humanity finds itself at the threshold of unprecedented technological changes that will swiftly render many of the technologies we are most familiar and comfortable with obsolete. Many people feel threatened by change of this magnitude, and as evolved as we believe ourselves to be, neuroscientists remind us that we remain at the mercy of the reptilian part of our brain that, when under perceived threat, shuts down other functions of the brain, including the pre-frontal cortex that regulates both short-term and long-term decision making. As a result, many people seem unwilling and/or unable to make the evolutionary leap required for our continued existence. Combine them with those who profit from both those antiquated technologies and the airwaves they use to instill misunderstanding and fear, and we stand in peril of our lives.
We need to forgive ourselves for the environmental mess we’ve created. After all, it was easier to burn a piece of coal than it was to understand the science behind it, and its side effects. Nonetheless, humanity has arrived at its most important moment, and faces the inevitable test of whether we can evolve beyond our self-imposed social and environmental pressures, or become fossilized evidence of yet another species that could not. This opportunity for unprecedented technological change and prosperity presents itself to us courtesy of evolution. It has created an opening in our shell. It’s done its part. Now we must do ours. But it’s far from certain that we will.
Jeffrey Reel is a writer, educator, and the Sustainability Manager at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, in Rhinebeck, New York.