By Deepak Chopra, MD
The point of being human is to push the envelope of being human. This is worth remembering when times are tough and we lose confidence in ourselves. No other creature on earth has the capacity to redefine itself. We do. How humans gained this ability remains a totally mystery. Looking at physical remains, it’s possible—although controversial—to outline the evolutionary march from ape to hominid, from hominid to Homo, and finally from Homo to our specific species Homo sapiens.
But the physical evidence is blurry at times, and even a simple achievement like the discovery of fire is up in the air; estimates could be off by hundreds of thousands of years. But not a single physical trait explains why we are self-aware. Awareness gave us the ability to push the envelope of being human. Ten thousand years ago the higher brain, the cerebral cortex, was a finished structure, more or less. In other creatures, once their brains are finished, that’s the limit. An elephant’s huge brain allows, we think, for emotional empathy. Elephants grieve over the dead and are emotionally tied to one another.
But an elephant’s brain can’t do math, write poetry, or invent the atom bomb. The human brain is the secret, physically speaking, behind our incredible abilities with language, tool-making, art, and weaponry. But no one knows the secret behind how the mind uses this brain. On the one hand, we remain totally confused about who we really are. We don’t even know if we are basically good or bad. At the moment, opinion has turned us into baddies destroying the environment. But that’s a lopsided view, given the fact that no matter how horrible our behavior, we can look in the mirror and change it.
If this is true—and it seems undeniable—then what’s the next stage in pushing the envelope? No one knows, because the whole point of human evolution is that you can’t predict where it’s going. Indeed, none of us knows what our next thought will be. We plunge into the unknown at every second. But in the face of confusion, uncertainty, and low morale, one possibility remains untarnished. We are likely to become even more self-aware. That’s the pattern that has held good for all of recorded history, and despite every catastrophic setback and horrifying turn of events, the march of awareness continues. (more…)