Global Change Seminar
"It's Your Move!"

Introduction to Seminar Segment #3

The Role of Humanity: Consciousness

          Given that our planet and the life which it supports appears to be in trouble, where do we go from here? Where does our species fit into the picture? To what extent is it responsible for the mess things are in, and to what extent is it responsible for cleaning up the mess? If we take a look at the urgent global problems discussed in Segment #2, it seems like practically every problem has come about in response to things human beings have done since first showing up on the planet.

          Stepping back to take a ‘big picture’ look at where our species fits in the evolution of life on this planet, we previously noted in Segment #2 that the major steps along that path have included:

  1. The formation of our solar system and planet Earth.
  2. The capacity to turn sunlight into energy - photosynthesis - and produce oxygen.
  3. The development of an organism which could reproduce itself.
  4. The shift of reproduction from simple asexual cell division to sexual reproduction.
  5. The transition of the animal kingdom from living in water to living on land - from acquiring oxygen through gills to acquiring it through lungs.
  6. The transformation from a reliance primarily on instinct to inform behavior to a reliance on meaning to inform behavior.

          So far as we know, we’re the only species to have taken that last step. In this Segment we take a more careful look at the impact it has had and how it makes humans so uniquely different from all other species.

          Scientists tell us that our DNA is 97% the same as some species of monkeys and a mere 3% different. While that’s likely accurate, the fact remains that some pretty heavy equipment shows up in that tiny 3% difference. Language, and the ability to think symbolically and conceptualize our experience through the use of metaphor come to mind as big ones. Or our capacity to self reflect, to construct our personal identity, our character, our personality. Our spirituality, our drive to ‘explain’ our existence and meaning for our lives, to decide what we want to be when we grow up, to evaluate ourselves and then determine the extent to which we’re being a good or a bad person. Not to mention our incessant drive to create, tinker, and meddle. As George Bernard Shaw so aptly pointed out, we are the only species cursed with explaining ourselves to ourselves.

          This Segment of the Seminar takes a look at the development of consciousness in humans and its effects on societies and cultures. There are three articles to to read before proceeding to the Segment #3 homework:

 

Next: Conscious Awareness

 


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