The Evolution from Precivilized to Civilized Human Conception

In section 2, subsection iii, The General Nature of First Person Experience: Universal Characteristics, patterns were addressed insofar as the supraphenomenality we model as corporeal ‘matter’ intersects with phenomenality, the mind’s qualitative states.  This boundary consists in congress between organs of sense-perception – eyes, ears, tactile nerve endings, nose, tongue – and aggregate thermodynamic mass comprising our planet’s biologies and ecosystems.  While these components of perception are not utterly universal, for pathologies of sensation such as blindness, deafness, numbness, or deficiencies of smell and taste of course occur in a proportion of individuals, as well as much subtle variation along spectrums of sensitivity and quality of sense-perceptual experience, the portion of environments which sense organs are addressed to has been extremely uniform over the course of Earth’s evolutionary past, with only brief interruptions of cataclysm for hundreds of millions of years, as well as far and away the principal criterion for survival of our bodies.  Thus, sense-perceptual content anchors objective practice in association with a complementary paradigm of mechanistically material, ‘physical’ knowledge, the standardized empiricism and education responsible for guiding civilization’s development, in medicine, technology and elsewhere.           

But phenomenal form reaches far deeper than mere sense-perception, for cognition is a rich tapestry of much and typically all of the following: mental images, audible pitches, odors, gustatory experiences, feelings of objects and additional phenomena as well as visceral awareness of one’s own affective states, also an orienting of both the mind and body to their surroundings, all of which can be recapitulated in memory or imagined while entirely lacking sensory stimulation.  Conception is a further layer of the qualitative, involving thought processes and intentionality, a sublimating of phenomenality into meanings exacted behaviorally and conveyed communicatively.

The multitudinous forms that constitute experiencing are not absolutely delineated from each other, but include much integration by way of synesthesias and more mechanisms coordinating function.  Many human beings vividly see sounds and numerical concepts, intuit objects, concepts, the flow of both music and language as evincing an intrinsic logicality, and feel a wide assortment of qualia in nuanced ways.  Sometimes a mind loses touch with reality, when it hallucinates, is swamped by strong affect, or misapprehends the causal implications of events.  

Theorizing all of this interwoven diversity seems daunting; is it even possible to categorize human thought and its relationship to broader consciousness?  A comprehensive definition of psychical structure is improbable, for even if we arrived at a model encompassing the entire comparative anatomy of human cognition by extremely advanced science, we would still only be able to account for the import of novel mutations using some kind of experimental trial, perhaps necessitating such fine, instantaneous adjustments that any realizable modeling falls short of perfection.  And if anything approaching this level of comprehension is attainable, it would require millennia of research within a culture superior to our own both logistically and ethically.  However, some preliminaries are accessible based on current knowledge, which may not in itself give us high certainty, but nonetheless helps by depicting our body of fact in a consolidated way so we can better grasp the whole and more strategically orchestrate investigations, serving an epistemic function with much resemblance to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as elaborated in section 3, chapter 5, “Qualitative Intrastructural Reasoning”.         

Essentially, understanding something requires us to delineate its purpose, and the objective bedrock upon which any entity’s purpose is founded amounts to determination of what it does, altogether a miscellany of codependent selection pressures which constitute what it is.  So in order to have a solid idea of what human thought in its psychical and cultural environs is, we must establish what it does or how it works, the functionality of its components within their wider milieu and in relation to each other.  It is hard to know where we should begin, but as has been mentioned on occasion, the cognition of songbirds shows much likeness to humans: grammar, concepts, fast neural kinetics, some structure-building aptitude, and sociality.  These small, culturally inconsequential birds are almost a microcosm of human nature, containing many of its elements in a simplified form that is easier for theory to contend with, providing us with a sort of schematic from which the general picture can be elucidated.

Songbirds have well-developed eyes, engage in communication of a grammatical nature which necessitates sharp hearing, grasp with their talons in a similar mechanism to human hands, and have fast proprioceptive reflexes so that they can rapidly maneuver in flight as well as fluently carry out vocalizations.  This is similar to human beings, differing more in degree than kind, for our cognition performs all of these functions but on a larger scale due to bigger brains, perhaps minus the neural speed necessary for navigating the three dimensional complexity of trees and staying in constant motion to avoid predation.

Like humans, songbirds have facility with structure concepts, for they erect nests that are intricate masses of sticks and brush, clearly envisioning how parts fit together as a whole.  Beavers display a similar behavioral repertoire when they build dams, squirrels as they construct their abodes, and even though many of the more highly cognitive mammals have much different ways of obtaining shelter, perhaps merely digging and adorning a hole in the ground, the adaptability each of these organisms have to differences in time and place entails at least rudimentary kinds of protomechanistic reasoning from novel cause to imagined effect.  In what measure this springs from linkages between cognitive centers of structural and linear protologicality in other species besides humans is unknown, but as has been described, if there is any analogizability it is obvious that humans are superior in this regard.  Our species adapts protologically structural thinking to vastly more and larger scale contexts, while humanity’s abstract inferencing in the domains of both sign and image symbolism is more capable.  Even children of average intelligence catch on to the infinitely recursive nature of numeral systems after exposure to sequences of only a few numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5…then they begin to get it, infinity), and have no trouble incorporating these linguisticlike concepts as quantitative labels for the proportions and additional properties of basic shapes.  Chimpanzees, our closest relatives, can do a respectable job of object manipulation as adults if utility for behaviors such as food-acquisition becomes apparent, but applying abstract signs to figures, then deriving mathematical principles according to which these figures are systematically permuted in infinitely flexible ways, a purely conceptual language of objects, is completely beyond them.

While we observe songbirds, it is noticed that their movements tend to happen in bursts, quick alternations between full discharge of kinetic libido and pausing.  Their jerky proprioception and perpetual activeness are a stark contrast to human behavior, as our motions show greater fluidity, much less explosive, while periods of inactivity are more contemplative, during which libido is channeled into the intricate processes of a cognition more independent from environmental cues.  When we compare these small songbirds to not only humans but larger mammals in their entirety, this seems to suggest a general principle approximating the nature of cephalization quite well: the larger a species’ brain is, the more potential for differentiation into functional subcomponents together with possible factors of neuromaterial interactivity, instating a higher ceiling in the ambit of coordinated sensory recognitions, qualia, affect, concepts and thoughts.  Even when species with larger brains are not extraordinarily clever from the standpoint of reasoning or communication alone, they are likely to possess a more self-regulating holism of consciousness, the precondition for diverse and subtle comportments such as an emotional life to perhaps evolve.  In the descent of anthropoids from primates, this cohering of multifarious brain regions trajected towards increases in what we know as self-imaged intentionality, a concept-driven personal and social identity.  In our own Homo lineage, procession towards purpose-driven existence reached full throttle, as these species were strategizing in ways that drastically changed ecosystems on every available continent within not much more than a couple million years, barely a blip on the evolutionary timeline.  Anatomically modern humans have arrived at an advanced enough stage in conscious control to utterly remake much of the planet, as many of the species’ members manage to aim deep and sustained thoughts at unprecedented problem-solving for the sake of labyrinthian actualizations.

So in summing this along with some content from the previous two chapters, it seems possible to divide human cognition into three categories.  First, there is perception, the qualitative endowment of sensation (exteroception), qualia, proprioception and affect, a general profile which humanity shares with the majority of species, but of course our own incarnation has its modicum of uniqueness.  Then we have structural protologicality, intuitive notions of particularized form that allow numerous species to more potently harness their perceptual states for utility’s means and ends, with our genus achieving a sophisticated level as it grew more technology-oriented.  And finally, linear protologicality grants all kinds of organisms the proficiency to execute reasoning sequences, enriched in humans by ties with evolving vocal communication into an autobiographical, self-defining introspectiveness and bent for analytically inferencing at length.  The human synesthesias that integrate these domains are no doubt complicated, but quite subjected to the self’s intentional thinking, which in turn organizes and directs disparate cognitive processes towards particular goals streamlined by behavioral traditionalizing in consort with environments.  The pragmatisms of studious observation and thought as born upon by evolutionary circumstance tend to exert selection pressures on parsing and recombining physiological centers of perception, structural protologicality and linear protologicality towards three gravitational poles of functional synthesis parameterizing the spectrum of intentional thought, altogether the three main types of conception.

Perceptual and structurally protological processing conjoin in structural conception, the mentality that envisions how phenomena fit together for humanity’s elementary technological purposes.  This type of thinking is the basis for hominin and early human fabrication of tools as well as the construction of simple living spaces, where all requisite features are tangibly present to the mind, which must modify and place them into the desired form by procedural increments.  In modern life, structural conception takes center stage when a purchased product requires assembly, also as appliances like vacuum cleaners and computer interfaces are used, or while operating heavy equipment such as a lawnmower or forklift as well as more complex machines such as cars and planes, together with any instance where gadgetry needs repair.  It makes its presence felt in art as creativity submits to formal conventions.  Essentially, this is the mind organizing phenomena, with strong attachment to objects concretely handled and imagined as constituent particulars, by conceiving their correspondence to proprioceptive and mental routines that will place them in emergent order.            

From perceptual and linearly protological cognitive processes we get expressive conception, the employment of phenomenal content to convey intentions as a sort of narrative generated or embedded in the world around us.  Its human form originated from out of spoken communication’s nonliteral facets, language’s multiple layers of meaning contained in imagery, metaphor, and symbolism of expression generally.  With prehistoric societies, this way of thinking was closely related to spirituality, myth and the enigmatic qualities of motivation, a factor in humanity’s compulsion to formulate epic stories, allegorical dances and additional enculturations, which lended comprehensibility to deep-seated drives, humor, mysteries of the largely unknown and undomesticated world as a whole, a cerebrally satisfying, higher functioning coherence.  Modern art provides an example in the free verse poem, evocative of impressions, struggles, beliefs and values, a culturally condoned mode of expression that contains ambiguity and profundity of peak nonliteral intelligence while minimally intermingled with structural formalism like we find in genre-bound literature such as Shakespearean poems, romance novels and additional works.      

Structural and linear protologicality bring forth iterative conception, already presented as the means by which humans inference extrapolatively and interpolatively, reasoning from particulars towards generality that is not affixed to the particulars themselves as their latticed discreteness makes its appearance in nature or otherwise manifests to the mind, a cognitive process we commonly call ‘abstraction’.  This is a kind of thinking that deduces within the realm of infinite possible form, permitting us to manipulate concretions far beyond the constraints of immediate perception, a cognition-centric palpability of pure ideas and their instantiations in hypothesizing.  Prehistorically, it took analytical adeptness to the next level, for humans escalated from apprehending causality within spatiotemporally localized contexts of object utility, such as in the case of handheld implements or simple huts, to deriving holistic models integrating total reality, doggedly progressing a fund of knowledge and practice by revisionary experimentation, building more and more of the environment into encyclopedic compendiums of descriptive representation within the contexts of an unbounded dimensionality.  Ancient humans began experimenting with ecosystems, working out selective breeding and land use, constructing planned towns and cities in the first civilization, also immortalizing natural patterns and the most prominent events using record-keeping systems such as calendars and writing, refining the diverse disciplines by which technical methods are developed.  In contemporary society, computer programming is a perfect example of iterative conception: coders obtain an idea of what they will strive to create on the monitor, then tinker with detailed object language systems in order to embody the systematic objective in hardware, making copious corrections during moments of error by sequences of deductive troubleshooting until design is actuated.  In terms of institutional practice, science is a pinnacle of iterative thought, advancing our theoretical and technological paradigms by an effectively limitless accumulation of fact-based inferencing and discovery.      

These three types of conception all have much importance from a cultural standpoint, but are also simply an inherent aspect of ordinary life.  Human nature is stimulated towards structure-building, meaning-saturated expressiveness and iterative problem-solving every day, an impetus ingrained into the very core of our existence.  Conceptuality is a run-of-the-mill given, but due to the highly self-aware and socially conscious makeup of human psyches, our thoughts and behaviors are also deeply symbolic of who and what we are to both ourselves and those around us.  Of course conceptualizing must not only represent who we want to be, but just as much if not moreso what those around us as well as subcultures and institutions expect us to be, for which reason identity projection with its long-term ramifications for an individual’s fate, including basic quality of life, is a delicate matter, requiring great care if we are to navigate society.  

We are constantly giving demonstrative shape to experiences in social settings, often not that profoundly or provocatively, yet situations sometimes compel us to seek optimal performance for the sake of achievement, whether it be a career-defining interaction at work, a make or break moment in some personal relationship, or any time and place where showing off our most impressive talents is of benefit or called for.  Usually even high-functioning actions are moderated by collective normalization, but in art and elsewhere humans on occasion prevail against all odds in throwing off the shackles of a persona we all must craft as social compromise for the sake of communality, at which time a singular best we usually feel the obligation to conceal is unveiled, bursting out of normalcy in peak spontaneity, creativity, intelligence or athleticism.  

Enculturation of high achieving conception is currently impossible for the single individual to exhaustively theorize, for each act or social movement has a daedal host of contributing factors.  This is material for the most skilled historians to research and write volumes about, for the truth is much vaster than the whole of apparent reality as it presently stands.  As for how ingredients of human motivation fit into the picture, we can make some generalizations: accomplishment is sought for personal and cultural accolades; as an actualization of one’s nature, identity or ideology; in order to give and receive pleasure; for its logistical practicality; and in order to emblematize standards and values.  Culturally significant products of conception are incredibly varied, whether technological, artistic, private or of mass appeal, but all symbolic of both particular creators and the societies they inhabit, flowering from out of biologically rarified ambition and an often spectacular inventiveness to amplify life’s meaning.  The most eminent human feats employ structural, expressive and iterative thinking all at once, but usually with more emphasis on one or two of these three types of conception.

Hominin and early human technology placed almost exclusive weight upon structural thinking, a purely functional concern for the ergonomy and durability of constructed objects.  The psyche evolved towards greater depth in conjunction with enriching funds of meaning, largely inspired by language use, and humans incorporated more and more expressive symbolizing into design until memetic content was integral to technology.  By the time our species had entered into civilized living, a specialization of nonlinguistic art – painting, sculpture, architecture – was subordinating structural concerns to expressive symbolism, with this craftsmanship and its growing cultural force as much about aesthetics as the practicality of form.  Of course expression via structure prompted iterative thinking also as artists experimented with techniques and styles in order to advance genres and quest for originality.  In the 20th century, extravagant iterativity of a lifestyle based upon science and electronics became not just implicitly invoked by method but an overt feature of visual art as prominent works embraced, rebelled against, came to psychological grips with a world in which the future will be determined by computationally inferential form.

Expressiveness of the human psyche has its roots in ancestral species’ aptitude for symbolic recognitions, evinced by thousands of additional biological lineages as well.  Even moderately advanced cognition can experience phenomenal attributes as symbolic of causal properties in the environment, learning, predicting, putting two and two together by inspection of indirect evidence.  Organisms pick up on each other’s scents, tracks and sounds, from which is constructed a mental model of behavioral tendencies, whether for hunting, eluding predation, or seeking a social opportunity.  Likewise, weather and the body’s homeostatic states signal seasonal exigency, inducing activities such as migration and hibernation that are carried out with greater success when an animal’s thinking is more capable.  To illustrate this, we can simply compare a Monarch butterfly to a grizzly bear: these butterflies manage to migrate thousands of miles, completely beyond the capacity of a bear species that, for analogous purposes, can do no more than hole up in the vicinity, but the ascendance of grizzly intelligence was such that this animal became almost impervious to death by either starvation or violence, its food-finding and danger avoidance rather cunning and resourceful, while thousands upon thousands of Monarchs die each year from a relative absence of foresight.  In general, an individual mammal’s prospects prove better than an insect’s with its much smaller brain, for implications of environmental patterns and perception generally are in the former case more interpretable.

The primary precondition for graduating from recognition of attributes as symbols to symbolic expression is robust intentionality.  As has been mentioned elsewhere, intention evolved as mode selecting awareness for internal control of brain states, empowering the mind to align with environments in more context-sensitive ways while also placing further checks on the reflexivity of stimulus/response, beyond simple sensitization and habituation, so that delayed gratification in the service of more efficacious outcomes became possible along with diversification in the repertory of behaviors, increasing adaptability of individual organisms to nuances of circumstance.  Attention span and improvisational thought advanced in some species until a sort of primordial introspection arose, which assessed cause and effect entirely absent environmental cuing, by self-directed conception conjoined to perceptual stream of consciousness.  

In most natural settings, selection pressures are exerted on the problem-solving self to target wholly practical objectives, whether of feeding, mating, sheltering or safety, limiting the creativity of most organisms.  This is clear from observation of how vocalizing bird species have a more economical range of calls when their lives are spent in the wilderness, deprived of the ample food and relative security that can be afforded by close contact with humans.  Cognition in these cases is honed for a lifecycle overridden by material requisites, with libido canalized towards functional need.  When introduced to captivity, provided that basic essentials are readily accessible and stressors as well as other preoccupations minimized, many of these birds start to sing more inventively, as if entertaining themselves during idle stretches by novel riffing.  We of course see the same phenomenon in our pets, albeit often less related to conceptualization: when certain dog breeds are left to their own devices, they incessantly chew for no purpose but recreation; some cats will paw a toy mouse around the room and repeatedly pounce to mimic the pleasure of hunting; a hamster has great fun mock scurrying on its wheel.  Offering pets diversions that have no problem-solving stipulations places little strain on their cognition, so that domesticated recreating does not perforce incline towards extraordinary intelligence, but in order for a wild animal to come upon the same level of idle time, it must be smart enough to have mastered its environment.  There is much besides an organism’s wits that figures into this type of behavioral supremacy, such as sparsities of both threat and deprivation due to size, speed or group congregation, but when some or all of these factors happen to intersect with introspection potential, the devotion of libido to self-amusement of imaginativeness along with physiological dynamics such as neoteny can select for the evolution of an identity-complex in the organism’s mind, a self-awareness constructed from keenly observing and reflecting upon its own experience.

As previously discussed, the Homo genus was quite sophisticated in this respect, harnessing nature in unprecedented ways with technological insightfulness.  Consciousness in these species was becoming able to discriminate more obscure relationships between many kinds of phenomena by introspection-informed observation of perceptual patterns within the scope of its structural protologicality.  Hominin minds simultaneously moved ever closer to resolving linear protologicality into the expressive thought process we know as logical inferencing, which would one day interface written symbolism and structural abstraction within a culture of rationalist empiricism in order to disseminate high technology worldwide, thus far the apex of humanity’s competency for analyzing and utilizing environments.  But before all of this possibility could be realized, the human race had to evolve its language faculties.    

The key factor was evolution of brain regions that interface cognition with vocalizing for the sake of articulated utterance, what we know as speech.  This mental scaffolding that fine-tuned unconscious processing, intentional thinking, the forms and modes of meaningful statements, and facial coordination to complement each other during acts of verbalizing is of course exceptionally versatile, adopting a plethora of configurations depending on expressive context, the heterogeneous reality of which formal grammar and analysis of logical argument do not even begin to capture.  At base, this structural parameterization is made up of an intuitive grammar roughly divided into conventional parts of speech with very flexible attachment to meaning in many cases, and a sort of expression-centric protologicality, distantly approximated by the basics of formal logic.  Theorizing these underlying structures calls for punctilious research on a level that linguists have probably not yet even dabbled in, a task for science of the future.    

Individual and relationship psychology likely contributed to the evolution of language in multiple ways.  First, motivation to vocalize is of course necessary, a characteristic shared with thousands upon thousands of nonhuman species.  The Homo genus must have begun reflecting on its own vocal behavior as it became more introspective, resulting in primordial cognizance of utterance’s structure and eventually an awareness of expressive sound as involving something like technicalities, which caused the patterns of utterance to grow more consistent.  Conceptualizing of utterances as a sort of phenomenal object and then a construction took hold, so that articulation acquired greater aesthetic impact, with more pleasurable, skillful, difficult and beautiful expression held in higher esteem, impressions no doubt stimulating much mimesis in prehistoric clans and tribes.  At this point, two threads of evolutionary development must have been in effect: the most functionally and aesthetically popular of these species’ expressive tendencies unfolded in a train of progressing social conventions, advancing language as technological and artistic protoculture, while any mutations conferring superior ability would have quickly improved language via mimesis.  Thus, reflective observation, aesthetic sensibility, cognitive mutation, imitation and protocultural traditionalizing moved the Homo genus towards linguistic communication, a behavioral trait that is crucial to anatomically modern Homo sapiens’ higher cultures and which likely played a main role in bridging the gap to our more expressively symbolic ways of life.

The first semblance of human language was probably short declarative statements, then rudimentary conversation which hominins and early Homo sapiens took part in primarily as recreational diversion.  With humans at least, expression became elaborate enough in its structure to permit storytelling, and the constructing of narrative is of course a core feature of not just casual but more ceremonious forms of socializing, with many prehistoric and historic tales alike serving as culture-defining myths, ritualistically retold, reenacted, shared for millennia as part of basic public consciousness.  At the same time as intention to express oneself and the values of one’s culture molded verbalization, speech acts likewise selected for the structure of thought.  Linear protologicality of the introspective mind grew increasingly organized while it interacted with linguistic behavior, perceived more and more as chains of syntagma within definite yet infinitely generative meaning.  The open-ended iterativity of narrational sound thus coevolved with a knack for iterative conceptualizing, the apprehension of languagelike sequences and further arrangements of symbols in the form of inferencelike abstractions and eventually infinite schemas.  This affinity for the abstract ultimately prompted humans to invent writing systems, a seminal method of civilization.

It is worth reiterating that one of the significant benefits accrued from linguistic behavior was flexibility in the boundaries of social relationships.  Full-bodied language made thinking of almost any complexity or novelty provisional of being expressed with explicitness, while generating conditions under which unprecedented thoughts and behaviors are admissible.  Human bonding does not merely rally around recognition of obvious means by which to satiate drives, such as in hunting, self-defense, mating, familial caretaking or additional compulsive activities, in essence crude need, but conveys concepts and reflects upon the insights of fellow individuals via the medium of language in a cerebrality and tolerance for comprehensional obscurity that is unparalleled by organic life on our planet.  Even the most arcane experiencing can diffuse into the cultural milieu as humans attempt to express unconventionalized and even nonfunctional ideations, with brute negative feedback attenuated by the intellectualized prerogative of discoursing, so that groundrules of mutuality do not inhibit the independence and diversity necessary for higher level reasoning.  Humans are innovative while nonetheless managing to subsist in extremely normalized, eons-old communities.

Convening the whole of human cognizing towards collective purposes succeeded in tightly binding individuals of prehistoric clans and tribes on numerous planes: members of our species were not only drawn together by feeding, reproduction and protection, but also from out of more conceptual communality such as shared beliefs, spiritual and symbolic rites, gods, technological methods and inventiveness, rituals of many kinds, conversational fraternizing, context-variant manners and mores, all inculcated by way of teaching, learning and reflecting over the span of centuries.  This arranging of human life by precocious cognition kept tribes close-knit even as languages and traditions underwent evolutionary drift, which was a huge boon to in-group solidarity, but also a driving force for the rapid divergence of separate cultures, so that when communities lost contact, they could arrive at discrepancies in conceptualizing, expression and practice bordering on incompatibility within only several generations.  This was a blessing and a curse, for human decision-making and behavior are massively adaptable, but we can tend towards misunderstanding, obstinacy and confrontation during intergroup interactions.

Maturation of both language and symbolic culture commenced the prehistoric stages of anatomically modern human progressiveness, probably beginning no earlier than fifty thousand years ago.  These endeavors often synthesized three general categories of focus.  Techniques of structural artistry played out in every culture, including ornately designed buildings, pottery, as well as all sorts of weapons, tools and additional implements.  The chiefly structural and expressive thinking required usually demonstrated some primitive iterative thinking as well, for most decorating of objects and constructions included strings of geometrical shapes or nestings of shapes within shapes, similar to the kinds of images that might be yielded by the recursive protocols of a simple computer program.  A deference to the spiritual also held a prominent position within ancient society as it still does for many today, an awe and wonderment at the supernatural, tapped into by mystical and religious practices.  Self-iterating experimentalism also played an enlarging part in human lifestyles, the tinkering adaptation to environments throughout the world, assaying manipulation of natural phenomena with a flair for protologically deducing relations of cause and effect, while also showing the first glimmerings of more conceptually advanced sorts of correlating within the arenas of planned ecology and management of trait heritability in Earth’s organisms.       

The most ambitious exploits undertaken by our species were sometimes ingeniously successful, sometimes disastrous, and occasionally real head-scratchers.  Evidence suggests that the Amazon rainforest was cultivated by prehistoric humans, a very early and amazing achievement in the domain of ecology.  Hunter-gatherer residents of Easter island cut down all available forest so as to construct wooden statues of spiritual significance located throughout their territory.  This destabilized the ecosystem and starvation ensued, so severe that these disgruntled humans left not a single one of their totem figures standing.  In remote parts of central Eurasia, huge expanses of buried bones and additional paraphernalia have been discovered.  What possessed precivilized humans to gather for the sake of depositing remains and artifacts into areas the size of a football field is hard to decipher, but it seems thousands of individuals must have assented to the practice.  With a variety of outcomes, it is clear that even prehistoric humans were mastering every geography on Earth, imposing cultures of not just functional creativity but protoideological purposes of epic scope.                    

Humans embarked upon civilization around 10,000 B.C.E., living a life centered on agriculture, animal husbandry and town dwelling, with settlements springing up everywhere, linked by bustling economies of trade.  Technological and artistic advancement certainly took place over the millennia, but the biggest transformation occurred a couple centuries prior to 3000 B.C.E. with the invention of writing.  It originated as a derivation from pictorial art, using images to represent concepts, with various systems tailored for different contexts.  Over the centuries, writing techniques were improved until more abridged symbols for numbers and verbal expressions came into usage.  By 1000 B.C.E., an alphabet of symbolic letters closely aligned to the phonemes of speech had been contrived by the Phoenicians, which quickly spread in its essentials to other parts of the world.

In addition to literary labors, writing was first employed in record-keeping for administrative purposes such as taxation and business.  It also found application to more naturalistic avocations, especially in documenting the movements of celestial objects.  Rudimentary symbolic labeling of instruments was used for the measuring needed to survey property and carry out ambitious architecture such as temples, palaces, monuments, large-scale public works and city planning.  With more settlement, trade, wealth and mobilized manpower, quantitative methods for construction proliferated, ever more comprehensive, birthing an alternate universe of structure concepts and their functions as the strategic core of civilization.     

It was at this point that iterative thinking really took off under the influence of multiple factors.  Aristocracies gained a lasting foothold as the upper echelon of society, and their financial independence from the occupational grind liberated them to launch adventuresome enterprises.  A leisure class of wealthy citizens or those supported by them began speculating into erudite pastimes, a self-determination often devoted to pondering abstractly.  Interest in literature increased, and this forum for composing one’s deepest contemplations in writing stimulated those aspiring towards intellectuality to carefully reflect upon ideas and iteratively revise them in the service of clarity, precision, and analysis by posterity, coalescing into a subculture from which the rational ethos and its upgrading of logical and empirical methods would germinate.  This was conjugated with venturous contributions of iterational abstraction to civic practices of quantitative conceptualizing, building and artistry, in essence the scaling up of schematics with their mathematical features and an interpolation of symbolic sculpture, painting and additional expressive art into these complicate, compound frameworks, altogether setting the stage for societies of theoretical analyticity.         

In ancient Greece and its colonies, highbrow culture seems to have found a permanent niche sometime in the 7th century B.C.E., and while we have little evidence of this movement’s premature eras, most of which is secondhand, the many references of antiquity’s later, preserved philosophers and historians to schools of thought and their rivalries as well as an occasional homage to primogenitors intimates the timeline of paradigmal evolvement with a fair amount of certainty.

Thales (b. 626 B.C.E.), Anaximander (b. 610) and Anaximenes (b. 585) sought to ascertain the natural world’s ‘arche’ or essential principle of formation as manifest in apparent substance, a very early instance of philosophical materialism.  Pythagoras (b. 570) soon followed with postulation that the substance of nature has fundamentally quantitative form.  The Pythagoreans carried on a tradition of austere mental, behavioral and spiritual discipline, some of the first signs of what would become Greek academia’s rational ethic.  Heraclitus (b. 535) proposed that the natural world’s essence is not contained somehow in material substance, but rather exists as a supramaterial impetus of fundamental flux or ‘becoming’.  Parmenides (b. 515) championed the opposite idea, that all change is an illusory instantiation of eternal, unchangeable ‘being’, the metaphysical ‘One’.  He founded the Eleatic school; by the 5th century B.C.E., multiple centers of philosophical study were scattered amongst the Greek community, indicating that literary innovation by individuals was fast growing into well-funded, multigenerationed collectivity, the first signs of institutional education in the West.  Democritus (b. 460) set forth a theory that the material world is composed of fundamental particles he called ‘atoms’.  Empedocles (b. 434) proffered a complementary theory that the material world’s substantiality on the macroscopic level admixtures four basic elements: ‘earth’, ‘air’, ‘fire’ and ‘water’.  

It is clear that iterative thinking was elevating in prominence as early Western philosophy performed this progressive series of thought experiments from which were derived increasingly incisive pictures of the world, utilizing extrapolative inferencing from particulars to generalized protomodels.  Greek society was building an explanatory edifice of structural abstraction by applying abstract inferencing across large spans of time, and both of these domains, intrastructural and inferential reasoning, were waxing more systematic as methods of analysis.

Plato (b. 428) consolidated the philosophical notionalizings of substance and reasoning that had been under development for roughly two centuries.  His metaphysics theorized an eternal substrate of intrastructural ‘form’ as the essence of both ‘nous’ (soul) and ‘hyle’ (matter), probably with heavy influence from Parmenides, and averred in line with Pythagoras that the Forms are intrinsically mathematical.  He seems to have embraced the Pythagorean concern with intellectual and behavioral indoctrination, for he used his aristocratic stature and wealth to launch what was probably the first purely academic institution of learning in the Western world.  Plato’s new Academy inherited the legacy of an Athenian golden age that ended a few decades prior, which had been led by the statesmen Pericles, an expert in oration who committed to furthering the cause of Athens’ citizens with democracy-enhancing reforms and lavish spending on civic beautification.  Political participation was at its height, bolstered by sophist-guided instruction in law and rhetoric, and Plato exploited this public consciousness quite well in order to promote the Academy, authoring popular literature that would present the philosophical tradition and his own ideas in an accessible way, via the genre of Socratic dialogue.  His works display a strong logicality, with reasoning that is nearly formal in its degree of organization, culminating a long history of inferential discourse.  Plato’s appeals to a general audience are of course extensively intermingled with expressive device, but he also spent some effort promoting what are called the “unwritten doctrines”.  These were only discussed in lectures, regarded by him as too abstruse and susceptible to misinterpretation for literary presentation, probably groundbreaking for the time.  He apparently blew away crowds with astronomy and abstract mathematics, likely siphoning to the conceptual core of his iterative intellectuality.

Aristotle (b. 385), a foremost originator of empiricism in the West, was educated at Plato’s Academy in Athens, then hired to tutor future conqueror Alexander the Great by the king of Macedon, a principality north of Greece.  Once Alexander reached adulthood, Aristotle was granted an academic position sponsored by the royal court.  His philosophy synthesizes metaphysics, rationalism and materialism in a theoretical framework for conceiving the relationship of substance’s essentiality to fluctuating apparencies in nature.  He assimilated Empedocles’ schema of four elements, adding ‘aether’ as a type of matter hypothesized to lie beyond the terrestrial sphere.  Aristotle envisaged a dynamic cosmos, defining ‘being’ itself as a ‘prime mover’ which shapes reality, including within its scope the reasoning ‘active intellect’ of humans, in accordance with four principles of causality.  Paripateticism did not, in the manner of Plato, regard truth as accessing an absolute universality, the essential Form of existence, but stressed essence’s multifariousness as manifest in the world of immediate appearances, a more naturalistic emphasis.  Aristotle undertook many expeditions to examine and catalogue properties of the Aeolian peninsula’s plants, animals and geology.  He likewise investigated human behavior and society with a greater empirical sensibility, enumerating and explaining the plain facts of relationships, practices and politics rather than promulging lofty ideals.  He also introduced a large dose of empiricism to consideration of reasoning itself, fashioning a theory of correct inference known as syllogistic logic, the foundation for Europe’s academic conceptualizing of true and false meaning as expressed in language until the 19th century.  Aristotle set precedents for adapting intrastructural reasoning to the diversities of differing contexts, an impetus for expanding specialization of scholarship, and transitioned inferential reasoning from collaged rhetorical styles towards an integrated system, sowing seeds of the future’s even further methodologizing in formal proof, conceptual schematizing and technical language, particularly important for mathematics, scientific modeling and programmed electronics respectively.                                                     

Alexander the Great’s governance spread Hellenistic learning to much of the Mediterranean and Middle East, and a city he founded in Egypt called Alexandria with its renowned Great Library served as headquarters for the empire’s upstart scholarship.  Euclid (b. 365) moved to Alexandria and availed himself of this city’s resources to compose Elements, a survey and analysis of the era’s mathematics that would be a preeminent textbook on the subject well beyond the Middle Ages, edifying the likes of Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton.  He seems to have absorbed many influences: a more than two hundred year tradition of formulating the general principles latent in applied quantification, analyses which had been performed by mathematicians such as the Pythagoreans, Hippocrates of Chios, Eudoxus of Cnidus, Theaetetus, and Philip of Opus; Plato’s conceptualizing of existence as mathematical form; Aristotelian-style crafting of specialized disciplines as the first academic fields; and formal rhetoric.  He invented a systematic format for carrying out deductive proof, deriving an integrated framework of general axioms from basic propositions, and devising a method of problem-solving demonstration for exemplifying the essence of his book’s concepts via geometrical constructions and symbolic labeling.  It was the most thorough melding of intrastructural and inferential reasoning in the West until the Early Moderns fused coordinate systems with linear algebra in ‘function’-based geometry, and a paragon of logical rigor.                               

So there seems to be a close relationship between analytic enculturation and the development of iterative thinking.  Prehistorically, accumulating ingenuity for applying iterativity to both pictorial art and conceiving the environment suffused a greater gamut of the abstract into expressive and structural conception, contributing to the development of primitive ecology as well as civic and artistic design.  Structural iterativity was adapted into systems of image symbolism for concept expression as the first writing, and then into much better methods which represented the expressivity of spoken language directly, assuming documentational and literary roles.  Antiquity’s humans worked writing into schematic diagramming in order to platform more complex engineering projects, and also finely sculpted the terminology and reasoning of precision communication via a philosophical discourse furthered by literature.  Philosophy’s analyticity and its growing ethos of intellectual integrity became a formidable subculture, with numerous communities and their schools of thought striving towards comprehensive accounts of reality’s properties and patterns.  Rational collectivity evolved into academies, well-organized enough to formalize the categories of knowledge as institutional traditions concentrated upon strategic acquisition, collation, evaluation and progressing of fact-based theory as informed by abstract reasoning.  Theorizing the essentials of theory itself brought more lucidity to intrastructural and inferential reason, birthing formal methodologies of deduction, most notably Aristotle’s qualitative logic of linguistic truth-value and Euclid’s framework for quantitative proof, laying the foundation upon which Western civilization’s vast assemblage of rational theses, professional rhetoric, technical modeling, pedagogy, and ultimately high technology would be raised.

Looked at from the perspective of pure phenomenology, the evolving prehuman and human mind’s perceptual substratum was infused with an increasing sense for structural dimensionality, the sense-perceptual relativities that parameterize much reasoning at the most basic level: size, rigidity, balance, intermingling, movement, resistance.  These deepening faculties of reason then interfused with symbolic aestheticism as exacted by humanity’s growingly memetic expressiveness.  The species’ reasoning grew more pliant and holistic as abstract, iteratively dimensional form, and heightening dexterity to architect and infer via extrapolation and interpolation produced conceptual relativities that integrate diverse patterns as congruent components in an imaginational substrate, for instance generalized action, reaction, impedance and equilibrium.  Human technology simultaneously advanced, and many conceptual relativities found serviceability as mechanistic relativities while humans interacted with environments and concocted functions for objects.  Within civilized settings, the application of mechanistic sensibilities began to amalgamate with academic conceptualizings as theoretical relativities.  This theorizing is carried out by first extracting observational detail in a systematic fashion, then determining how abstractions can descriptively frame this fact, and finally projecting the schematic structures that result into additional contexts as hypotheses instrumentalized with technology in an acclivity towards accuracy and precision.  

As far back as antiquity, it was apparent to some scholars what theory might become: an epistemic fortress incorporating more and more of reality into its sphere of influence, steadily reconfiguring conceptualizations, perceptions and environments into forms with greater amenability for human life, actualizing the species in ways that would be without peer in Earth’s history.  The foremost challenge of civilization then presented itself, how to make concepts and methods of theoretical knowledge the core of culture.

A free download of the book Standards for Behavioral Commitments: Philosophy of Humanism, also available for preview below.  Topics covered include chemistry, biology, genetics, neuroscience, epistemology, the history of Western philosophy, cultural evolution, theory of cognition, ethics and much more.

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