Life and evolution
There is a lot we do not know about the emergence of life and its evolution and plenty of ongoing research and debate:
- Some scientists think that life itself may be an emergent property (of matter under certain conditions) but so it has not been possible to reproduce this experimentally from the basic building blocks of matter e.g. by trying to create a primordial soup and then bombarding it with simulated lightening
- The processes governing evolution are still not fully understood and hotly debated, this is especially the case when considering mechanisms governing the speed of change. Running the process of evolution again from the start would not necessarily result in humans but one thing does stand out, co-operation is also a driver of evolutionary change, perhaps even the main one.
- That at some point in evolution a change or series of changes took place that led to self-reflective consciousness in the brain which endowed us with the ability to engage in abstract (logical) reasoning and therefore the passing on of knowledge – the human system came into existence.
Human Pre-history and history
Once the human system begins to operate things change:
- One of the ways we use our self-reflective consciousness is to interpret and give meaning to our existence (even though the universe itself may be indifferent).
- The varieties of culture in the past were many and various (Hartley op.cit.). Although human nature and physiology are givens the behaviour that actually emerges (and is observable) is altered (moderated) by what people believe (the products of mind) and their culture at that specific time and in that specific set of circumstances. It is also interpreted by the knowledge and beliefs of the observer (i.e. the historian) however much objectivity is strive for.
- The accretion of knowledge and scientific methods has been long, slow and tentative. The story old of progress based on a succession of civilisations each one better than the last, implicitly leading to our triumph (still being taught when I was at school), is very misleading because it is based on the availability of evidence, and a highly western bias. At the very beginnings of states it is only in physical remains (e.g. of cities) that our view of pre-history was established, as Scott points out most people lived elsewhere and could try to run away Scott op.cit., see also (Morris: West)
All history has to be read with critical faculties switched on, it is impossible to remove all current sensibilities from history, see Part 2 Assess, Timeline, Using the present to explain the past
The Human Condition
Whether or not we have free will, how we act has consequences. When these consequences are the result of the laws of an indifferent universe that we do not full understand but cannot escape we should perhaps be a little bit more careful. The warning signs are there, as the Irish President said recently "if we were miners, we'd be up to our knees in dead canaries" (Higgins)