Dr. Andy Schmookler continues with our series, A Better Human Story, where he discusses our necessary spiritual dimension and the implications.
Andy Schmookler on good and evil.
It is a factual reality: in nearly every human society – even very small ones – there will be individuals who have experiences they describe as breaking through to a dimension of reality that’s deeper, bigger, more illuminated, in contact with a realm felt to be sacred.
From such experiences, people can return feeling “spiritually transformed,” and bearing what they regard as “spiritual truths.”
From its widespread occurrence, we can infer that the capacity for such breakthrough experiences was selected for inclusion in the human gene pool. And that, in turn, implies that the messages that people bring back from such experiences have been, overall, life-serving.
Another factual reality is that — throughout history and across cultures — human groups have given an important place in their culture to the experiences of such people.
That fact suggests that the power and direction of the “spiritual truths” brought back from such experiences must have been – overall — life-serving for such communities, enabling those groups to survive into the human future.
Civilization is so recent a thing that — for this capacity to become part of the human genetic heritage — it would have had to be advantageous not just in the past 10,000 years of civilization, but also in the much longer era of our hunter-gathered ancestors.
And anthropological evidence does suggest that some such capacity did precede civilization. Among the hunter-gatherers, we find the likes of the shamans of the Siberian hunters, and the wizards of the Amazonian jungle– helping their groups navigate their way, utilizing the “messages” they’d received from some “sacred” realm.
And of course among civilized societies, we find – functioning at the heart of most cultures — “sacred texts” that have some connection with the experiences of such individuals.
These sacred texts – from diverse cultures — provide stories, systems of value, guidance for individual and collective life, texts presented with the rhetorical power reflecting the profundity of the experience of that “sacred” realm, in which things are experienced as not just “of value,” but as valuable to a special degree.
Evolution: The evolutionary perspective is essential to understanding “The Human Story.” It was essential for understanding why the step onto the path to Civilization was such a “Fateful Step.” It’s essential for gaining that “Secular Understanding of ‘the Battle Between Good and Evil.” It is essential for understanding “The Reality of Value.” And it is essential for understanding “The Reality of the Spiritual Dimension.”
Emergence: The concept of Emergence is the means by which we escape the fallacies of Reductionism. As things evolve and come together, new dimensions emerge that weren’t present in the original parts. Out of the Lifeless Universe, Life emerges. Out of a world in which nothing is better than anything else, Value emerges. And out of a system of Life in which there is, as far as the scientific perspective shows, there is no spiritual dimension, a creature emerges with an inborn capacity to have experiences that have that special dimension—value to the nth degree.
Experience: Those dimensions of Value, and a feeling of Contact with the Sacred Realm, can only have meaning in the Realm of Experience. That their reality is not “objective” – i.e. “out there in the world apart from us, but rather must be “in here” as something that is “subjectively” experienced – is the only way it could be. If no creature had such experiences, what could it mean to say that anything is better than anything else, or that anything is “sacred”? That does not diminish their reality, because in a universe where nothing experienced anything nothing could matter. These dimensions therefore emerge out of evolution through the crafting of creatures with new capacities for experience.
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