Modern Man (Homo Sapiens) First appeared somewhere in the region of 300,000 – 200,000 years ago. Recorded History begins around 5,500 years ago, although this relates only to fragmentary writings. The oldest piece of world literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh, was written in 2100BC. However, written historical records only start appearing in any great degree around 500BC onward. Even if we take the most conservative estimates on all these numbers, that puts the sum total of our written historical record at no more than 3% of the time mankind has existed on this planet (Assuming 6,000 years out of 200,000). And even then, only about 1/3 of that we have significant historical records for.
It is a standard law in statistics and data analysis, that the more data points you have the more reliable the data. Or, in terms of sampling for commercial or political means, the better your sample represents the overall data set, the more accurate it will be. Given this, and our restricted view into the past, would it be unfair to suggest that we simply lack the evidence to produce any meaningful data on “mankind” as a whole?
There is another factor at play here however. We must ask why do our records only go back that far? What has restricted us from seeing further? The answer relates to the development of mankind and the means by which it communicated and also the means by which it left it’s mark on the earth. At a primary level, we have the development of basic written languages to thank for our very earliest finds. Various cuniform languages marked into clay tablets and later the Egyptian Hieroglyphs make for some of the earliest texts. Of course, these forms of writing were rather cumbersome and recording large amounts of information on clay tablets or carved into stone walls was simply impractical. The development of paper forms (papyrus & velum) and more modern scripts enabled our ancestors to record more than before. Cultural developments also have a part to play. The modern historian owes a great debt to Herodotus and Thucydides. While their styles varied dramatically, they both set forth a standard for the writing of historical texts for generations to come that was emanated by later Greeks, Romans, Christians and so forth up until today.
So we have highlighted that there is something distinctly unique about the period of human history we have records for. That is, that they were producting records! Before this the memory was held in far higher esteem, with histories and mythologies being passed down through memory alone. Essentially, in statistical terms, recorded history is an outlier by the very fact it is recorded. We can look back to the dawn of “civilization” (as we know it). But mankind was setting the world to order for 195,000+ years before this! What of them? Can we really just assume that the men of 20,000BC can be understood by looking at the lives of so-called barbarian tribes in 20BC? Or, that we can be understood without taking into account those few hundred thousand years of which we have no record?
There is another issue. One that narrows our field of vision even further – right up to the last century, and even more pertinently, the last few decades: that of consumption.
When Adam and Eve are cast out the Garden of Eden, God says unto Adam:
And he said to the man, “You listened to your wife and ate the fruit which I told you not to eat. Because of what you have done, the ground will be under a curse. You will have to work hard all your life to make it produce enough food for you. It will produce weeds and thorns, and you will have to eat wild plants. You will have to work hard and sweat to make the soil produce anything, until you go back to the soil from which you were formed. You were made from soil, and you will become soil again.”Genesis 3:17 – 19
Adam’s curse – past down to his descendants – was to forever have to toil and strive in an unforgivable wilderness. Endlessly hungry, not just in the sense of food production, but for everything needed for the prosperity of mankind. That curse, at least to the individual in the modern western world, has been broken. No longer are we stifled by the limitations of our resources, no longer must we fear starvation of the body, the mind or the soul. Everything is available to us. And in that, we have created a new curse to replace the old: overconsumption.
I consider myself lucky to have been born just before Web 2.0 emerged and therefore had a childhood partially untainted by it’s necrotic touch. For those who don’t know, Web 2.0 is effectively the version of the internet that allowed for the development of: video sharing sites (YouTube, Porn sites etc.), Social media, blogging, wikis and most of the features we now consider a standard part of the internet. In a mental sense, Web 2.0 seems perfectly symbolic of the over-consumption of our age. Sure, there were 18th century scholars complaining about the availability of books and how there was too much to read; but never has knowledge, information (and misinformation) been more readily available than in the last 15 or so years. The positives of this information revolution are fairly obvious, and back in my high school years I can remember clearly the starry eyed optimism everyone had towards the future of the internet and the technologies developing alongside it.
But now, year on year, it is becoming more clear that we have paid a steep price for this oversupply of knowledge. Our attention spans are non-existent, mis-information is so rife it is potentially interfering with our democracies and guiding the course of societal development, generations of children are developing anti-social personalities & various mental health problems due to the overabundance of social media in their lives, and online entertainment has become an all consuming vortex. One imagines our ancestors at the dawn of writing went through a similar experience. Their memories suddenly externalised and no longer needed to such a degree. Did they willingly give over to the new marvellous invention like we have? Or, did they struggle to hold onto the tools that had served them well for millennia? In Plato’s Phaedrus he has Socrates denigrate the written word for its crimes against memory through a fable.
Ours is the first generation to be faced with the challenge of needing to limit supply. We are overfed, with too much knowledge, too much to do, and too many distractions.
Ironically, this leads to us doing nothing, knowing nothing, and failing to be entertained in anything for very long. We’ve become bloated and engorged to the point all life has lost its flavour and the only way we can save our selves is through self imposed limitations.
Anyone who has ever participated in meditation will understand what I am advocating. However, I realise meditation in the traditional sense does not work for everyone – myself included. But, that does not prevent ourselves from participating in meditative practices – that is, activities that emulate the positive effects of meditation without having to sit still cross-legged for an hour! For me this is archery (you can read more about that here). Effectively anything that reduces the mind to a series of repetitive tasks that demands focus can work. The goal is to limit all possible thought to the action sequence you are undergoing. Traditional meditation does this by focusing on controlled breathing patterns, archery through the draw, aim, release sequence. This is a start. You’d be amazed at the regenerative effect a few hours of limited thought has on the rest of the day. It’s almost as if the mind is storing up it’s strength to use later on when needed.
The second form of limitation that I believe is needed is in regards to our focus. We need to be incredibly selective these days about how we choose to spend the hours in each day. There are far too many distractions looking to steal away our time. TV, Netflix, video games, YouTube, work, friends, mobile phones; the list goes on and on. If you find yourself facing a bombardment of time-thieves, I suggest the following activity.
- Split a page into six. In each column add a different part of the trifecta of being: mind, body, soul. Now in the first row, list everything in your life currently that brings benefit to, or aligns itself with those parts.
- Next in the second row, add on anything not currently in your life, but that you’d like to include in the future. This could be things you are working towards or training for.
- Then, rank those activities based on importance to you. Make sure to also consider how much they contribute to the part they are associated with. E.g. I could put weight lifting and darts in the body category, but one of those is obviously of greater benefit to the body.
- Finally, flip the page over and list every time commitment in your life currently that you have not already listed i.e. those that do not benefit the mind, body, or soul.
The idea know is to think about how you could begin to phase out those things on the back of the page, and replace them with either more time committed to the first row, or introducing activities from the second row. Don’t assume a longer list is better either. Remember, the more things that jostle for your time, the less you can give to each, and therefore the lower the benefit you acquire from them.
For me the chart looks something like this:
|Currently||Reading/writing/memory training/work studies||Archery/weightlifting/running/hiking||Music/nature/photography/poetry|
|Planned/Implementing||Learning Latin||–||Travel (When we’re allowed to again!)|
I’d love to hear what you’d put under the three categories. What parts of your life engage your mind, train your body, and raise up your soul? And do you find your life currently in balance? Or, is one of the three taking over from the others?
Let me know in the comments!
Next time on Prometheus Enlightenment: The Rise III I’ll be discussing the body. The second part of the trifecta of being…
 – TY – JOUR; AU – Henderson, Robert; AU – Garton, Fleur; AU – Kiernan, Matthew; AU – Turner, Martin; AU – Eisen, Andrew
PY – 2018/04/17; SP – jnnp; EP – 2017
T1 – Human cerebral evolution and the clinical syndrome of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
DO – 10.1136/jnnp-2017-317245
JO – Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry