Livingston wonders if it is human biology or it is the set of human ideas that is driving the current global mass extinction? (1) I think Livingston says it’s our ideas but he adds that our biology has evolved such that we can’t live without ideas.
Ideas coalesce into culture. Humans are not the only animals to express culture. Livingston provides many examples (especially lions on the hunt). But our species alone has ‘evolved into virtually total dependence upon not our nature but our nurture. We have lost the comfortably shifting experiential balance…. We have chosen instead to gamble our future and the planet’s on ideas. This is risky.’ (10)
It’s like putting all your eggs in one basket. But I’m not sure whether, over centuries or millennia, ‘we have chosen’ or if it’s even possible to choose. Nevertheless, what’s done is done; however, can we unchoose? There’s an idea.
As I said, ideas coalesce into culture, and in humans, culture has replaced biology. Our dependence on culture has become what Livingston calls the prosthetic device, ‘a surrogate or substitute mode of approaching or apprehending the world.’ (10) He elaborates: ‘The prosthesis is the “paradigm” [or filter]–the set of beliefs, givens, and assumptions, the culturally conditioned perceptions and understandings of the world…. Any filter will do, but none will not do…. [What it is] does not really matter as long as it performs its supportive function.’ (11)
Livingston adds that ‘the overwhelming proportion of our thinking … is devoted to technology‘ in the broadest sense, which he often calls ‘how-to-do-it’. How-to-do-it can be anything and everything–‘how to kill a chicken or how to change a tire or how to deal with a conundrum in logic or how to find purpose and meaning in the cosmos. Or indeed how to predict, organize, and control a human society.’ (11)
Like zoo animals or like dogs and cats, we cannot live in the wild, in nature, for we have replaced natural biology with domestic culture, with this prosthetic device. In the process we have domesticated ourselves and we have dominated the planet, foolishly pushing aside to their detriment (and ours) other animals and plants with erroneous regard for their conservation. We no longer know things instinctively; instead, we depend on this prosthetic device. But what have we lost, and can it be regained, and what if we should lose the prosthesis?