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  • One day, if human civilisation ever wipes itself out,

  • aliens or one of our successors will cast an eye on our ruined planet,

  • and ask themselves what ever happened to homo sapiens.

  • Their answer might look a little like this.

  • The root cause won’t be the specific catastrophe,

  • conflict or devastation that eradicates us;

  • the problem will begin with the architecture of the human brain.

  • This tool will be remembered for being, in part, deeply impressive,

  • containing a 100 billion neurons

  • capable of extraordinary computations and combinations.

  • As aliens will note,

  • a particular part of the mind where our most dazzling thoughts unfolded

  • was known to neuroscientists as the neocortex;

  • a part that in humans was many times larger than that found in any other species.

  • This is what helped the hugely clever ape to produce

  • The Magic Flute, Anna Karenina, Concorde and civilisation.

  • However, our alien friends will also note

  • that the human mind contained another component,

  • very influential but far less impressive,

  • known as the reptilian brain

  • (an aggressive lustful impulsive section of machinery),

  • with a great deal more in common

  • with what might be found in a hyena or a small rodent.

  • Because of this reptilian brain

  • ended up with three grave problems:

  • Firstly, tribalism.

  • Humans were always on the verge of developing violent hatreds of foreigners

  • and manifested strong ongoing tendencies to slaughter strangers in vast numbers.

  • They could never reliably see the humanity

  • in all members of their own kind.

  • Secondly, homo sapiens was fatefully prone to short-term thinking.

  • Even when confronted by data,

  • it could only imagine the near-term future, a few years at best,

  • viewing the long-term as a chimerical and unreal state.

  • Its immediate impulses were left uncontained

  • and worked to destroy its individual and collective future.

  • Lastly, homo sapiens had an especially keen fondness for wishful thinking.

  • Though capable of immense intellectual achievement,

  • its mind hated to reflect on itself,

  • it couldn’t bear to submit its ideas to rational scrutiny,

  • it preferred to act rather than think and daydream rather than plan.

  • Having invented the scientific method,

  • it preferred, in most cases, to not to use it.

  • It had a narcotic desire for distraction and fantasy.

  • It didn’t want to know itself.

  • For many generations, these three flaws were more or less endured.

  • Certain institutions were invented to attenuate them:

  • the law, sound government, education, philosophy, science.

  • It worked, sort of.

  • Humans did keep wiping out swathes of their fellows,

  • but they didn’t scupper the species as a whole.

  • What caused the ultimate destruction

  • was the increasing yet untrammelled power of the neocortex.

  • This mighty tool eventually managed to capture fire, contain the elements,

  • and give homo sapiens a godlike power over the planet,

  • while the animal overall

  • still operated with reflexes as serene and gentle as those of a hyena.

  • The cost of its mistakes grew ever larger,

  • its powers became uncontained while its wisdom remained intermittent and fragile.

  • Eventually, its might outpaced its capacity for self-control;

  • it became a nuclear armed rodent.

  • There was one thing that might have saved humanity: love.

  • And three varieties of love in particular:

  • Firstly, the love of the stranger;

  • the capacity to see the other as like oneself

  • and worthy of the same mercy and charity.

  • Secondly, the love of the unborn:

  • the concern for those who do not yet exist

  • and whom one will never know

  • but whose lives one is shaping in the selfish present.

  • Thirdly, the love of the truth:

  • the strength to resist illusion and lies

  • and square up to uncomfortable facts of all kinds.

  • We don’t need to be aliens of the future to understand all this.

  • We can see the disaster scenario only too well right now.

  • The fate of civilisation lies ultimately not in the law courts,

  • at the ballot box or in the corridors of governments.

  • It lies in our ability to master

  • the most short-term, selfish and violent of our impulses

  • active in the dense folds of organic matter between our ears;

  • it lies in learning how relentlessly to try to compensate

  • for the flawed architecture of the human mind.

One day, if human civilisation ever wipes itself out,

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なぜ人類は自らを滅ぼしたのか (Why Humanity Destroyed Itself)

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    Jenny に公開 2021 年 01 月 14 日
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