Are we at the birth of a new culture in the Western world? Are we on the verge of a new way of thinking? Both humanistic and scientific thinkers suggest as much.
George Steiner said almost prophetically,
“All cultures are mortal, all religions too. All are mortal cultural events as mortal are the men who produce them. And it is now that there is a transition period. We are now entering a post-religion era. Christianity will die as Marxism did. What will fill the void? What awaits us? What will be born?”
As I recall, Steiner did not elaborate very much beyond justifying these questions historically and philosophically. However, he emphasized the possible emergence of a new era in which critical and analytical thinking would play major roles. Edward Wilson stated in his book The Future of Life that it was time to change to a culture of life-sustaining permanence of both ourselves and the biosphere. He advocated looking within the mind, gesturing towards the inner workings of the brain to discover its functioning via thoughts, emotions, and feelings, out of which the creation and the succession of different cultures have been moulded.
Biotechnology, genetic engineering, and neuroscience are producing a revolutionary change in our vision of the human world. New answers to old and univesal questions will emerge–those related to the nature of mind and consciousness or the social and moral nature of man. This “neuroculture” is based on the knowledge of how the human brain operates. The brain is integrated and interacting with the rest of the body and with its physical and social environment, and it determines everything man does and expresses in his behavior, feelings, thoughts, or beliefs.
Neuroculture presupposes that nothing occurs and nothing exists in the human world that has not been filtered through that sieve we call the brain. World events, a beautiful work of art, the successful development of a complex mathematical formula, or the deep feeling of having experienced the existence of God are all filtered through this sieve. In fact the rapid progress in our understanding about how the brain works is giving rise to a new way of thinking with the “neuro” discourses. There is a reassesment of the humanities, and a new bridge connecting those two large and classical bodies of knowledge, science and humanities.
Neuroculture is not intended to achieve any conception of a post-human nature. Human nature is and always will be human. It will certainly be redefined and reevaluated, but it will never cease to be human.
Neuroculture may produce an impact on human thinking similar to that produced by Darwinism over 100 years ago. It is possible that for many neuroculture will represent a backward step, a way of losing that spiritual essence of what it has been so far conceived as the true human nature. However, for many others, neuroculture will be a step forward, reaching towards a truth about human beings that has previously been hidden. Thus neuroculture should bring a conception of man, and the greatness of man, based on scientific evidence and critical and analytical thinking. It should provide a re-evaluation of those grand conceptions such as education, privacy, dignity, equality, politics, love, friendship, good and evil, truth, freedom, justice, dignity, and nobility.
Featured Image: Matterhorn, Zermatt, Switzerland. Photo by Joshua Earle. CC0 via Unsplash.