If intellect is the engine that drives the vehicle known as man, it is emotion that provides its fuel. Self-awareness and rationality separate mankind from the rest of the animal kingdom, placing him at the top rung of the hierarchy. Yet, emotions – both positive and negative – provide us the impetus to employ our intellectual abilities to gain mastery over our environment. But, like gasoline and other fuels, emotion is highly volatile and its instability can cloud or even blind reason, making one more animal-like than human.
Man’s freedom and dignity lie in judicious use of his intellectual capacity. Lower orders within the animal kingdom and other less highly advanced forms of life act instinctually, based upon pre-programmed sets of instructions. The behavior of such life forms is completely predictable, following established patterns or natural laws. A thinking being, conversely, may choose to adhere to some regimen or from a virtually limitless array of prospective responses. Such choices offer man the unique opportunity to create and innovate.
The creative act is both life-affirming and necessary for the advancement of man and civilization. It springs from a primal urge in the human species to understand the origins of life itself and the process that led to the creation of a universe from nothingness. By mimicking this process, man can aspire to the level of the Force or Being responsible for its creation.
Virtually all of the globe’s cultures have produced myths to explain the creation of the world and the place of Man in its Creation. The Judeo-Christian tradition, as illuminated in Genesis, has God creating the world in six days. On the sixth day, God creates wild beasts, livestock, and reptiles upon the Earth. He then creates Man and Woman in His “image” and “likeness” and gives Man dominion over all the Earth and its creatures.
Man individually and mankind collectively have never been entirely comfortable with this authority. Adam and Eve, the mythical ancestors of the entire human race, desired the knowledge and creative genius of their own Creator. Thus, when tempted, they each ate of the fruit of the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil,” only to learn that with power comes responsibility. Living, to that point, in a state of ignorant bliss, they learned, via the knowledge imparted them by the act of eating the fruit of the “Tree,” the duality of nature. With good comes evil; with happiness, sorrow; with life, death. Whether fueled by envy or simple curiosity, Adam and Eve – by virtue of the intellect with which they had been endowed – could not simply exist in an artificial “Paradise,” but were driven by their emotions and passions to question the nature and source of their existence.
The search for knowledge about ourselves, our world, and our universe has been the quest of mankind for as long as man has roamed our planet. Philosophers, theologians, mathematicians, and scientists have all participated in the search, each from his own perspective, for the truth about human life and its origins. Whether their conclusions are termed belief, theory, or empirical fact, they have all advanced our understanding of ourselves.
As the “Fall” from grace taught Adam and Eve, mankind, like the rest of nature, possesses a dual nature. He has a physical body under the control of a mind and animating spirit. He has an intellect that is capable of deducing patterns and theorizing universal laws from apparently random stimuli in the natural world. Yet, his cognitive abilities are frequently tempered and even stifled by fear and other negative emotions.
True to the duality of nature, mankind’s greatest advances come with a cost – the negation of contradictory beliefs and theories, no matter how long or widely held. And since the believers or theorists are vested in their respective beliefs and theories, the refutation of same is not a cause for celebration, but rather for contention. The heliocentric model of the universe posited by Copernicus and later championed by Galileo met with severe criticism by Church authorities who considered it heretical to Christian belief. Tried by the Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (commonly known as the Inquisition) in 1633, Galileo recanted his position and spent the last years of his life under a form of house arrest.
This is but one of a virtually infinite number of examples of mankind deterring advancement of knowledge and progress. Spurred on by desire and held back by fear, mankind is in a constant state of turmoil. His progress resembles not so much a flight of stairs as it does a wave in which every peak is followed by a valley. And yet, we continue to progress however fitfully.
Today, science and technology can open doors to a level of knowledge and cultural advancement never before available to mankind. We can truly achieve the unachievable and know the unknowable, if we but have the courage and willingness to set aside our established beliefs and preconceived notions if they are proven false. If we discover new Truths about ourselves and our universe, nothing really changes except our perceptions.