The following points are important to this discussion.
- The brain receives, stores (in temporary as well as permanent locations), and uses information to direct activities that support the body’s welfare. These responses are mostly “hardwired,” the result of millions of years of evolution, and do not involve what we call “thinking.”
- The mind develops as meaningful relationships between stored information (memories) and incoming sensory perceptions are discovered. Mental activities include becoming aware (first-level thinking), noting relationships (second-level thinking), and consciously manipulating information using words and a language.
- Sentient species think (to the extent that this is possible for their species) and act rationally most of the time. To do otherwise reduces the species’ chances of survival because their home (the universe) is rationally (i.e., causally) constructed.
A dropped larynx, vocal chords, time, imagination, and much practice, have changed grunts into sonnets, and caves into space stations. Languages have allowed us to name, record and even tell friends on the other side of the world about the neural-link-forming relationships we discover everywhere we bother to look.
The universe’s causality binds thinking, language and intelligence together. Applying what we have discovered through investigating causality’s consequences enables us to solve problems and make decisions proficiently. Rational thought helps us to survive; it gifts us with understanding and confers a degree of control over objects and events.
Additional layers of mental ability will doubtless accrue as life continues to evolve: heightened empathy, intuitive-like jumps in comprehension, telepathy perhaps; capabilities unimaginable today, as some of our current capabilities would have been unimaginable a few thousand years ago. Life’s rise from bacteria to cephalopod to humankind—as we can trace on this planet alone—provides reason enough to expect more intellectual aptitude to come in the future.
The future of humans as a species is much less predictable. It depends so much on our willingness to think and act rationally. Solving problems and making decisions, both practical and moral, in a manner that respects the universe’s causality, are the activities that will determine humanity’s future.
It is time to examine how we actually perform these tasks.
(A postscript to this chapter, Consciousness And Conscience, is to be found at the end of this part.)