Thought— 3 Min Read

Realities That Shape Us

by Case Greenfield, February 28th, 2021

Thought – 3 Min Read

Realities That Shape Us

by Case Greenfield

February 28th, 2021

Science has demystified our identity. Finally, we will discover that we are merely “stardust in a specific configuration”. Will we find peace with the position and role that we apparently have in evolution?

My education, my work and my way of thinking have been highly scientific. I was trained as a theoretical physicist. I have worked for over 25 years as a management consultant, many years specializing in corporate strategy. Rational thinking. Separating the chaff from the wheat. Sense and nonsense.

And I strongly believe in the added value of the scientific way of thinking. Simply said, something is true until proven untrue. And when it is untrue, it is worthless. How to prove something untrue? Simple. Check in reality! Test it. Do an experiment. Busting the myths, we so much like to create for ourselves. Face the brutal facts.

Where has it brought us?

It has brought us, humans, at the point where we are in our evolution. In the Middle Ages, the Church told us that the Earth was the center of the Universe. Until somewhere in the 11th Century Niklaus Copernicus proved otherwise. The problem, however, was that the Church had developed a narrative that strongly leaned on this idea. A heliocentric model would make the narrative unsustainable. Cognitive dissonance.

Later, other scientists did similar things to our collective self-image. Charles Darwin taught us, that we are not fundamentally different from apes and other mammals, even many other living creatures. We were just lucky to have evolved in an effective way. Sigmund Freud taught us, that there is no such thing as a rational human being. Most if not all – as was later discovered by eg. Benjamin Libet in 1983 – of our actions stem from unconscious, unplanned impulses in the brain.

To make things even worse, Watson and Crick demonstrated, that many of our ‘human’ properties are stored in a molecule, called DNA. And I am sure, current developments in brain science will reveal even more ‘disappointing’ discoveries about ourselves. And my prediction is, that when we have found out how life evolves from dead matter, explaining that we are all just “stardust in a specific configuration”, that will mark sort of an end point in us coming up with fantastic narratives about ourselves. There will be no more escape possible.

And yet

The advent of artificial intelligence will more than ever demonstrate that we are not robots, we are not machines. We are humans. Artificial intelligence will beat us at every rational challenge, at every cognitive task. And the speed of these discoveries and technical developments far exceeds the pace of our biological evolution. Copernicus, Darwin, Freud, Crick and Watson and other scientists again and again showed us, that the emperor wears no clothes: we were less majestic than we thought. Soon, collectively, we will do the ultimate discovery: yes, the emperor really stands there naked.

And wasn’t it the artist Francis Bacon, who once said that when man realizes that he is just an accident in the greater scheme of things, he can only “beguile himself for a time”. Then adding: “Painting, or all art, has now become completely a game by which man distracts himself … and the artist must really deepen the game to be any good at all.”

So, is this all there is? What will there be left for us, humans?

In the next 100 years, rather sooner than later, we will find our new place in the order of things. And it will not be inspired by the sciences. There is no human inspiration from science, just facts. It will be inspired by the humanities. We will find peace with the naked emperor. Currently, we are on an interesting path. The sciences have pushed away the humanities. Yet, I believe they will make a big recovery.

And we will have a choice. Will we stick to fantasies? Just like the Church did in the Middle Ages? Will we cling on to pleasant realities because… well, they are pleasant? Or will we find, no, make peace with the position and role that we apparently have in evolution?

I think art has a big role in this recovery, in this rediscovery of who we are, as a person and as a species.Artists must deepen the game. Art should take the lead in helping us create the realities that shape us, reshape us … in the age where the emperor has no clothes on. Art will be our best chance to bring meaning to our lives. Art must and can show us the beauty of the naked emperor.