“We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it. . . Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated ‘egos’ inside bags of skin.”
This quote, from Alan W. Watts, resonates in the heart of what has been lost on most of today’s society. Most people think of nature as this pastoral place, a beautiful thing we need to live in harmony with and ignore the dangers it beholds. All living organisms in the wild spend the entirety of their lives trying to survive. Humans have created a world where we don’t have this stress and have created a better world for us. Unfortunately, this does not benefit any other life form other than the human species; rather we create environments that some fear will eventually not be able to host even our own kind. Forging fear of heuristic thinking and its effects on the planet.
Technology today is no more drastic or complex of an innovation than the pyramids the Egyptians built, or the inner workings of a plant. Humans, plants, phones, computers, pyramids, soil—are all a result of an evolutionary process of information that has proliferated in time. We disconnect from nature when we conceive or utilize technology, for example a smartphone, and don’t think of its interconnectedness to nature. We don’t take the time to understand all the natural systems that contribute to what makes up the phone; what do we mine from the earth to get the chips for the phones; what countries are we exploiting in the innovation process; what ocean is polluted with the by-products of our consumption. By understanding these things, we connect back to nature, the force that once was our venerated storyteller of how the world worked.
The Sub-Saharan region of the African continent is composed of ubiquitous mountains that tower over the array of vast wildlife it fosters. This compelling environment, home to a multitude of creatures, while breathtaking, also harbors great danger within its borders. A great danger that many of the Egyptian Pharaohs braved to take their reign in glorious opulence and the first innovative society in the western world.
Humankind has depended on lore, legend, and myth to explain the enigmas abundant across the world since oral tradition was birthed by our ancestors. Many scientists today have a theory that a profound piece of lore is the reason that one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Egyptian Pyramids, were erected by the blood, sweat, and tears of its people.
The theory posits that many of the Pharaohs from the southern region of Africa watched the sun set over the mountains in the west. These mountains were naturally assumed to be the Sun God, Ra’s, home—where he went to sleep when the Star God, Sah, and his consort Sopdet, who arose to shine in the sweeping darkness of the skies.
When these voyeuristic Pharaohs arrived in Egypt—a flat land dusted in cracked earth and copper sand—they wondered where the solar deity went to sleep. Afraid that Ra would go without refuge at night, they built the Egyptian Pyramids in recognition of the complex innovation and construction required. These monuments were the beginning of humankind’s cognitive advancement. The Egyptians were able to take the earth’s resources and build these structures from natural materials, all because they ignored nature and rebuffed contemporary beliefs which told them how the world worked—and asked themselves “Is there a better way?”
Bonfires of the Vanities
Humankinds’ history of cognitive progression is anything but linear. There has always been a pattern of what Girolamo Savonarola–an Italian Dominican priest and leader during the 1490’s who was known for his anti-renaissance preaching, book burning, religious reformation, and art destruction– declared the bonfire of the vanities; “a burning of objects condemned by religious authorities as occasions of sin.” The first official ‘bonfire of vanities’ did not take place until February 7, 1497 in the world’s art and cultural center Florence, Italy. There, on Shrove Tuesday, Savonarola and his followers burned thousands of classic art pieces—fine dresses, musical instruments, manuscripts, paintings, cosmetics, vanities, mirrors, and other works—in a large bonfire. Devastating as it was, this was nothing new as human society had already participated in this pattern in other respects.
When the Assyrians conquered Egypt, instead of adapting the sophisticated things the Egyptians developed, like writing in an alphabet—they abandoned their advancements entirely, thus renouncing the human cognitive development the Egyptians achieved in their era. The very same occurrence happened in Ancient Greek when Sparta took over, and again when the Christians conquered Rome. History continued to follow this pattern of groups of people pulling society backwards whenever they evolve. In effort to, if you will, “make ______ great again.”
The Enlightenment period, or the Enlightenment, dominated Europe and influenced other nations globally in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Enlightenment is when humans started taking advantage of the unique aspect of the human brain which sets us apart from other living organisms: our consciousness and with it the ability to advance society in ways that were beyond imaginable.
We began to question dogma and tradition. We began to question if we should separate church and state. We began to question our own logic and our peers in order to find a better answer. To understand what our purpose is. Why we matter. Why the world turns and what gravity really is. Why rain falls from the sky and is it truly the tears of a God. Asking infinite questions about the infinite. Cultivating societal groups who indulged in philosophy, intellect, and eventually the roots of what we call science today. This period is the foundation for the forward-thinking that resulted into reformed societies that started the tradition of continuing to progress cognitively, with only minor setbacks in its history since.
“We Came Out of This World, Not into It”
The Enlightenment period is when we began to betray our connection with nature, but we didn’t have to. We became the dominant species of this earth not by our unsharpened claws and dull teeth—but by the proliferation of our cognition. To reconnect with nature, is to reconnect with our most powerful tool for survival—our brain. When we make the intention to understand that we come out of this world, not into it—we can begin to discern how we can better serve this planet, and all living and inanimate things that rely on the survival of this not-so ethereal world.