Chapter 4: Developing a Structure of the “Evolutionary Code”

by Bernard Phillips, Andy Plotkin and Neil S. Weiss

We are all used to thinking of structures as physical or biological objects, like cars or trees. They are objects that stay much the same over time. We may define a structure in a very general way as a persisting system of elements. Yet, this definition is broad enough to include not just physical and biological objects that are visible but also invisible structures like personality structures such as “self-confidence.” Earlier columns have emphasized both the power of our bureaucratic way of life to teach us a static structure of personal insignificance or lack of self-confidence and the power of an interdisciplinary scientific method to teach us a dynamic structure of increasing personal significance or self-confidence. That movement toward increasing self-confidence is also needed for confronting effectively world problems no less than personal problems.

This column centers on understanding just how we can actually move in this evolutionary direction both as individuals and as societies. To do so we must develop a broad historical approach that examines past, present and future, by contrast with the narrow specialization with limited integration of knowledge throughout the academic world. We begin by contrasting two versions of the story of Genesis within the Old Testament to gain insight into changes in the structure of the human personality over the past centuries. Our approach emphasizes science more than religion, granting the full importance of religion in asking fundamental questions about human existence and purpose. The first one, the Douay version, much like the King James version, was published in 1610, and the second version, taken from the New American Bible, was published in 1970:

In the beginning God created heaven and earth. And the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God moved over the waters. And God said: Be light made. And light was made. And God saw the light that it was good, and he divided the light from the darkness. And he called the light Day, and the darkness Night; and there was evening and morning one day (1610).

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness he called “night.” Thus evening came, and morning followed—the first day (1970).

There is little question but that the 1610 version is far more poetic. There is the repetition of “and” over and over again. There is the greater use of metaphors, such as “the face of the deep” rather than “the abyss.” Even with all of those ands, the Douay version is still shorter, characteristic of poetry’s brevity. There is the alliterative repetition of “made” along with the repetition of three syllables in “Be light made” and “light was made,” versus “Let there be light” and “there was light.” There is also the use of words in the Douay version that encourage us to think imaginatively, such as “the spirit of God,” by contrast with “a mighty wind.”

Yet, this comparison not only reveals a movement away from poetic language. Far more important, it reveals a loss of emotional expression. And if we generalize this finding to a loss that affects everyone within a literate culture, namely, all of us, then this is the world of speech or “oral culture” that we have all lost. For the 1610 version was developed in a world where reading and “print culture” had scarcely begun to develop. We literates, who have abandoned the teaching of oratory in our schools in favor of reading, have developed nothing less than a structure of limited emotional development. The world of literacy has taken us away from not only our emotions but also ourselves, our personal situations of seeing, feeling and doing, for our emotions are crucial to all of our behavior. The written words in libraries and newspapers know nothing of who we are and what we want in life, granting that they have indeed given us the fruits of our continuing scientific and technological revolution. We have learned to bow down to the written word just as we bow down to the rich, the famous and the supposedly powerful while we ourselves remain invisible, following our bureaucratic way of life. All of this is structured from one moment to the next.

Fortunately, we can learn to combine the best of orality with the best of literacy, guided by the elements of an evolutionary way of life outlined in columns or chapters 1, 2 and 3 as well as this column plus the columns to follow. Chapter 1 gives us a vision of our own personal significance that includes our emotions, as illustrated in the early version of Genesis, as well as our intellect, as emphasized in the later version. For that later more literate version emphasizes the sequence of events that corresponds to the gradational orientation of the scientific method, as discussed in Chapter 3. Further, our emphasis on the problem of combining orality with literacy invokes the importance of defining a problem as an absolutely crucial step within the scientific method, as discussed within Chapter 2. Further, one’s learning to move one’s everyday behavior in these directions one step at a time in more and more situations so as to make it a habit invokes our emphasis on structure in this chapter. Still further, the chapters to follow will fill in our description of an evolutionary way of life with their focus on emotions (5), values (6 and 7), addiction (8), aggression (9), and the power to solve problems (10).

These ten elements of an evolutionary way of life form what we call the Evolutionary Code, by contrast with the Bureaucratic Code. The Bureaucratic Code parallels, metaphorically, the “Enigma Code” used by the Nazis during World War II to inform its units how to destroy Allied forces. It was decoded by Alan Turing through his invention of a universal computer, as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch with co-star Kiera Knightly in the recent film, The Imitation Game, thus shortening World War II by some two years. Just as the Enigma Code proved to be an absolutely devastating invisible weapon used by the Nazis, so is the Bureaucratic Code—the opposite of the above ten elements of the Evolutionary Code—a devastating invisible force that has developed historically. It has largely resulted from our departure from orality’s emotional development to the downgrading of emotions within our literate world.

These ten chapters decode the ten invisible elements of the Bureaucratic Code that isolate us from one another and also isolate one’s “heart” from one’s “head” and “hand,” thus imprisoning our emotional potential. If indeed the many increasing problems of contemporary society constitute a crisis that parallels the crisis that society faced during World War II, then the Evolutionary Code provides us with a direction for resolving that crisis. Paralleling Alan Turing’s invention of a universal computer, our own invention is an interdisciplinary scientific method, illustrated by the pendulum metaphor, and placed in the hands of every single human being. Just as we have used the pendulum metaphor to center on the development of interdisciplinary scientific understanding, so can we now extend the pendulum metaphor to become a metaphor for the continuing evolution of the individual and society, with absolutely no limit to how far we all might go.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *