And that this awareness could not have dawned upon us in a flash, but rather would have been the result of a long and painstaking effort of observing all the phenomena of nature around us and trying to make sense out of it, until one day, we would have asked ourself questions like, who am I? why am I here, and where exactly is ‘here’?
Ever since, we’ve been trying to answer these fundamental questions.
It is perhaps fair to say, that the entire history of human existence on this planet has revolved around, and been effected by, these few fundamental questions. They were the source of all our myths, legends and folklore; they inspired us to pursue philosophical thought; and today, these very questions form the holy grail of scientific quest and discovery.
Over the coming weeks and months and perhaps years, I intend to explore in great detail how we humans have attempted to rationalize our existence over the ages and how those rationalizations in turn have effected, for better or for worse, all human endeavours throughout history.
PR for survival
For now though, what interests me most is that slow and painstaking process of learning, of trying to make sense of our surroundings, which ultimately led us to ask these fundamental questions in the first place. While there is no direct way for us to go back in time and see that process happening with our own eyes, we’d make do with the next best thing.
Being a father of 3, I’ve repeatedly had the honor of experiencing first-hand that remarkable feat of new-born babies, of making sense of their surroundings to the best of their ability. Initially, it’s instinctive, but after the first few months conscious effort comes into play.
One of the earliest instincts I have always noticed in babies and which never seizes to amaze me is the survival instinct, not because there is something awfully clever about wanting to survive, but because of the innumerable ways the survival instinct makes a baby adapt to its particular set of circumstances. The baby learns right away what it must do, and more importantly, what it must not do, to please those it depends upon thus maximizing its chances of survival. For instance, babies in a large house where food(mother) is likely to be at a considerable distance would instinctively learn to cry/shout louder.
One of the cleverest things babes learn to do is to manipulate the person their survival depends upon (mostly parents) by constantly increasing their likeability. Not only that, this PR campaign seems to be highly personalized. When with mother, the baby would make sounds, expressions and gestures that it knows are popular with the mother, and when with father, a version specifically tailored to please the father would be employed.
While we do not have any video, audio or textual records of our remote ancestors, they did, fortunately, leave behind cave art and other tools/artifacts which give us a glimpse into their life style and activities, and lo, what do we find? The exact same gimmicks focused to ensuring survival.
Just like a baby is totally helpless and depends entirely on its parents for survival, our remote ancestors found themselves helpless against the all-powerful forces of nature, and yet, many of those forces where the same forces their survival depended upon, such as rain, earth, sun, fire, stars etc. Whatever the particular circumstances of each group, they devised ways to please the forces they believed would help ensure their survival, and implemented restrictions on actions and behaviours they thought would displease those forces. No different at all from what our babies do today!
And therein, we find the earliest seeds of the idea of “gods” and “deities” and what, many centuries and millenia later, would evolve to become “religion”.
Some modern scholars, archeologists, historians and scientists use phrases like “such and such culture had the cult of god xxx”, conveniently ignoring the fact that the entire idea of a “god”, even the word itself, is a modern invention. So a statement like “cult of the sun-god xyz of the Yamuna tribe…” in the absence of a clarification how Yamuna people exactly described the sun entity is highly misleading as it conveys a false meaning to a modern reader.
If we unearth a small building with pictures of the sun carved into stone tablets and a stone altar with some evidence of rituals that might have been focused to pleasing the sun, it does not in any way represent evidence that sun was worshipped as a god, any more than the attempts of our babies to please us represent evidence they belive us to be gods! (god in the sense of all-powerful creator being )
What it does show us, is the intelligence of our ancestors to recognize that one way or other, sun has a major impact on survivability and thus it would be prudent to do whatever one may to please this entity and outlaw all acts which just might displease it.
If for a moment, we were to see past the veil of arrogance of our 21st century egos, we might recognize that the fundamental philosophy of our ancestors, to please the entities their survival depended upon, was far more practical, rational and eco-friendly than our 21st century idea of an invisible omnipotent “god” who would magically protect us and lead us all to heaven no matter how we plunder our planet.