Darwin’s 1868 primate phylogeny
Perspective is everything.
How far our eyes reach from the perch on our tree branch will dictate the angle at which the world will appear to us. Our take on life may be religious, and within that realm it can take many shapes. It can be that of a male or of a female, of a republican, liberal or anarchist. It can be that of a scientist, a human rights activist, an oppressed minority, a transgendered teenager, a child or parent. Our world’s panorama will depend on how high up or how far down we choose to make nest: what excites us, what hurts us, what matters to us.
Everything is about the distance at which we place ourselves between the sky and the ground: do I see a patch of green or can I make out the individual stems of the grass and its underlying soil? How well defined or plump do the clouds look? What shade of blue is the sky made of?
As humans, with our all-knowing brains and consciousness of our own consciousness, we go to great lengths to justify our right to the treetop. We are the evolutionary last-stop, the makers of this tree, kings of the canopy. From up here we see it all – how far the world spreads out around us, how many other trees surround us, and how vast the universe’s scope is.
Without an upwards reference, the view from the top can be quite lonely. For lack of a ceiling we sketch a whole dome to suit our cravings. Without humility, our orphaned souls like Narcissus fall over heels for the rippleless canvas and lose themselves in an all-knowing and perfect reflection that we fail to recognize as our own; we unfold ourselves into an alter-ego bearing all of the names but our own.
Echo and Narcissus: Richard Baxter, 1998
There is little wonder that the reprimanding finger pointing back at us from across the sky appears so much more perfect than we are. We fail to see that it is a mere inverted extension of our own finger pointing at a glassy void in wonder. In our search of something bigger, we find ourselves staring at a distorted entity that we fail to see as made in our own image.
The Creation of Adam, Michelangelo (Sistine chapel)
Caught in a lacanian mirror-stage, we are permanently captivated by our own image and are unwilling to let go from this quasi-libidinal relationship with it.
It is hard to swallow the red pill and plunge our fists into the gooey mirror we seem to look up to, without fear of what we may find, what emptiness, what beauty, what wonders may lie within it. The choice between our narcissistic love-affair with ourselves and truth-seeking is never an easy one, as exemplified by Neo’s blue pill/red pill choice: “You have to understand that many people are not ready to be unplugged, and many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.”
Neo in The Matrix
Let us be unplugged.
Let us seek to understand our limitations and attempt to remove ourselves from our perch, to view things in a different light, to lose whatever illusions of self-aggrandizement and noblesse we may harbor and poke at the world with respect but without fear, with interest but without bigotry, with curiosity but without invasiveness, with gusto but not self-indulgence or sense of entitlement.
Yes, the more we poke the more our egos take a blow and the closer we come together with surrounding branches until we are no longer alone on our thrones. There is a thickening trunk connecting us all. Let us rejoice in that.
Let us stop denying ourselves the freedom to be free-spirited, to think critically and in depth about our condition and surroundings. Let us find purpose in the confines of our epidermis and not beyond it; let good and evil be in opposition to each other, not the bargaining chip of a third party; and let meaning sprout from itself and from the joy it gives us in itself, not as the creation of a ghostly entity. Let us be our own puppeteers, masters of our choices, not second-guessers of fickle imaginary matter.
A high school philosophy teacher once said that humans are bothered by silence. We fill our lives with noise, dizzying, insatiable, incessant noise, empty noise, white noise, numbing noise, chirpy twittering noise, in order to muffle the sound of the disconcerting questions, the important questions we try to avoid all the way to our deathbeds.
Let us find comfort in this silence.
Let us not find satisfaction in default explanations. Reason, intelligence, intent and design are indeed the perfect tools to create functional things, but these are workings of our very human minds; let us stop projecting these onto immaterial presences outside of it.
Our treetop is not lonely, nor special, nor solid, nor enduring and self-sustainable. Our treetop is very tall, and thick and old. It is still growing, slowly, at a rate we cannot perceive, that we will never perceive. Let us thank ourselves for this knowledge, and be humbled.
The feeling of an enlightenment from above placed us at the center of the universe, and filled us with entitlement to burn, murder, steal, enslave, invade. Removing ourselves from that position came at a cost and those who dared to suggest it, were condemned by the fearful.
Let us be enlightened from within.
Let us value the capacity of the human mind and spirit. A spirit that thrives on its own, as independent and self-sufficient as its body. A spirit with the power to heal, not with wishes but with actions, with the power to fly, not through gift but through craft, and with the power to realize the scope and breadth but also the limitations of its capabilities. Let us appreciate this with the knowledge that this capacity provides us with rights but more importantly with responsibilities. Responsibilities to educate, to help, to intervene, to let be, to move forward, to evolve.
Let us marvel in the wonders of the world with the knowledge that its mysteries are nor readily graspable nor divinely intangible, thus hampering our inquisitiveness in the process. Let us be brave and accept that pain exists, sometimes with no reason nor purpose, but let us also draw pleasure purely from pleasure’s existence.
Let us be free, but free in the knowledge that freedom of the individual comes as a price: the recognition and acceptance that we are alone amongst each other, with no one to report to but ourselves. Let us realize that this is the real and only source of morality, a sense of duty to ourselves and others around us.
The Universe in One Year, inspired by Carl Sagan’s (1934-1996) “Cosmic Calendar”
And finally, let us remain at the top of the tree, but put aside our arrogant crowns. Let us not look down with disdain or ownership, nor up with servility and blinding devotion. Let us not be lords of this tree, nor be vassals to its reality.
Let us have perspective.