Belief & The Fictional World of Humanity
The Cognitive Revolution took place between 70,000 and 30,000 years ago. With it, the birth of complex language.
Before this point, many different species had used systems of sound to communicate with one another.
"Many animals and humans species could previously say, "Careful! A lion!" Thanks to the Cognitive Revolution, Homo Sapiens acquired the ability to say, "The lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe." (taken from Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari).
Everything that was communicated before the Cognitive Revolution related directly to the objective environment. With humans, the difference came through our ability to communicate about things that didn't tangibly exist: mythical creatures and deities, religion, political beliefs, companies, or dreams. Fiction.
The spread of fiction - and our unique ability to resonate with it, adopt it, and fight for it - ushered in the platform for humans to coalesce in overwhelmingly large numbers. Assembling together on the order of thousands (now beyond millions) of people is largely what allowed our species to break away from the rest of the animal kingdom. No lion is going to walk into a neighboring clan of lions and tell them to follow him because he knows the ultimate truth of the Gods. And groups of gazelles aren't assembling coalitions to fight against the oppression from lions.
Consider this: there are no basic human rights encoded in our DNA. Rights are completely made up. The right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to a fair trial, the right to remain silent... all exist ONLY within the confines of the collective hive mind. Now zoom out over the current state of affairs in the US and beyond. We're waging cultural warfare every chance we get. All it takes is for someone to step on our idea of rights and we've got our ill words and degradations ready to go. It all feels so fragile. What used to survive for a chunk of time is now being limited to days and nights; the pendulum is swinging back and forth at record rates and doesn't appear to show any signs of slowing down.
All the things that humans rally behind in great numbers - religion, the stock market, political ideologies - are figments of the imagination, yet they're so fundamental to our lives that we can't imagine a world without them. I've seen people throw objects across the room in anger from the loss of their favorite team. I've read stories of genocide committed at the hands of a religious conquest. I've seen liberal rioters set a limousine on fire. Why is it that we've come to form the largest communities around fictions of the mind?
Why aren't the greatest communities on earth formed around the most powerful forces we can experience or see? Mountainism. Oceanism. Cosmicism. Tornadoism.
The reason Mountainism fails is because it doesn't lay out a set of rules to live by. It'd just be about witnessing (worshiping?) the majestic grandeur of mountains. The world around us is too chaotic. Once our minds grew to the point that we could comprehend the extent of this chaos, we became uneasy. Humans to this day are still trying to figure out how to live. Something was needed to ground our psyches and show us the best way. So we created dazzling worlds of Gods, rules, values, and principles, that if followed, would lead to a life of righteousness and salvation.
Now with the emergence of the internet, the scale at which we can spread ideas is planetary. Yet everything under the umbrella of belief is pure fiction! We've tied our existences on this earth so integrally with our fictional beliefs that we're willing to die for them. We'll band together and march around the world to gather more traction for ideas that we so deeply believe in.
People who have never met, who have no knowledge about each other's lives, values, or professions can stand together as brothers within the mist of a common idea. Our ideologies are constantly clashing. And who is right? Well, truly no one. Every answer is just an ephemeral opinion. In the world we inhabit today, we're forced to choose our preferred fictions and link them to the selves that we are. What's exceptional about this is that it makes large, institutional change extremely difficult. Imagine, for example, what it would actually take to for Catholicism to become something that exists only in history books. Barring a catastrophic asteroidal impact, it's an impossibility. To pull someone out of their strong, defined beliefs, of which they've tied their identity on this earth, is an incredible undertaking since these beliefs are the foundation of who we think we are -- and the ideas that keep the dominion over the way their inhabitants live are the ones with control of the information. The waters are murky today...
Will it ever be possible to lay down our ideological weaponry? Or will that only become a reality when our species -- or the next evolutionary iteration -- is capable of thriving beyond the need for fiction?