“Our timebomb is mysticism. Its delivery system is language. And its hiding place? The unfathomable coils of our DNA.” (The Spirit in the Gene, 1999)
With the aid of photographs, diagrams and graphs Reg Morrison summarises the massive impact that humans have had on our planet and explores the evolutionary and genetic origins of the behaviour that achieved that unprecedented impact. The book also delves into Hans Selye’s General Adaptive Syndrome, the generally unrecognised evolutionary mechanism that is currently orchestrating our looming decline
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“Reg Morrison offers varied and often fascinating documentation from ecology, economics, and natural history to portray human history for what it is, a Greek tragedy in which our greatest strengths are no less our most dangerous flaws.” —Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University, MA.
“In this compelling account of the human predicament, Reg Morrison examines the crucial question of why, despite the fact that we humans are aware of our self-destructive style, we seem unable to take countermeasures to prevent disaster. A wonderful book.” —Thomas Eisner, Cornell University, NY.
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Exerpts from the book:
“… Here, evolution had hit on the sweetest of solutions. Such perceptions were guaranteed to produce a faith-dependent species that believed itself to be thoroughly separate from the rest of the animal kingdom, but followed its genetic instructions to the letter—and left more offspring as a consequence. Here was a gene-driven animal just like any other, yet one that believed itself to be under special guidance—guidance that was not merely ‘spiritual’, but in most instances ‘divine’. Here was a wonderfully practical insanity, an invincible, hereditary madness that eventually enabled this under-endowed ‘paragon of animals’ to devour the planet like a ripe fruit.
This breathtakingly innovative derangement—present in all mammals to some extent—seems to have switched into overdrive in humans to minimise the immense risks inherent in the major brain enlargement that began almost three million years ago. The human brain has doubled its volume and quadrupled the surface area of its rational cortex in that time, a degree of enlargement unprecedented in the evolution of any other species. If behavioral control had gradually transferred from the ‘instincts’ to the rational brain during this period—as is commonly assumed—I believe our end would have been bloody and swift. Even today, given our tenuous grasp of evolution and its complexities, the most genetically advantageous behavior usually lies far beyond the scope of instant rational computation. A million years ago too much rational thought would have been suicidal. In other words, without a genetic override mechanism securely wired into the brain of Homo erectus, that cortical enlargement would, I believe, have been lethal.
Armed with an X-factor, an automatic override device that cuts off rational thought at a moment’s notice and draws directly from a reservoir of pretested genetic behavior, we remained fully functional animals. It enabled us to continue to feed, mate, and reproduce without interference from our enlarged cortex. To put it yet another way, our neuronal circuitry remained ‘hot-wired’ to our genes so that we would not be handicapped by logic when genetic responses were called for. That is why, under the spell of our carefully programmed ‘spirituality’, we cannot help falling in love, yearning for sexual gratification, nurturing our children, forging tribal bonds, suspecting strangers, uniting against common enemies, and on occasions, laying down our lives for family, friends or tribe. No gene could ask for more.
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So, although our species’ conquest of the planet might appear to represent the gradual triumph of the intellect over our brutish nature, in fact, precisely the reverse is true. Being primarily founded on, and driven by, mystical beliefs of one kind or another, human civilisation represents not so much a triumph of the mind over the body as the triumph of the gene over gene-threatening rational thought.
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Precisely what we believe is immaterial; what matters is the kind of behaviour that belief generates. . . . As far as our genes are concerned we can believe that the universe is driven by an overweight fairy on a green cheese bicycle provided that such belief effectively coerces us into adopting tribal behaviour in all matters of evolutionary consequence, such as feeding, mating, nurturing, bonding, and protecting family, tribe and territory.
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Despite the astonishing behavioral flexibility that has steered this maladapted primate so adroitly through some 2.5 million hazardous years, the animal is still vulnerable in the way that all animals are vulnerable: through its adaptive specialisations. By endowing the human brain with its language facility, evolution has ensured that human genes will continue to bypass the cerebral cortex at will, disguising fact with ‘significance’ and turning imagination into perceived fact. This prodigious talent for spiritualising its perceptions seems certain to keep this sapient primate safely sequestered from reality and well within reach of the biosphere’s standard forms of population control.
There were three evolutionary prerequisites for our particular flaw: in view of our physical inadequacy it needed to be extraordinarily beneficial to begin with, and even when switched into its destruct mode it had to remain well disguised and thoroughly tamper-proof. All of those evolutionary requirements have been fulfilled. Our timebomb is mysticism. Its delivery system is language. And its hiding place? The unfathomable coils of our DNA.” (The Spirit in the Gene, Cornell University Press, 1999)