The following is excerpted from The Heart-Mind Matrix: How the Heart Can Teach the Mind New Ways to Think, available from Inner Traditions.
A humankind abandoned in its earliest formative stage becomes its own greatest threat to its survival. –Maria Montessori, M.D.
Holding in mind the well-known and well-worn issue of Charles Darwin's first opus, The Origin of Species, based on genetic mutation, selectivity, and survival of the fittest of those mutations, we will here consider his equally great second, ignored, and almost unknown work, The Descent of Man. In this second work, representing the later and more mature half of Darwin's life, he shows how humankind arose through the "higher agencies" of love and altruism. Selectivity and survival, being foundational, are retained, but in service of this higher and more complex life-form.
The issue of this higher evolutionary cycle found in The Descent of Man (hereafter referred to as "Darwin II") lies with nurturing, which instinct gives rise to, fosters, and allows love and altruism. This aspect of Darwin's life-work, as clearly articulated by David Loye's excellent little volume, Darwin's Lost Theory of Love, has been grievously ignored. Consider some of Darwin's essays and interests of this later period, such as "Selectivity in Relation to Sex and Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animal," and his interest in the work of Ernest Haeckel, Lamarck, and Goethe. And how does one account for such ignored sentiments found in Darwin II as, ". . . aiding the weak to survive . . . the instinct of sympathy, the noblest part of our nature . . ."? Where now a species of tooth and claw, and why have such negative myths been accepted while ignoring the deeper, more spiritually inclined aspects of Darwin's genius?
Nurturing proves to be not only the way by which this human species arose out of its animal ancestry; it proves to be the only way by which we evolved creatures can then be fully developed, from conception to maturity. Nurturing is the staff and stuff of human life, the one indispensable necessity, yet now having become so rare.
Our most ancient origins, as found in The Origin of Species (hereafter, "Darwin I"), can be graphically traced in the parade of skulls preceding us. We were announced quite visibly, so to speak, some brief forty to fifty thousand years ago, by the appearance of a brain case with an abnormally large area directly behind the orbit of the eyes, in the frontal-most part of our skull. (Observe the striking difference of profiles of the earlier Neanderthal and later Cro-Magnon, assumed to be the first fully human creature.) This bulging forehead houses a prefrontal cortex setting us off quite markedly from all our forebears. This particular neural grouping constitutes the high point of evolution to date, a large addition to the threefold structure found in the heads of our nearest evolutionary kin, such as the Neanderthals.
Darwin II attributes this addition to the nurturing of love and altruism.
Nurturing both gave rise to, and is the combined effect of, love and altruism — which in this book we will come to understand as a typical "mirroring" or "strange loop" effect. Whatever its roots, nurturing sustained us for millennia and what should have been human life thereafter, with the sky the limit to what such a system could do.
Somewhere along the way, however, nurturing was compromised. It was diluted and adulterated to the point of being sidetracked, insignificant to the point that it finally lost out to survival concerns, to varying extent and in different climes and times. Today, nurturing, as needed by our species and the Earth, has all but disappeared. Pockets of nurturing remained, even into the mid-twentieth century, in a few remote and isolated human groups. The societies they depict offer us critically needed models to study and examples to emulate, if we are to recoup our loss of this major evolutionary tool, as nurturing proves to be.
Mirror to Mirror
Which Reflection Comes First?
The reason such an evolutionary setback as loss of nurturing became near-permanent wherever it occurred, is simple, ironic, and can happen rapidly. A prime example is Jane Goodall's account of a rogue ape, victim of a failure of nurturing, who upset the social structure of his whole ape-troop. In the case of our unnurtured humankind, and in spite of our vastly superior brain, we were caught up in a deluge of self-inflicted disasters of every description, multiplying at every level, that followed on the heels of our nurturing failure. The irony is that the intensity of our crisis and its near-permanent status thereafter arises from, and can be attributed to, our very "superior brain." It takes some extraordinary brilliance and creativity to make the incredible mess we have made on this good Earth.
Precisely as Maria Montessori warns, we were so immediately absorbed in surviving the results of our own reactive patterns — brought on by failure of nurturing — that we had no time, energy, or interest to reflect on how or what happened, or was happening, to us. This is our condition today, where such loss and projection onto others "out there" of the causes of such loss, have been replicated age by age. Our survival concerns have greatly expanded and changed with the times, since the sharper this new intellect of ours, the deeper our crisis.
And we are getting correspondingly smarter intellectually while less intelligent. Intellect, a head-based operation incorporating ever more complex variations and applications, each needing further explications and qualifications, has become separated from intelligence — the automatic and natural state of the heart that brings coherence.
The Cultural Counterfeits
A counterfeit is a duplication of an original, from crude resemblance to those so nearly exact as to defy all but the trained observer. But no matter how apparently perfect the counterfeit is, minor, near-insignificant differences are always present, and will eventually bring ever greater problems in application. Meanwhile, the most minor miss in the fit multiplies into a major one through continual use.
To grind on this a bit, failure to nurture expresses in such a myriad of constantly branching critical problems that all objectivity suggesting a possible cause is lost in the mounting dysfunction. This leaves us aware only of the dysfunction, which by then is considered natural, or "the human condition." I spelled this out in the chapter, "Time Bomb in the Delivery Room," in my 1977 book, Magical Child. This effort did nothing to counter the effects of that delivery room, or time bomb, years down the road, culture being the power it is.
The importance and significance of nurturing as a survival response has, on its loss, brought in its place a mass of cultural counterfeits of nurturing. These counterfeits are "head-based" intellectual conclusions bringing roughly approximate solutions for the missing intelligence; consequently, the inevitable problems inherent in counterfeits eventually appear and absorb our attention. Origins are forgotten. And, though these counterfeits continually betray us, we are constantly seduced by them because of our fundamental needs for nurturing, with which these counterfeits have some vague resonance. Virtual reality, in its myriad of current expressions such as television, computers, and electronic stimuli of endless variety, has almost completely replaced reality as the state of live, direct biological awareness and experience as developed over millennia.
Caught up in trying to make these counterfeits work, such attempts sustain and increase the counterfeit incentives and their power. And those counterfeits, products of our ever-new and ever-sharper intellect, can border on genius itself, although always causing problems at some point, spinning our webs of error and production of counterfeits ever tighter.
Even if these counterfeit structures are analyzed and brought to light, such analyses can only be interpreted through our cultural mind-set. This mind-set automatically counters any possible conflict to itself by its own cultural counterfeit of the analysis itself. This is a largely nonconscious response on our part, simply our mind-set interpreting the information — as it must, in order to maintain itself. We, with a sigh of relief, thankfully accept our culture's counterfeit as the obvious solution for us, thus nullifying any threat of change to the culture or to our mind-set, while locking us into ever deeper disaster. In just such ways, culture is a self-sustaining field-effect with our rationale at its service.
Continually lost in making corrections in our counterfeit world, we cannot regain that benevolence-driven mind-set, which was and is our greatest survival asset and most important feature of being human. In our compulsion to right a fundamentally flawed logical worldview, we lose our connections with and ability to open to the intelligence called for — which is heart-based, not head-based. Long repetitive usage of a flawed logical approach can change brain organization to the point we can become neurally insufficient to the task of seeing the errors in our preoccupation with our counterfeits. Losing access to intelligence, we are left with plenty of "smarts" to maintain the counterfeits, none for opening to the intelligence that could reveal them for what they are.
Our razor-sharp intellect can create and build atom bombs and destroy the very atmosphere of our Earth, but the basic intelligence needed to grasp this fundamental problem of loss of nurturing is gained only by brain-heart development itself. And brain-heart development is a major thrust of the nurturing function itself, which is, in turn, dependent on brain-heart development. In this reciprocal and recursive movement, we find a "strange loop" in which nurturing and brain-heart give rise to each other.
Nurturing should have opened ever-new evolutionary pathways — and still could. Instead, we have locked into a survival mode, which is now considered to be not just the norm, but the "human condition" and/or "human nature." Around and through our automatic survival response we invent an incredibly complex and nonviable environment we must then attend with our whole being, both to survive in such an environment individually, and to maintain that very counterfeit environment itself, whose loss is sensed as a major threat to that worldview we share as our cultural basis, trapping ourselves at every turn.
The failure to nurture results in serious brain-mind alterations, such that any moral-ethical persuasions concerning nurturing become useless, since not really heard. We can hear only that for which we have a receptive capacity. We have had love preached to us for at least two thousand years with virtually no appreciable decrease in violence nor increase in love. Only the state of love can hear that with which it is resonant. This is a classic double bind, a Catch-22. An alternate approach — one I have long promoted — is a straight biological-neurological one that arises from a Darwin II position. In such an approach, the starting point lies in grasping the fourfold nature of our "evolutionary" brain.
History of Our Internal Civil War
One of the earliest neuroscientists to realize that this complex brain structure of ours had evolved out of and from earlier creatures was Paul MacLean, more than half a century ago. MacLean paved the way for our discovery that we have within our skull not one, but four distinct and essentially separate, interactive neural systems, developed over four distinct evolutionary periods. Through the appropriate integration, possible only through nurturing, these four neural systems cooperate as an integrated function in alignment with the heart. Should this fourfold integration fail, we become not only a seriously split system, but brain's intimate connection with heart is seriously compromised — resulting in the aforementioned "human condition."
Split between these basic evolutionary drives, and largely isolated from the intelligence of the heart, we do indeed end up at war with ourselves, individually and socially, each of us with self, split between the intelligence of the heart and a fragmented brain-mind. Self, identified with mind-brain, locks into its most primary survival systems, with culture and its violence reigning supreme.
Teaser image by garlandcannon, courtesy of Creative Commons license.