The likely evolutionary path of the human race:
The future of Man
David M. Petersen
Monday 7 PM
(Follow the links to read a debate on these journals with the instructor)
Nietzsche, in his passage 11 of book one in The Gay Science, discusses consciousness. He discusses it rather unclearly, in my view, because he never actually defines what he means by consciousness. He refers to it as the "Last and latest development of the organic, unfinished and unstrong" (Kaufmann 84), as if all of the other aspects of "the organic" were finished and strong! It seems as though he buys evolution, because he sees consciousness as the latest development, but it also seems as though he regards the rest of the organic as having reached its pinnacle, with consciousness being a sort of misaligned add on. To me this view amounts to not really grasping the concept of evolution. I noticed this in the "Birth of Tragedy" as well; he partially recognizes that things evolve but always wants to pull one aspect of humanity (the Greek tragedy, for example) out of the evolving continuum and glorify it, calling it finished. This denies the reality of the continuously evolving system that is the Universe. He also states that consciousness "Gives rise to countless errors" that cause man to die prematurely, although there are no examples of this supposed phenomenon given, and I must confess I'm having trouble imagining one. I can, however, imagine all the progress humanity has made that relates to consciousness: art, government, science, etc., for example. He also believes that if not for instinct, humanity would have disappeared and because consciousness is not fully developed, it is a danger to the organism. Again, I find this very backward thinking; for one, consciousness is the one attribute above all others that has allowed the human race to adapt to different environments, thereby greatly surpassing the survival ability of any other organism on earth by far. I would have thought that this would have been clear even in Nietzsche's time. He does make the interesting point that because we think we already have consciousness, we keep it from fully developing within us; I'll buy that. However, the idea that "All of our consciousness relates to errors," sorry, I just can't get to that point of view. It's kind of ironic, a guy who was more conscious that anyone else around him not really seeing the value of consciousness!
They've all got it wrong concerning how consciousness works; read this...
Statement on Consciousness
In passage 109 in The Gay Science, Nietzsche states: "we should not reinterpret the exceedingly derivative, late, rare, accidental, that we perceive only on the crust of the earth and make it something essential, universal, and eternal" (Kaufmann 167), referring to those that come to the conclusion that the universe is an organism. Ok, I agree that the universe is much more than just an organism (although he would say much less, I guess), but I disagree that we can't look around us and try to make (admittedly imperfect) universal conclusions. This is what science is all about, and it keeps getting more and more accurate, as evidenced by the effectiveness of its inventions. And there's that word accidental, suggesting heavily along with previous material that Nietzsche saw human civilization as well as consciousness as some sort of cosmic mistake. He also goes on to say: "Let us even beware of believing the universe is a machine calling it a machine does it far to much honor" (Kaufmann 167). From my point of view, calling it a machine does it far too little honor. What we refer to as machines are simple and very fallible compared to the universe, which is organic, or extremely complex, and "self fixing," or unbreakable, if you will. I would think that this would have been obvious even in Nietzsche's time. Machines need constant maintenance, and the universe quite obviously transcends this need (at least for us!). This ties in with his next poor visualization of the universe. He states, "The total character of the world, however, is in all eternity chaos-in the sense not of a lack of necessity but a lack of order, arrangement, beauty, wisdom, and whatever other names there are for our "aesthetic anthropomorphisms" (Kaufmann 168). I guess I just don't see how Nietzsche could view the universe as something that could give rise to these "aesthetic anthropomorphisms" that at least exhibit something that we could call order, if it was just a completely chaotic mess as he seems to think. I must confess I find his poor understanding and esteem of the universe, which frankly, is a miracle anyway you look at it, irritating. Ok, they didn't know that much about the universe in his time, but he just seems overly negative.
In passage 355 of The Gay Science, Nietzsche talks about how logic, because it is familiar to us, is something we feel we know, but really don't. This ties in with his overall view of logic as put forth in section 111 of the same book. It is my view, however, that according to his comments in this passage Nietzsche had a wildly incorrect perspective on logic. Nietzsche clearly believed that logic evolved out of illogic and the need to perceive equal threats to survival in men's minds, and also that it doesn't correspond to anything in real life. I think that this position is fairly easy to refute, and would also have been in Nietzsche's time. My position is, of course, that logic corresponds to a fundamental property of the universe, the logos of the early philosophers, if you will, and is far from being a property that originated with man. To start, I think that we all would agree that mathematics is based on logic. Now, even in N's time, one could devise a simple thought experiment that proves my point. Say we have a straight stretch of desert with no obstacles, and a horse whose top speed is known. One can then quite easily calculate the time the horse will make it to some point in the desert if he runs at top speed. Nothing involved in this scenario has been created by man; rather a logical relationship between the speed and achieved distance of the horse would have existed even if man had never evolved far enough to see it. If there are any discrepancies between the calculated time and the actual time, one could point to logical reasons for them, like the horse had to slow down to avoid a snake, for example. I'm not saying that logic is the whole picture in the universe, it also exhibits chaos, but the idea that logic is something that originated only in man's head really is laughable! This logos runs through everything in the universe, including man, and man has gradually become aware of it, that's all.
In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche states that "man is something that shall be overcome" and "a polluted stream is man." He clearly believes that man should be despised; the only thing good about man is his possible ability to transcend himself and become the overman. Nietzsche loves only those individuals that work towards the overman by first despising their humanity. This is truly not the best way to look at things. First of all, the probability of all of the common man transcending themselves into super-individuals in this way is about zero. Secondly, this perspective also overlooks the deep necessity of the common man to humanity in general. Who will run civilization while the "geniuses" frolic in their own self-absorption? Oh right, we should all go back to a primitive state where we can all exercise our instincts fully, I forgot. The probability of this happening is also about zero. There is a much better way to view the evolution of man, and this view coincides quite well with (but goes beyond) a philosophy put forward by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. In his view, man is moving towards what he called 'Omega Point', the union of all of the very distinct individuals that make up humanity into a super-organized conscious whole in which no individuality is lost (hyper-personalization), becoming in effect a global super-organism, a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. In this view, everyone is needed. We need geniuses to chart the course of this super- organism and laborers to work inside the mechanism of it, doing exactly what they do best. No one is better or more necessary, just different-and just as essential. This is a (not perfect but) great philosophy, but this view is all but ignored by traditional philosophy people. The perpetuation of Nietzsche's "system" of thinking which is overly negative, shortsighted, inconsistent, and improbable by academia over Chardin's brilliant viewpoint is a travesty. Chardin's noosphere (the growing network of consciousness on the planet) is already becoming visible with the Internet and its nation-state eroding qualities. This is of course not a process designed by man (as socialism was - and failed), but an (admittedly imperfect and sometimes very chaotic) global process that is clearly happening to him, and one he can begin to participate in.
In the section entitled "On self-overcoming" in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche is saying that the "will to power" is found in all life and that this will to power is creativity. He is also saying that we must continue to destroy what we have created and then constantly recreate it, and that this destruction/creation process is a big part of his will to power concept. Finally, an idea from Nietzsche that I can get behind! (Mostly). The only thing I would argue with is the sense I get from the reading of the need to first destroy ("he must first be an annihilator") what we have created; I think modifying what we have created would be a more appropriate approach, and closer to what happens in real life. For example, we don't want to destroy the criminal justice system in America, but we do want to make it better, like using DNA in trials now. I guess this is just typical Nietzsche exaggeration. "Behold, I am that which must always overcome itself." This will to power idea is a cool concept and I think it describes very well what is great about the human race, that we strive and expand both individually and collectively to build bigger and better expressions of our humanity. This is the force that will carry us off this planet to settle the galaxy and continue to evolve. In the end I agree with the "self help" approach to reading Nietzsche that we discussed in class. While I find his philosophy overall to be inconsistent, overly negative and too open to interpretation, alot of his ideas are very useful, such as "that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and "become what you are." Exercising one's will to power coupled with the idea of living your life like it will be repeated infinitely, as in the eternal return, is a useful template for the striving of the individual, and a worthy goal.
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