Conquering ourselves: the step to man

 We need to multiply the steps to man. So that we may go beyond and be done with the dastardly internecine, fratricidal, genocidal and terrorist attacks that are destroying innocent lives

 Some time ago I watched a very interesting documentary about the discoveries astronomers have been making as they explore the frontiers of the universe. Scientists have been sending more and more sophisticated telescopes into space to take a ‘peep’ at what is happening at the outer reaches of the universe. In fact, the most advanced telescope which had to date served this purpose, and sent us some extraordinary pictures of what was ‘out there’, is soon to be superseded by an even more powerful one.

The idea is to try and figure out how the universe has come about, that is, the origin of the stars, planets, asteroids and other meteors that fly about in the big void that is space. Much of that void, according to scientists, is filled with something called ‘dark matter’, a kind of special energy that accounts for some of the unexplainable phenomena observed by astronomers. In fact it is believed that dark energy possibly makes up for most, about 75%, of the universe. Scary.

Until we come to man. Where did we come from? I am reminded here of a story I read in an old Readers’ Digest. There was this little schoolgirl who was doing her homework one night, writing an essay entitled ‘My family’. She asked her father (who was not watching TV, as there was none in those days when fathers and mothers spent more time with their children),

 ‘Daddy, where did I come from?’

‘A stork brought you,’ answered the father.

‘And where did you come from?’ asked again the daughter.

‘Oh’, replied Daddy, ‘a bigger stork brought me.’

‘And what about Grandma, who brought her?’

‘Father Christmas, in his sledge.’

 The girl completed her essay, kissed her dad goodnight and went to bed.

Before he turned in himself, dad went over to have a look at the exercise book left open on the writing table. This is what he read:

 ‘As far as I have been able to ascertain, there has been no sex in this family for the past three generations.’

 And that was in the days before AIDS had burst on the world stage! Gosh, aren’t they already too late in introducing sex education in schools!

The question of the origin of the universe is tied up, inevitably, to that of the origin of life and of that of man. One school of thought believes that God created man in His own image. That’s even scarier: is present-day cruel killer-man on rampage around the world the image of his God? As Bertrand Russell, the great mathematician-philosopher-logician asked, ‘Did God create the lowly centipede?’ What for? To be crushed by man’s boots?

Scientists, on the other hand, have continued to accumulate evidence to show that life began from small beginnings in the ocean and that it then evolved over millions of years, culminating in man as a product of that evolution, strengthening further the theory of evolution of the biologist-naturalist Charles Darwin.

According to this theory, therefore, man is part of nature, subject to its laws like other creatures and objects that exist and interact with each other.

One such law, for example, is the Law of Gravity, well-known to all students of science: simply put, gravity is a force that makes one object attract another. Which is why, for example, we tend to fall towards the earth when we leap from a certain height. But can we go against gravity? Well, yes, to a certain extent. Every time we climb a staircase or fly a plane, that is what we are doing. In other words, we are under the influence of nature and its laws, of which we are an inextricable part, but we can also escape this influence when we need to. We are not, in other words, slaves of nature. We can consciously choose not to be so.

The title of this article is that of a book by a prominent physicist which was published in the 1960s. In it he argued that we may be biological products, but what made us different and unique was that we were ‘humanised’, namely that we had developed qualities that made us transcend our biological nature, which is focused on sheer survival.

The ‘step to man’, therefore, was the rising above the primary, instinctive needs necessary for physical living towards the intellectual and aesthetic planes. At these levels, we would discover goodness and beauty in objects, events and relationships. The mundane material concerns, once satisfied, would no longer use up all our energy and time. We would be satisfied to do the basic minimum required to maintain good physical health, and the rest of our selves would then turn towards those in greater need. We would then also seek and perform noble tasks, and pursue good for its own sake irrespective of whether we individually obtained anything in return immediately or even in a foreseeable timeframe.

The physicist, whose discipline is the one that has discovered the physical laws of nature, was echoing Swami Vivekananda who, more than a century ago, exhorted us: ‘Be master of yourself, stand up and be free, go beyond the pale of these laws. For these laws do not absolutely govern you; they are only part of your being. First, find out that you are not the slave of nature, never were and never will be. …Know that, and you will control both good and evil. Then alone will the whole vision change.’

In the ‘own image’ God model, we have a readymade scapegoat; we can always lay the blame on someone else, the pasmoisa-lissa (‘it’s not me, it’s him!’) equivalent taken to extreme. But in the ‘step to man’ model, we are made responsible for ourselves and our acts.

This scientific perspective of our ‘humanization’, of conquering our baser instincts, if shared widely, can be a most potent force that can free man from his shackles and truly liberate the world. We need to multiply the steps to man. So that we may go beyond and be done with the dastardly internecine, fratricidal, genocidal and terrorist attacks that are destroying innocent lives in so many zones of chronic conflict in the world.

This may be a utopian wish or ideal, but we have to start somewhere. Unless we do so, and pledge ourselves to seek peace and mutual coexistence, it does seem to me that the prospects for the future are very bleak indeed. The rise of hostilities of all kinds in so many parts of the world makes one shiver indeed.

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