Episode 19: Joseph Chilton Pearce - The Biology of Transcendence: Part 1 - Culture vs. Civilization
Joseph Chilton Pearce – The Biology of Transcendence: Part 1 – Culture vs. Civilization
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Duncan Campbell: From time immemorial, beginning with indigenous councils and ancient wisdom traditions, through the work of Western visionaries such as Plato, Galileo, and quantum physicist David Bohm, mutually participatory dialogue has been seen as the key to evolving and transforming consciousness, evoking a flow of meaning, ‘idia’, flow, of ‘logos’, meaning, beyond what any one individual can bring through alone. So join us now, as together with you, the active deep listener, we evoke and engage in Living Dialogues.
Duncan Campbell: Welcome to Living Dialogues. I’m your host, Duncan Campbell, and with me for this particular dialogue I’m truly delighted to have Joseph Chilton Pearce, author known to many of you for his works Crack in the Cosmic Egg, the national bestseller The Magical Child: Rediscovering Nature’s Plan for our Children, Evolution’s End, and most recently The Biology of Transcendence. For over 25 years Joe has been acclaimed and featured internationally in his lectures on human development and the changing needs of children. So, Joseph Chilton Pearce, it’s really a great delight to have you here in the studio.
Joseph Chilton Pearce: Oh, thank you, Duncan.
Duncan Campbell: I think it might be very interesting to our audience to begin our dialogue here by perhaps reviewing very briefly the evolution of your own thinking and research, beginning with, over 25 years ago, your book Crack in the Cosmic Egg and then proceeding through The Magical Child, and a decade ago, Evolution’s End. And we might then talk about the book The Biology of Transcendence.
Joseph Chilton Pearce: Well I the other day pulled out my book The Crack in the Cosmic Egg, and started looking at it because a publisher is going to bring it out for another edition. It was in print for 28 years, and so he’s bringing it out again. I hadn’t looked at the book in many a year, and I was really astonished to find that nearly everything I’ve been saying ever since is found in that book. I was kind of depressed because I thought, “Well if I understood this much way back then, why haven’t I acted it out a little bit better on the general scene?” But The Magical Child, of course, came a number of years later, dealing specifically with children. And then Evolution’s End, dealing with some of the real crises that we’re facing with our children in this day and time. And my new book, The Biology of Transcendence boils it all down to “bio-culturalism”, as it’s called, the effect of culture on our biological system and the way our biological system then affects culture in turn.
Duncan Campbell: And at one point, Joe, you mentioned a phrase that, “Culture is the enemy of biology.” And so let’s talk about that theme of how culture actually, instead of nourishing, actually can impede the evolutionary spiral of human consciousness.
Joseph Chilton Pearce: Well, I will say that in my short 76 years I’ve heard one big theme over and over all my life, and that is ‘reform’. Everything has been in a process of reformation. “We have to go down and clean up the mess in Washington.” “We must clean up the mess in the state capital.” “We must reform our schools.” “We must reform medicine.” “We must reform this…” everything in a constant state of reformation. Culture survives only by our attempts to improve it. And it preserves itself or perpetuates itself by convincing us that we must improve culture at all costs, and the truth of the matter is culture cannot be improved and it should never be sustained. But it’s sustained by our attempts to make it work right. And every facet of contemporary life, leaving nothing out at all, every facet of life is simply an adjunct of culture, and culture is the enemy of the true biological nature of the human being.
Duncan Campbell: At one point in our conversation earlier, you defined culture as a body of knowledge concerning physical survival in a hostile world, based on fear, so that culture in a sense is a survival mechanism that’s passed on by belief systems from generation to generation, and it is often at odds with the transcending adaptive spiral of human consciousness, which is literally hardwired, if we will, into our biology. So perhaps we could ask you to comment on that.
Joseph Chilton Pearce: Well I know it’s hardwired in, but you have to define your term ‘transcendence’.
Duncan Campbell: Mm hmm.
Joseph Chilton Pearce: I’m basing my book and the definition of ‘transcendence’ on the dictionary, which says simply, “Transcendence is the ability to rise above and go beyond limitation and constraint.” Our inability to rise beyond and go beyond our current limitation and constraint leads us to all of our violence. We have in this life a choice between two things: Either transcendence or violence. And there’s nothing much in between. Culture depends on violence. Culture breeds violence. And culture thrives on violence. Gil Bailie, you might be familiar with Gil Bailie, who wrote a book called Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads. He was a follower of Rene Girard, the great French philosopher, who did his life’s study on the effect of culture and the way culture preserves itself through violence. And of course all of this is very anarchy… it’s anarchistic. It’s anti-cultural. To be anti-cultural is to be virtually anti to every single aspect of what we think of as civilization. But all of my books, from the beginning on, have really been dealing with culture, and I wasn’t aware of it until the past few years. And our natural biological system is designed to constantly evolve and rise above the limitations and constraints of our current state. Blocking this, you have only one reaction in the human being, and that is violence. So we either transcend or we start imploding and destroying ourselves.
Duncan Campbell: And it’s such a fascinating perspective because what it does is give us a sense of how evolution proceeds. I’m thinking now of a book called Earth Household, published over 30 years ago, by Gary Snyder, the American poet. And in a series of essays on what is happening to our larger ecological environment and its interface with human culture, he referred to “the Civilization Establishment”, capital ‘C’, Civilization, capital ‘E’ Establishment. And what’s being revealed I think, in our dialogue here, and in your work, is that culture or civilization is always one step behind. It’s consolidating that evolutionary step that has already been made, and then trying to make a fortress or a home out of it, to preserve some kind of stability or security against the inbuilt evolutionary pattern of change that we’re continually seeking, transcendence and to go beyond limits, as human beings. But the establishment, once in place, feels threatened by that and plays upon the fear of change and instability in the human consciousness of the masses, if you will. And then we have prophets that arise, whether they be political in nature or spiritual or both, such as Jesus, or Buddha, or whatnot, who ‘break the egg’, if you will, of the cultural container. And these are the people that lead the way to a higher transcendent vision, which then the culture can reconsolidate around. And it reminds me of Schopenhauer’s great dictum that “the truth always merges… or e-merges in three phases. First, it is ridiculed. Secondly, it is violently opposed. And third, over the dead and forgotten bodies of those who articulated it first, it becomes co-opted and claimed by the establishment as its own.”
Joseph Chilton Pearce: Well if you take that comment right there, it becomes co-opted and claimed by the establishment as its own just does not mean that it is evolved at all. Your previous statement gave the idea that a new idea comes along or a new way to transcend or break through our limitations and constraints… it’s violently opposed by the establishment. But then eventually it changes the establishment… this is not the truth. The establishment is never changed. Whether it’s a technological establishment or not makes no difference. Culture functions as culture, which is based on fear, and blocks our biological unfolding. And that’s right across the board; I find no exceptions to that whatsoever. Culture never absorbs the new ideas cropping up within it that would lead to transcendence. It kills them off. Now what you end up with… culture can wear a million different faces. It can take on all these trappings. But its underlying basis of fear, anxiety, and self-defense, defensiveness is always there. That never changes. A person like Jesus comes along, who says that, “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head,” that is, there’s no stopping point for this transcendent process of rising above limitation and constraint. It’s simply an adaptive process built into us. That’s adaptation, not in the Darwinian sense, necessarily, but just general evolutionary sense. We are built to adapt to any kind of a situation and rise and go beyond it. Block this and violence is always the result. Now culture is a violent process. Periodically we have to have a good war to preserve the culture. Generally about every four years or its equivalent. And you find no exception to this, right down the line. Unless the culture is given some outside force that it can demonize, the culture will self-implode and destroy itself. We’ve had a perfectly good example of that just recently. Fortunately the ‘trifecta’, I believe it’s called, that saved Bush, was an outside force that suddenly comes in and acts in a way that can organize a nation which is all set to self-destruct by its internal rage, suddenly has an external enemy that it can demonize and organize its rage around. This preserves the culture. And this has to happen over and over and over. It was happening in Jesus’ time precisely as it happens now. It never changes. So that’s what one… talking about ‘bio-culture’, this cultural effect blocks our biological unfolding, or our biological capacity to transcend, which is neural. I mean this is all built into us… the great exciting thing about neuroscience and neurocardiology is the discovery that all of this is absolutely inherent within us. But it’s blocked. And what blocks it is culture.
Duncan Campbell: Now before we go on to talk about the triune brain and then the evolution of the pre-frontal lobes as a fourth part of the brain that you discuss at length in your work, Joe, let’s just hold on this moment of the post-September 11 situation, post-September 11, 2001, and refer, for the moment, to an article written in the Atlantic Monthly by Robert Kaplan in the fall of 2001 on Samuel Huntington’s work that came out in 1993, entitled The Clash of Civilizations. And Samuel Huntington of Harvard had advanced the thesis that life is really simply a cycle of clashes of civilizations, and it is unending. There’s no way to make a quantum leap out of that particular process of being trapped in that kind of cycle of violence. And what we really need to do is simply understand that and make the best adaptation we can to it. And then about a year later Vaclav Havel, the president of Czechoslovakia, made a very notable speech when receiving an award at Stanford Law School, in which he took issue with this vision of the future of humanity. And said that in his view, even though he risked being labeled a mystic, he wanted to state that he felt that transcendence, in its largest sense of the word, is one of the most basic human experiences, and one that is genuinely universal, and could unite all of humanity. And so in the midst of this bleak vision of an eternally recurring cycle of clashes of civilizations and culture, he’s holding out the possibility, under certain circumstances, that we could make a quantum leap out of that morass. What is your own view, Joe?
Joseph Chilton Pearce: Well first of all I would say that we have no civilization. Elkhonon Goldberg, one of our most brilliant neuroscientists, in fact he came from Russia as a very young man… and Goldberg has been concentrating on the pre-frontal lobes, which is the latest evolutionary structure in our brain, right behind our forehead. It’s the largest part of the brain. Essentially brand-new in its current state and function, in evolutionary history. And if you look at what the real thrust of the pre-frontal lobes is to rise above and go beyond the limitations and constraints of the other three parts of the neural system, the reptilian brain, the old mammalian brain, and the neo-cortex, our brain of intellect and creativity and so on. The pre-frontals lie vastly beyond those, as a way of moving beyond all of that. And so we find that what is happening… he uses the term, Elkhonon Goldberg uses the term ‘the pre-frontal lobes and civilized mind’. The full development of the pre-frontal lobes and you have civilization in its truest sense. The blocking of it, and you have culture. So what you’re dealing with are clashes of cultures. But they’re simply one form of culture clashing with another, all of which is culture expressing its sustaining force of violence itself. Culture always produces violence. It can only be sustained by violence. Thomas Jefferson said, and surely this is about as unpatriotic as you can get, Thomas Jefferson said, “Periodically, the tree of liberty must be watered by the blood of tyrants and patriots.” That is, culture produces its tyrants and it produces its patriots, and it survives on the bloodshed thereby. This is not civilization. So far, we have blocked civilization, which is the outcome of transcendence, and we block it through the cultural effect and are not aware of what we’re doing.
Duncan Campbell: I see. So in this particular dialogue we should then reframe our definition of ‘culture’ and make it separate from ‘civilization’. Civilization would be the redemptive, fulfilled manifestation of humanity’s evolutionary process. And culture would be the retarding, kind of contracted fear-based belief systems that we hang onto, in order to resist that evolutionary process.
Joseph Chilton Pearce: Well I would agree with that wholeheartedly, and so the real… the crossroads we’re at right now in our day and time is whether or not we can go ahead and open up to what is already built into us biologically and transcend our limitations and constraints, or once again resort to violence. We’ve already resorted to violence all over again. And there seems to be nothing the American public loves more than the… what was it, some radio announcer said, “The satisfying thud of those bombs over the television,” you see. That’s… the whole nation was almost hungry for that war, so your president has the highest rating in history of any president, by doing what? Feeding the rage factor in his own country.
Duncan Campbell: So let’s explore that a little further. Describe a little more in detail, Joe, where this “rage” comes from in culture.
Joseph Chilton Pearce: The rage in culture comes from cultural process itself. Everything in culture is designed… culture is simply the block of this biological growth process within us. The way by which you block the unfolding of the pre-frontal lobes and the higher structures of the brain, is by forcing the brain back into its survival modes. What are the survival modes? The old reptilian brain, primarily, and its connection with places like the amygdale and the hippocampal area and so on, and the territory between the old mammalian brain and the reptilian brain. That is, culture forces growth of the human being back, out of its evolutionary move into higher levels of evolution, back into the survival modes. That’s what culture is, based on survival. A guy comes along, a couple millennia ago, and he says in effect, “What is killing you off are your survival techniques. The only way you can escape the trap you’re in, is to drop your survival techniques.” Now to drop your survival techniques would mean to drop your culture, and this is fundamentally biologically impossible once the enculturation process is complete. And it’s completed within about the first three years of life. And once that happens, then the brain is neurally embedded in the survival mode itself, which is the old reptilian sensory-motor structures. Now you can go ahead and develop a very high form of intellect, and creative intellect, and create all sorts of things like bombs and plutonium and so forth, but they’ll all be on behalf of what? That basic reptilian survival defense mechanism, and you have culture as it now is.
Duncan Campbell: And how can that then be transcended?
Joseph Chilton Pearce: That can only be transcended by addressing the needs of the child from the moment of conception through about the first two to three years of life.
Duncan Campbell: Now before we get into that, does that make the statement that someone who is wanting to evolve let’s say on a “spiritual path toward enlightenment or self-realization,” following say the example of the Buddha or Jesus or some other spiritual teacher, cannot do so? That they’re actually crippled from birth and there’s no possibility for evolution in later life?
Joseph Chilton Pearce: It doesn’t say this at all! It doesn’t say that at all. But I would say that that individual attempting to do that, and he might well succeed, he or she might well succeed, and many do, this has not, so far in history, changed the cultural effect one iota. After 2000 years of hymn singing, bible thumping, proselytizing, missionaries, cathedral building, witch burning, and so forth, human nature has not changed one iota. We are every bit as murderous, and far more efficient at our murder of each other now than we were 2000 years ago when Jesus crops up on the scene. Thousands of years of meditation have not changed human nature one iota. We are every bit as murderous toward each other now as we were at the time of Buddha or any other time.
Duncan Campbell: Certainly more efficient at it, and as…
Joseph Chilton Pearce: And we’re far more efficient at it.
Duncan Campbell: …as Stan Grof points out, “There were more people killed in the 20th century than in all of prior human history.”
Joseph Chilton Pearce: There were more born than in all of prior human history, indeed. So my argument here is what that wise-guy a couple millennia ago said, “Simply know them by their fruits.” Our religions have failed monumentally, wholeheartedly, completely. They have not done the job, and now we have coming on the scene something that will do the job, and strangely enough that comes through the scientific process. And let me mention here, again my great hero from a couple of millennia ago gave us the parable of two sons: And their old man gives them a commission to do, “Boys I’ve got this great work I want you to do.” They heard him through, and the one piously said, “Oh, I’ll do exactly as you say, Father.” And he went his way, and thought better of it and decided he wasn’t going to waste his time; he simply didn’t do it. And other one said, “Well that’s nonsense; I won’t do it.” He went his way, but he thought better of it and decided to quietly go ahead and do it. Which one does the father’s will? Well, church, religion, and so forth have failed us monumentally. And now we have this other part of the camp, the scientific, which in spite of itself, in spite of its blindness and its stupidity and its arrogance, nevertheless through the technique itself, they’re suddenly giving us all the information we need to, for the first time in history, move dramatically to bring about a profound release of human nature into its true dimension. I won’t say to ‘change’ human nature… human nature has always been creative and productive, but blocked by the cultural process.
Duncan Campbell: And so we might reframe that and say this murderous violence and greed is not an intrinsic part of human nature, in the sense that it doesn’t define it at its most profound level. It is an aspect that has been there for all of human history but could be gone beyond.
Joseph Chilton Pearce: I doubt that it’s been there for all of human history. I think there have been great periods of history in which the cultural effect was not there.
Duncan Campbell: I see.
Joseph Chilton Pearce: And tremendous things happened on this earth. But these were episodes. The cultural effect though that we know has been in effect for several thousand years.
Duncan Campbell: What examples would we have of periods when culture was in remission, as it were?
Joseph Chilton Pearce: I don’t really know that, but we assume that there were… that really gets us into a whole ‘nother argument. There are certainly studies which show, archaeological studies that show that great civilizations existed many thousands of years ago, where there were no signs of any form of violence whatsoever.
For full transcript, please contact Duncan Campbell