Embodied Human Consciousness, Abrupt Global Climate Change, and Freedom

S. David Stoney, Ph.D.
Dept. of Physiology
Medical College of Georgia
(Brief Resume)


An "iced neuron."

Just think, we are privileged to be the first generation of human beings to become consciously aware of the earth's climate cycle and the reality of abrupt global climate change. Will we have the courage to face this disquieting new knowledge? Have we already waited too long to begin preparing for what the two-million-year-old climate cycle is preparing to bring us? Ultimately it is a question of whether or not we will exercise foresight and use our vaunted human consciousness to better the human condition in spite of the fear that blossoms so rudely in the collective unconscious as the change to glacial phase conditions approaches. Unfortunately, our growing fear, in conjunction with our blindness to instinct, may allow human consciousness to merely remain Nature's way of maximizing population growth during the interglacial phase. We must recognize that, at this unique time in the earth's climate history, what Nature thinks is good for the survival of our species, i.e., maximum population growth, is not good for the survival of civilization and the modern mind that it supports. Where do you stand on this issue?

     As you will see as you explore this website, my main interest is in the historical development of embodied human consciousness, in particular the environmental and neurobehavioral factors that have contributed to the shift from the primarily perceptual consciousness common to all creatures, to the conceptual self-consciousness of human beings. Because the current climate cycle - long, cold, arid glacial phases alternating with short, warm, wet interglacial phases - has been going on during most of the period during which we human beings separated from our nearest primate forebears, I have become particularly interested in it. My studies have revealed that global climate change can occur abruptly and that the next glacial phase is probably imminent.
    From a naturalistic perspective, it is apparent that the modern mind developed out of a conservative, less differentiated variety of consciousness that provided a strong, persistent, and generally satisfying sense of meaning for its practitioners over hundreds of thousands of years. My deep concern is that, because of Nature's obliviousness to civilization and the long intervals of time between abrupt climate changes, we have no conscious system to warn us to begin our adaptations for the transition to glacial phase conditions. Because of this, together with the dependence of the modern mind on the smart scaffolding provided by civilization, the modern mind is vulnerable to regression if civilization fails to survive. We do, of course, have an instinct to insure survival of the human species. That instinct is consciousness and it has led to an unprecedented increase in human population during this interglacial period. Unfortunately, it provides no specific alarm, other than a growing and irresistible, but vague, feeling of something huge and dangerous approaching, to tell us to pay attention and begin formulating adaptive measures to deal with abrupt global climate change. In the absence of knowledgeable leadership, it will always be easier to succumb to habit and blame others for our growing sense of unease. The growing subconscious fear that increasingly permeates all of society can easily be mined for personal gain by self-seeking or ignorant politicians, intolerance will grow, and we will find our society becoming less and less suitably positioned to save our most cherished values when Nature shakes its fist and the next glacial phase begins.
    This creates a difficult and dangerous situation for human beings and for civilization, especially in those societies that value the accumulation of wealth above intellectual and emotional integrity. Under such conditions, knowledge of the climate cycle and the reality and threat of abrupt global climate change may never become integrated into the human worldview. In that case, the earth's climate cycle may constrain embodied human consciousness to operate in only two modes. First, a participatory (ancestral) mode, which involves a minimum of individuation and which dominates during glacial phases when conditions are severe; and, second, an alienated mode, which involves development of a strong ego-(self)consciousness and which flourishes during interglacial phases.
    Although the global warming that is occurring here near the end of this interglacial period - with its accompanying sea level rise and stronger storms - is a real and very major problem, the glacial period that is likely to follow - with its long duration and cold temperatures, its aridity and marked reduction in livable and arable land - is the real civilization-buster. If we lose civilization and the supports it provides for the modern mind, we shall very possibly lose our modern variety of consciousness, together with the notion (and practice!) of individual freedom that accompanies it. The lure of meaning that enmeshment in participatory consciousness provides must not be underestimated! Just think about how hard it was - and how fortunate we were - to have broken the chains that bound us to the consciousness that dominated during our glacial phase past. Do we really want to risk going back to that!?
    To emphasize the critical importance of planning for abrupt global climate change for the future of embodied human consciousness, I have named the site "Iced Neuron." It represents my attempt to think anew about the human condition without abandoning Hope or slipping into a "solipsism of the present moment." It is meant to be educational - at both a cognitive and an emotional level - and to promote sustainable living. Please take what you like and leave the rest...


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Flash! And now the movie: "The Day After Tomorrow"

Flash! Report to the Pentagon details impending climate catastrophe: Abrupt Climate Change and National Security

I. Introduction

II. Abrupt Global Climate Change

III. Embodied Human Consciousness and Climate Change

IV. Anosognosia From A Process Philosophical Perspective

V. Prehensions and Other Concepts From Alfred North Whitehead

VI. Freedom and Other Considerations

VII. Book Proposal: Ecological Neuroscience: A Process Philosophical Approach

VIII. Essays on Ecological Neuroscience

IX. Presentations for Modern Science and the Mind - 2000

X. Other Recent Presentations (1998-2002)

XI. Closing Prayers

"If you do not expect it, you will not find the unexpected, for it is hard to find and difficult."
(Heraclitus, quoted in Loren Eiseley, The Unexpected Universe, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1964)

"Don't just do something, stand there."
(Gautama the Buddha)

"Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive."
(C.S. Lewis)

"One mark of a mature profession is consciousness of its own history"
(Lynn White, Jr., Machina Ex Deo: Essays in the Dynamism of Western Culture, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, pg. 147, 1968)

"[A]n augmented version of foresight has become essential, if we are to extract ourselves from this mess we've made of the Earth and its climate"
(William H. Calvin, The Ascent of Mind: Ice Age Climates and the Evolution of Intelligence, New York: Bantam Books, pg. 244, 1991)

"The only thoroughly logical non-realist philosophical position is that of solipsism."
(Konrad Lorenz, Behind the Mirror: A Search for a Natural History of Human Knowledge, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Translated by Ronald Taylor, pg. 246, 1977)

Participation is the extra-sensory relation between man and the phenomenon."
(Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, 2nd Ed., Wesleyan University Press, pg. 40, 1988)

"The entity of which we become aware in sense perception is the terminus of our act of perception...Perception is simply the cognition of prehensive unification; or more shortly, perception is cognition of prehension."
(Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, New York: The Free Press, pgs. 70, 71, 1925)

"...the Cartesian cut between observer and observed, between inner and external reality, between mind and body, is based on the illusion that the physical world has no subjective component."
(Max Delbruck, Mind From Matter? An Essay on Evolutionary Epistemology , G.S. Stent et al (Eds.), London: Blackwell Scientific Publications, Inc., pg. 249, 1986)

"...to enshrine matter reductively as the ultimate stuff of the world is to shackle oneself to a metaphysics at odds with the nature of the world."
(Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, The Primacy of Movement, Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, pg. 481, 1999)

"...the nervous system is in no sense an apparatus which may serve to fabricate, or even to prepare, representations."
(Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, 5th Ed., New York: Zone Books, Translated by Nancy M. Paul and W. Scott Palmer, pg. 31, 1996[1905])

"Things fade; alternatives exclude."
(John Gardner, Grendel, New York: Vintage Books, 1971)

"Freedom is the awareness of alternatives and of the ability to choose. It is contingent upon consciousness, and so may be gained or lost, extended or diminished."
(Allen Wheelis, How People Change, New York: Harper & Row, pg. 15, 1973)

"...the negative perception is the triumph of consciousness."
(Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, New York: The Free Press, pg. 187, 1929)

"The clear perception that we are the unknown, which is beyond time, allows the mind to give time its proper value...That is what makes freedom possible, in the sense of realizing our true potential for participating harmoniously in universal creativity."
(David Bohm, Time, the implicate order, and pre-space, In: Physics and the Ultimate Significance of Time: Bohm, Prigogine, and Process Philosophy, David Ray Griffin Ed., State University of New York Press, pgs. 207-8, 1986)

"We experience good and evil because we perceive a presence of duality rather than unity."
(Ernest Holmes, The Science of Mind, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, pg. 39, 1998[1938])

"Only mystics and animals are realists. Everybody else lives a life of their own imagination."
(Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee)

"Be really whole and all things will come to you."
(Lao-Tzu, cited in Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, pg. 160, 1992/2002)

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     As you begin coming to grips with the implications of the information presented here, one point is extremely important to keep in mind from the start: This is the first time in history that the human race has had the opportunity to consciously adapt to the threat of abrupt global climate change prior to its actual occurrence. This is because it is only during the last few decades that modern science has begun to make us aware of the reality of the earth's on-going climate cycle and abrupt global climate change. Because of this, and because our thinking is conditioned to uniformity or creationism, it is to be expected that the problem will initially feel too big and too dangerous to handle. Do not despair! The feeling that the problem is insurmountable is, to some extent, an illusion generated by an alienated, defensive ego! Feelings of fear and loathing that may accompany thoughts about the issue are analogous to barely conscious, long-term memories of all those times in the past when our ancestors were hammered by an unexpected occurrence of an abrupt global climate change. Such feelings are, in fact, just the kind of feelings that we should be feeling at this stage of the climate cycle. They simply mean that it's time to begin our adaptations for a possible climate change!
    Although accommodating to the "new," disquieting world of climate change will require considered (and considerable) reassessments in every arena of human endeavor, there is as much opportunity for progress as for retrogression. In any event, everyone who is paying attention knows that continuation of many current modes of behavior will be suicidal even if the current interglacial climate phase continues, so coming to grips with abrupt global climate change now gives us the opportunity to turn a necessity into a virtue. Please note that passing through the modern age and its alienation has been an essential part of our journey in consciousness during this interglacial period. Because of the modern mind, we have already developed many of the tools we need to begin the work of maintaining the best aspects of civilization across the interglacial/glacial transition. Now we must squarely face our fear - and put aside the intolerance that fear generates - and strive toward a postcritical mind that can put all of our tools to wise use "for the uses of life." There is no predicting what can be accomplished if, living in truth about the world's climate cycle, we are willing to work together to insure the survival of civilization's best features across the interglacial/glacial transition. We must expect and be willing to consider new ideas and flexible thinking from every citizen. Since this is an entirely new problem for embodied human consciousness, no individual or group can claim to already know the best responses. We must also recognize that many will find such a prospect difficult and frightening to face and that, to succeed in adapting to the problem, our leaders will have to exemplify honesty, integrity, courage, and fairness. In addition, we will need to engage with patience and tolerance those who mistakenly believe that through wealth and privilege they will be able to make it on their own, apparently content to let the Devil take the hindmost.

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"If we could first know where we are, and wither we are trending, we could better judge what to do and how to do it."
Abraham Lincoln, cited in T. C.Davies, Medical education today, S.C. Med. Assoc. J. 73:421-4.

"The courage to be which is rooted in the experience of the God above the God of theism unites and transcends the courage to be as a part and the courage to be as oneself. It avoids both the loss of oneself by participation and the loss of one's world by individualization. The acceptance of the God above the God of theism makes us a part of that which is not also a part but is the ground of the whole. Therefore our self is not lost in a larger whole, which submerges it in the life of a limited group. If the self participates in the power of being-itself it receives itself back."
(Paul Tillich, The Courage To Be, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, pgs. 187-88, 1952. Italics added)

"...the true rationalism must always transcend itself by recurrence to the concrete in search of inspiration. A self-satisfied rationalism is in effect a form of anti-rationalism. It means an arbitrary halt at a particular set of abstractions."
(Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, New York: The Free Press, pg. 201, 1925)

"We can add to our knowledge of the world by accumulating information at a given level - by extensive observation from one standpoint. But we can raise our understanding to a new level only if we examine that relation between the world and ourselves which is responsible for our prior understanding, and form a new conception that includes a more detached understanding of ourselves, of the world, and of the interaction between them. Thus, objectivity allows us to transcend our particular viewpoint and develop an expanded consciousness that takes in the world more fully. All this applies to values and attitudes as well as to beliefs and theories."
(Thomas Nagel, The View From Nowhere, New York: Oxford University Press, pg. 5, 1986.)

"Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing"
(Albert Schweitzer)

"Keep walking, though there's no place to get to.
Don't try to see through the distances.
That's not for human beings.
Move within, but don't move the way fear makes you move."
(Coleman Barks & John Moyne [Translators], The Essential Rumi, pg. 278)

"When you see a cloud rise from the west, you immediately say, 'It will rain,' and so it is.
And when the wind blows from the south, you say, 'It will be hot,' and so it is.
O you hypocrites, you know how to discern the face of the earth and of the sky;
How then is it that you do not discern this time?"
(George M. Lamas [Translator], Holy Bible: From the Ancient Eastern Text, Luke 12:54-56, pg. 1035)

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Last modified October 31, 2004

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