Saturday, June 30, 2012

Unzooing Ego

A book review and further development of the Unzoo concept.


The sub-text for my Unzoo blog header, taken from Desmond Morris is: "If he is given the chance he may yet contrive to turn his human zoo into a magnificent game-park. If he is not, it may proliferate into a gigantic lunatic asylum"...with "Ego", I am not convinced we will avoid the asylum.

The promise of Ego is what drew me to it initially; as shown by this video and the following paragraphs.

Ego - applying the principles of evolution to contemporary human life, through the lens of 9/11. The authors argue that the sense of self (the ego) that we hold so dear is a relic of our evolution, and that by understanding how our Stone Age brains work in an increasingly more complex world, we can perhaps improve all human existence.

That sounded pretty Unzoo, and looked pretty Unzoo, but then I read the book and found the devil is in the detail. The main benefit of reading Ego was it helped me to refine my thinking on Unzoo. Otherwise it was a thought provoking read that was held back by some key flaws (just my opinion, but hey, it's my blog right?).

The most powerful part of the book may be the heavily relied on quote from Einsten;

A human being is a part of a whole, called by us "universe,"a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something seperated from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
It's a great quote, but the book doesn't seem to capture it entirely. The keys are compassion and a wider acceptance and understanding of nature. Even though "Ego" stems from evolutionary psychology, somehow it misses fully integrating the evolutionary context into its premise. Unzoo is exactly about this, whereas Ego has a completely different assumption base.

Ego accepts our present condition as the result of our ongoing evolution,  and sees our "stone age" biology as a yoke holding us back in the modern world. Out of date and out of tune. Hmm, not the angle I would take. Unzoo is about factoring in our evolutionary context harmoniously with our modern world, to futher evolve. But let's not just accept that the modern world is the bees knees please.

Even though the authors sound wise and have reviewed some powerful material, their own inherent biases are evident in their writing, and sadly thwart them from achieving a more exciting conclusion. I think they paint a too rosy a picture of the evolution of humankind,and have strong American based values that restrict a more universal perspective.

Facebook and the internet are hailed as key technological evolutions that feed the next stage of human cognitive development; "Conscious Awareness". The book contains two charts that illustrate firstly the phase model of development, and then how that looks for Human Evolution.


 Conscious Awareness takes us beyond the realms of ego to a new "enlightened" state. The authors seem to trust the forces of evolution will take humanity into this next phase, despite a key point made by them that natural evolution may have been replaced by artificial selection, primarily as a result of the huge growth in technological sophistication (but also increased complexity in the other two key variables; social and the brain). My concern is that their idea of evolution, if correct, is divorced from nature and may not be subject to the same historical trends and laws of natural evolution. Maybe it's not going to be so great after all? Maybe something needs to be done?

However, Ego offers no plan or tools, not even a clear vision really. The use of 9/11 as a filter for the concepts seems a gimic to me and almost gets in the way of the real purpose of the book. Yet there are moments of brilliance. This quote from them for example;
Sometimes a fish can become aware of the water in which it swims.
That was beginning to resonate with me, as did their token hat-tip to "mindfulness" and a bold statement that "As a species we will be increasingly aware of what is conducive for humans to flourish"..."the enlightenment revolution  may usher in an era of reintegration of body and mind".

Sadly they seem to have left nature out of the equation. Indeed,  they make a mention of it, but dismiss it mostly as "little evolutionary hacks" that may not make that much difference. Think again buddies. I will do a seperate post on the significance of Biophilia and the role it plays in Unzoo soon, but for now just hang onto the fact that we need nature. And maybe it should be the basis for significant change, rather than "tweaks" or "hacks".

Another nice quote; "Our physiology has not yet caught up with our sociology". So true, but there are different ways to react to this. Ego takes the position that we need to "get over it" and move onto the next level of evolution. Ouch. That approach seems full of bugs. Maybe we need to change our sociology as well? Overall I find the picture of the future painted by Ego a little sterile. We end up detached from our more primal mental activity and become a race of "Spocks" like the Vulcans from Star Trek, worker ants moving as a collective whole.  Science is the new religion, indeed religion is a "relic from the evolutionary past", and individualism fades to grey. And yet there is no mention of all the kinds of issues we face as technology outstrips our natural development and threatens to implode.

From an Unzoo perspective, we need nature in the equation, and the evolutionary context should be a key variable in evaluating  the human condition. If we do this, we may still end up at the same goal Ego has in mind, but it may be by a different path, and perhaps the goal will be richer. Maybe instead of Conscious Awareness, we might reach  another stage of "Organismic Consciousness" (yes, I made that up) that integrates subconscious and conscious thought processes, and retains individualism within a universal experience?   And instead of relying on a perhaps corrupted evolutionary process to generate an enlightment revolution, we should take the reins and become the architects of our evolution.

Anyway,  that was the book review for "Ego". I hope I didn't get the wrong end of the stick. It certainly made me think, and I value that, and the ideas it exposed me to.