I like speculating about possible evolutionary reasons for aspects of human ways of being. I like reading about the central nervous system, brain chemistry and the way the workings of the human body express who we are. I’m fascinated by the interplay between mind, body, environment and personal choice in terms of shaping us as individuals.
I’m conscious that dodgy science has been used to diminish all kinds of people. The idea that gayness is a disease to be cured is a case in point. It’s difficult to talk about the fascinating possibilities of evolution without feeling the cold shadow of eugenics. I can understand why plenty of people are anxious about any line of talk that seems to reduce them to their biology. That which is only about the biology is all animal, and there are too many people who think animals don’t have souls, sentience, feelings.
My feeling is that we need to reclaim our biology. Not just for us, either. If we are proudly biological beings, then the idea that other mammals, other creatures are lesser, is a good deal harder to maintain. The trouble with being more than your biology is that to stay special you have to be better than all the other pigs, with all due reference to Animal Farm. We’ve had thousands of years in the west of telling ourselves stories in which we are different from all the other animals. Special. Made differently by God The Father. Stories that say it is ok to exploit anything that can be reduced to just being its biology. Those stories are hard to resist because they are so deeply ingrained. And of course, we like to feel special.
I am carbon and water. I am tiny flashes of electrical energy passing between synapses. I am light impacting on my retina, turning into messages that paint an idea of the world on the inside of my brain. I am cells, and DNA, I am the history of my ancestors woven into genetic material. I am blood, bone, gristle, flesh and skin no different from any other being with the potential to become a piece of meat on the table. I am the complex dance of interacting chemistry that is emotion. I am the cradle to grave pattern of inhaling and exhaling. It’s all about how you frame it.
There may of course be other things going on as well – we really don’t know how consciousness works and whether it is matter that underpins consciousness, or consciousness that underpins matter. I am happy not knowing. If anything decisive turns up, I will be perfectly comfortable with whatever turns out to be going on.
I cannot be ‘reduced’ to my biology if I celebrate my biology. I am better protected from bigots and asshats dealing in pseudo-science by knowing something of how my body works. I do not need to be more than this body, this brain, this one shot physical presence in the world. If that isn’t the whole story, I’ll worry about the next bit when I get there.