- Nov 2021
Professional musicians, concert pianists get to know this instrument deeply, intimately. And through it, they're able to create with sound in a way that just dazzles us, and challenges us, and deepens us. But if you were to look into the mind of a concert pianist, and you used all the modern ways of imaging it, an interesting thing that you would see 00:11:27 is how much of their brain is actually dedicated to this instrument. The ability to coordinate ten fingers. The ability to work the pedal. The feeling of the sound. The understanding of music theory. All these things are represented as different patterns and structures in the brain. And now that you have that thought in your mind, recognize that this beautiful pattern and structure of thought in the brain 00:11:52 was not possible even just a couple hundred years ago. Because the piano was not invented until the year 1700. This beautiful pattern of thought in the brain didn't exist 5,000 years ago. And in this way, the skill of the piano, the relationship to the piano, the beauty that comes from it was not a thinkable thought until very, very recently in human history. 00:12:17 And the invention of the piano itself was not an independent thought. It required a depth of mechanical engineering. It required the history of stringed instruments. It required so many patterns and structures of thought that led to the possibility of its invention and then the possibility of the mastery of its play. And it leads me to a concept I'd like to share with you guys, which I call "The Palette of Being." 00:12:44 Because all of us are born into this life having available to us the experiences of humanity that has come so far. We typically are only able to paint with the patterns of thoughts and the ways of being that existed before. So if the piano and the way of playing it is a way of being, this is a way of being that didn't exist for people 5,000 years ago. 00:13:10 It was a color in the Palette of Being that you couldn't paint with. Nowadays if you are born, you can actually learn the skill; you can learn to be a computer scientist, another color that was not available just a couple hundred years ago. And our lives are really beautiful for the following reason. We're born into this life. We have the ability to go make this unique painting with the colors of being that are around us at the point of our birth. 00:13:36 But in the process of life, we also have the unique opportunity to create a new color. And that might come from the invention of a new thing. A self-driving car. A piano. A computer. It might come from the way that you express yourself as a human being. It might come from a piece of artwork that you create. Each one of these ways of being, these things that we put out into the world 00:14:01 through the creative process of mixing together all the other things that existed at the point that we were born, allow us to expand the Palette of Being for all of society after us. And this leads me to a very simple way to go frame everything that we've talked about today. Because I think a lot of us understand that we exist in this kind of the marvelous universe, 00:14:30 but we think about this universe as we're this tiny, unimportant thing, there's this massive physical universe, and inside of it, there's the biosphere, and inside of that, that's society, and inside of us, we're just one person out of seven billion people, and how can we matter? And we think about this as like a container relationship, where all the goodness comes from the outside to the inside, and there's nothing really special about us. 00:14:56 But the Palette of Being says the opposite. It says that the way that we are in our lives, the way that we affect our friends and our family, begin to change the way that they are able to paint in the future, begins to change the way that communities then affect society, the way that society could then affect its relationship to the biosphere, and the way that the biosphere could then affect the physical planet 00:15:21 and the universe itself. And if it's a possible thing for cyanobacteria to completely transform the physical environment of our planet, it is absolutely a possible thing for us to do the same thing. And it leads to a really important question for the way that we're going to do that, the manner in which we're going to do that. Because we've been given this amazing gift of consciousness.
The Palette of Being is a very useful idea that is related to Cumulative Cultural Evolution (CCE) and autopoiesis. From CCE, humans are able to pass on new ideas from one generation to the next, made possible by the tool of inscribed language.
Peter Nonacs group at UCLA as well as Stuart West at Oxford research Major Evolutionary Transitions (MET) West elucidates that modern hominids integrate the remnants of four major stages of MET that have occurred over deep time. Amanda Robins, a researcher in Nonacs group posits the idea that our species of modern hominids are undergoing a Major Systems Transition (MST), due specifically to our development of inscribed language.
CCE emerges new technologies that shape our human environments in time frames far faster than biological evolutionary timeframes. New human experiences are created which have never been exposed to human brains before, which feedback to affect our biological evolution as well in the process of gene-culture coevolution (GCC), also known as Dual Inheritance theory. In this way, CCE and GCC are entangled. "Gene–culture coevolution is the application of niche-construction reasoning to the human species, recognizing that both genes and culture are subject to similar dynamics, and human society is a cultural construction that provides the environment for fitness-enhancing genetic changes in individuals. The resulting social system is a complex dynamic nonlinear system. " (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3048999/)
This metaphor of experiences constituting different colors on a Palette of Being is a powerful one that can contextualize human experiences from a deep time framework. One could argue that language usage automatically forces us into an anthropomorphic lens, for sophisticated language usage at the level of humans appears to be unique amongst our species. Within that constraint, the Palette of Being still provides us with a less myopic, less immediate and arguably less anthropomorphic view of human experience. It is philosophically problematic, however, in the sense that we can speculate about nonhuman modalities of being but never truly experience them. Philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote his classic paper "What it's like to be a bat" to illustrate this problem of experiencing the other. (https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/iatl/study/ugmodules/humananimalstudies/lectures/32/nagel_bat.pdf)
We can also leverage the Palette of Being in education. Deep Humanity (DH) BEing Journeys are a new kind of experiential, participatory contemplative practice and teaching tool designed to deepen our appreciation of what it is to be human. The polycrisis of the Anthropocene, especially the self-induced climate crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic have precipitated the erosion of stable social norms and reference frames, inducing another crisis, a meaning crisis. In this context, a re-education of embodied philosophy is seen as urgent to make sense of a radically shifting human reality.
Different human experiences presented as different colors of the Palette of Being situate our crisis in a larger context. One important Deep Humanity BEing journey that can help contextualize and make sense of our experiences is language. Once upon a time, language did not exist. As it gradually emerged, this color came to be added to our Palette of Being, and shaped the normative experiences of humanity in profound ways. It is the case that such profound shifts, lost over deep time come to be taken for granted by modern conspecifics. When such particular colors of the Palette of Being are not situated in deep time, and crisis ensues, that loss of contextualizing and situatedness can be quite disruptive, de-centering, confusing and alienating.
Being aware of the colors in the Palette can help us shed light on the amazing aspects that culture has invisibly transmitted to us, helping us not take them for granted, and re-establish a sense of awe about our lives as human beings.
- Stuart West
- Deep Humanity
- Major System Transition
- Amanda Robins
- peter nonacs
- palette of being
- Major Evolutionary Transition
- BEing Journey
- Gene culture coevolution
- What it's like to be a bat
- Cumulative Cultural Evolution
- Thomas Nagel