Group Think Emerges to Lead
The first coming of the left brain was when we acquired speech and separated ourselves from the vision-based animal world. However, our group governance was still largely modeled after the structures we saw in the vision-based animal world around us. The second coming of the left brain is when we actually used thinking to help govern our groups.
The earliest human groupings, from camp fires to towns, villages, cities, and the ancient civilizations, were likely modeled after behavior patterns we took from the vision-based world of nature. They were dominance hierarchies and theocratic. They had strong religious belief systems and cultures that provided life answers for people and good organization for their communities. The group organization was largely based upon the right-brain sense of “group”.
The human mind was growing. The left brain group-think was being harnessed, as demonstrated by agriculture, animal domestication, and other advances in harnessing nature for our benefit. These early groupings were based upon unquestioned deference and belief in a God, and unquestioned obedience to the God-run state. However, our thinking ability was not yet applied to the leadership or structure of our groups. There also was little room for individual ego expression. There was no room for ego to question things. The second round of civilizations allowed for more individual participation and human thinking became part of group governance.
Figure. The Axis Age launched the next round of civilizations – the same civilizations in which we live. The primary shift that occurred was the greater participation of the left brain, both on a group and individual level, in human governance. In effect, this created a clean slate with the left brain actively participating in human governance. Different civilizations organized the slate differently, as discussed in subsequent sections.
The Axis Age
A shift in civilizations occurred around 500 BC. At about this time, hugely influential thinkers influenced large groups of people with their messages. The messages of these thought leaders led to the development of the next stage of Civilizations. The Civilizations could now be structured around a system of unique thoughts or beliefs. This enabled larger groups of people to be managed within a group. The system of thoughts or beliefs served as a strong center for the group.
The German philosopher Karl Jaspers is credited with first defining the Axis Age. He used the term to describe the period roughly from 800 BCE to 200 BCE, during which individual human thinking emerged as influential throughout much of the Old World. Individual great thinkers had extremely large influence on civilizations and their structures.
Although there were many great thought leaders at about this time, those who have had the greatest and longest lasting influences on current civilizations are:
- Siddhārtha Gautama, or Buddha, India, approximately 563 BCE to 483 BCE
- Confuscius, China, 551 BCE – 479 BCE
- Socrates, Greece, 469 BC–399 BC
We still see their influence, very strongly, in today’s world. In fact, the seeds of most of today’s major civilizations can be found dating back to this period.
These were the men who broke out from under the stifling belief and obedience systems existent up until then. The left brain ego was now expressing itself widely in the world. The individual mind was now competing for the grouping organization leadership. Blind obedience to the right brain visual world, and its systems, was being questioned. There is now an emerging and developing left brain guidance and think ability. The left brain group began gaining dominance, but it needed individual human leaders to get them past the vision-based “group”.
The breakthroughs attributed to Buddha, Confucius, and Socrates were immense in our history. However, they were also reporters from their eras and were writing about the times and prevailing thought. The left brain of humans was probably developing nicely across the population. The left brain had shown it’s prowess by that time. Thinking humans and their group left brain skills had demonstrated their ability to allay the right brain (the “seed of life”) concern about survival. And, everyone enjoyed the success they were experiencing. At that time, it certainly felt “successful” to be living with nice clothes, within walls that separated us from nature, and with some other nice things such as art, music, and other amenities. I think we can now begin to use the word “people” to refer to those living at that time.
Homo sapiens have not since had a group of thought leaders who have had such influence over the entire species. They allowed the left brain of man (success-driven) get out from under domination by the right brain (survival-driven). Our species has not had such a revolution since.
The thought leaders of the Axis Age established left brain input as a partner with our right brain in guiding our human destiny – both on the group and the self levels. Prior to that time, the right brain was largely in control at our species command level. These thought leaders essentially established the rules by which the balance between right and left brains interacted at the group, or civilization level. The rules they established can be seen today in the differences between current major civilizations.
Each of us, as an individual, carries the left-right and self-group balance in our own mind. This serves as the fundamental basis for the axes established by Carl Jung. Our individual leanings cause our personality typing according to the theories of Carl Jung. The primary Jungian axis is Self (Introvert) vs group (Extravert). Another Jungian axis is our orientation towards left brain (Thinking) or right brain (Perceiving). The third Jungian axis (S/N) is our orientation to the sense (vision or speech) or the cognitive skills based thereon.
Figure. The thought leaders of the Axis Age established the left brain input as a partner with our right brain in guiding our human destiny. This partnership, along with the self/group leanings, purely created 2 of the 3 Jungian axes. The third Jungian axis (S/N) is our orientation to the sense (vision or speech) or the cognitive skills based thereon.
Buddha, Confucius, and Socrates created the opportunities for these behavioral axes. The ego was now recognized and heard at the species command level with the left and right groups. Individualism had emerged as an element in the behavior of our species. We could say that it became programmed into us through the common neural circuitry that we are able to develop (Ramachandram).
“Survival” will always trump “success” as a motivator. Therefore, our species command comes to us through the right brain sense of group. Although species command comes to us through the vision-based right brain, it almost certainly comes to us from a deeper level than that. Life began on this planet about 4 billion years ago, and also appears to have come from space via meteorites (amino acids discovered on meteorites, Birth of the Earth, History Channel). Our vision-based cognition only goes back about 570 million years ago.
The history of Homo sapiens on this planet has been the story of the emergence of our speech-based left brain cognition. The major left brain steps up to the Axis Age are:
- Speaking enables our separation from animals and conquering the earth
- Our left brain abilities enable us to harness nature for our own use with agriculture and animal domestication.
- The Universal God of Abraham is likely an application of the left brain to the concept of God.
- The Axis age, when the left brain steps up to play a role in human governance along with the right brain sense of group. This is accompanied by, and enabled by, emergence of the individual (ego) at large group levels.
Giants of the Axis Age
The teachings of each of these 3 giants (Buddha, Confucius, and Socrates) had significant and different effects upon how the left brain and right brain senses of group interacted in the guidance of the group. Their different theories on truths about life served as the foundations for different civilizations and cultures. These differences are still existent and very apparent in civilization differences today. In fact, their ideas have blossomed and are more influential today than during their lives.
Buddha, India, approximately 563 BCE to 483 BCE
The history of India goes back to the Harappan Civilization (2500-1500 BCE) which was located in the Indus River Valley in current day Pakistan and NW India. Much is yet to be known about the Harappan Civilization, but it appears to have been well-developed by the standards of the day. Their written language has not yet been de-coded. It appears that the Aryans, a people not yet well-identified, settled the Harappan Civilization from the north.
The Harappan Civilization failed, likely because of climate change affecting the monsoons and/or depletion of forest resources. From there, humans settled in the Ganges River Valley in the north of current-day India.
The origins of the caste system are not known, but it appears to go back to the Harappan era. The caste system is a rigid system in which a person’s role in life is defined by the caste into which they are born. Although this system is now forbidden by current governments, remnants still remain in India today. The caste system is probably a vestige of a right brain dominance hierarchy system.
Many thinkers emerged in the Ganges area. The most famous and influential was Siddhartha Gautama (563 BCE to 483 BCE) – who came to be known as “Buddha” which means "awakened one" or "the enlightened one." He attained enlightenment sitting under a pipal (fig) tree, now revered as the Bodhi tree in the Gaya District of India. He came from a princely caste but then set out on a road trip seeking truth and enlightenment. He and 5 disciples wandered the Ganges plain preaching for 40 years. His last words were: “All created things must pass. Strive on diligently.” Buddha’s teachings remained local for 200 years.
Buddhism has become a complex life-guidance system with several nuances, sects, and even disagreement among Buddhist leaders. Below I attempt to summarize the essential aspects of Buddhism.
First of all, Buddhism does not teach a God, in fact it is atheistic. Buddhism is based upon pure morality and universal values. Buddhism is also very introspective and teaches that we can find truth about life through such introspection. Hence, meditation is a part of Buddhism.
A central part of Buddhist teaching is the 4 Noble Truths:
- Life means suffering. Because we and the world in which we live are imperfect, we necessarily endure suffering in life. Life can also contain happy events, but in the end life is imperfect and not permanent. Suffering and death are inevitable parts of life.
- The origin of suffering is attachment. Suffering comes to us because of our attachments to things in life. We have attachments to physical objects, ideas, and to the “self”. Our attachments come in such forms as passion, lust, desire, pursuit of fame and wealth, craving, and clinging. All things in life, including the “self”, are transient in nature, therefore attachments necessarily lead to suffering. Belief in God is simply one of the attachments.
- The cessation of suffering is attainable. Suffering can be overcome by removing its causes. We can eliminate suffering if we can unmake or lose our cravings and conceptual attachments. We need to become dispassionate about all attachments and then can end our suffering and attain the state of Nirvana. Nirvana is freedom from worries, troubles, complexes, fabrications and ideas.
- The path to the cessation of suffering. Buddha describes the Eightfold path to end suffering. The path is the middle way between self-indulgence (hedonism) and self mortification (self-punishment).
We typically have rebirth into several subsequent lifetimes. This re-birth can build upon the strides we have made in previous lives along the path leading to the end of suffering.
The “self” is actually an illusion. Each of us is simply a part of life that is the Universe. In this way all living things are connected. Buddhism teaches respect for all living things. This is why animals are treated so respectfully in Buddhist countries and vegetarianism is common.
In effect, Buddhism is based upon the following principles:
- The four noble truths and the path to end suffering
- Respect for all living things
- Compassion for others and non-violence
- Seek truth through behavior and introspection
- Life is universal
- The self is illusory and just part of life
Figure. The Buddhist sensory mind. Universal Life, coming from the right side, is central to the Buddhist world. The rules of life, or the Buddhist life teachings, structure the individual thoughts and relationships with the group. The “self” is considered illusory, and because of the respect, compassion and non-violence towards others and all living things, group is emphasized over ego and self. Success is defined as attaining enlightenment, or Nirvana. Nirvana is difficult to explain because it codifies a right brain concept.
The Buddhist sensory mind, shown in the Figure, is very different than the earlier God and right-brain based models. God is replaced by a universal life that is in all living things. The Buddhist life teachings de-emphasize the ego and self and instead favor good relationships with the group and other living things. Perhaps most importantly, success is defined in spiritual terms (enlightenment) and not in earthly pleasures. Buddhism and its subsequent influences on countries such as India has always been pacifist.
Emperor Ashoka the Great (273–232 BCE) unified the Indian sub-continent as the Mauryan Empire. He was so appalled by the personal horrors of one of his bloody conquests that he converted to Buddhism. Thereafter he renounced violence and promoted Buddhism by building stupas (Buddhist religious monuments) and enjoining all those in the empire to follow the Buddhist ways including respect for all living things.
Ashoka the Great also sent emissaries to various countries, even as far west as Greece, spreading the wisdom of Buddhism. Ashoka’s acceptance and propagation of Buddhism is largely responsible for its widespread acceptance and influence in India and elsewhere, perhaps even more influential than Emperor Constantine’s affect on the spread of Christianity.
Hinduism is not the same as Buddhism, but Buddhist teachings are strongly incorporated into Hinduism. The roots of Hinduism pre-date Buddha and are contained in very old writings such as the Vedas and the Mahabharata. Neither authors nor time of origins of either document are well known. The Mahabharata is an epic tale of a war that scholars have not yet been able to identify. It is fair to say that the teachings in these documents and their events served as a back drop for the teachings of Buddha.
Hinduism is the religion of South Asia, and perhaps more specifically, of India. The teachings of Buddha are heavily incorporated in Hinduism.
The effects of Buddhism were strongly displayed through the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi leading to the end of British occupation of India in 1948. The Indians were effectively able to end British rule through non-violence and simply standing up for what was right. The Indians lost some battles in which they simply stood up and didn’t fight, but they won the overall “war”.
Confucius, China, 551 BCE – 479 BCE
China was the last of the great Civilizations to develop independently in the Old World. The Chinese civilizations developed 1,000 years after the Mesopotamian Civilizations, or about 2,000 BCE. By tradition, and probably pre-dating Confucius, the Chinese have great respect for their lineage and the wisdom of their ancestors.
Confucius strongly believed in the good in life and taught that individuals and states should be moral. The teachings of Confucius are largely contained in 5 ancient Chinese books which have served to guide Chinese society, government, literature, and religion. One of these books, the I Ching, is famously recognized as a Chinese book of wisdom. Confucianism became the state ideology in 136 BC and remained in that role until the early 20th century.
Confucian philosophy emphasizes personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. Ritual and reverence for ancestors are large parts in maintaining moral order. These values serve as a foundation for Chinese culture.
Confucianism, like Buddhism, is not based upon a God. Instead, it is based upon sets of moral principles attributed to “Tao”. Tao is the harmonious system of earth, nature and the cosmos. Tao is a right brain concept and difficult to describe. It is rather like a doctrine or principle representing the fundamental harmony and natural order of the universe. Tao is the source of harmony of nature. Tao refers to the ideal morals and ethics. Nature is the source of harmony.
Confucius teaches that everyone should be taught what is good. If people are taught what is good, then their behavior will be accordingly and enforcement will not be required, resulting in a society that is harmonious with nature. It is especially important to teach good to rulers. Everyone needs to be taught good from bad – this results in the ideal government.
Chinese rulers are said to have the Mandate of Heaven. This is a traditional concept similar to the European Divine Right of Kings, but different in a major way. The Divine Right of Kings is blessed by God. The Mandate of Heaven depends upon the talents and conduct of the particular ruler at being moral and virtuous. The Mandate of Heaven is not obtained by birth and the mandate can be withdrawn for rulers who are not good. The Mandate would transfer to the person who would be good.
Figure. The Confucius sensory mind. Tao, or life truth and harmony, comes from the right side and represents the ideal. The goal is to teach “good” to people and rulers in order to create a harmonious society. Confucius emphasized that the needs and good of the group were more important than those of the individual.
Until 200 AD, China was isolated; they did not interact with or need anything from the outside world. With the opening of the Silk Road, trade and contact with India and points east developed. India was the primary part of the world that was opened to China at that time. China was already very spiritual, as encapsulated in the teachings of Confucius. The main thing that China wanted and took from India was the spiritual teachings of the Buddha, which have been at least partly included in current Chinese culture and religion.
The Chinese have never developed the concept of a God. The Western idea of a personal God does not exist in China. However, the rituals and morality belief system of Buddhism was easily accepted in China.
Around 1000 AD, when the West was stuck in its Dark Ages, China became the most populous nation on earth, and also was self-sufficient. They liked their isolation. Confucian wisdom was leading them during these Golden Ages. The wisdom of the ancestors remained extremely important.
In the 15th century, the Chinese government began to move away from isolation and supported Admiral Cheng Ho in Chinese exploration by sea. Cheng Ho was able to explore the south of Asia and establish potential trade relationships with India. However, the Chinese leaders then stopped Cheng Ho’s explorations. His ships were withdrawn and the Chinese no longer continued this exploration - despite its economic and trade advantages. After this short opening-up experiment, China decided that isolation better suited their civilization.
The West, in particular Britain, effectively invaded China in the 18th century. During the opium wars, the British openly sold opium to the Chinese people in direct opposition to prohibition by the Chinese government. When the Chinese objected, the British demolished the Chinese fleet, established complete control, and the Chinese government collapsed.
In 1949 the communists took control of China amid great fanfare. For 40 years the communist party engaged in a cultural revolution, during which time they attempted to expunge all Chinese tradition.
Socrates, Greece, 469 BC–399 BC
The roots of current Western Civilization are found in ancient Greece. Although there were many great contributors from the Greek classical era, most would acknowledge the primary thought leader is Socrates. He was an Athenian philosopher who is known for the “Socratic method” of continued questioning and not taking a point of view until the person being questioned arrives at the answer. Socrates is acknowledged as a great teacher, but did not directly leave us any writings. He is famous mostly through the writings of his student Plato (427 BC -347 BC) and Plato’s student Aristotle (384-322 BC).
These Greek philosophers were the first to explore and define human deductive reasoning and logic. They also made significant contributions to development of the scientific method. In effect, they were the thought leaders who examined the left brain thinking capabilities and placed them in a leadership role.
The Greeks developed an intellect and intellectual methods that still astound today. During a period of only about 400 years they engaged in a conscious inquiry into life and nature. Many of the issues with which they dealt may seem trivial to us today. However, at that time they were just being discovered. For example, Thales came to the conclusion that the world could be understood by human investigation and that we did not need to rely on gods to explain everything – a major step forward. Thales also proposed that observable objects in the world can be reduced to more fundamental components such as water and earth. Democritus actually proposed the concept that the world is built from a finite set of building blocks such as atoms. However, like many Greek discoveries and ideas, they lay fallow until the Renaissance almost 2,000 years later. The Greeks also discovered arithmetic and geometry, even identifying some of the unique relationships such as between the diameter of a circle and its circumference (π) and the Pythagorean equation that relates the square of the hypotenuse in a right triangle to the sum of the squares of its other 2 sides. Hippocrates began the scientific study of the body and health and is considered the father of medicine. Herodotus is considered the first historian. This brief list does not even begin to cover all of the academic areas developed by the Greeks.
The works from Socrates and his students are still considered to be seminal developments in philosophy and other sciences. They investigated perception, moral truths, human reason, logic, politics, human inter-relations, division of the sciences into specialties, among many others.
It is no wonder, that even today, the Greek philosophers continue to be studied. This was the first true coming of the left brain as a centerpiece in leading the affairs of humans. The Greeks were uncovering totally new territory. They were able to explore this virgin territory unencumbered by subsequent discoveries and evolutionary mind development. Today our minds are much more filled with left brain complexity. They were certainly closer to the core of operation of the left brain and its relationship with the right brain than anyone today could possibly be. Since they were discovering new ground, they were able to describe and analyze human reasoning and thought in a manner never since possible. Greek philosophy is still a standard bearer today.
The Greeks did not have a clearly defined religious doctrine. There was no enforced religion. Instead they had a pantheon of gods, each of whom was a specialist in certain areas. For example: Poseidon was god of the seas, Hermes god of merchants, Ares god of war, Hades god of the underworld, Aphrodite goddess of love and beauty, etc. In addition there were numerous mythical heroes and heroine such as Atlas, Phoebe and Eros who interplayed with the gods. The Greek religion consisted of mythology about their gods and other fictitious characters.
The Greek mind was primarily concerned with human reasoning and abilities. The main function of the Greek mythological tales seemed to be to account for those things they could not reason.
The Greeks also introduced democracy – the concept that all people are equal and that governance should be by representation of people. Democracy enables people to vote their will – whether reasoned or felt. On an individual level, both the right and left brains are included in making voting decisions.
Reason and logic and deduction are distinctly human characteristics associated with our ego. They are part of the verbal thought process of the left brain. Reasoning emphasizes one’s own sense of ego. Reasoning leads to individualism. This sense of individualism did not exist in governance of the ancient civilizations that were organized primarily around non-verbal right brain beliefs and instincts about the world into which their members were born.
Development of reasoning and logic also leads directly to a greater sense of individualism, because reasoning and logic are distinctly associated with mental activity experienced by the ego. This larger sense of individualism directly leads to democracy – which the Greeks famously implemented.
Figure. The Greeks emphasized the left brain in both individuals and also in group leadership with the introduction of reasoning. The method of organizing the group was democracy, which enables individuals to vote with both their left brain thinking and their right brain feelings. Science became the method used to define the truth about the world. Individual human reasoning and group thoughts interacted with and were guided by science. They had a pantheon of gods who were more mythological than fundamental. The goal was advancement of the society.