These blog entries explore several related subjects having to do with evolution and transformation, how those subjects are interconnected and more specifically evidence of the evolutionary principle of neoteny in contemporary times.  For me, evolution is at least a four-fold structure that reveals patterns that jump from level to level.  Those four levels are evolution, society, ontogeny (individual maturational and developmental unfolding) and personal experience.

We are a species that uses words to describe experiences.  A word derives its meaning by the other words used to define it and the experiences we have in association with that word.  By writing or speaking, we are magically weaving a four-dimensional web or tapestry that intimates or suggests a meaning amongst a cloud of associations.  Like a locomotive, we trail a narrative of words, billowing out our smokestack, more or less following the track lines of our intended communication.  Unfortunately, what we build with words, like a locomotive, often cuts the world in two.

The first comment made by a visitor to these postings, Carl Davidson, suggested I read Robert Pirsig’s Lila.  Early in its pages, I was presented with an astonishing author insight.  American Indian behavioral personality characteristics were modeled by American trackers, traders, settlers and ranchers.  These features drifted into American society and influenced our culture.  Features of the American aboriginal are manifesting in contemporary and world culture in ways that have not previously been examined.  This hypothesis seemed fascinating, though not one easily proved.

One of the biggest barriers to our understanding of the relationship between the different stages of development within the four levels of evolution/transformation is our commitment to the idea of progress or time unfolding in a linear direction with things getting better bit by bit.  It is difficult to grasp that all stages are integral, whole, part of a process, a process that does not imply later is better than earlier.  The 55-year-old Andrew is not better than the 25-year-old Andrew.  The human being is not better than the chimp-like precursor.  An adult is not better than a baby.  The European is not better than the aboriginal.  Evolution occurring at the personal, biological, ontological and societal scales does not imply a transition from qualitative less to more.

Earlier is not less evolved than later.  It is just earlier.  Even our word “evolved” suggests better with time.  Like that locomotive, these connotations that the word “evolution” carries hauls a long train of implications having little to do with the reality of a judgment-free process.

A central feature of all four stages of evolution is the carrying forward features of earlier ancestral stages into the adult stages of descendants.  In biology, this is called neoteny and has been explored from an ontological and biological perspective by Stephen J. Gould.  Tom Robbins perhaps best describes the effects of neoteny on an individual when he creates characters for his novels.

From a societal perspective, one example of neoteny is when features of aboriginal culture manifest in modern culture, carrying forward creative resources and providing contemporary times beneficial depth.

Robert Pirsig posits that the contemporary, American idea of independence has an enormous amount to do with the exposure of Europeans to the people already here, a deeply spiritual people, a people at home in their environment.  Pirsig hypothesizes that what began as an attempt to reproduce the behavioral composure of the locals evolved into a cultural embrace of an aboriginal idea of freedom.

It is also an Indian concept that time does not unfold in a line, but is a circle.  The mythic past meets up with the mythic future, creating a circle where they meet in mythic times.

The indigenous Americans understand that there is no such thing as progress.  Things don’t get better.  Things are.  At all stages and levels of development, we are all always equal, yet ever changing.

Freedom and independence are spiritual concepts deeply informed by an understanding of interdependence and respect for all.  In contemporary times, we are wrestling with how we can integrate battling concepts of independence and interdependence.  We have a model for this integration in our midst.


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