Civilization - Look Around You

Look around you.  Are you as amazed as I by all of the things around us?  ….buildings, refrigerators, the computer I’m currently using, music from a radio, the ceramic mug from which I drink tea from China…………  These are all provided by of our current civilization.  Civilization is a product of the collective efforts of humans.  It is testament to our cooperation with one another. Without such cooperative efforts, we would not have all of this.  Frankly, I could not even make the chair in which I sit were it up to my individual efforts.  Our civilization is truly amazing – as have been past civilizations.

Civilization is a strange thing.  It is totally created by and dependent upon humans, yet much of it is inanimate and exists outside each of us.  A large part of civilization is also inside each of us – witness the rules, ethics and behavioral patterns by which we interact with one another.  Another interesting aspect of civilization is that it endures beyond the life of each individual.  Civilization continues as a part of the species despite the fact that individual humans are each part of it (and contribute to it) for a relatively short and finite period of time.  In many respects, civilization is a better definition of the human species than is any single human being.

Figure.  Civilization is largely a result of our group think ability.  It is the grandest expression of our left brain group-think abilities.  The foundation, however, of our groups and civilizations is based in our right brain sense of group that comes from the animal world.


And, yes, civilization does advance.  Oh my - how it advances!  Today we witness advances in civilization on a daily basis: new electronic implementations, cell phones, advanced medical treatments, biotechnology, the world wide web, and space travel.  My generation has witnessed (and developed) all of the above in addition to landing on our moon, development of the inter-state highway system, air travel that is accessible to most people, color television, and personal computers.  The previous generation witnessed (and developed) refrigeration, nuclear bombs, jet travel, and television.  The generation before that witnessed (and developed) the first automobile and first air flight;  the generation before that witnessed (and developed) the first harnessing of electricity and the light bulb; and the generation before that contributed the Industrial Revolution, and before that…..on and on.

It has been said that: “We stand on the shoulders of giants who have gone before us.”  My only issue with the statement is that nearly every person’s shoulders are used to help others – not just the giants.  That being said, however, standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us is precisely how civilization is built.  We are all still standing on the shoulders of the unknown person who invented the wheel.  But, once it was invented, it became part of civilization and all future generations were able to use it.   The same is true about the first humans who domesticated plants to create crops of food; those who created the first alphabet; the Greek philosophers; Alhazen and mathematical principles; Newton’s understanding of light and color, Galileo’s understanding of gravity, astronomy and the universe; Descartes and his structural description of the world, Gutenberg and the printing press; the Wright brothers and air flight; Edison and the light bulb and phonograph; and the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, and Gucci and Madonna for music and style.  The list of giants is larger than any encyclopedia. 

Today, children have toys with wheels at the age of 18 months, Greek logic is part of the rules they are taught when they begin speaking, they learn on computers by age 3, and even Einstein’s theory of relativity is taught in grade school science.  The contributions of giants are incorporated into the base knowledge and experience of most humans – they become part of civilization.
Civilization is built by standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.  Our group think abilities have been cumulative and built upon those who have gone before us.  This has enabled us to conquer the planet.

Humans today have a much greater knowledge base and understanding of the world around us than any previous generation of humans – but does that mean that we have a greater mental capacity than those who have gone before us?  There is considerable scientific debate about brain evolution.  It is possible that our brains are anatomically and/or physiologically more advanced than those who preceded us by 100,000 years (first homo sapiens), 60,000 years (first art) or even by 12,000 years (first agriculture).  However, the advances of civilization we are witnessing within recent generations are occurring much faster than brain evolution can occur.  This suggests that most of the advances are due to collective knowledge of civilization and not necessarily due to evolutionary changes in the brain.  Because humans continually build on the contributions of previous generations, each generation benefits from those previous discoveries and the collective knowledge.  Each generation inherits a higher level of civilization – the base level of knowledge and understanding continually increases from one generation to the next. 

It would also be completely unfair to list only the “giants” as contributors to the advance of civilization.  Don’t most of us stand on the shoulders of our parents? …relying on them to introduce, train, and educate us to the contemporary civilization around us?  And, how about our school teachers?, the librarian who helps us select the correct written materials?, the car mechanic who keeps our automobile running so that we can continue going to work?, the doctor who heals us so that we can continue our own personal contributions?, or the entertainer who puts a smile on our face so that life has more meaning? 

It is not only the “giants” that have contributed to civilization – most people contribute in some way to civilization.

We truly do stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.  Civilization is much like an enduring structure that each of us inherits – a birthright in life.  But we not only inherit it – we also each add to it.  We each are part of the collective group think.  We each have it in us.

There is a civilization that continues and grows beyond each and every one of our lives.  Civilization is a product of human beings.  It is dependent upon human beings en masse, but not dependent upon any single human being.  There is something very strong and powerful that connects humans with one another and enables us to work together and contribute above and beyond the contributions of past generations in order to continue the advancement of Civilization.  It is truly amazing that this happens despite the life and death of all the millions of individual humans who each contribute to it.  Civilization endures from generation to generation and is truly a product of human beings as a whole – but it also relies upon our individual contributions.

Civilization is a result of our left-brain group think, which sits atop our strong sense of “group” embedded in the right brain.