Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Gossip and misinformation are important tools in the struggle to define our species.

It is doubtful that human beings will ever agree on who we are, but we can observe that as social beings we are obsessed with other people's lives. This voyeurism is fed by gossip, magazines, radio, television, and now by the Internet, where images, videos, rumor, and trivia are available 24 hours a day, from almost any location on earth. Media technology has tapped a deep desire for social tyranny; for thousands of years humans have been obsessed with prescribing and imposing behavior on each other, and with inventing satisfying punishments for people who are reluctant to conform.

Our insatiable nosiness centers on sex, power, and the material trappings that define class. We brush off the American obsession with celebrities, sports figures, wealthy individuals, politicians, and frivolous attention-getters as simple entertainment, but billions of dollars and millions of hours of personal time are dedicated to this pursuit each year. The percentage of gossip versus hard news has skyrocketed: the distinction between the two is vanishing.

Symbols have natural beginnings. Left: the wind blows away snow not compressed by antelope hooves; the same process creates raised tire impressions. Inanimate objects such as rain drops and rolling pebbles leave distinct tracks: early man attributed the effects of unseen forces to living beings, simply because this was the easiest explanation available to them. The unseen force of gravity was not described until Isaac Newton published Mathematical Principles in Natural Philosophy in 1687, and gravity is still a bit of a mystery.

One of the most notable transitions in the evolution of hominids is the reduction of the forward projection of the face due to decreasing reliance on smell: it was this switch to reliance on sight that instigated our use of symbols, which led to our reliance on symbolic languages.

We should not be surprised that the humans developed methods of communication appropriate to our physiology and environment, just as other animals possess innate communication abilities that suit their needs. Common sense declares that whales and dolphins exchange information within their species: sound waves travel easily within bodies of water. We have invented sonic equipment, but we do not understand the content of whale and dolphin communications any better than we would signals from alien life forms. If we accept human language as a continuation of animal communication, we can then view human language as natural, and not originating in a supernatural dimension. As for the protest that animal languages amount to very little that we would find important, can we mobilize hundreds of thousands of individuals as effectively as ants, which use chemical signals to construct a raft from their bodies and then simply float to dry land? Compare their solution to our inept response to hurricane Katrina and the repeated death and destruction that results from storms and floods, which we know will occur, but fail to prepare for adequately.

Human spoken language developed in an environment where speech was an asset; sound and sight and body movement stimulate learning and memory, and learning to use one's hands to manipulate materials requires copying someone who knows what they are doing, plus a lot of repetition. Verbal cues such as "first do this, and then do this," promote the successful transfer of skills.

Human beings learn by copying and practice, and yet education theorists have condemned this natural process as a barrier to learning. Curiously, natural learning is "allowed" in sports, where intensive practice is required. The imposition of the idea that nature's way of learning is wrong and its replacement by supernatural theories has produced disaster in public education. The simple proof is that thousands of human generations before us learned to function in their environments by means of imitation and repetition, but in sharp contrast, American children can't learn the basics of reading, writing, and math. This educational failure is blamed on the child: hundreds of disabilities, psychiatric disorders, and other made-up excuses label children as defective, in addition to environmental and social excuses. The true problem is the bizarre supernatural monster that is the American educational system.

Humans are equipped with an extraordinary advantage. We can copy the skills and strategies of other species as well as learn from each other. We also are able to utilize the forces and the processes of nature that surround us. This expansion of learning sources beyond our own narrow circumstances opened the archive of earth's secrets for us to exploit; the ability to learn from the total environment explains much of our success. This most basic of facts has been abandoned in favor of a disastrous system of supernatural theories. The idea that children cannot learn to become functioning and contributing adults, when that is exactly what has been occurring for millions of years, and indeed happens in every animal and plant species routinely, is utter nonsense.