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A small step for a man

… a giant leap for mankind

This phenomenal phrase stated by Neil Armstrong during the first lunar landing on July 20th, 1969, can express very eloquently an evolutionary step for mankind. Evolution not in biological terms but, in Latus Sensus, referring to a holistic approach embracing technology, organization, focus, determination and, in the bottom line, consciousness or consciousness evolution.

If we consider that until recently mankind was dealing with a World War involving civilized European countries, Japan and the US, to say a few, the achievement of Apolo 11 landing two astronauts in the moon,  mere 24 years after, resulted from great progress in peace and general development. We could mention that the main reason for this mission was to declare the technological superiority of the U.S. and lead them one step ahead in the cold war, but the entire mankind harvested the benefits from this achievement.

Prehistory and consciousness

We still have a long way to go but we have to remember our progress during our journey as Homo Sapiens, in the last 200.000 years. In the process, it is important to try to understand what were the ingredients that took the primitive Homo Habilis to the more sophisticated Homo Ergaster, which in turn, paved the way to the Homo Erectus, the first “Homo” to have a human appearance. I do not intend to go into a deep study about the classical Evolution of Species, which is not the objective of this blog, but rather try to understand and discuss the elements that took place in these leaps, whether environmental or pure challenge of consciousness.

The Homo Habilis lived about 2.8 millions of year ago and had a small brain, about the size of a present chimpanzee. Although, that brain was enough to make this species the first to leave evidence of the use of stone tools and fire, which lead to more efficient scavenging of meat and cooking and, consequently, the consume of more protein.  The extraordinary ingestion of fatty acids promoted the process of encephalization, what expressively increased the number of neurons in the brain and more synapses in the frontal cortex. A slow but, surely, expressive leap in evolution. This process continued in the Homo Ergaster and the Homo Erectus, leading to the Homo Sapiens, which is our current species.

The Elements of Consciousness

The refinement of our emotional attributes took place somewhere in the past when we started to feel the loss of our relatives and friends when generosity prevailed over survival as we learned to share, protect, cry and laugh. These are all improvements of our consciousness that we have been carrying for ages.  We do not need to go too far; it is evident the difference of the mentioned attributes in our present domestic animals. A dog or an ape can express sympathy or feel the loss of a member of the family or of the pack. If you have seen the expression of love and care of a mother ape or a mother bear breastfeeding their babies you surely know what I mean ( in fact it can make some human mothers ashamed…). If you have a dog or a cat at home you surely can realize the sparks of intelligence and feelings they possess. I think these are the primeval elements of consciousness in a living being. You cannot find this kind of emotions or intelligence – that you see in our cats and dogs – in a lizard or a fish, for instance. It seems that reptiles have a more primitive consciousness with more simple emotions that seems to be a bio-program dedicated only to survival and reproduction. We can go even further and take into account the plants perception, ability to sense and respond to environmental circumstances and, therefore, survive and adapt to the environment.  Although this is not to be associated to a consciousness, considering plants have no nervous system, it permits this life forms to react with movement and changes in their morphology, “within signaling pathways that may provide a biochemical basis for learning and memory in addition to computation and problem solving” [1].

We can go on and on exploring how minerals can react to environmental dimensions and so react to temperature, pressure, humidity, among others, but this is going too far already…

The point is that life forms in our planet are not evolving only in biological terms but also in consciousness. In particular, our species have been evolving from the last 3 million years, just to keep focus, and expressively during the past 200.000 years, with the Homo Sapiens, which developed the capabilities of abstract reasoning, language, introspection, problem-solving and, ultimately, love.

Next post I would like to go through the development of our consciousness throughout the history of our civilization (briefly, do not worry!), to the present days.

[1] Bhalla, US; Iyengar, R (1999). “Emergent properties of networks of biological signaling pathways”. Science 283 (5400): 381-7.