Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Evolution of Belief: Calling All Consciousness

Some time around 7000 B.C.E., mankind  began to deify thunder storms. To the modern mind, this seems strange and incomprehensible. Storms only possess the energy they passively acquire according to laws of physics. They neither create nor direct anything actively or sentiently. Yet people very quickly began to treat them as though they do, and continually tried opening reasonable dialog with these sky-gods.

I'd like to suggest that our relationship with wild and domesticated canids had a great deal to contribute to this conversation. These species may well have started the whole thing.

You see, animals live in a world where SOUND = LIFE. Something rustles in the thicket: it's either something stalking you as lunch, or it's something hiding from you, and worth pursuing as a potential meal.

When wolves are left by their parents for a period of time, the reply of their mother across the valley reassures them that She Still Lives. No reply to a midnight howl? Evidence that She may have ceased to be. When this evidence reaches a critical level, grief begins.

Domesticated dogs cry for their family members (if they learn the language as youngsters), and can hear sounds of insect life in the walls of their houses long before their human companions detect visible symptoms of infestation.

Here on the hillside, we have a few poopsies (notably, Followers) who talk back to the weather. All the while displaying ambivalence: is the approaching thunder something to hide from or defy (confront/attack)? They remain indifferent to lightening strikes, ignoring the visible (and actual) danger they pose. Animal consciousness finds its likeness through sound.

Did our Bronze Age ancestors, confused by their experience of global warming and atmospheric volatility, take a cue from dogs? If it makes a sound, it lives. If it lives, it has measurable power, is independently motivated, and can be engaged on its own terms.

In a very short time, historically speaking, we managed to ascribe infinite power to a select few sky-gods, dismissed the mind's right to question their motivations and have made no real progress as far as negotiations are concerned. Which may be to say: we've made no progress at all from the primordial declaration of BOOM-WOOF.

Did we domesticate wolves in an attempt to horn in on their cosmic chit-chat? I know we all feel fancier saying we wanted to use dogs as sentinels and garbage disposals, but I'm beginning to suspect that that is all a lie.