In 1947 The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists gave us the Doomsday Clock with 12:00 midnight representing doomsday. Since 1947 the hands have been adjusted twenty times. In the beginning the clock was set for nuclear war. In 2007 the clock was reset to reflect climate change as well, and now the clock reads 11:55 pm. It does not yet include major threats to the human mind and brain…which I now explore.
Biblical prophecies are explicit and metaphorical predictions made by privileged individuals. They originate in the zeitgeist or spirit-of-the-times. The Book of Revelations is an example. The many historical references to failed doomsday prophecies are legend. I will assume there are two kinds of doomsdays, one involving cosmic forces beyond human control such as the death of our sun, and the self-inflicted doomsday.
Scientific prophecies of doomsday are conditional, evidence-based, and focused on evolving empirical threats often ignored by all but the experts. The tools of science are well suited to making such doomsday prophecies. One of the oldest is the Malthusian Challenge which refers to population growth beyond the earth’s capacity to support it. This threat becomes more likely with climate warming which can result in famine made worse by the spread of infectious plant, animal, and human diseases. Other potentially catastrophic threats figuring in any doomsday calculation include brain-damage by “chemical pollution” and mind-damage by “ideological pollution.”
Vulnerable 21st Century Brains:
Environmental pollution includes useful chemicals that can be toxic, even poisonous, to our brains and bodies. Nature did not design biological systems, including our brain, to handle many of today’s commercial chemicals which are seen by brain and body as “invasive alien molecules.” Awareness of such a threat become more real with Rachel Carson’s (1907-1964) book Silent Spring (1962). Some chemicals are thought to be killing honeybees, bats, butterflies and frogs. Nature is a conservative architect. In many ways the biology of the human brain is not so different from the biology of these forms of life.
One of my hobbies has been bee keeping. I’m concerned about the fate of honeybees. At the moment we're witnessing the mysterious collapse of bee colonies on a scale never seen before. Some believe insecticides and herbicides, manufactured by the chemical-industrial complex boasting of “better living through chemistry,” may be the culprits. It could be they are weakening the bee’s immune system so as to invite opportunistic diseases. As we contemplate their fate, and that of the bats, butterflies and frogs, perhaps we should consider them to be sentinel species and harbingers of environmental threats to the human brain and body. As such, their struggle may resemble that of the canaries that once warned coal miners of bad air before it killed them deep within the earth.
Chemicals that threaten the biological system of the human brain and body are called antimetabolites. The term “metabolite” refers to chemical processes of the brain and body. The antimetabolite “gums up” brain chemistry like a grain of sand interferes with the mechanism of a Swiss Watch. Hormonal Disrupters are a class of antimetabolites. They interfere with hormones in proven ways to produce mental disabilities, feminized males, masculinized females, learning disibilities, attention deficit disorders, brain cancer, other cancers, sexual and body deformations, birth defects, and chronic degenerative diseases. There are other environmental threats including toxic metal loads (e.g., mercury and lead), as well as poorly understood ionizing radiation from electronic devices of all sorts.
The human embryo and fetus are especially vulnerable to hormonal disruptors which play important roles in the early stages of human development. In low dose they hit the fetus hard. Pregnant women need to be concerned. In higher doses they hit the adult brain and body hard. We all need to be concerned. There is hope: President Obama’s Brain Science Initiative, if funded by Congress, will help us learn more about the unintended consequences of chemicals and how, over time, they have the potential of delivering a doomsday punch of their own. Such threats, those of climate change and nuclear proliferation are bad enough; but there is also an emerging threat to the human mind which differs from aggressions against the human brain. It concerns the proliferation of dangerous ideologies that come alive within susceptible individuals and speed up the ticking Doomsday Clock.
Vulnerable 21st Century Minds
The mind loves to be a mind. The brain loves to be a brain. The puppet brain is based on chemicals. The puppeteer mind is based on values. The mind pulls the strings of the brain; although the brain has a few strings of its own…but they are mostly connected to the body. While brain pollution is an old concept, that of mind pollution is new on my part. While the brain involves a chemical context, the mind involves a values-based, moral context (morals are normative values). All of these elements can potentially come together and play a role in the resetting of the Doomsday Clock in years to come.
Common Ground and The Moral Context:
Cultivation of a healthy, strong moral context is basic to healthy minds. It is the development of a science of values that promises to give us this moral context so lacking in today’s world. The ancients found a moral context and common ground in their mythology and religion. This faded rapidly with the European Renaissance (14th through 17th centuries) and Age of Reason (18th Century). History suggests we have every reason to suspect that today’s education, science and technology are potentially dangerous to minds because of the seduction of many minds by what passes for "the good life," or modernity. In many parts of the world modernity without a moral context breeds a distrust of modernity, and there is even a growing domestic cynicism concerning science and technology (e.g., the politicization of science). The absence of a moral context to modern life baits religious fanaticism among those who strongly feel that the modern world lacks a soul. For these reasons modernity without a moral context ought to concern us. In order to prevent a doomsday of our own making around these issues, the time has come to embrace two systems of science in order to better understand values in a world of facts, and recover the “soul of Western Civilization,” and abort talk of a “clash of civilizations.” This must begin with New Axiological Science saving Old Natural Science while preserving the wisdom of ancient philosophy and religion, bridging the divide between science and religion, and between religion and religion.
The “anchor” of a moral context informing common ground is missing in today’s education, law, medicine, governance, science and technology (modernity). Paradoxically a moral context, based on the science of values and morals, has never existed throughout the pages of recorded history. Yet, it is the absence of this science-based moral context that renders 21st century minds vulnerable to what we might as well call the “mind-pollution” of half-smart, even dangerous, ideologies and belief systems. They often originate in social unrest, economic inequalities, nationalism, reckless authoritarianism and extreme religious fanaticism. Destructive ideologies are amplified in the echo chamber of electronic and industrial globalization, and are rendered even worse by suggestible and poorly informed popular cultures.
I recently visited the campus of Washington and Lee University at Lexington, Virginia. There, I thought about the career of General Robert E. Lee following his surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant ending the American Civil War. What struck me about General Lee’s tenure as President of this Southern university was the importance he gave civility and morality. Although he never introduced moral education at the university, he regarded it as important when based on the unity of religions. Given General Lee’s interest in science, I imagine he would have looked favorably upon today’s science of values coming out of the Hartman Circle of Basic and Applied Axiologists, which is one of the world’s best kept secrets. This is so because the idea of a science of right and wrong, nice and nasty, good and evil is so counterintuitive to most people. The future will change this!
To Be Continued:
There is no conclusion to this narrative. My views remain a work in progress. They are destined to be tested in years to come. We are all part of the problem and must work to find solutions to these threats to minds and brains before they hatch a doomsday of their own.
It’s been twenty-eight years since I wrote Beyond Terrorism and War (Int. J. of Group Tensions, 1985). At the time, I had in mind the doomsday of MAD and proliferating nuclear weapons. I recalled the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and equated war with doomsday. I never dreamed humankind would lose ground so fast. I never imagined the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists would one day include climate change when resetting the Doomsday Clock. I never expected such palpable threats to minds and brains; nor did I grasp the importance of common ground rooted in a science of values as important to any future setting of the Doomsday Clock. I was only beginning to study Robert Hartman’s theory of value and never dreamed I would become involved with research establishing its validity in ways that give us a science of value beyond a theory of value.
Given how fast the world is changing in ways I've discussed, perhaps we should take such issues seriously. Metaphorically speaking, are we “fiddling while Rome burns?" Is our la belle indifference destined to speed up the Doomsday Clock? Concluding on a positive note, let us embrace the Brain Science Initiative before congress and our Moral Science Initiative based on value science, and hopefully avert the ultimate evil of a gathering doomsday born of modernity without a soul.
© Dr. Leon Pomeroy, Ph.D.
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