Richard Dawkins, arch anti-God proponent, aroused my interest in genetics years ago. After reading his seminal book, The Selfish Gene, and ones that followed, I became a Dawkins believer.
What do genes have to do with life after death? Genes are molecules that copy themselves. After millions of years of evolution, this copying process has produced our physical selves. But according to more considered notions of life after death, our conscious awareness isn’t created by our physical body and brain; it originates elsewhere and simply takes up temporary residence in a body as part of a learning process.
Where does selfishness come in? In The Selfish Gene, Dawkins implies that a gene’s only interest is making copies of itself, aka replicating, and that makes genes ‘selfish’. (He didn’t mean selfish in a human sense; as mindless molecules, genes are no more nor less ‘selfish’ than other molecules. Their behavior is governed by laws of physics and chemistry. Or God, if you want to annoy Dawkins.)
What’s important here is that Dawkins says our genes’ mindlessly self-interested behavior – their ‘selfishness’ – doesn’t necessarily make us selfish, because we have minds, we can think, and so make a conscious choice not to be selfish. And while you might well agree with Dawkins on that, it doesn’t change the painfully obvious fact that consciousness itself makes us selfish. Practically every decision we make is motivated by selfishness, and calling it ‘self-interest’ is often how we justify it. (The details are in the excerpt from my book at the end of this post.)
To accept that we are selfish is to recognize the reality behind all of our problems. Yet to appreciate that reality demands not only a proper understanding of what motivates genetic organisms generally, but also a grasp of the complexities that shape our conscious view of ourselves and the world.
So it’s pretty straight forward then? Hardly. It’s a matter of trying to see through the many delusions we live with as a result of our evolution, and in particular the delusion that we can simply choose not to be selfish.
Why do we behave selfishly? In a nutshell, because the genes that evolved our physical selves had to copy and reproduce themselves in such a hostile and competitive environment. To survive, successive generations of genes had to learn, through millions of years of trial and error, to build defensive (and offensive) collectives for themselves in the shape of living organisms.
Evolutionary science says that process then went on to produce us – the ghostly consciousness that haunts the biomachinery. As consciousness, we think of that evolutionary process in terms of our survival, rather than the survival of genes, because we see no essential difference between our consciousness and our genetic body.
The major downside to identifying ourselves as genetic bodies is that (whether we realize it or not) we’re allowing our conscious existence to be governed almost entirely by our body’s mindless biological self-interest; by the mindless physical urges and needs evolved into bodies by genes.
The interesting (but somewhat involved) part is that genes evolved bodies to survive in a competitive, hostile world, not for our conscious benefit. (Genes are mindless bits of biology, and we weren’t around when genetic evolution began.) They didn’t even begin evolving bodies for the benefit of those bodies. (Because again, as mindless biology, they didn’t know their copying and reproducing would later create bodies.)
In the only terms that are real for genes – mindless physical terms – the entire genetic replication and reproduction process has always been exclusively about maintaining the accuracy of gene copies. It was never about anything other than mindless biological interaction. In a more basic sense, about atoms and molecules conforming to the intractable laws of physics, in the same way that the evolution of the entire universe is.
In plain language, we devote our conscious existence to helping bits of mindless biology copy and reproduce themselves, in a small corner of an equally mindless universe that doesn’t give a damn about us or itself.
Which brings us to the life after death viewpoint.This says that when we take up temporary residence in a genetic body, the interface is so complete that we naturally identify the urges and needs that drive it, as our urges and needs. (Even though they’re entirely physical, and we – as consciousness – have no discernable physical existence.) As a result we confuse our evolution as consciousness, with what evolution designed genetic organism bodies to do: replicate and reproduce genes.
Whichever way you look at this, all that ‘we’ are is the mind that lives in the body and brain that genes made for themselves, without planning to do that, because genes can only build on the past. Try as we might, we haven’t been able to explain consciousness, or how it arises in a physical brain. But what’s certain is that without conscious awareness, ‘we’ wouldn’t exist. There’d just be collectives of insentient atoms and molecules that evolution built from genes. Whether we’re created by a physical brain or just visiting, the legacy we inherit through identification with the brain and its body is the survival instinct.
What’s the survival instinct? All the particles and forces in the universe obey the laws of physics. But when those particles and forces are shaped into a genetic organism whose primary goal is to survive so it can copy and reproduce itself, the organism develops a survival instinct. (‘Survival Instinct’ is just shorthand for saying your goal to survive was determined by the laws of physics working through the stuff you’re made from.)
Our physical selves are products of the survival instinct. It’s the primary motivation behind our thinking and behavior. It acts through the evolutionary levels of our physical brain that correspond with the levels of our subconscious mind. It determines how we perceive ourselves and the world. The survival instinct is so fundamental to our view of reality that we don’t even notice it.
It’s also why most of us relish being ‘genetic’; we justify the biological urges and needs we inherit in a body as ‘right’ and ‘good’ and even ‘moral’, even though our understanding of the concepts of right, good and morality is painfully limited by those same biological imperatives. (Any higher ideas we might have are subverted to a greater or lesser degree by the self-interests of our body. Consequently the genetic versions of ‘right’ and ‘good’ and ‘moral’ become expressions of our genetic nature, rather than ways of mitigating its selfish influence.)
The way we think is largely a result of our genes’ mindless efforts to replicate and reproduce themselves efficiently. Much as we might delude ourselves, we can’t just walk away from the fact that that goal still overwhelmingly motivates us. It’s the only reason why we care most about our own personal survival, and that of those who share some of our genes, eg: our family. But while ‘being selfish’ for our personal genes benefits us as genetic organisms, it happens at the expense of our conscious evolution.
Selfishness is selfishness because it comes down to deliberate favoritism for no other reason than a mindless biological one. Knowingly choosing our genes over someone else’s creates deprivation, inequality and imbalance on a global scale. It’s no secret. We all know we’re doing it. But we just don’t care enough to change.
Our thoughts and actions aren’t automatically predetermined by the evolutionary purpose of our physical body/brain. We can exercise free will, as Dawkins implies. My research into life after death suggests that our degree of free will depends on our personal level of conscious development. And that in turn depends on many factors related to our progress in successive visits to this world and the next, and to our own past, present and future actions. (There’s just too much involved for a short explanation; that’s why I wrote Diary of my life after death.)
The major factor affecting our ‘free’ will is the ongoing conflict between what we as consciousness are, and what we’re persuaded by instinct to think we are by a genetic body. We might intuit that, as consciousness, we’re more than this genetic body and its biological self-interest, its urges and needs. Many of us share the conviction that there’s more to us than can be proven by scientific means, hence our ideas of a spirit or soul. But there’s no getting away from the hard evidence that says self-interest is our primary motivation in this life. It’ll probably remain so while we continue to occupy physical bodies.
Here’s a relevant excerpt from Diary of my life after death.
I’m to examine the conflict of interests created between consciousness and the human body it occupies. I’m told that ‘selfish genes’ is a misleading term – genes are incapable of selfishness. They’re just bits of biomachinery that copy themselves. All of the selfishness is supplied by consciousness. This lesson is important because selfishness is the cause of all of humanity’s problems…
At first I’m simply in mental sync with the energy controling the screen, but then a part of me is inside the screen. Some of my energy kind of splits off and goes into the scenes I’m watching. I’m simultaneously part of the picture, experiencing it yet observing it from the outside, able to take in everything at once with an expanded sense of vision.
My understanding is opened up so I can take in these multi-dimensional scenes showing how physical organisms work as a series of chemical interactions that genes evolved to replicate and reproduce themselves.
I see organisms compete with each other for the resources involved in those chemical interactions. I note how the organisms can only be ‘selfish’ if they have the intellectual capacity to understand that by acquiring resources for themselves and their genetic offspring, they’re depriving others of those same resources.
Next I look at how this applies to human beings in scenarios of people competing selfishly for material security, better jobs, ever-rising paychecks, a bigger roof over their head. In detail I watch them compete as employees, towns, states, countries and ideologies. Group selfishness works for their mutual benefit, but at bottom the mutuality is just more selfishness. Unrestricted by the usual dimensions of time and space, I look deep into each of these people and see that underneath their human hopes, desires and aspirations, their sense of ‘community’, is the same blind determination to safeguard the welfare of their own genes before any other consideration. The genes in the form of their own physical selves; the copies of those same genes in the people they care most about.
I learn how being ‘selfish for biology’ creates a demand for material wealth. It creates sprawling conurbations and social structures that spread over the landscape as people exploit material resources, simultaneously trashing nature and the planet – and each other if they get in the way – to accommodate their own genetic offspring and ensure their survival. I see how, as a side-effect, the unconscious ‘I want’ urge creates mountains of short-lived fashionable junk that threaten to turn the planet into a giant landfill site.
On a deeper level, I see how this desire for short-lived junk has become a psychosis that controls human beings. The lust for profits and growth economies, for new technology, higher living standards and social expansion – all of it is fueled by billions of individuals demanding more for themselves and their genetic offspring. The inevitable result is imbalance, deprivation and poverty, inequality, conflict, overpopulation, climate change…
Again I’m able to look into hearts and minds and see that while most human beings don’t consciously associate their competitive nature with creating and perpetuating all of these downsides, they’re well aware that personal acts of selfishness are the cause of their problems, but choose not to acknowledge this fact because it conflicts with their core instinct to reproduce. They believe this instinct gives them an automatic right to reproduce whatever the cost. This compulsion convinces human beings that their self-interest is acceptable.
From my enlightened viewpoint I understand that many negative side-effects of genetic reproduction conflict directly with the higher principles of consciousness. And yet a succession of human consciousnesses, developing inside of a genetic body, naturally mistake themselves for that body.
As consciousness, we don’t realize that taking human form reduces us to instruments of the genetic replication and reproduction process. Ignorant of who we really are, we become selfish for the organism we think we are.