Saturday, August 21, 2010

Language, art, dance, and music-mathematics are socially activated instincts.
Sex, reproduction, status, and aggression are socially constrained instincts.

Cultures do the activating and constraining of instincts. Cultures are made up of the living and the dead. This means that the beliefs of dead people have a great deal of influence over what you and I are expected to believe, and how we behave. These accumulated cultural beliefs are projected onto the world to create a supernatural vision so powerful that it determines how we experience reality and how we interact with other human beings, especially in periods of severe stress.

Hieroglyphic texts chiseled into Egyptian tomb walls are magic spells, not stories. Human beings have long believed that words have the power to create reality. The exact repetition of a word formula is believed to have the power (formerly the proprietary ability of nature) to create results in both physical reality and in the supernatural realm. The literal reading of ancient religious texts or political propaganda is evidence for the widespread and fundamental belief in the power of words to create reality. The U.S. Constitution 'works' because citizens believe that the words predict and guarantee real outcomes. Revolutions occur when words lose their imaginary power, that is, when words and reality no longer match.

Does this mean that supernatural ideas are not useful? Not at all; our peculiar ability to think outside reality (imagination) allows us to create objects that are built on the principles of nature, but which do not exist in nature. Jet engines, internal combustion engines, computer chips, microwave and x-ray technologies, and chemical products such as glues, dyes, medicines, and plastics are part of a long list of familiar products made possible by our clever rearrangement of matter and energy.

This type of technical activity is made possible by understanding the underlying principles of nature through observation and experimentation, and in the rational mental constructs that result in provable and testable ideas. Simple technology is constrained by nature; it is obvious when a tool doesn't work and needs to be improved. A structure that will not stand in a storm is obviously not good enough; a better one may be built by trial and error: for most of human history, this was how it was done. In order to understand how nature works, a language that describes physical relationships is needed. That language is mathematics, and the power of its many applications has transformed human culture and the earth in an extremely short period of time.

Unlike the practical and inquisitive Greeks, and despite mathematical endeavor, cultures such as the Maya and Aztec failed to identify numbers as the keys to understanding physical reality. Their heavily magical and pathological mind sets saw numbers as having supernatural powers, and with disastrous results. Instead of a calendar that produced a useful and freeing concept of time, numbers created a prison from which there was no escape; cycles dictated a schedule of human sacrifice, cannibalism, warfare, and doom.