The Tragedy of Human Consciousness

In reading a summary of Aristotle’s thinking, I got to thinking about human consciousness and evolution, and it struck me that within the framework of evolution human consciousness is a tragedy.

The idea behind the commonly accepted theory of evolution is that there is no telos (no goal or purpose) in nature, and so what we perceive as development in life forms is really just the random response of genetic mutation that happened to better fit some creatures for their environment than others, and those creatures, being better fitted, are the ones that survive to copulate, and pass on their characteristics to their offspring.

The tragedy I spoke of is that though we humans have gained characteristics that allowed us to gain dominance and thrive, this very development also made us dissatisfied with just surviving. The genetic mutations that eventually made abstract reasoning and sentience possible actually ill fitted us for a world that happened by chance. Our intellectual capacities have enabled us to go beyond adaptation to nature to the creation of culture, which in a myriad of ways expresses our need for meaning and purpose, which of course puts us at odds with a universe that is supposedly meaningless. In fact, it is this capacity that has led some within our species to contemplate the meaninglessness of it all and thereby consider suicide as a rational response. This is not survival of the fittest.

In closing, as I have further thought this through by writing this out, it strikes me that human consciousness is not just a tragedy; it is a tragedy with a good dose of irony. Of course, all of this only holds true within the philosophical naturalism that underpins evolutionary theory.

6 Responses to “The Tragedy of Human Consciousness”

  1. K.L.B.  

    Funny thing about irony… we’ve found that too much iron in the diet is an indicator of, and increases risk for heart attack.

    Rust never sleeps, you know.

  2. Anthony Velez  

    So, perhaps too much irony is an indication of a rusty soul.

  3. Roger Green  

    So we would be better off if we were like the “lower” creatures? It seems from my reading of Genesis 1 & 2 that God WANTED us to think, to reason, even at our own peril (“the fall”).

  4. Anthony Velez  

    Roger – Actually that would be a legitimate conclusion to what I was saying. In fact, Joseph Wood Crutch, a noted literary critic and commentator on the human condition, made a similar assertion in a book titled, The Modern Temper. Actually, he stated something along the line that even though we humans understand we would be more aligned with nature if we were more like the animals, we nevertheless, would not want to give up our rationality even though it means alienation from nature.

  5. Catherine Davis  

    Consciousness also requires/leads to an environmental and social connection. Does that mean that all connections and ‘loves’ we have are for survival? Then meaning is in the survival through any connection we make spontaneously (today connecting yesterday with tomorrow).

    The tragedy to me is when one doesn’t get a chance to experience consciousness and connection but can see others partake in it. That separateness.

  6. Anthony Velez  

    Catherine – I like your point that consciousness, or perhaps full consciousness, requires relationship. However, the tragedy I am trying to identify is that we have developed capacities that have made us discontent with survival, as survival is defined by evolutionary theory: sustenance and propagation of the species. Again, evolution, as underpinned by philosophical materialism, says that those species that are best adapted to the environment are the ones that survive. It seems to me, however, that we are not best adapted to our environment because we are not content with it; we have to change the environment to make it suit us. An implication of this is that we have evolved beyond our environment, which is to ironically say that we are not adapted to it. As a species we have developed capacities that requires us to create culture in order for us to be at home.