For centuries the writ of empiricism has been spreading into the ancient domain of transcendentalist belief, slowly at the start but quickening in the scientific age. The spirits our ancestors knew intimately fled first the rocks and trees and then the distant mountains. Now they are in the stars, where their final extinction is possible. But we cannot live without them. People need a sacred narrative. They must have a sense of larger purpose, in one form or another, however intellectualized. They will refuse to yield to the despair of animal mortality. They will continue to plead, in company with the psalmist, Now Lord, what is my comfort? They will find a way to keep the ancestral spirits alive.
. . . We are a single gene pool from which individuals are drawn in each generation and into which they are dissolved the next generation, forever united as a species by heritage and a common future. Such are the conceptions, based on fact, from which new intimations of immortality can be drawn and a new mythos evolved.
—Edward O. Wilson, Consiliance (1999)
Edward Wilson, a world expert on the behavior of ants, founded the field of sociobiology, and in so doing transformed the way we view social behavior. This book is about social behavior in relation to humans and the origins of our highly cooperative nature. Because humans are competitive and frequently fight, some might not consider cooperation to be one of our most prominent traits, but, when you stop to think about it, we are extremely dependent on each other.
When you sit down for a meal, think how many people cooperated to make it possible, from the farmer to the trucker to the grocer. Although nonagricultural hunter-gatherer societies are more violent than our most dangerous cities, their members are also very cooperative in their daily lives. Compared to all other animals, except the super-cooperative insects (ants, wasps, bees, and termites), humans cooperate with each other at all levels, and this cooperation breeds success. Just as “eusocial” insects are by far the most successful of the thousands of insect species, we are the most successful primates.
Over twenty years before I read this passage by E. O. Wilson, I had been inspired by Carl Jung to enter the field of psychiatry because I wanted to study human nature as he did. In doing so, I became deeply involved in thinking about how human emotions evolved over deep time. Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious persisted as a foundation of my thinking. When I read Wilson’s words, “People need a sacred narrative. They must have a sense of larger purpose…” I was as inspired as I had been by Jung. Here was a celebrated scientist beautifully articulating the prospect of a meaningful new dimension to my thinking.
I have constructed a hypothesis about the evolution of emotions based on what I have learned by examining the subjective experience of thousands of patients suffering from severe mental illnesses. I am of the belief that these patients’ illnesses represent “emotional fossils” that contain information about the evolution of our emotions. I have woven this information into the scientific literature on evolution, which I have avidly followed.
My initial interpretation of the above quotation was that Dr. Wilson recognized that a coherent human evolutionary narrative could not be based exclusively on science due to the paucity of evidence; it was a commentary on the limitations of science in grasping humans’ intrinsic spirituality. Up until I read this passage, it had not crossed my mind that human evolution could be thought of as sacred even though Carl Jung’s conception of a collective unconscious certainly has religious connotations. However, now these connections to the spiritual domain had been irreparably established in my mind and would persist in this narrative.
The story I tell in this blog does not start with the Big Bang of the Universe, nor 6 thousand years ago as in the Bible, but 6 million years ago with the birth of our Hominid Family. It is important to remember how young our species within this family is. Homo sapiens arose from these ancient pre-human ancestors only 200,000 years ago. My narrative follows the train of thoughts that led me to the theory that a unique metamorphosis initiated our hominid family. This transformation resulted from a momentous shift in the level at which evolution occurred from that of individuals decisively over to the level of groups. Thereafter, individuals within hominid groups became immersed in a collective consciousness—which arose during our pre-human ancestors’ lengthy development—possessing an evolving willfulness, the sole motivation of which was for-the-good-of-groups. This new kind of group-organism evolved to make tools, migrate, and hunt for big game; as harsh as their lives must have been physically, with their capacity for constant connection and desire for harmony, their emotional existence could be considered Edenic.
The collective mind that I propose in this blog evolved in these pre-human hominids is an extension of that which Jung conceived: in addition to a common language, it possesses an independent life—the ability to replicate—with the singular will to pursue morality by dispensing justice, and an evolving capacity to acquire knowledge of the physical environment. Could it be that this communal being in which our ancestral species intimately lived their lives is the very same one that now animates the writ of empiricism? Newly endowed with self-awareness, the early modern humans mistakenly ascribed this collective will to the “rocks, trees, and mountains” (called animism), but could it be that the discovery of a theistic God by the ancient Hebrew prophets has a biological dimension?
I propose that severe anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia are fossils of the pre-(modern) human mind, and mania is a fossil of emotions that were exclusively evolved in humans 200,000 years ago. The rise of the new emotions and motivations that are pathologically exaggerated in the illness of mania resulted in the evolution of the new component of the human mind. This new mind of the “I” entered into a dynamic interaction with the old mind of the “we.” It is then the understanding of these two minds, and how they interact, that offers a penetrating insight into where we have come from, who we are, and the destiny that awaits us.