Conscience is an aptitude, faculty, intuition or judgment that assists in distinguishing right from wrong. Moral judgment may derive from values or norms (principles and rules). In psychological terms conscience is often described as leading to feelings of remorse when a human commits actions that go against his/her moral values and to feelings of rectitude or integrity when actions conform to such norms. The extent to which conscience informs moral judgment before an action and whether such moral judgments are or should be based in reason has occasioned debate through much of the history of Western philosophy.
Religious views of conscience usually see it as linked to a morality inherent in all humans, to a beneficent universe and/or to divinity. The diverse ritualistic, mythical, doctrinal, legal, institutional and material features of religion may not necessarily cohere with experiential, emotive, spiritual or contemplative considerations about the origin and operation of conscience. Common secular or scientific views regard the capacity for conscience as probably genetically determined, with its subject probably learned or imprinted (like language) as part of a culture.
Commonly used metaphors for conscience include the "voice within" and the "inner light". Conscience, as is detailed in sections below, is a concept in national and international law, is increasingly conceived of as applying to the world as a whole, has motivated numerous notable acts for the public good and been the subject of many prominent examples of literature, music and film.
A conscience is a built-in sense of what's right and what's wrong. That sick feeling in your stomach after you meanly told your younger brother the truth about Santa Claus? That might be your conscience bothering you.
The word conscience contains the word science, which comes from the Latin word scientia, meaning "to know" or "knowledge." You can think of your conscience as your knowledge of yourself, especially when it comes to your own morals, or your feelings about right and wrong. Pangs of conscience, which feel like an uncomfortable inner voice, are helpful when you're trying to decide the right thing to do in a particular situation.
Question: "What is the conscience?"
Answer: The conscience is defined as that part of the human psyche that induces mental anguish and feelings of guilt when we violate it and feelings of pleasure and well-being when our actions, thoughts and words are in conformity to our value systems. The Greek word translated “conscience” in all New Testament references is suneidēsis, meaning “moral awareness” or “moral consciousness.” The conscience reacts when one’s actions, thoughts, and words conform to, or are contrary to, a standard of right and wrong.
There is no Hebrew term in the Old Testament equivalent to suneidēsis in the New Testament. The lack of a Hebrew word for “conscience” may be due to the Jewish worldview, which was communal rather than individual. The Hebrew considered himself as a member of a covenant community which related corporately to God and His laws, rather than as an individual. In other words, the Hebrew was confident in his own position before God if the Hebrew nation as a whole was in good fellowship with Him.
The New Testament concept of conscience is more individual in nature and involves three major truths. First, conscience is a God-given capacity for human beings to exercise self-evaluation. Paul refers several times to his own conscience being “good” or “clear” (Acts 23:1; 24:16; 1 Corinthians 4:4). Paul examined his own words and deeds and found them to be in accordance with his morals and value system, which were, of course, based on God’s standards. His conscience verified the integrity of his heart.
Second, the New Testament portrays the conscience as a witness to something. Paul says the Gentiles have consciences that bear witness to the presence of the law of God written on their hearts, even though they did not have the Mosaic Law (Romans 2:14-15). He also appeals to his own conscience as a witness that he speaks the truth (Romans 9:1) and that he has conducted himself in holiness and sincerity in his dealings with men (2 Corinthians 1:12). He also says that his conscience tells him his actions are apparent to both God and the witness of other men’s consciences (2 Corinthians 5:11).
Third, the conscience is a servant of the individual’s value system. An immature or weak value system produces a weak conscience, while a fully informed value system produces a strong sense of right and wrong. In the Christian life, one’s conscience can be driven by an inadequate understanding of scriptural truths and can produce feelings of guilt and shame disproportionate to the issues at hand. Maturing in the faith strengthens the conscience.
This last function of the conscience is what Paul addresses in his instructions regarding eating food sacrificed to idols. He makes the case that, since idols are not real gods, it makes no difference if food has been sacrificed to them or not. But some in the Corinthian church were weak in their understanding and believed that such gods really existed. These immature believers were horrified at the thought of eating food sacrificed to the gods, because their consciences were informed by erroneous prejudices and superstitious views. Therefore, Paul encourages those more mature in their understanding not to exercise their freedom to eat if it would cause the consciences of their weaker brothers to condemn their actions. The lesson here is that, if our consciences are clear because of mature faith and understanding, we are not to cause those with weaker consciences to stumble by exercising the freedom that comes with a stronger conscience.
Another reference to conscience in the New Testament is to a conscience that is “seared” or rendered insensitive as though it had been cauterized with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:1-2). Such a conscience is hardened and calloused, no longer feeling anything. A person with a seared conscience no longer listen to its promptings, and he can sin with abandon, delude himself into thinking all is well with his soul, and treat others insensitively and without compassion.
As Christians, we are to keep our consciences clear by obeying God and keeping our relationship with Him in good standing. We do this by the application of His Word, renewing and softening our hearts continually. We consider those whose consciences are weak, treating them with Christian love and compassion.
Written by Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith, 2011
Our conscience is the ‘voice’ of our species’ instinctive moral sense that was acquired before our present ‘good-and-evil’-afflicted, so-called ‘human condition’ emerged—BUT that is a truth we couldn’t safely admit until we could EXPLAIN that condition, until we could explain our present seemingly-highly-imperfect, guilty-conscience-producing behaviour!!
MOST WONDERFULLY, however, biology is now finally able to provide this dreamed-of, exonerating, ‘good-and-evil’-reconciling, ‘burden-of-guilt’-lifting, clear-conscience-producing, human-race-transforming EXPLANATION of the human condition—as well as the explanation of how we acquired our original instinctive moral sense in the first place! (It should be mentioned that this explanation of our species’ present deeply psychologically troubled, ‘good-and-evil’-afflicted condition is not the psychosis-avoiding, trivialising, dishonest account of it that the biologist E.O. Wilson has put forward in his theory of Eusociality, but the psychosis-addressing-and-solving, real explanation of it.)
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines ‘conscience’ as our ‘moral sense of right and wrong’. Yes, on the subject of our moral conscience the philosopher John Fiske observed that‘We approve of certain actions and disapprove of certain actions quite instinctively. We shrink from stealing or lying as we shrink from burning our fingers’ (Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy, 1874, Vol. IV, Part II, p.126). The philosopher Immanuel Kant was so impressed by our instinctive moral conscience that he had the following words inscribed on his tomb: ‘there are two things which fill me with awe: the starry heavens above us, and the moral law within us’. And Charles Darwin was similarly awed by the existence of our conscience, writing that ‘the moral sense affords the best and highest distinction between man and the lower animals’ (The Descent of Man, 1871, p.495). The poet Alexander Pope, however, was not so impressed by our instinctive moral nature, pointing out that ‘our nature [is]…A sharp accuser, but a helpless friend!’
And he was right—our conscience has been ‘a sharp accuser, but a helpless friend’; it has criticised us aplenty when what we really needed was sympathetic, compassionate, reconciling, redeeming and rehabilitating understanding of our ‘good-and-evil’-afflicted human condition. WHY, when the ideals of life are clearly to be cooperative, selfless and loving, are we humans the complete opposite, namely competitive, selfish and aggressive? In fact, why are we so ruthlessly competitive, selfish and brutal that human life has become all but unbearable and we have nearly destroyed our own planet?! In short, HOW DO WE EXPLAIN THE HUMAN CONDITION??
Thus, the two great questions about our conscience—which can now at last be truthfully answered—are how did we acquire our ‘awe’-inspiring but ‘[un]friend[ly]’, mercilessly-critical conscience; and why don’t we still live in accordance with our moral instincts—why did the human race ‘fall from grace’, become corrupted, lose its innocence, become immoral, stop obeying our instinctive moral conscience?
Despite trivialising the issue of the human condition with a dishonest explanation of it, the biologist E.O. Wilson was certainly right when he said that ‘The human condition is the most important frontier of the natural sciences’ (Consilience, 1998, p.298). Yes, the outstanding task for science, indeed the holy grail of all human enquiry, has been to solve the issue of the human condition, find the compassionate, reconciling and redeeming explanation of our seemingly-highly-imperfect, ‘good-and-evil’-afflicted human nature—because without it we humans faced permanent damnation. The famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung was forever saying that ‘wholeness for humans depends on the ability to own their own shadow’ because he recognised that only finding understanding of our dark side could end our underlying insecurity about our fundamental goodness and worth as humans and, in so doing, make us ‘whole’ again.
Understandably, to avoid feeling damned and unworthy while the true explanation for our conscience-offending, competitive, selfish and aggressive behaviour was still to be found, false excuses had to be invented—the main one being that we have savage animal instincts that make us fight and compete for food, shelter, territory and a mate. Of course, this human-condition-avoiding ‘explanation’ that basically argues that ‘genes are competitive and selfish and that’s why we are’, which, as is about to be described, has been put forward in the biological theories of Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, Multilevel Selection and E.O. Wilson’s Eusociality, can’t be the real explanation for our present divisive behaviour. For a start, it overlooks the fact that our human behaviour involves our unique fully conscious thinking mind. Descriptions like egocentric, arrogant, deluded, artificial, hateful, mean, immoral, guilty, alienated, etc, all imply a consciousness-derived, psychological dimension toour behaviour. The real issue—the psychological problem in our thinking minds that we have suffered from—is the dilemma of our human condition, the issue of our species’ conscience-defying, less-than-ideal, even ‘fallen’ or corrupted, state. We humans suffer from a consciousness-derived, psychological HUMAN CONDITION, not an instinct-controlled animal condition—our condition is unique to us fully conscious humans.
And of course, the savage-instincts-in-us excuse is also completely inconsistent with the fact that we humans have altruistic, cooperative, selfless and loving, moral instincts—what we recognise as our ‘conscience’. Clearly then, for the human-condition-avoiding, savage-instincts-in-us excuse to be preserved, a way had to be found around this fact that our original instinctive self or soul’s orientations are to behave in an unconditionally selfless, altruistic, moral way, not in a selfish, savage way—and the way that was found was to assert that our unconditionally selfless moral instincts are not actually selfless, but selfish. This was achieved by claiming that our instinctive self or soul’s moral conscience that causes us to behave in an altruistic way is actually a product of reciprocity, from situations frequently found in the animal world where an animal behaves selflessly on the condition it is treated selflessly in return, in which case the behaviour is still intrinsically selfish.
This reciprocity-based account of social behaviour became fully developed with the explanation put forward by the kin-selection-based theory of Sociobiology (and later Evolutionary Psychology) for situations where, for example, worker ants and bees selflessly support their respective colony and queen on the proviso that she reproduces their genes. What happened was that this situation—where individuals foster relatives or kin because they carry their genes and through supporting them they are ensuring at least some of their own genes are reproduced—was dishonestly used to dismiss humans’ selfless, moral behaviour as just another example of this reciprocal selflessness that is actually selfishness. Yes, any instinctive moral conscience-inspired unconditionally, altruistic behaviour exhibited by us humans, such as charity workers caring for the poor, was said to not be genuinely altruistic behaviour but an indirect form of selfish behaviour!
To demonstrate how this reciprocity explanation has been used to supposedly dismiss our marvellous moral nature as merely a subtle form of selfishness, consider the following from the zoologist Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene: ‘We [humans] are survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes…we, and all other animals, are machines created by our genes…we are born selfish’ (First pub. 1976, this edn 1989, p.3). E.O. Wilson made a similar claim in his book On Human Nature, when he wrote that our ‘Morality has no other demonstrable ultimate function’ other than to ensure ‘human genetic material…will be kept intact’ (1978, p.167). The science writer Robert Wright summarised this clever, human-condition-avoiding dismissal of our moral instincts as selfish in his boldly titled book The Moral Animal—Why we are the way we are: The new science of evolutionary psychology, when he wrote that ‘What is in our genes’ interests is what seems “right”—morally right, objectively right, whatever sort of rightness is in order’; ‘In short: “moral guidance” is a euphemism’ (1994, pp.325, 216). And in a direct attack on our soul, Wilson even went on to say that ‘[Jean-Jacques]Rousseau claimed [that humanity] was originally a race of noble savages in a peaceful state of nature, who were later corrupted…[but what] Rousseau invented [was] a stunningly inaccurate form of anthropology’ (Consilience, 1998, p.37).
The truth is that, far from being merely ‘a euphemism’, our moral instincts are NOTHING like the selfish reciprocity-derived instincts found in many animal species—they are unconditionally selfless, fully altruistic, truly loving, genuinely moral instincts. As Kant and Darwin acknowledged, our ‘awe’-inspiring ‘moral sense affords the best and highest distinction between man and the lower animals’. Indeed, all our mythologies recognise this truth that we humans did once live in a cooperative, harmonious, loving, innocent, Garden-of-Eden-like ‘Golden Age’—as the author Richard Heinberg acknowledged in his book Memories & Visions of Paradise: ‘Every religion begins with the recognition that human consciousness has been separated from the divine Source, that a former sense of oneness…has been lost…everywhere in religion and myth there is an acknowledgment that we have departed from an original…innocence’ (1990, pp.81, 82). For example, the eighth century BC Greek poet Hesiod referred to the pre-human-condition-afflicted, upset-free, innocent ‘Golden Age’ in our species’ past in his poem Theogony: ‘When gods alike and mortals rose to birth / A golden race the immortals formed on earth…Like gods they lived, with calm untroubled mind / Free from the toils and anguish of our kind / Nor e’er decrepit age misshaped their frame…Strangers to ill, their lives in feasts flowed by…Dying they sank in sleep, nor seemed to die / Theirs was each good; the life-sustaining soil / Yielded its copious fruits, unbribed by toil / They with abundant goods ’midst quiet lands / All willing shared the gathering of their hands.’ Yes, our instincts are to be fully cooperative, selfless and loving—we do have an altruistic, unconditionally selfless moral conscience. As will be explained, our current psychologically upset, competitive, selfish and aggressive behaviour emerged when we humans became conscious.
What transpired, however, in this business of having to invent false excuses for our divisive, competitive, selfish and aggressive behaviour was that this denigration of our unconditionally selfless, genuinely altruistic, moral nature as being nothing more than a subtle form of selfishness eventually became just too offensive to tolerate, at which point another explanation for human behaviour that still avoided the issue of the human condition but didn’t deny that we do have genuinely moral instincts had to be found—and it was. In 2012, in his book The Social Conquest of Earth, E.O. Wilson dismissed the kin-selection-based Sociobiology/Evolutionary Psychology theory—which he had been the leading advocate for—as being ‘incorrect’ (p.143) and put forward a new theory that not only contrived a human-condition-avoiding, dishonest explanation for our genuinely moral instinctive self or soul, but took the art of denial to the absolute extreme by also contriving a non-human-condition-confronting explanation of the human condition itself!
Known as Multilevel Selection or the ‘Theory of Eusociality’ (ibid. p.183) (eusociality simply meaning genuine sociality), this theory maintains that humans have instincts derived from natural selection operating at the individual level, where members of a species selfishly compete for food, shelter, territory and a mate, and instincts derived from natural selection supposedly operating at the group level, where groups of altruistic, cooperative members supposedly outcompete groups of selfish, non-cooperative members—with the selfish individual level instincts supposedly being the bad/sinful aspects of our nature, and the supposed selfless group-selected instincts being the good/virtuous moral aspect of our nature. According to Wilson, ‘Individual selection is responsible for much of what we call sin, while group selection is responsible for the greater part of virtue. Together they have created the conflict between the poorer and the better angels of our nature’ (ibid. p.241). In summary, Wilson now asserts that ‘The dilemma of good and evil [which is the issue of the human condition] was created by multilevel selection’ (ibid).
While it is certainly true that we do have genuinely moral instincts, under scrutiny Wilson’s group selection mechanism for how we acquired them completely falls apart.
While it makes sense that, as Wilson stated, ‘altruists beat groups of selfish individuals’ (ibid. p.243), the biological stumbling block is whether genes, which have to selfishly ensure they reproduce, can develop self-sacrificing altruistic traits in the first place. The genetic reality is that whenever an unconditionally selfless, altruistic trait appears those that are selfish will naturally take advantage of it: ‘Sure, you can help me reproduce my genes but I’m not about to help you reproduce yours!’ Any selflessness that might arise through group selection will be constantly exploited by individual selfishness from within the group. As the biologist Jerry Coyne pointed out, ‘altruism would be unlikely to override the tendency of each group to quickly lose its altruism through natural selection favoring cheaters’ (‘Can Darwinism improve Binghamton?’, The New York Times, 9 Sep. 2011).
The only biological models that have been put forward that appear to overcome this problem of genetic selfishness always prevailing are so complicated and convoluted that they seem implausible, for they involve groups warring, then peacefully merging, then separating back out into new groups—with the altruists somehow banding together into their own groups.
But despite the propensity for unconditionally selfless traits to be exploited and thus eliminated, Wilson has put forward an argument that warring between groups of early humans where extreme cooperation would have been an advantage was a strong enough force to overcome this problem of selfish exploitation and thus allow for the selection of altruism and the emergence of our genuinely moral instincts. Yes, according to Wilson, our ability to war successfully somehow produced our ability to love unconditionally!
However, as has been emphasised, standing in stark contrast to Wilson’s proclamation of ‘universal and eternal’ warfare (The Social Conquest of Earth, p.65) are not only the cultural memories enshrined in our myths and religions, and in the words of some of our most profound thinkers, that attest to humans having a peaceful heritage, but also the evidence gleaned from studies in anthropology and primatology, such as those of bonobos (Pan paniscus), which are not only humans’ closest relatives, but also an extraordinarily gentle, cooperative and peaceful species. But when discussing bonobos, Wilson merely cites an instance of bonobos hunting in a group, using that ‘evidence’ to draw erroneous comparisons with the more aggressive common chimpanzees; ‘That’s one more problem out of the way’, he seems to be saying.
In summary, our moral instincts are not derived from warring with other groups of humans, as Wilson and his Eusociality theory of group selection would have us believe. No, we have an unconditionally selfless, fully altruistic, all-loving, universally-benevolent-not-competitive-with-other-groups, genuinely moral conscience. The ‘savage instincts in us’ excuse for our selfish behaviour is entirely inconsistent with the fact that we have completely moral, not partially moral and partially savage, instincts as Wilson claimed.
Overall then, while selfless instincts have been incorporated into the mix to counter Evolutionary Psychology’s offensive denigration of our moral instincts as being nothing more than a manifestation of selfish instincts, the same strategy of blaming our competitive, selfish and aggressive behaviour on supposed selfish, brutal instincts in us humans has been maintained. The real, psychological reason for our competitive, aggressive and selfish behaviour is still being denied. As emphasised earlier, we humans suffer from a consciousness-derived, psychological HUMAN CONDITION, not an instinct-controlled ANIMAL CONDITION—our condition is unique to us fully conscious humans.
(A more comprehensive description of the human-condition-avoiding, dishonest biological theories on human behaviour of Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, Multilevel Selection and Eusociality can be found in the What is Science? article in this, The Book of Real Answers to Everything!, with the complete presentation appearing in the freely-available, online book Freedom: Expanded Book 1.)
So, what is the truthful, real, psychosis-addressing-and-solving biological explanation for our present seemingly-highly-imperfect human condition? And, beyond that, what is the truthful biological explanation for the origin of our human species’ ‘awe’-inspiring, ‘distinct’-from-other-animals, unconditionally selfless, fully altruistic, truly loving, genuinely moral instinctive conscience?
Firstly, to present the truthful, human-condition-addressing rather than human-condition-avoiding explanation of how our species’ competitive, selfish and aggressive human condition emerged.
This explanation begins with an analysis of consciousness. Very briefly, nerves were originally developed for the coordination of movement in animals, but, once developed, their ability to store impressions—which is what we refer to as ‘memory’—gave rise to the potential to develop understanding of cause and effect. If you can remember past events, you can compare them with current events and identify regularly occurring experiences. This knowledge of, or insight into, what has commonly occurred in the past enables you to predict what is likely to happen in the future and to adjust your behaviour accordingly. Once insights into the nature of change are put into effect, the self-modified behaviour starts to provide feedback, refining the insights further. Predictions are compared with outcomes and so on. Much developed, and such refinement occurred in the human brain, nerves can sufficientlyassociate information to reason how experiences are related, learn to understand and becomeCONSCIOUS of, or aware of, or intelligent about, the relationship between events that occur through time. Thus consciousness means being sufficiently aware of how experiences are related to attempt to manage change from a basis of understanding.
What is so significant about this process is that once our nerve-based learning system became sufficiently developed for us to become conscious and able to effectively manage events, our conscious intellect was then in a position to wrest control from our gene-based learning system’s instincts, which, up until then, had been controlling our lives. Basically, once our self-adjusting intellect emerged it was capable of taking over the management of our lives from the instinctive orientations we had acquired through the natural selection of genetic traits that adapted us to our environment.
HOWEVER, it was at this juncture, when our conscious intellect challenged our instincts for control, that a terrible battle broke out between our instincts and intellect, the effect of which was the extremely competitive, selfish and aggressive state that we call the human condition.
To elaborate, when our conscious intellect emerged it was neither suitable nor sustainable for it to be orientated by instincts—it had to find understanding to operate effectively and fulfil its great potential to manage life. However, when our intellect began to exert itself and experiment in the management of life from a basis of understanding, in effect challenging the role of the already established instinctual self, a battle unavoidably broke out between the instinctive self and the newer conscious self.
Our intellect began to experiment in understanding as the only means of discovering the correct and incorrect understandings for managing existence, but the instincts—being in effect ‘unaware’ or ‘ignorant’ of the intellect’s need to carry out these experiments—‘opposed’ any understanding-produced deviations from the established instinctive orientations: they ‘criticised’ and ‘tried to stop’ the conscious mind’s necessary search for knowledge. To illustrate the situation, imagine what would happen if we put a fully conscious mind on the head of a migrating bird. The bird is following an instinctive flight path acquired over thousands of generations of natural selection, but it now has a conscious mind that needs to understand how to behave, and the only way it can acquire that understanding is by experimenting in understanding—for example, thinking, ‘I’ll fly down to that island and have a rest.’ But such a deviation from the migratory flight path would naturally result in the instincts resisting the deviation, leaving the conscious intellect in a serious dilemma: if it obeys its instincts it will not feel ‘criticised’ by its instincts but neither will it find knowledge. Obviously, the intellect could not afford to give in to the instincts, and unable to understand and thus explain why its experiments in self-adjustment were necessary, the conscious intellect had no way of refuting the implicit criticism from the instincts even though it knew it was unjust. Until the conscious mind found the redeeming understanding of why it had to defy the instincts (namely the scientific understanding of the difference in the way genes and nerves process information, that one is an orientating learning system while the other is an insightful learning system), the intellect was left having to endure a psychologically distressed, upset condition, with no choice but to defy that opposition from the instincts. The only forms of defiance available to the conscious intellect were to attack the instincts’ unjust criticism, try to deny or block from its mind the instincts’ unjust criticism, and attempt toprove the instincts’ unjust criticism wrong. In short—and to return to our human situation because we were the species that acquired the fully conscious mind—the psychologically upset angry, alienated and egocentric human-condition-afflicted state appeared. Our ‘conscious thinking self’, which is the dictionary definition of ‘ego’, became ‘centred’ or focused on the need to justify itself. We became ego-centric, self-centred or selfish, preoccupied with aggressively competing for opportunities to prove we are good and not bad—we unavoidably became selfish, aggressive and competitive.
What is so exonerating, rehabilitating and healing about this explanation of the human condition is that we can finally appreciate that there was a very good reason for our angry, alienated and egocentric behaviour—in fact, we can now see why we have not just been ego-centric, but ego-infuriated, even ego-gone-mad-with-murderous-anger for having to live with so much unjust criticism. We can now see that our conscious mind was NOT the evil villain it has so long been portrayed as—such as in the Bible where Adam and Eve are demonised and‘banished…from the Garden of Eden’ (Gen. 3:23) of our original innocent, cooperative, loving, moral, instinctive, conscience-creating state for taking the ‘fruit…from the tree of knowledge’(ibid. 3:3, 2:17). No, science has finally enabled us to lift the so-called ‘burden of guilt’ from the human race; in fact, to understand that we thinking, ‘knowledge’-finding, conscious humans are actually nothing less than the heroes of the story of life on Earth! This is because our fully conscious mind is surely nature’s greatest invention and to have had to endure the torture of being unjustly condemned as evil for so long (the anthropological evidence indicates we humans have been fully conscious for some two million years) must make us the absolute heroes of the story of life on Earth.
And BEST OF ALL, because this explanation of the human condition is redeeming, conscience-relieving and thus rehabilitating, all our upset angry, egocentric and alienated behaviour now subsides, bringing about the complete TRANSFORMATION OF THE HUMAN RACE—and importantly, understanding of the human condition doesn’t condone ‘bad’ behaviour, it heals and by so doing ends it. From being competitive, selfish and aggressive, humans return to being cooperative, selfless and loving. Our round of departure has ended. The poet T.S. Eliot wonderfully articulated our species’ journey from an original innocent, yet ignorant, conscience-obedient state, to a psychologically upset, conscience-defying state, and back to an uncorrupted, but this time enlightened, conscience-consistent state when he wrote, ‘We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time’ (Little Gidding, 1942).
Yes, finding the exonerating, redeeming understanding of our dark, troubled, psychologically upset, human-condition-afflicted existence finally enables the human race to be healed and thus TRANSFORMED—it makes us ‘whole’ again, as Jung said it would. To quote Professor Harry Prosen, a former president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association, on this dreamed-of, greatest of all breakthroughs in science: ‘I have no doubt this biological explanation of the human condition is the holy grail of insight we have sought for the psychological rehabilitation of the human race’ (FREEDOM, 2016, Introduction).
With understanding of the human condition we can now safely explain the truthful biological origins of our unconditionally selfless, fully altruistic, genuinely moral instinctive conscience.
The question for biology is how could we humans have developed an unconditionallyselfless, fully altruistic, truly loving, genuinely moral instinctive conscience? How can such instinctive behaviour possibly develop when the fundamental biological assumption is that unconditionally selfless instinctive traits cannot develop genetically because self-sacrificing traits tend to self-eliminate and for a trait to develop and become established in a species it needs to reproduce and carry on? The most selflessness that can seemingly be developed genetically is reciprocity, where, as mentioned, an animal behaves selflessly on the condition it will be treated selflessly in return, thus ensuring its continuation from generation to generation, which means the trait is, as pointed out, intrinsically selfish.
So, how did humans develop unconditionally selfless instincts? While self-eliminating genetic traits apparently cannot develop in animals, there was one way such unconditional selflessness could develop, and that was through nurturing—a mother’s maternal instinct to care for her offspring. Genetic traits for nurturing are intrinsically selfish (which, as stated, genetic traits normally have to be) because through a mother’s nurturing and fostering of offspring who carry her genes her genetic traits for nurturing are selfishly ensuring their reproduction into the next generation. However, while nurturing is a genetically selfish trait, from an observer’s point of view the nurturing appears to be unconditionally selfless behaviour. The mother is giving her offspring food, warmth, shelter, support and protection for apparently nothing in return. This point is most significant because it means from the infant’s perspective its mother is treating it with real love, unconditional selflessness. The infant’s brain is therefore being trained or indoctrinated or inscribed with unconditional selflessness and so, with enough training in unconditional selflessness, that infant will grow into an adult who behaves unconditionally selflessly. Apply this training across all the members of that infant’s group and the result is an unconditionally selflessly behaved, cooperative, fully integrated society. And then, with this training in unconditional selflessness occurring over many generations, the unconditionally selfless behaviour will become instinctive—a moral conscience will be established. Genes will inevitably follow and reinforce any development process—in this they are not selective. The difficulty is in getting the development of unconditional selflessness to occur in the first place, for once it is regularly occurring it will naturally become instinctive over time.
For a species to develop nurturing—to develop this method for overcoming the gene-based learning system’s seeming inability to develop unconditional selflessness—it required the capacity to allow its offspring to remain in the infancy stage long enough for the infant’s brain to become trained or indoctrinated with unconditional selflessness or love. In most species, infancy has to be kept as brief as possible because of the infant’s extreme vulnerability to predators. Zebras, for example, have to be capable of independent flight almost as soon as they are born, which gives them little opportunity to be trained in selflessness. In the case of primates, however, being already semi-upright as a result of their tree-living, swinging-from-branch-to-branch, arboreal heritage, their arms were semi-freed from walking and thus available to hold a helpless infant, which means they were especially facilitated for prolonging their offspring’s infancy and thus developing unconditionally selfless behaviour. The exceptionally maternal, matriarchal, cooperatively behaved, peaceful bonobo chimpanzee species provide a living example of a species in the midst of developing this training-in-love process. It was our distant ape ancestors who perfected the process, and that is how we acquired our unconditionally selfless, fully altruistic, instinctive self or ‘soul’, the ‘voice’ of which is our moral ‘conscience’. In light of this, we can now also understand why and when we began to walk upright: the longer infancy is delayed, the more and longer infants had to be held, and thus the greater the selection for arms-freed, upright walking—which means bipedalism must have developed early in this nurturing of love process, and in fact the early appearance of bipedalism in the fossil record of our ancestors is now being found.
The question still to be answered is why was it that humans acquired a fully conscious mind while other species didn’t? The answer is explained in chapter 7 of FREEDOM, but very briefly, while mothers’ training of their infants in unconditional selflessness enabled an unconditionally selflessly behaved, fully cooperative society to develop, this training in unconditional selflessness had an accidental by-product: it produced brains trained to think selflessly and thus truthfully and thus effectively and thus become ‘conscious’ of the relationship of events that occur through time. Other species who can’t develop unconditional selflessness can’t think truthfully and thus effectively because unconditional selflessness, which they are unable to recognise, is the truthful theme or meaning of existence. The point is, you can’t hope to think truthfully and thus effectively if you’re lying. Selfishness-practicing species have an emerging mind that is dishonestly orientated, a mind that is alienated from the truth, which means it can never make sense of experience and thus never become conscious.
Thus, through nurturing we acquired our born-with, ‘collective unconscious’, as Carl Jung described our shared-by-everyone instinctive self or soul. Yes, our soul did become ‘unconscious’, a subterranean part of our conscious mind, because we had to repress and deny it for its unjust condemnation of us—but no more; as Professor Prosen said, our species’‘psychological rehabilitation’ can now begin!
Understandably, however, until we could truthfully explain the good reason humans became embattled with the human condition and thus unable to adequately nurture their children it has been psychologically unbearable to admit that it wasn’t tool use or language development or mastery of fire, etc, etc, but nurturing that gave us our moral conscience and made us human—as has been said ‘people would rather admit to being an axe murderer than being a bad father or mother’ (Sun-Herald, 7 July 2002). It is only now that we can explain why we developed such upset angry, egocentric and psychotic and neurotic alienated lives, which unavoidably made nurturing our children with real, sound love all but impossible, that we can safely admit the critical part nurturing played both in the emergence of our species and in ourown lives. In truth, the nature vs nurture debate has really been about defensively trying to argue against the importance of nurturing in the lives of our children. Yes, it is only now that we can truthfully explain the human condition that we can afford to tell the real story behind our ‘awe’-inspiring conscience—and admit that Rousseau was right when he said, ‘nothing is more gentle than man in his primitive state’ (The Social Contract and Discourses, 1755; tr. G.D.H. Cole, 1913, Book IV, The Origin of Inequality, p.198).