21 August 2010

The Fall

In his book Waking Up, which is his interpretation of George Gurdjieff's spiritual and psychological work, Charles Tart has a repeating proverb which he stumbled upon in his Gurdjieff studies:

There is no God but Reality
To seek Him elsewhere
Is the action of the Fall.

The Fall is an origin myth, which may be found in a wide variety of traditions. In modern Western Civilization, we have the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The ancient Greeks had Prometheus and Pandora. In India we are in the age of the Kali Yuga. Fallen. The story is so common that it was a foundation for Carl Jung in his theory of the Collective Unconscious.

I have been writing some Artificial Neural Network software, and I realized I know very little about human brains, human organs, animal physiology, cells. So, I have been on a remedial Biology study course. This has taken a couple odd turns. One of them ended up on a theory of the origin of these Fall legends. Through the mechanism of hyperlink clicking I journeyed from Biology to Evolution to Evolutionary Psychology to its critics. This explanation of The Fall is very simple, so for now I am going to tentatively accept it as very probably the truth.

We know from Anthropology and Sociology that a stable network of closely associated humans has a maximum number of 150. Field workers find that simple forager tribes will divide into two when they grow to near that number. The Sociologist Nan Lin has spent his career trying to quantify social capital and studied a number of human networks and records a similar finding. Attention is a limited resource, and humans just cannot keep close track of more than 150 family and friends and neighbors and co-workers.

The most popular family in the United States of America just married off Chelsea Clinton. I did not read much about it, but I did see in the New York Times there were 600 guests at her wedding. Assuming Chelsea invited 150, the groom invited 150, her parents invited 150, and his parents invited 150, there is yet another instance of our familiar number showing up.

The first tribe of foragers that approached 150 and broke up a million years ago (or whenever) would be the original Fall event. And after that it happened thousands and tens thousands and hundreds thousands times on every continent except Antarctica, implanting some form of the myth into nearly every tradition. There is even one academic who thinks labeling the previous condition "paradise" is not too far off:

The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race
by Jared Diamond.

One of my favorite treatments is the short novel by Albert Camus, The Fall. The main character Clemence is one of the best examples in literature of the fellow who stoops in order to conquer. It is a pitiful position, and Camus tells it well in a modern version. Clemence's fall is from the upper rungs of his society's status ladder. He retains his dignity with a perverse attitude. He cannot make you love him, but he does have the power to make you hate him. It is pretty sick but it is not illogical.

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About Craig

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Houston, Texas, United States
I have been living in the lovely neighborhood of Spring Branch in the great city of Houston since late in 2005. I started out with the idea of making this blog about my life in this neighborhood. That did not last long. Right now I am posting every five days on the alternating topics of literature, philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics. This project has been ongoing since July 27, 2010 and I believe it will continue for at least a few more months.