A short story of all
I am a kind
of person that likes structure. There are three different big parts in life,
made by time: past, present and future. Before, now and later. Each part has
characteristic questions. The past causes questions like "Where do we come
from?", "What made us who we are?", "What can we learn from the past?", "Did we
change?". All questions can be referred to both general mankind AND ourselves in
person. The NOW is my favourite, because the questions refer to the daily life,
the theory to what we call "life". How can we be "good"? How can we lead our
daily life? Or shouldn't we "lead" it but let a god guide us? What can we trust?
What are our values and what does it mean for our behaviour? Oh, many more, I
will come to that later! More interesting questions also arise from the future:
Where do we go? What must happen so that we call ourselves "happy" or
"satisfied"? What are our dreams, hopes, desires, wishes? I want to try to write
about past first, then present, then future.
As you know, I am a scientist, explaining the material part of the world with the laws of Nature (I write it with capital letter "N", because for me the Nature is an entity, something we should have respect for) and facts that we know and that science made visual for us. Of course it must be clear and always in our minds that we can be wrong. Many theories that were widely believed later turned out to be wrong and sometimes we have to change our point of view about the world completely because we find that something we believed was totally crap! But I trust in a few things at least because I believe I understood them. For example the creation of the world. Nobody knows how exactly it happened. But I am quite sure that Earth is not created by a God. This religious believe is very dangerous for the world, because for 1000s of years it made people think we are the center of the universe and the leaders of the planet. Now we know we are not, we are just an ordinary form of life, far developed, but by far not the "best" or "highest" and only on a small planet at the edge of a galaxy in one corner of the universe. How did it come to this? I believe in the Big Bang theory which is reasonably made by Physicists. What was before that remains unknown, I have no idea and I won't make any weird tries to explain it. In this case I can accept that I have no idea. But 15 billion years ago all energy of the present universe was condensed in one single spot which then exploded and released an unimaginable amount of energy in various forms, mainly rays. In a very difficult process the first atoms were formed, Hydrogen, Helium and so on. After a long time (nearly 8 Billion years) the first suns were formed and finally also planets appeared as clusters of silicates and metallic cores. That is how 4 Billion years ago the Earth was formed. After cooling down it formed a hard shell around a hot liquid metallic inner sphere, the surface heavily tortured by outer influences, meteors, sun, heavy eruptions and incredible thunderstorms. The constant rain formed oceans, there was no air as we know it now, just carbon dioxide, nitrogen, ammonia and other reductive gases. Then the unbelievable (but from the chemical point of view unavoidable) happened: In this “soup” lightnings, water and those organic gases formed bigger organic molecules, amino acids, which then formed peptides and proteins. The beginning of life! It took “only” 1.3 billion years from the birth of earth to the first bio molecules. What is so special about those molecules? Why is that life? Well, the most important aspect about life is the reproduction of it. A living organism has to be able to copy itself. Those proteins had this property: they had a defined sequence of small building blocks (the amino acids). It is chemically possible to identify that sequence and produce the same sequence again. This is even more important for the second big class of bio molecules: DNA and RNA. They are the code for the proteins and ensure that an organism always produces next generations of the same kind than itself! Evolution began! As a third class of bio molecules the lipid molecules appeared, forming membranes that enabled a separation of organisms from the environment, like small containers. The first cell was born! I want to skip the description of the molecular mechanisms of evolution, probably that is very boring for you. I just want to point out that the appearance and development of life on earth is not a heavenly act of creation or simply “incidental”, but the consequence of the properties of matter, of atoms and molecules, plus the “perfect” distance of the Earth to the sun, so that the temperature is suitable for the development of life, especially because water is liquid on this planet. I would even go that far to say, it would always happen again like this, and if other planets have similar conditions, life would also appear there! Maybe we are not alone in the universe…
But a few more words about evolution: I think evolution is often misunderstand because of some “emotional” expressions used when talking about it. How does evolution work? In a biochemical process the information-carrying molecule DNA is copied. But Nature is not perfect and therefore sometimes mistakes occur. A new generation can be slightly different from its parents, because of genetic differences. Let me tell some examples:
· In a primitive cell a certain protein is responsible for a certain step in the organisms metabolism. During the duplication of DNA for the cell division an error happened and that protein can not be produced as usual. In one of the resulting cells the protein looks a little different and can not fulfil its task. The metabolism is disturbed and the cell dies after a short time, without producing more new generations. This mutation turned out to be too disadvantageous and the organism had no chance to become a new form of life by giving its DNA to next generations.
· A multicellular organism has several membrane proteins that enable that membrane to react on temperature differences (for example it regulates its density and makes it not fall apart in hot media). Again a mutation occurs during the duplication of DNA. This time the modified protein still works and is even better in doing its work, for example it makes the membranes more stable and makes it possible for the organism and - even more important – all its next generations to explore a new biotope (for example warmer water). A “new” kind of organism can spread…
· A more complex example: Two young rabbits play on a field, a hawk finds the two and rushes down to catch and eat one of them. One of the rabbits is a little faster, has a faster reaction, better eyes or is simply in better health conditions, so that he can escape. The other rabbit is caught and killed. The “stronger” rabbit has still a chance to give his DNA to his children who then also have this “better” properties, whereas the “weaker” rabbit can not have children, because due to its inferiority it “lost” against the other rabbit.
The last example sounds a little cruel and some aspects have to be explained. Of course it is not a fight or competition between the two rabbits. We often apply “human” standards to nature, but that is wrong and leads to false emotions. We always remember terms like “selection”, “survival of the strongest”, and “fight”. But even more important for evolution are harmless terms like “balance (or equilibrium)” and “niche”. “Balance” here means, that the complete ecological system on earth with all (really ALL) its organisms is balanced in a complex intertwined network of interactions. The extent of a population is always determined by other populations, by natural environment (climate, geology, ocean streams, etc.) and changes of those. Therefore every kind of organism has its own position in that system just because it is perfectly adapted to that conditions and that position is not occupied by another kind. We call that “ecological niche”. Such a “niche” can be the area (desert, forest, mountains, tundra, ocean, etc.), but is also limited by temperature range, number of enemies, amount of available food and others. Every kind of creature eats someone (or something) else and is also eaten (or “consumed”) by someone else (well, plants do not “eat” anyone, but they “feed” the system with energy by transforming CO2 with light irradiation into O2 and biomaterial). The often cited “fight for survival” does not refer to individual creatures, no ethical, moral or human measures can be applied. There is no “poor suppressed weak” and no “evil superior strong”, who mercilessly kills the weak one. Neither for the relation between hunter and prey, nor for competitors within one population would this be valid. The first (hunting and eating) is a natural phenomenon, which is absolutely necessary for the survival of creatures and for the maintenance of the balance. The second is even not a fight in that meaning, but just a competition for higher chances to survive, therefore no measures of fairness can be applied here, because there is no one opposing against someone else. The two rabbits in the example do not regard their selves as competitors; maybe from a rabbit’s point of view they are something like friends, maybe the surviving one will even cry for the killed one. But in the long range the rabbit population will be stronger, because the next rabbit generation will get the better skills. This is “natural selection” and the reason why there are so many “perfect” creatures on earth. The non-perfect ones had smaller chances (or no chances) to produce next generations and disappeared. Even perfectly adapted creatures die out from time to time, usually after their niche changed too much. Whenever organisms are too inflexible with their conditions (for example they need a very special kind of food, or can only live at a certain temperature range of 0.5°C). After a sudden change they have no chance to adapt to that quickly enough. The most successful creatures are those with high flexibility, like rats, that can tolerate a very large range of temperature. And as we know, the most “successful” creature worldwide is mankind!
Well, this is a VERY short summary of evolution! Of course there are millions of books about it, and a good one needs at least 500 pages to imply the most important basics. I just want to point out by this that the development of life on earth does not need a creator like God, but is the result of natural biological and chemical mechanisms. The variety and obvious perfection does not necessarily need a “designer” or creative “mastermind”. Atomic properties of matter produced molecules, which by their interactions enable dynamic processes that we today call “life”, above all DNA and proteins. The natural conditions on earth, the fact that water is liquid, and the influence of the sun favoured the development of all kinds of forms of life, a dense network of interacting organisms.
I am not exactly sure when and where the line between monkeys and human is. But I think it is even not necessary to know that. More interesting would be to know what supported that development and what the consequences are for mankind. I am a friend of chronological description, as you know, so I want to start my thoughts with the apes (human-like monkeys). They were (and still are) – like all organisms – perfectly adapted to their natural environment, their ecological niche. Their hand and feet had very flexible thumbs so that they can climb and jump in the trees of their biotope. Their brain is set for the recognition of their three-dimensional world, determined by gravity. Up, down, left, right, forward, backwards. They developed a remarkable skilfulness for working on things, which is the basis for the later progress and success of mankind. It brings an obvious and important advantage: making plans for future actions and recognizing the potential of any thing for being a certain utility. To “see” that a branch of a tree after a certain preparation is a good tool for fishing food needs a brain capacity that was not known among animals until that time. Though it is known that also certain birds use branches to reach ants inside their caves (and probably there are more examples), but the apes with their big brain mass were the first who “redesigned” and rearranged their environment to their own benefit. The brain was not only for sensing the environment or controlling the movements of the body anymore, it was also used for the interpretation of the experienced (or sensed) phenomena, self reflection and the knowledge about consequences of actions on future. In the development from chimpanzee to Homo sapiens (the modern human) the mass of the brain increased from 900g to 1500g, but the volume remained nearly constant. The higher weight results from an increasing density of brain cells and a higher number of synapses (connections between brain cells). Shortly said, the evolutionary pressure increased the brain power of the monkeys.
Same as for other organisms this evolutionary process caused a progress of apes into a new biotope. From the dense rainforests in the equatorial areas of Africa the new subspecies of apes explored the much less densely wooded northern savannahs and steppes. Here they faced different requirements to their anatomy. They had to walk much more, because they could not jump from tree to tree anymore. The thumb of the feet was not used to grip anymore but help stabilising the body when walking. The upright walk appeared. Those who could do that had another advantage: at the same time they could walk and with their hands and arms do something different, for example use weapons to hunt prey. Every situation that enables, supports or even enforces complex thinking pushes the development of the brain forward. Since the head now sits upright on top of the backbones and is not plugged on it at its back (as seen for the chimpanzee, for example), there was more space inside the skull, which obviously supported the development of the cerebrum (the biggest part of the brain). The early humanoids improve the use of tools. They do not just use stones and sticks they found, but for example in a simple stone after working on it they see a biface or – tightened on a stick – an axe. They protect themselves against weather and natural influences by building stable housings and fabricating clothes. Next to these immensely improved chances of survival the brainpower brings another much more impacting change: The early human recognises himself! It is known only from a very small number of animals that they have a kind of “I-feeling”. Dolphins for example can recognize themselves in a mirror and also elephants can remove a piece of paper attached to their head after seeing it in a mirror. But no creature is as advanced as man. This self-reflexion goes along with analysing own emotions and feelings, followed by structuring and planning actions. The early humanoid is interested in his environment, tries to understand it. What he does not understand (thunder and lightnings, natural catastrophes, etc.) he fears or mystifies. When he is cold, he tries to find something that warms him, so he learns to control the fire. It is too exhausting to carry a heavy stone, so he tries things making the transportation easier, the invention of the wheel. Like no other animal man experiences time as a fourth dimension in his life. He safes experiences, remembers consciously, plans future and acts goal-directed. That is different from instinct-driven actions or experience-based conditioning, because the big majority of animals is focussed on perceiving and operating on the presence.
Since the early human is no longer restricted to his instincts and drives but is able to additionally collect knowledge, also the interaction with other conspecifics changes. Inside a group the communication goes far beyond what is known among other animals. Experiences can be transducted, an individual does not have to make it by itself for knowing about it. Early man takes part in others emotions and perceptions and develops deeper forms of empathy and group behaviour. Although in principle “social behaviour” is known among animals, but is strongly developed due to communicational possibilities and an increased horizon of perception. Another anatomic specialty favours the humanoids and causes the doubtlessly biggest cultural revolution of mankind: Caused by the new position of the head (compared to monkeys) there is more space in the neck for vocal cords that enable the controlled articulation of sounds. Man learns to talk. Since he perceives the environment consciously and starts to think about the nature of things, it is self-evident to name those things. This has immense implications on the interaction of conspecifics. Every exchange of thoughts, experiences, knowledge and plans is easier and much faster as soon as the community agreed upon a set of expressions. Language intensifies the consciousness of all emotions and thoughts, because man, who more and more also becomes a „social“ creature, has to transform them into words for exchange with other conspecifics; therefore he is concerning himself deeper with them. Education becomes more direct and more efficient, cultures and mentalities are formed. More than ever man is able to abstract and develop fantasy. Man is rooted in nature, perceives it and deals with it because nature is his direct environment, but a distance is created and increased since man starts to regard nature as object of his curiosity and investigation. Feeling forced to have an explanation for everything he uses his direct human experience. For him at first there are just two kinds of things in the world, those that are “dead” (stone, water, wood, etc.) and those that are “alive” (animals, other human, everything that moves). If something moves it is either alive or it was made moving by something alive. A lightning from the sky or the wind moving the trees therefore must be alive or must be sent by something alive. Even the sun which is obviously moving seems to be alive. Man puts mystic upon every natural phenomenon, which is later developing into religions.
It is obvious that due to the development of language and culture man is exposed to a rapidly increasing psychological stress. Although the brain did not change concerning capacity and property since early mankind, it experienced a dramatical increase of demands that are mainly of social and cultural nature. It is worth looking at the brain for a moment. Actually it can be claimed that the brain “grows with its tasks”, a saying that is often true for people. In a groundbreaking experiment it was found that rats brains nearly double the weight from birth on within 14 days. But when cutting the rat babies from all kinds of perception (they couldn’t hear, see, smell, taste or feel anything) their brains development nearly stopped and no significant increase of weight could be observed. It is the same for a human brain and can also explain the already mentioned weight increase at constant volume (increase of synapses). The interconnections are formed whenever the baby needs them for a thinking or perception process. In a long term psychological experiment it could be proven that people have a better understanding of mathematics and geometry when in the first six months of their life they had a wall paper with geometrical colorful figures in their room. This is very impressive in my opinion (and gives me a hint how I want to treat my babies in future…). Without doubt we can state that the brain is the “engine” for the success of mankind on this planet. But at the same time it will probably be his end, too. Biologists call it “excessive organ”. Whenever a life form with an excessive organ appeared, sooner or later it vanished. The saber tooth tigers excessive organ was its saber teeth, the dinosaurs excessive organ was (figuratively) their body size. Mans excessive organ is his brain: too large, too specialized, out of control. Nature is an equilibrium, a totally balanced system. Everything that developed is there because it has its place in it. Man with his brain stepped out of the equilibrium, same as the other mentioned creatures stepped out of it. Mans brain developed to solve short range tasks: ensure the survival, make life easier and understand natural phenomena. Several things went along with it that now make mankind face enormous problems. Whereas most animals live as communities with individuals all on the same level (except when males fighting for females or when protecting breed areas from other conspecifics) man created an unnatural difference due to different strength. Body strength became less important since people made use of tools and weapons. The physically weaker helped themselves with defence strategies and weapons, therefore not necessarily the stronger but also the smarter could win a fight. It sounds cruel, but whereas among non-human animals the hierarchy was totally clear and well accepted (also by the weaker one) and therefore the community was living peacefully, the human animals kept fighting, often to death, causing pain, violence and finally war. Men kill men because they can and because they lost the natural barrier to kill conspecifics. The principle of “power” was born: Stronger people reigning over weaker people. The conditions that determine who is “strong” and who is “weak” are often unjust and often arbitrary or by chance. As already mentioned man was very sensitive for mystics and believe in institutions we now call “god”, often based on fear. This combined with power and early political structures resulted in the most dangerous man-made system we currently have in our world: religions. Fearful believers, guided by a few powerful persons whose interest it is to keep their power (over those believers). Many cruel deeds have been committed in the name of a God, just in order to ensure and guarantee the power of just a few leaders. People are exploited, kept small, forced to give what they have. And they did everything in hope for a merciful god, for a good life after death or for other mystical things the leader promised. Next to all the people killed for not following the leader, one of the worst effects of this system is the people having no chance to lead a free life full of creativity and self-fulfillment. In most religions the believers “learn” that they are worth nothing, that the god-like institution controls the persons life and that all they have to do is just believing. In Christianity it is even said that God forbids Adam and Eve (the first human) to “eat from the tree of knowledge”, because he doesn’t want mankind to have knowledge. Mankind shall not be creative and free in mind, because creative and free people would be dangerous for the leaders (by the way: for the same reason many governments today try to control the information media: they worry that people have their own ideas when knowing too much). Maybe mankind would have much greater inventions and much faster progress if all people would have been free and able to develop their personalities without boundaries into creative, visionary, integrated persons.
The second cruel system I want to talk about is money. The idea was good but at the same time very short-sighted: to overcome the problems of exchanging goods (for example: you have a horse and want to have carrots, you get 500 kg carrots for your horse, but 490 kg of the carrots mould away before you can eat them…) a measure for the value of things is introduced. Everything has a value measured in numbers and you can “buy” something by exchanging the unit (money) for it. The one who “sold” it can use that money to buy something else that he needs. Sounds simple and useful. But the effect is dramatical! From now on everyone needs money to get something. The more money you have the more you can buy and the easier your life is. And since power became the most important principle in the world, people are in a merciless heartless competition: the more you have the more you are. Money made man a slave. A slave of what? That is the weirdest of all: a slave of the system itself! Money forces man to work harder, to get more of it. Without doubt money supported the productivity of human work and progress, but to the highest possible prize: freedom. Power plus mystics made religions. Now power plus money made banks. Maybe a useful money system would be acceptable, but banks make it the cruel system that it is. The bank hands out an amount X of money and wants back X+Y. Y is the interest you usually have to pay when renting money from the bank. But all money in the world comes from a bank, and all want back X+Y. Where does Y come from? An example: You hand out 100 pieces of leather to 10 people, 10 pieces each. They all have to give you back 10+1 pieces, but they have no other leather source. Therefore they all try to get the leather pieces from each other. In the worst case, 9 people can give 11 pieces back and one poor guy will remain with only 1 piece left, he is the looser. This money system can ONLY produce losers. Today we experience that in the worldwide finance crisis with nearly all countries heavily in debts! How can that be? A system that makes us slaves, produces losers (and winners, another man-made “difference”), supports greed, power imbalances, wars, pain and death. All because mankind was thinking only in a short range, intending to make good exchange easier.
A third example is the development of science and technology, with focus on medicine. As described before man always wants to understand and know everything. It can’t be denied that mankind was very successful in solving many secrets of the universe. By physics and chemistry we now understand the properties of matter and can form and control it for our desires and needs, making plastics (for packages and shells in all kinds of shapes and forms), semiconductors (for electronics, especially computer industry), explosives (for mining and space rockets, but also warfare materials like bombs and missiles), fuel (for energy use). Again a very short-sighted view: we forgot to ask questions like “What is it good for? Are we happy when we have it?”. Science and technology as it is performed today supports the growth of social differences, greed and injustice. And the worst of all: it is done without regard of nature and environment. When mankind was smaller and earth was intact the effect of human activity on earth was negligible (that was around 100 years ago). Today the extend of human-made destruction and pollution is so large that mankind has the force (and power) to cause irreparable damage. Another saying tells that “every medal has two sides”. Next to the positive implications of science (enabling progress) and technology (making life easier) there are always also negative ones (causing imbalance, injustice and helping to kill people). Most obvious this is for medicine! Since early mankind people help each other in case of injuries, diseases and emergency situations. But with the development of technology the extent increased without limit. Except a few diseases nearly everyone suffering physiologically or psychologically can be healed. Of course this is desirable on an individual level, but regarding the steadily growing population (less than 1 billion people around 1900, 3 billion in 1980, 6 billion in 2000…) and the limited capacity of earth (concerning natural resources) this is very dangerous. Mankind disturbed the natural balance, even stepped out of the mechanisms of evolution. Another problem I only want to mention briefly is the morals and ethics we have: we can’t let people die, we can’t accept people suffering, therefore we have no choice but watching the human population grow and grow. All attempts to limit the growth are either ethically or physically cruel (like forcing the Chinese people to have one child only, which is a limit of their freedom). Science and technology and especially medicine are driven by “good” intentions, by people who want to help, who want to understand and improve, who want to make life better and easier. But they cause severe problems that mankind will have to deal with in the near future.
Finally, as a last gloomy vision, let me talk about the problem of human self-recognition. The early human who started recognizing himself might have seen himself as part of nature, weaker than most of the animals, exposed to the forces of nature. But with the development of human culture he recognized that he can control and shape his environment. He could even kill stronger animals, cut trees, build things and he could do one thing that no other creature could: talk! In his understanding there is no doubt that he is the leader of the world, the highest of all things, above only God and his angels. In many religions this is expressed by God calling mankind the “crown of creation”, telling him to reign the world. Up to the 17th century people have drawn pictures with the (flat) Earth as center of the universe and mankind as King of the Earth. Early astronomers who found that Earth was round and running around the sun were killed for this godless statement. In Europe it was finally Galileo Galilee who destroyed the human understanding of being the center of the world. Christian church did not accept this view officially until today, because it would lay doubts upon their heavenly explanation of the world. The next person disturbing the human arrogance of being the world’s leader was introduced by Charles Darwin. Following his evolution theory it is hardly acceptable that man is the “highest” creature on Earth. He is just one of millions of kinds of organism, just at the end of one development line (humanoid mammals). But there is no hint that man is worth more than any other organism. He neither is more “successful” (several kinds of bacteria are much more resistible, rats are also ubiquitous, in no physical property human is the best) nor he deserves a special interest from a potential God. How can he justify his claim to be the leader of the world? The third guy who destroyed human self-recognition was Sigmund Freud. After losing the visions of being the center of the world and of being the leaders of Earth we now learned that we are even not the controllers of ourselves. There is this mighty sub conscience that makes us do, say and think everything. What is left for us? We destroy Nature, we reign Earth, we decide about life and death, but finally we have to accept that our arrogance, our self-overestimation, our mischief were wrong.
There is hope. Philosophers, enlightened people, smart people found strategies to lead “good” lives, gave visions of what it means to be “good”. Moral and ethics are widely accepted and some basic rules are set beyond any religious or ideological differences. Our brain has the capacity to make us lead a rich life full of joy and happiness, including making others happy and saving the natural environment. We understand the needs of time, the mistakes we made and make, the insufficiencies we suffer from. We should make use of our brains to solve the problems of our existence. That would be really smart! After all there is love in the people, the basic principle of all. The pursuit of harmony and balance. People have empathy, they feel for those suffering, they identify injustice and evil behavior. All we need is energy to stand up and fight for the ideals we keep inside. Living a life according to own values and virtues can’t be too difficult. We are just too much trapped by our own lack of courage to step out of the ordinary way of life that we learn in our social environment. I call that “the matrix” as you know…
Let me summarize my point of view about the state of the art of mankind: We are nothing but a well organized functional assembly of molecules that enable us to think, imagine, ask questions and turn plans into deeds. We are on a turning point in many concerns: we are slowly understanding and accepting that there is no heavenly fate or destiny, we are not leaders of the world, we have to change our behavior towards Nature and planet Earth, we can’t go on like we do. A little more humility, a little more modesty, a little more love (for people around us, for Nature, for life) and compassion, then we are on a good way.
I talk about “values”, “virtues”, “moral” and “ethics”. Many libraries with 1000s of books try to give definitions of what are “good” values and virtues and what are well-defined and feasible moral and ethical rules. No matter of what might be generally valid, I can at least come to my own conclusions and points of view. Recently I found there are many ways to “judge” a certain behavior ethically. What is important for it? The will or the intention that makes me do something? The outcome of my deeds? Or is it maybe the (justified) guess that others would do it the same way? The first approach is very popular in Germany since it derives from Immanuel Kant, the famous philosopher who can be called the founder of “duty ethics” (deontological ethics). A deed is ethically “good” when the will that makes you do it could be a generally valid law. For example: If you want to steel an apple in a shop you have to ask yourself: “Could a law “It is allowed to steel apples” be accepted by everyone?”, then you would recognize that this law would lead into chaos and many people would not agree to it, therefore your planned deed is ethically wrong. When interpreted a little more flexible one could say, a deed is good when your intentions are good, even if the outcome is bad. Kant even gave an example that many people would not agree to (by feeling): If you hide an innocent person in your home and police comes to you and asks if the person is in your house, you are not allowed to lie (the imagined law “It is allowed to lie.” would not be acceptable), therefore you have to hand out the person, even though it might mean he is killed. That brings up the second approach: ethically OK is what brings the biggest benefit to the biggest number of people. This sounds plausible, but confronts us to big difficulties. It is usually impossible to foresee all the effects a deed might have. Then: How to count the positive and negative effects? There is a famous experiment that shows that this principle does not work: It is a mind experiment about a kind of train accident: a train is out of control and you have to decide what to do in several variations. First: you are inside the train, in front of you the train can take two ways (which you can control by pushing a button that changes the track switch): on the one track five workers are busy and would be killed, on the other only one would be killed. This is quite easy to decide: saving five lives and causing one death is better than letting five people die and saving one life. In another situation you are on a bridge above the railroad together with a very fat man. There is the out of control train coming and the five workers on the railroad. You can stop the train by throwing the fat man onto the railroad. He would make the train stop but definitely die, but the five workers would survive (very unrealistic, but for the sake of the mind experiment let us just imagine). In this case only very few people would do that (kick the fat man onto the railroad) because it is an act of killing. But the outcome would be the same (one man dead, five people rescued). Obviously judging only by the outcome is “emotionally empty” and does not distinguish between active doing and just letting something happen, between being the reason for something and being the mediator of something. The third approach (“Would others do the same?”) is a little more sophisticated. The difference to the first one (follow a will that could be a general law) is that this time we consider other people and not only ourselves. In Kants approach we first think of the law and then the people, in this approach we first think of possibly affected (or involved) people and then the rule that they would agree upon. This is again just a mind experiment and is based on a theory of justice (by philosopher John Rawls). It takes into account that we are social creatures, living in a large community called “society”. All members of the society have certain needs and desires, and they also know more or less what they want others to do and to refrain from doing. Those society members would agree upon rules that on the one hand give them safety and security and on the other hand give everyone what they need. The prize is freedom: the people give a little bit of their freedom to have those compromises that enable a good life. The key point is: these rules are made, discussed and agreed upon by everyone not knowing which person they would be later, including not knowing age, body condition, skin colour, social position, time of living (this or future generation), etc. For example: a rule about how to treat disabled people is most righteous when the ones who make the rules don’t know if they themselves are disabled people. As I said, it is just a mind experiment, but sometimes very useful. A simple example: I enter my apartment building (16 apartments are there) and there is a box on top if the mailboxes, maybe a CD or book delivered to my neighbor. When I see the box I have the impulse to steel it. I wonder if it would be ethically wrong and imagine all neighbors gathering in a meeting and discussing “house rules”. One of the rules everyone would agree upon would be “Don’t steel letters and parcels from the mailboxes”, because everyone might be the one whose things are stolen. With other words: I would not want others to steel my letters, so I also don’t steel other peoples mail. This example is very simple but can be transferred to many other cases where it is a little more difficult.
Sometimes the different ethical principles lead us to totally contrary conclusions in the same situation! Then it might be difficult to know what is right or wrong. I also believe that all those principles (that are mainly of European and American origin) are too much based on thinking and finding universally valid principles. Instead it would sometimes be useful to focus on “emotional ethics” or “ethics of feeling”. Our heart often tells us much more reliable what is good (right) or bad (wrong). Showing empathy, modesty, charity and love to other people would make us much better people than following indisputable reasonable rules. Unfortunately I was educated in a very “reasonable” family. I remember my grandfather often told me “Jan, be reasonable!” when I was a child! The worst he could imagine was doing unreasonable things. He thought all we need to do is think and that would then be the key to a happy life. Thinking will always tell us the best solution. I believed that, because I thought it is smart to think, and smartness is one of the best-valued properties in my country (and in many other countries too). You need to choose what to study? Think, then you will find out! You need to choose a job? Think, then you will know what to do! You need to find out if you love your girlfriend enough to marry her? Think, then you will know! That last example is maybe the worst of all, since love is an emotion. In our modern world we often treat emotions with our ratio, with our brain. To a certain extend it works, but very often it does not work. When you “think” about a deep sadness you might be able to decrease it or remove it, but you will never solve it! If you think about who you love, maybe you find reasons to like someone, but you will never feel the power of a heart crying when missing the beloved one. If you think about the reasons why you are happy you might smile, but if you let the emotion flow you will experience the energy that real happiness can spend! It does not mean that we should always let our emotions flow. Negative emotions like anger, hate, sadness, etc. take energy from us, they make us depressive and gloomy. Ratio is a good tool to help us overcome those feelings in an appropriate way. As mentioned, it would be wrong to play them down, think and think, over and over again, but to control them and solve them. If you feel sad, be sad, cry, but understand that also crying has an end and there will be happiness again. Let the ratio tell you the way to go, the vision to see, but live with your emotion “here and now”. If you are angry, don’t swallow the anger, because sooner or later it will break out and spread its destructive energy. But listen to your ratio that reminds you of the fact that anger also causes anger in return, listen to your ratio telling you that it might be better to ask yourself first what might be the reason to be angry and if it might be possible that you are victim of a misunderstanding. Take your anger serious but also consider the effects of expressing anger. And again: live “here and now”. Are you angry because of an incident in the past? Is it worth to be angry NOW? What about forgiveness or other desirable virtues? People that are too emotional often forget those useful things when their thinking is too much blinded by the strong emotion. People that are too rational often underestimate the destructive force of negative emotions and suffer from keeping them inside. As so often the best way is probably the middle way between the two extremes. Again I must point out that all this are my thoughts and when I write “don’t do this!” or “do that!”, I do not mean it as a rule you have to follow, just express my ideals. Of course I can surely be wrong and if I find a better argument I can easily be convinced.
The emotion-ratio aspect affects so many parts of our lives. Men are said to have difficulties to show emotions, women rather show their emotions uncontrolled and are focusing too much on them. I don’t want to write about this topic (women and men) too much, all I can say is that I try to stand above the gender discussion, try to be not too male and try to learn as much as possible about “female” thinking in order to understand them and to be a good boyfriend (or husband later). Another point arises from thinking of the overflow of information that I mentioned before. Our world is very complicated and exposes us to stress and high demands. Technology accelerated processes that were time-consuming before. But instead of relaxing in the extra-time we have from that, we fill that time with other things that we think we have to do. More work, more running, more hunting, more restless information input. We watch TV, listen to the radio, see advertisement everywhere we go, have to think of job, family, friends, are called on the phone wherever we go, buy things, think about what things to buy and how to afford them, study, gather knowledge, recognize our environment that is more and more filled with man-made things that attract our attention. People have a bad conscience when they stay in bed for one complete day, because they haven’t been efficient or productive. “Doing nothing” is the same as “being lazy” in our modern times. In my opinion this leads to a blunting of our emotions. After watching hundreds and thousands of people dying in the daily news, what must happen to make us do something against poverty in the world? We would maybe participate in the riot against nuclear power plants, but after a long day of work (we have to earn the money to feed the family!) we are too tired to go out. Others will do, it is OK if I stay home today. The world is unfair and unjust, but what can I do? Me, the simple person… No one would listen to me, my voice is not heard, my actions have no effect. People resign, have no visions and feel powerless facing the strong unbreakable system. Religions, politics, false promises made us weak. The zoologist and anthropologist Konrad Lorenz called this “the heat death of emotion”. Overflow. Switched to dummy mode.
What is my plan for my life? What is my strategy to reach the ultimate goal happiness? In one sentence I could say “I want to try to exit the matrix as good as possible in order to be free!”. I guess you would even understand what I mean, but anyway I think I should be a little more precise. What does “exit the matrix” mean? First of all I want to try to identify all the “masters of the matrix”, all the institutions, systems and phenomena that create the matrix around me. I already identified religion, politics, education, culture, mentality, advertisement and other instances influencing my thinking. Then I want to find out their mechanisms of manipulating me, with other words: how they create the matrix. The goal is to be independent from all of them. It does not mean they are bad and it would be desirable to get rid of them. What would I be without education or without culture? But I think it would be good to know in which way they shape and form my thoughts and take influence on my decisions, plans and dreams. Maybe I recognize that some of my decisions, plans and dreams are not really coming from my own free will, but from social factors (everyone does it, so I do it too), from education (my parents or teachers did it, so I do it the same way), from advertisement (I buy something because the product was presented on a red poster, which is my favourite colour) or whatever. I am sure there will be many more factors I will find out in future and I hope I can successfully make myself independent from them. One example where I actually changed something: I don’t drink alcohol anymore. I found the only reason I drink was society. Everyone drinks, so I do too. Everyone seems to have more fun when being drunk, so I drink too. But actually I don’t like the taste of alcoholic drinks very much and after drinking I often felt terrible. Since I stopped drinking alcohol I feel much better, not only concerning health, also mentally because my behavior is in balance with my inner values. I do what I really want and I avoid what I dislike. Finding out what I really want and what I dislike is what I do constantly every day. An important part of my life is making music, as you know. When I moved from Muenster to Bonn I even found a room for my drumset before I found my appartment. Going there and playing drums alone or with my band fills me with joy and satisfaction, making my soul stable and relaxed. I recognized that “pure chemistry” is not really what I want. After a day full of labwork I came home and asked myself “Why am I doing all this?”. It took energy from me instead of giving me energy. I found that I am interested in the ethical questions of science, so I started studying it and tried to push my career into that direction (successfully). I want to try to have no prejudices against anyone. I want to contribute to a “healthy” society by showing good virtues like empathy, modesty, being helpful, kind and friendly to everyone. I want to protect the environment by saving energy, avoiding waste of fuel (by riding bicycle), switching off the light when I don’t need it and other small contributions. I will love my future wife with all my heart, accept the responsibility that I have after giving her the promise of marriage and never let her fall even in difficult times. The love between a woman and a man must be kept alive actively by the two. I want to have children. I think that must be the biggest joy of the world to see the own children grow and develop! But at the same time it is so difficult to “make everything right”. It is nearly impossible to be aware of all the factors that play a role in children’s education (I mentioned the wall paper in the child’s room before…). Maybe the most important thing is to show them love and stability. If even the parents can’t express love and deal with (unavoidable) daily life problems together, how can the children learn it? Together with my wife I want to give my children the love, harmony and stability they need to become “good” people. I don’t care if they are smart, if they are good at school, if they are successful in their job, if they can do something very well… I would also don’t mind if they are disabled or have a mental illness. All I want them is to know what love is, that they can trust their parents and that they can give the same love and trust to their children (my grandchildren). Then I will be a happy grandfather! For all the other aspects of my life (especially those I can’t foresee now) I can just say: I want to keep my eyes open, be awake and aware of everything (especially the unexpected). The more I pull into my conscience the more I can turn into my happiness, the less I will regret later and the more balanced and “good” I will be.