A Very Human Condition

Midjourney AI’s take on contemplation

So here I sit, apparently, lost, scared and bewildered, a mess of human emotions and conflicted thoughts, trying to make sense of it all. “It all” being the state of the world, and the eccentricities of human nature. And the deeper I dig, the more plausible a very simple explanation for it all seems to be. After reading Aurélien’s recent post on the west’s economic and cultural stagnation, which touched on the entanglement of the ‘bicameral mind‘, I tried to summarize this explanation in a comment, as follows:

I am increasingly intrigued at the possibility that the end of the “bicameral mind”, due to the entanglement of the neural pathways of the brain shortly after we diverged from the chimps and bonobos, was in fact a massive evolutionary misstep, an accident, a spandrel. This change to the brain structure might have resulted from our forced exodus, six million years ago, from our natural tropical rainforest home, and a resultant major change in our diet, resulting in a larger, more complex, and more protein-rich brain. However it happened, the entanglement and resulting confusion in what the newly cross-circuited hemispheres of our brains began telling us, has seemingly created in humans a now-ubiquitous mental illness, a species-wide madness.

This madness misinterprets (misconceives) the signals from our senses to be telling us that things ‘exist’ separate from everything else, and that there is a ‘self’ within the body that controls and is responsible for the safety of itself and ‘its’ body. There is some evidence that we are the only species that conceives such a thing. The inevitable fear and horror and neurosis and paranoia that such a convincing and persistent hallucination produces has disconnected us from nature and the rest of life on earth, and instead driven us to war against it, and against each other.

Much historical and recent writing on the subject of non-duality, as well as recent scientific discoveries that things like time and the self and ‘free will’ and ‘consciousness’ are merely mental constructs, and not ‘real’, would tend to support such a hypothesis. And if in fact our whole species has been driven crazy by this evolved mental ‘disease’, it becomes, I think, somewhat easier to be compassionate about all the horrors we have inflicted on our planet and on each other. We live, now, in a world of mutually-conditioned madness.

Can’t be much more succinct than that. It’s only an idea, of course, though there are those who I’ve come to know who assert that this is completely obvious, and they seem to be pretty unassuming, non-‘spiritual’ folks with no axe to grind. They acknowledge no sense of having a ‘self’, or of there being anything separate or real — everything is just obviously an appearance, outside of ‘real’ space or time. This is not an idea or a theory to them. Yet they function, apparently, just like everyone else.

This point of view, this pat ‘explanation’ for everything we see and think and believe in the world, and why our conception of reality is so mistaken, seems to me more and more compelling the more I learn about the world and reflect upon it. It’s become a lens through which I view the apparent goings-on in the world, both in my seeming personal life and in the news I read. And that lens does seem to make everything clearer.

It explains why everything seems to be much harder than it intuitively ‘should’ be. It explains why we are doing what we are doing even though it is inevitably accelerating the collapse of our civilization, the massive extinction of life on earth, and our possible nuclear annihilation. It explains the enormous human suffering we pointlessly feel and unintentionally inflict on others.

It is, of course, a hopeless lens through which to see both human nature and the larger world. There is no cure for this uniquely human, tragic madness.

Yet the most unfathomable part of this ‘explanation’ — that since there is nothing separate, and no time, there is nothing that is actually ‘real’ and nothing that is ‘really’ happening — means that there is no need for hope, no need for a ‘cure’, no need for anything to be other than how it, apparently, is.

There is no solace in this understanding, no way of actually internalizing it in a way that actually makes sense. But something in it does somehow make sense, does resonate with something that is not entangled with this brain’s furious and desperate hallucination of self and separation. There have been glimpses of this, and not under the influence of any drugs. Not ‘blissful’ moments, but rather discernments that “well, duh, of course, how could I not have seen it?” along with an incredible feeling of lightness, of the loss of the weight of the world, and of the loss of myself.

This new lens, seven years after it first wormed its way into my thinking, remains, for me, just an instinctive and an intellectual fascination. I still perceive my self as being real, and time and space and things in it as being real. My ‘self-ish’ reactions continue, though they are somewhat muted and less enduring than they used to be.

So, for example, I was quite rattled by Zelenskyy’s most recent veiled threat to blow up the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant (this being the third ‘false flag’ he and the US/NATO military leaders have tried, after failing to absurdly pin either the US/Norway/Ukraine bombing of the Nord Stream pipelines or the UK/Ukraine bombing of the Kakhovka dam on Russia). The man is clearly struggling incoherently with the burden of overwhelming stress. He and his allies have already produced two of the most horrifically destructive ecological disasters in history. Yet the US media have completely censored all reports, evidence and arguments explaining why Russia would never commit such an outrage, instead slavishly repeating the ludicrous Ukrainian propaganda that Russia ‘plans’ to do it.

As I watch this unfolding I am, of course, filled with fear, and anger, and sadness. The world seems to be spiralling out of control towards nuclear confrontation, with doddering war-mongering imbeciles with their fingers twitching on the button.

This is, needless to say, an overreaction. If it’s going to happen, nothing I or anyone else can do is going to prevent it. What is apparently happening and what is apparently going to happen is the complex result of trillions of acts of cascading conditioning that have produced and will produce all of our beliefs and behaviours, past, present and future. Of course, an infinite number of situations could arise at any moment to change those beliefs and behaviours, so this is not an argument for determinism, just one for utter unpredictability and incapacity to control or affect outcomes.

The incoherent former-actor failed-state dictator and the doddering war-mongering imbeciles and their entourages are just doing their best, what they’ve been conditioned to do, like the rest of us. They may fill me with fear and anger and sadness, but I do not hate them. I do not hold them responsible. They are no more insane than the rest of us.

So why does this ‘self’ get so overwrought by it? Nothing to be done about it. And it’s not really happening anyway — it’s just an appearance, a play on a stage.

Well, “nothing to be done about it” will never sit right with us humans. We have to try. That’s our conditioning, no matter how hopeless things get. Would other creatures react the same way to an existential threat to them? I think not. If there was something immediate that might affect the situation (think of a dog biting or fleeing the dognapper), they would do it without thinking. Otherwise, I think, they would do nothing. They would wait to see what happened. They would be frightened and angry, until the apparent danger passed. But they would have no illusion of control over the situation. No belief that there is something someone ‘should’ do about it.

How about “It’s not really happening anyway”? There’s no getting our head around this one. We will never accept this, no matter how much evidence there might be that it’s correct. We have been conditioned for a lifetime to believe that what we see and hear as happening is really happening. We can’t contort our brains into believing otherwise.

So I read the doomscroll, and I ‘know’ in some intuitive and intellectual way that there’s nothing to be done about it, and even that it’s not ‘really’ happening anyway. And this lost, scared, bewildered self isn’t as reactive — as anxious, as hate-filled, or as depressed — as it once would have been.

But this entangled, confused brain and a lifetime’s conditioning ensure that this unbalanced, unreal self will continue to rant and rail at the follies it conceives of as happening — whether they be apparently happening right down the hall, across the city or half-way around the world. Foolishly, hopelessly, and for no sensible reason. I, like the rest of the eight billion slightly deranged apes of this planet, cannot think or feel or do or believe otherwise. That appears to be, at least for the last six million years, and perhaps a few final millennia to come, the human condition.

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15 Responses to A Very Human Condition

  1. Hi Dave, glad to find your blog again.

  2. David Beckemeier says:

    First I want to acknowledge that there is a part of me that doesn’t see the point in what I’m about to say, that you believe what you believe, and it is useless to say anything about it. That being said, I’m gonna let that part have it’s say:

    I just do not get your view on Ukraine. I mean it seems this war could have been easily avoided, like Russia not invading Ukraine. And yet it seems like you think Russia is the victim and I just find that galactically absurd. I just don’t go for any of your seeming “proxy war” justifications. For me all the stuff about the U.S Navy blowing up the Nord Steam pipeline are just words on a screen saying something different than other words on a screen. I mean pray tell, did you actually see the Navy Seals blow it up?? Or are you depending on “reliable” sources. Well, as you have said, we believe what we want to believe, and you sure have seemed anxious to believe it.

    There, said it, done, not to be repeated. Definitely enjoy most of your writing.

    Just The Infinite Appearing as Pointless Words on a Screen

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    (I’ve replied to David privately.)

  4. Vera says:

    Hi, Dave. Lots of water under the bridge. Just came to see what you’re up to, after all these years. :-)

    Wish you had replied to David in public. It needs to be said, over and over, until people hear it. Ukraine is a proxy war against Russia. How many wars has the west waged against Russia, and how did it work out? It boggles the mind.

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Hi Vera: The gist was as follows:

    I’ve written a fair bit about this, and I’m certainly not a fan of Putin. There are no “good guys” in wars. A lot of writers and speakers, like Sy Hersh, Billmon at Moon of Alabama, Chris Hedges, Larry Johnson, Caitlin Johnstone, Noam Chomsky, John Mearsheimer, Benjamin Abelow, and the gang at Naked Capitalism and at Scheer Post, have been covering this in detail for years, at least since the 2014 coup and start of the civil war in Donbas and the Minsk Accords, which is when I started following the story.

    The total censorship by the western press of opposing viewpoints, and their blackout of any of the context-setting events prior to the Feb/22 invasion by Russia, has given the majority of people in the west a false belief that this entire war began last year with the ‘unprovoked’ Russian invasion.

    Why would the multi-award-winning and mostly-retired journalist Sy Hersh lie about the pipeline bombing, jeopardizing his astonishing record as a whistleblower dating back to the atrocities at My Lai? He doesn’t need and has in recent years shunned publicity.

    I could go on, but as you say, we believe what we want to believe. I just want to assure you that I’m not a conspiracy theorist, and don’t much enjoy finding myself taking a minority viewpoint among my friends on this war. But this is an important issue, one that could lead to nuclear annihilation, and I can’t just shrug and say, like I did with Vietnam, the Kuwait War, and Iraq and Afghanistan and so many other insane wars “Oh, well, the truth will come out in the end” — as it indeed has.

    I get absolutely no pleasure arguing that the defense establishment of the most powerful country in the history of the world is out of control and is using the media as a smokescreen for its activities aimed at subduing any and all perceived ‘threats’ to its unipolar economic, political and military power.

  6. Vera says:

    Ah. We are on the same page. By a quirk of fate, I began to follow it with Maidan. What happened afterwards made no sense to me (the coup) and so I kept my eye on the region. It was with flight MH-17 that I woke up… realizing that everybody was lying (including — gasp — the Dutch), and we’d never learn what happened. When I came across information about the Odessa massacre, that cinched it. I later learned many more details from friends in central Europe. All in the same vein. It astonishes me how hard it is for people to see through the fog of lies. Long ago, Dmitry Orlov was trying to tell people what was going on in Ukraine but folks refused to believe him.

    Glad you have what it takes to stand up to those who would call you a conspiracy theorist because you have a different view.

  7. FamousDrScanlon says:

    Hi Dave. No group in all of history has been more propagandized to than the American people. It’s at a level I can only define as criminal & twisted. Much of it is subtle, but it’s relentless – it’s there when you wake up in the morning & it’s there when you go to bed & it’s there all hours in between. You pretty much have to jump into a sensory deprivation tank to escape it.

    “Top Gun: Maverick” is Military Propaganda. Official Documents Prove It.

    “documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the movie was made only after an agreement was signed between Hollywood and the Pentagon, with the Navy insisting on “weav[ing] in” their “key talking points” in exchange for granting the production company extensive access to military hardware.

    Investigative journalist Tom Secker, author of “National Security Cinema: The Shocking New Evidence of Government Control in Hollywood,” was one of those who obtained the documents. Secker explained that “Top Gun: Maverick” was made with an explicit agenda behind it, telling MintPress:

    “The production agreement between the Department of Defense (DoD) and Paramount Pictures is an explicit quid pro quo. In exchange for all manner of technical support and access to military equipment and personnel, the Pentagon was allowed to “[a]ssign a senior staff, post-command Officer to review with public affairs the script’s thematics and weave in key talking points relevant to the aviation community.”

    It baffles the mind how so many Americans blind themselves to what the bloody American empire really is and the trail of death and destruction that follows wherever it goes. The record is there for anyone to look at although I afraid the David’s of America minds might break if they looked at it.
    List of Atrocities committed by US authorities

    Definition: An extremely wicked or cruel act, typically one involving physical violence or injury.

    “If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care for human beings.” – Nelson Mandela


    When their self esteem (exceptional American) requires continued belief in cartoon narratives with cartoon villains, they will always choose their self esteem over facts & a world that’s a thousand shades of gray. As I’m sure you are aware, humans evolved a bunch of psychological adaptions (biases) who’s primary purpose is to protect & prop up self esteem. People who, for whatever reason, lose their self esteem, end up seriously depressed & often suicidal. The number of biases humans have evolved help one’s self esteem is telling. Many are wonky & look to be a short term fix, like a spray can of foam or goop for a low or flat tire on your car.

  8. Ray says:

    I don’t know what caused this strange, fucked-up brain to emerge during the hominid evolution. Some theories seem plausible but we simply don’t know (yet).
    Whether we will be able to explain it will in any case not be of any use to us.
    That fucked-up biological structure is sloshing in our skull and we can’t get rid of it.
    The end result is that we are a sad, tragic and even comical species, completely out of place in this world. I can’t repeat it enough that we don’t belong here.
    As for that poor sod Zelensky, he probably doesn’t even know that he doesn’t belong here (or anywhere else). He is playing his bewildered part and hasn’t even got the savvy to call it quits to his Nato (american) overlords who see the Ukrainians as excellent canon fodder and Ukraine as a lucrative killing field for the psychopaths running the military-industrial complex.
    Nothing unusual here. That’s how fucked-up brains behave in this world.

  9. Benn says:

    I say again, that culture is the problem, not our evolved being. There are plenty of other cultures that do not cause such harm. Some learnt the hard way, some never needed a lesson, some aren’t here any more. We will either learn, or die. Most likely a bit of both depending on who, what and where we are.

    With regards to war, truth is the first casualty. All sides tell bits of truth, and lies when they can. Actions speak louder than words. We are not there, thank whichever anthropomorphic personification of phenomena you bow down to, and so will never know. Hersh might have been providing a limited hangout. MoA might be a Kremlin agent. The Guardian might be an MI6 voicepiece. Who knows? We can only go with our guts on this. A plague on all empires, all who sacrifice others for their shrivelled egoes.

  10. Benn says:

    Sorry, more stream of concioussness….

    We have to be separate to realise that there is no separation.
    We are holons, all the way down and up. This might be why aliens don’t visit. Holons means planets talk to each other, not the inhabitants. When you speak to another person, which neuron, which cell, is speaking? Gaia talks to Mars.

  11. FamousDrScanlon says:

    Benn, so the humans are just making wrong choices? Humans are outside and/or above the laws of evolution & thermodynamics?

    I would be constantly frustrated & disappointed if I believed the humans were capable of choosing.

    The purpose of life is to disperse energy

    ” The truly dangerous ideas in science tend to be those that threaten the collective ego of humanity and knock us further off our pedestal of centrality. The Copernican Revolution abruptly dislodged humans from the center of the universe. The Darwinian Revolution yanked Homo sapiens from the pinnacle of life. Today another menacing revolution sits at the horizon of knowledge, patiently awaiting broad realization by the same egotistical species.

    The dangerous idea is this: the purpose of life is to disperse energy.

    Many of us are at least somewhat familiar with the second law of thermodynamics, the unwavering propensity of energy to disperse and, in doing so, transition from high quality to low quality forms. More generally, as stated by ecologist Eric Schneider, “nature abhors a gradient,” where a gradient is simply a difference over a distance — for example, in temperature or pressure. Open physical systems — including those of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere — all embody this law, being driven by the dispersal of energy, particularly the flow of heat, continually attempting to achieve equilibrium. Phenomena as diverse as lithospheric plate motions, the northward flow of the Gulf Stream, and occurrence of deadly hurricanes are all examples of second law manifestations.

    There is growing evidence that life, the biosphere, is no different. It has often been said the life’s complexity contravenes the second law, indicating the work either of a deity or some unknown natural process, depending on one’s bias. Yet the evolution of life and the dynamics of ecosystems obey the second law mandate, functioning in large part to dissipate energy. They do so not by burning brightly and disappearing, like a fire torching a forest, but through stable metabolic cycles that store chemical energy and continually reduce the solar gradient. Photosynthetic plants, bacteria, and algae capture energy from the sun and form the core of all food webs.

    Virtually all organisms, including humans, are, in a real sense, sunlight transmogrified, temporary waypoints in the flow of energy. Ecological succession, viewed from a thermodynamic perspective, is a process that maximizes the capture and degradation of energy. Similarly, the tendency for life to become more complex over the past 3.5 billion years (as well as the overall increase in biomass and organismal diversity through time) is not due simply to natural selection, as most evolutionists still argue, but also to nature’s “efforts” to grab more and more of the sun’s flow. The slow burn that characterizes life enables ecological systems to persist over deep time, changing in response to external and internal perturbations.”

    The Natural Science Underlying Big History
    “Nature’s many varied complex systems—including galaxies, stars, planets, life, and society—are islands of order within the increasingly disordered Universe. All organized systems are subject to physical, biological, or cultural evolution, which together comprise the grander interdisciplinary subject of cosmic evolution. A wealth of observational data supports the hypothesis that increasingly complex systems evolve unceasingly, uncaringly, and unpredictably from big bang to humankind. These are global history greatly extended, big history with a scientific basis, and natural history broadly portrayed across ∼14 billion years of time. Human beings and our cultural inventions are not special, unique, or apart from Nature; rather, we are an integral part of a universal evolutionary process connecting all such complex systems throughout space and time. Such evolution writ large has significant potential to unify the natural sciences into a holistic understanding of who we are and whence we came. No new science (beyond frontier, nonequilibrium thermodynamics) is needed to describe cosmic evolution’s major milestones at a deep and empirical level. Quantitative models and experimental tests imply that a remarkable simplicity underlies the emergence and growth of complexity for a wide spectrum of known and diverse systems. Energy is a principal facilitator of the rising complexity of ordered systems within the expanding Universe; energy flows are as central to life and society as they are to stars and galaxies. In particular, energy rate density—contrasting with information content or entropy production—is an objective metric suitable to gauge relative degrees of complexity among a hierarchy of widely assorted systems observed throughout the material Universe. Operationally, those systems capable of utilizing optimum amounts of energy tend to survive, and those that cannot are nonrandomly eliminated.”


    “..those systems capable of utilizing optimum amounts of energy tend to survive, and those that cannot are nonrandomly eliminated.”
    OVERSHOOT LOOP: Evolution Under The Maximum Power Principle

    “The destruction of the natural world is not the result of global capitalism, industrialisation, “Western civilisation” or any flaw in human institutions. It is a consequence of the evolutionary success of an exceptionally rapacious primate. Throughout all of history and prehistory, human advance has coincided with ecological devastation.” — John Gray

    “The single most-important lesson for me was that we cannot re-wire (literally, because thought is physical[1]) our basic political agendas through reading or discussion alone. Moreover, since our thoughts are subject to physical law, we do not have the free-will to either think or behave autonomously.”

    We are “political” animals from birth until death. Everything we do or say can be seen as part of lifelong political agendas. Despite decades of scientific warnings, we continue to destroy our life-support system because that behavior is part of our inherited (DNA, RNA, etc.) hard wiring. We use scientific warnings, like all inter-animal communications, for cementing group identity and for elevating one’s own status (politics).”

    “This behavior is inherent in the architecture of our minds — is entrained in our biological material — and will be repeated until we go extinct.”


    The Physics of Life

    ‘Our universe is prone to increasing disorder and chaos. So how did it generate the extreme complexity we see in life? Actually, the laws of physics themselves may demand it’

  12. Vera says:

    FDS: Astonishing. At the risk of annoying Dave, who — I just discovered — dislikes the AA system, I say that I think Bill W. would call this “alcoholic thinking”. A sort of obsessive-compulsive overthink associated with spiritual malaise.

    Therefore, a disclaimer: have never been a 12-stepper nor an alcoholic. Am reading their history. :-)

  13. Theresa says:

    Sidestepping the “incoherent former actor…” dig that seems to have captured your readers’ attention, I’m interested in the paragraphs that followed re the ” nothing to do about it” and “it’s not really happening” responss vs the important rage/anxiety:
    I’m not sure that dissociation (flight from the body, this isn’t really happening, etc – my own go-to response) in an overwhelming trauma situation (car accident w/o physical injury is an example most can relate to) ….is the better response than than the outward anger, turmoil, action-oriented anxiety response. At least that is what the psych literature seems to imply – that an expression of anger with its desire to control what it cannot control, is healthier than the “this isn’t real this isn’t happening” response.

    To rage against the dying of the light” or not to rage against it? That is the question

  14. Theresa says:

    FamousDrScanlon: fascination. Worth thinking about. Yet I don’t see how the lives of animals and organisms other than humans has become so much more complex as life has for humans. Of course they are affected by human influence on their environment, but I don’t see how the lives and behaviour of lions in the jungle has grown more complex over the ages

  15. Dave Pollard says:

    What a fascinating comments thread! Thanks everyone for participating, and for the ‘conversation’.

    Of course, none of you had a choice in what you did, or did not write.

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