Martin LeFevre, TheCostaRicaNews.com
When the Cro Magnons encountered the Neanderthals in Europe over 40,000 years ago, it was a clash between primitive human consciousness, which had existed for more than a million years, and modern human consciousness.
Undoubtedly there was conflict, just as there has been between groups of Homo sapiens ever since. After all, throughout history (since long before the colonial era) when humans encountered unfamiliar groups, there was often war, as people fought for territory and dominance. Usually other people were perceived as sub-human. Imagine then what an encounter between humans and actual sub-humans must have been like!
It’s important to realize that Cro Magnons were every bit as smart, and human, as we are. Indeed, they may well have been smarter and more human, if smarts are measured by the ability to master new environments, and humanness pertains to social and emotional richness, which we’re fast losing to globalization and individualism.
A leap in consciousness occurred in East Africa about 100,000 years ago, a breakthrough in cognitive ability that enabled much more complex and varied languages and cultures, sophisticated art and music, and rapidly expanding knowledge and technology.
Neanderthals, who were not part of this leap, became the ultimate ‘other.’ Whatever humans are capable of doing to each other since the beginning of ‘civilization’ (by believing other people as less than human, or not human at all), Cro Magnons were capable of doing to the poor Neanderthals.
Though they were cognitively, culturally, and technologically primitive humans, Neanderthals were keenly adapted to their environments, capable of bringing down mammoths and other huge animals. After being the only human species in Europe for a few thousand years, being confronted by modern humans would have been as overwhelming to Neanderthals as brainy aliens with much superior technology would be to us now.
Human evolution is like the bifurcating branches of a tree. The juncture where the ancestors of the Neanderthals split from the rest of the human line occurred nearly half a million years ago in Africa.
When glaciers descended upon Europe, the proto-humans living there evolved adaptations for colder climates, including short, massive limbs, and huge chests and noses. Neanderthal brains also increased in size, and actually became larger than our own, though their cognitive and linguistic abilities were still primitive.
When fully conscious symbolic thought emerged, so too did complex language, diverse cultures, art and music, and a relatively rapid expansion of knowledge and technology. Neanderthals were human, but they didn’t have our cognitive ability. All modern humans, which included the Cro Magnon people in Europe, do.
It’s this increased cognitive ability that allowed us to domesticate plants and animals during the Agricultural Revolution, and replace the ox and horse with the steam engine and automobile during the Industrial Revolution. Now, during the Computer Revolution, we’re replicating thought-consciousness itself, and that poses as great a threat to us as a species as we did to the Neanderthals.
Until the 20th century, there were isolated lands with indigenous people who didn’t follow this path of ‘development,’ though they maintained highly complex cultures, and amassed tremendous knowledge about their environments. They were, and are, fully ‘modern humans.’ Indeed, in a deeper sense, the developmental path from Agricultural, Industrial, to Computer Revolutions has made us less human, because indigenous people retained a much greater relationship with nature, which kept the hubris of thought, now so rampant among so many, in check.
All Homo sapiens possess the same basic capacity for ‘higher thought.’ And it is this capacity for symbolic thought, unrestrained by insight into its nature and place, which is causing humankind to fragment the earth, and ourselves, to the breaking point.
Symbolic thought is the basis of consciousness as we know it, arising from the storehouse of experience and memory. But there is another kind of consciousness altogether, arising from self-knowing and stillness, which people throughout the ages have experienced to some degree.
This order of consciousness doesn’t become another dualism as long as the negation of thought-consciousness is deeply seen as the door to insight-consciousness, which does not rest on or arise from symbols, memory, and tradition.
Thought-consciousness, which is inherently cumulative, has reached the limits of accumulation in the human mind and heart, and the limits of fragmentation of the earth and its ecosystems.
The computer, which can never have an insight, will lead to the atrophying of the brain unless we awaken insight. Therefore the way ahead is not through more scientific knowledge, which is a given, but ‘via negativa’–negation in self-knowing.