Neurological Bases of Modern Humanism

By Delgado, Jose | Free Inquiry, Fall 1995 | Go to article overview
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Neurological Bases of Modern Humanism


Delgado, Jose, Free Inquiry


The book Physical Control of the Mind: Toward a Psycho-civilized Society, published twenty-six years ago (Delgado, 1969), discussed two main achievements of natural evolution: (1) the ecological liberation of human beings; and (2) man's ecological domination. Considering evolution in terms of the opposition of human intelligence to natural fate has dramatic appeal, but in reality the existence of humankind, together with all of its attributes including its own ecological liberation and domination of nature, is simply the result of destiny. Humankind did not invent humankind. No conscious efforts were ever made to design or modify the anatomical structure of the brain. The appearance of creatures with wings was a result of natural evolution; thus we cannot claim that birds liberated themselves from the pull of gravity. Their wings were a gracious gift of evolution, which did not require them to have knowledge of physics, mathematics, or even a desire to own wings. Birds fly and humankind thinks. Humankind's liberation from and domination of many natural elements and the existence of our mental activities are changing the world's ecology and influencing the needs, purpose, and general organization of human life.

Philosophy and science originally had a common purpose, which was, in Plato's words, "the vision of truth," and which persisted for centuries until ideological and technological revolutions introduced new methodologies involving sophisticated specialization. As a result, philosophy and science were unable to resolve their basic differences and tore apart their common subject of inquiry. Philosophers and theologians carried with them mind and soul, while scientists kept matter and body. Psychologists, being newcomers, initially confused neurobiological activities involving spirit and substance without receiving enough scientific recognition or philosophical support. In ancient times, from the Sophists and Socrates onward, the program of "paideia" inspired pedagogic uniformity in the West, but this program was subsequently discredited without being replaced by new ideas, and it has caused a crisis in modern education. When some authorities attempted to replace classical studies with "modern humanities," based on exact sciences and technology, human values were deemphasized and people ceased to be the principal concern of humankind. This pedagogic malaise underlies the present crisis of civilization.

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica (1943-1973), "In order to bring together tradition and modernity and to merge classical and universal culture, the time has come now for a new updating of the study of man." In agreement with this proposal, the central themes of the present international conference on "Human Behaviour and the Meaning of Modern Humanism" are, in the words of its organizer, Professor Dennis Razis: (1) to counteract stagnation in the evolution of human ethics, which is not developing at the rate of science and technology; (2) to define modern humanism; (3) to develop strategies to prevent a global catastrophe; and (4) to organize an international society dedicated to the survival of the human race.

All these goals should be based on "a sense of unity in the human species," a "new view of biological evolution" leading to "new kinds of cooperative ventures" reflecting a "new unity" of the human race. Professor Paul Kurtz, formerly co-president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, has outlined the key features of a new postmodern neohumanism as follows: (1) continuation and support of science to integrate present knowledge and define methods of inquiry; (2) emphasis on ethical values, including freedom of thought, rights to privacy, and the establishment of objective ethical standards; (3) significance of social theory supporting democracy and the open society with tolerance and respect for cultural differences; (4) consideration of the purpose of human life; and (5) realistic optimism about human potential and a reenchantment with the ideals of humanism.

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