3. Ingenuity and Inertia

Summary: This chapter reviews the earliest instances of ingenuity in higher primates. It considers tools and farming, and whether ingenuity and civilization grew out of curiosity or necessity. The price of progress is that life is less meaningful. With advanced societies the experience of feeling alive vanishes and compensations have been devised, from pyramids to symphonies to alcohol. Absolute scientific positivism emerges, along with strict intellectual specialization.


    The ability of humans to banish mentally that which they do not like thinking about, has a long history and deep, though questionable roots. In ancient Greece, sophistry was a recognised craft, but not respected by philisophers. As we have noted, the Scholastics used rigorous mental logic to prove their position, namely that faith in Catholic Christianity was the only acceptable belief system. After the reformation however, the taste for logic did not die out. Thinkers like Ignatius of Loyola inspired a rationalistic administrative culture, which placed non-rationalists firmly outside the mainstream. Suddenly, artists or practitioners of natural medicine were beneath contempt. There is barely an efficient modern administration that does not owe its culture of rationalistic exclusivity to early churchmen, in particular Loyola’s Jesuits and their practice of ‘mental restriction.’

    As we shall see, this talent for restrictive rationalization is a latent flaw in human behavior, when used over a long period of time, and results in systemic alienation from reality. Pure unemotional thought evolved as a useful mechanism for responding urgently to life threatening dangers. But for everyday purposes, pure intellect is not very useful since it excludes long-term emotional, spiritual and instinctive knowledge. The key to our inertia in the face of slowly mounting, and man-made threats, must surely lie in this strict division of mental labor. The dominance of the intellectual mind is a byproduct of ingenuity’s evolution, and its excessive use does more harm than good.