Post- Modern Paleo: A New Copernican Revolution?
“We are evolution becoming conscious of itself.” – Sir Julian Huxley, 1959
Certain turning points occur in the course of human history, seemingly simple introduction of a new idea resulting in wide sweeping changes in understanding of nature and life. The first major such event in Western European history redefined the Earth as one of the planets revolving around the Sun, displacing centuries of religious mythological authority maintaining the Earth to be the center of the Universe. In the centuries following, a steady stream of various other naturalistic revelations have further altered understanding of the nature of human life on planet earth. Yet the impact of a turning point event occurring in 1878 has yet to directly bear practical, pragmatic fruit on the lives we live – including our health and well being. In what follows we explore the foundation of the Paleo movement as a uniquely post-modern science – yet one incomplete and necessarily floundering due simply unawareness of its post-modern origins establishing what will hopefully become a New Copernican Revolution.
Publication of Copernicus’ On the Revolution of the Celestial Spheres just before his death in 1543 formulated a heliocentric model of the universe, placing the Sun, rather than the Earth, at the center. His untimely death was, in retrospect, timely insofar as the event spared him of accusations of the utmost heresy and surely prolonged subjugation to sophisticated techniques of torture. The Copernican Revolution forever displaced traditional religious authority regarding the place of Sun, Earth and planetary motion, while introducing a problem haunting science until Newton’s postulating of gravity 140 years later: prior to Copernicus everyone understood that things fall to the floor moving toward the center of the universe. Dislodged as the world’s center, no cogent explanation sufficed to explain what Newton would recognize and name as gravity.
Over roughly the past two centuries, a short span of 200 years, human civilization has undergone unprecedented shifts towards a kind of self-reflective consciousness. The revolution beginning in the 1850s with Darwin and Marx undercut belief rooted in traditional religious and monarchical myths of human origins and human nature, opening the way to naturalism. Pasteur’s discovery of germs as cause of infectious disease toppled standard explanations of causes ranging from divine retribution to curses, thereby establishing the beginning of modern medicine. The culminating act establishing a naturalistic, human based science came with William James establishing the world’s first psychology laboratory at Harvard College in 1878: for several centuries investigation of the human mind was forbidden by religious authority due to its belief that psyche was the seat of the soul, hence the exclusive providence of church.
We humans have come a long way in the short span of less than two centuries – a long way in movement from the thought-control imposed by church and monarchy by means of mythologies privileging totalitarianism. Modern totalitarian states remain, some governed by exclusive religious claims, others by state Communist materialistic authority. Far more subtle and pervasive today are institutionalized systems of dogmatic authority that we’re raised believing to be ultimate truths of life. Origins of the Paleo movement as a post-modern discipline while not well known or appreciated are of utmost importance for every freedom loving, wellness seeking individual.
Paleo Origins: A New Post-Modern Science
If Paleo has a remote scientist ancestor, Charles Darwin will have to share that role of honor with Harvard College philosophy William James. Among his numerous achievements as an early bearer of the title “Harvard pragmatist” James broke the stranglehold of several centuries of Western religious authority by establishing the world’s first psychology laboratory in 1878; within a year, a second was established in Germany. Another twenty years later, Vienna’s Sigmund Freud discovered the distinction between our two minds: the conscious and the unconscious.
In the wake of revelations of both Darwin and Marx, some philosophers and scientists began questioning long held beliefs about the nature of human consciousness. Just as Pasteur demonstrated that curses, hexes, and divine retribution did not account for diseases due to bacteria, similar shift in attention occurred with early speculative development of what would become far more than psychology, resulting in a blossoming of an array of social sciences in the twentieth century: included are psychology, sociology, political science, and anthropology. Much of the early development of those fields drilled down simply to establish separate, independent fields of theory and understanding as new specializations – suffering as being marginalized as ‘soft’ sciences by modernity.
Modernity and Post-Modernity
In a nutshell, modernity refers to the new scientific worldview arising in the wake of Darwin, Marx, Pasteur and many others during the late 19th century. It’s philosophy included mandatory control-measure taboos inherited as a way of thinking from medieval religious authority: science was bound to the study of external, observable, measurable phenomena. Modernity stripped supernatural explanations from its worldview, holding the nature of reality is reducible only to material causes. Mind by it’s very nature did not fit well into materialistic reductionism. At best mind and emotion were confined to what’s known as epiphenomenalism: just as the kidneys produce urine, the brain excretes consciousness! What an odd metaphor for scientists to employ in description of themselves! The rise of biochemical medicine dominating American thinking resulted in development of psycho pharmaceutical approaches to treating, not healing, ‘emotional disorders’ – a fact verifiable with reference to news network commercials reinforcing the view such approaches are ‘normal’ ‘medical science’.
Post-modern thinking became a major force in the wake of World War II. Revelations of psychology throughout the twentieth century inescapably established how easily psychological conditioning shapes mind, emotion, and behavior. Sociology went further, revealing the incredible gravity of social pressures from birth in establishing ‘the social construction of self” and reality. Political science shed more light on casual and deliberate shaping of belief, including insidious tools of mind-control and opinion shaping rooted in manipulation of fear. Anthropology revealed not only cultural relatively – how language and one’s native culture are shape a particular culture relative to others – but provided tools for comparing culturally arbitrary beliefs as not absolutes.
Paleo’s origins were not as a diet. In the early 1980s three remarkable scholars met at Emory University. Anthropologist Melvin Konner and his late wife Marjorie Shostak were renown Harvard anthropologists for their field work with the !Kung. Back at Harvard in midlife Mel entered Harvard medical school to fulfill a lifelong dream, becoming also a MD. Soon after he was recruited to chair Emory’s anthropology department. There he met S. Boyd Eaton, professor of radiology and lifelong student of anthropology. In the early 80s Eaton attended an anthropological conference on diet, sparking interest. The three of them set out studying diet, fitness, etc. among extant hunter/gatherers. Their version of evolutionary medicine brought together tools of anthropology to bear on medical presuppositions native to Western civilization. Comparative study indicate extant hunter/gathers lack vocabulary for most of the diseases we of contemporary Western civilization take for granted as ‘the human condition.’ In the best spirit of the Copernican Revolution, their co-authored 1988 book The Paleolithic Prescription counts as a primary post-modern classic. And as with the wake of opposition to Copernicus by religious authority, their work and its unprecedented escalation as the now popular Paleo movement remains discounted and marginalized by official dogmatic ‘medical scientific’ authority.
Paleo Today: At the Turning Point
I confess. I’m guilty as can be. It happened with I was twelve years old, more than 50 years ago. I inherited a collection of books from my late great-uncle. Included was one of the two volumes of Darwin’s The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871). At twelve years of age I had my first sex book! I soon became converted to evolution, never looking back. My delight regarding the Paleo movement is boundless, nevertheless guarded simply because by all appearances it’s drifting int a popular movement at the expense of losing life line connections with its scientific origins. In fact, in some quarters it’s become just plain counter factual as a dietary movement divorced from a rapidly growing evolutionary science of exercise physiology that’s mandatory for an informed, intelligent accurate picture. And more…
Sir Julian Huxley, from the eminent British family of evolutionary scientists, said in a 1959 centennial Darwinian conference at the University of Chicago: “We are evolution becoming conscious of itself.” Other scientists of that period have noted the same metaphor, like Huxley then going on to advocate moving from passive recipients of forces shaping evolution to becoming co-evolutionary consciously volitional participants in that process in order to become the First Humans. A new race pure human, gratefully accepting the full richness of dormant genomic potentials by embracing a journey of discovery oriented to self-mastery/self-liberation!
I must also confess to a different worldview. While still in high school two professional wrestlers at the San Jose YMCA noted my passion for weight training while otherwise a bookish kid. One Saturday morning they took me aside, expressing how they liked me, along with their concern over lacking any skills for taking care of myself on the street. Every Saturday thereafter we’d meet for an hour in the wrestling room learning self-defense going up against guys 50 pounds of muscle bigger than me in hand to hand combat, rubber knives and rubber guns. We reached a point where they prescribed going down the street to the Buddhist temple to learn judo and meditation. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area I knew something of Buddhism from Alan Watts’ television programs on KQED. Within a decade, exhausting the possibilities of psychology and philosophy as material reductionist dominated in a double major, I entered a Japanese Buddhist graduate school: I’d learned enough to know core Buddhism isn’t a religion, instead a profound mapping of dormant human potentials together with powerful methods of bringing those potentials to integrated living them. That, in turn, took me to Kyoto for advanced training, testing of ‘heart’ understanding, then awarded mentor licensing as a Kyoshi (akin to a Zen master). Due to little interest in religion, I was more aligned with emergent post-modern consciousness research, especially with pragmatic application to athletic peak performance and wellness. As such, my orientation goes well beyond diet and exercise as reductionistic ‘medicines that are good for you.’
One important lesson is that mediation is a plural word: there are many, many versions, all aiming at specific outcomes. What’s more, meditation is a carry over term from 19th century pioneering interpretation. The more accurate term is ‘non-dual mindfulness.’
My claim is that Paleo is well advised to plunge deeper into post-modern development. That means the so-called ‘soft sciences’ need to be embraced and gainfully employed in celebration of a passion for life. As such, we need to address how wellness feels different and better than doing things out of self-divided obligation because they are good for you!
Post-modern Paleo benefits from an important narrative of Western culture. One group of early Christians were persecuted out of existence: the gnostics. Gnostic and gnosis come from the Sanskrit verb jñā, which means a transcending, inner understanding – the sort arising from seeing through and rising above cultural conditioning. For a prescribed dogma totalitarian oriented, growing early religious authority, gnostics were dangerous. The gnostic heresy became the most persecuted of heresies: it claimed one could have spiritual experience independent of churches and priests through direct contact with the spiritual. In 1460, the Medicine court purchased a long forbidden book, The Corpus Hermeticum, putting Marsilio Ficino to work rendering it to Latin. That work reintroduced long forbidden gnosis to the Latin Renaissance, in turn fanning development of Renaissance Science – viewed and punished as the Scientific Heresy by religion. With anonymous publication in Kassel of the Fama Fraternitatus in 1614, a new image of a new human emerged: one could know the mind of God by opening Liber Mundi, the Book of Nature. Descartes’ carefully constructed work separated mind from body, giving religion a basis for making a deal: science could study external, observable, measurable events, leaving the psyche or seat of the soul to its owner, religion. German phenomenologist philosophers danced around the issue with careful writing, but it was not until James established his laboratory that the heresy was put to rest.
Early interpretation of non-Western ‘philosophy and religion’ assumed everybody everywhere had religions that can be interpreted in Western languages based on examination of what they believe. Sadly, the spiritual liberation traditions of India and China (plus derivative cultures) don’t work that way. They count as sophisticated transpersonal, perhaps in some cases transcultural, pathways of liberating the dormant human potential. Our Western interpreters, blinded by their culture’s Gnostic Deficiency Disorder, were entirely ill-equipped for the task. Due to their cultural waking trance, they found doctrine and beliefs everywhere they looked despite none being present!
Core non-dual mindfulness promotes development of observing or flowing through life without being hijacked by knee jerk reactions to everyday melodramas. One gains skill in seeing through and rising above addictive reactions. MRI scans demonstrate that a few weeks of non-dual mindfulness training result in diminishing concentrations of gray matter associated with the seat of the fight or flight limbic system’s amygdala with increased population of gray matter to the left prefrontal cortex, seat of objective decision making – plus lighting up of the insula, seat of empathy,compassion, and loving-kindness. Far more studies, literally tens of thousands, indicate immense liberative humanizing physical and psychological benefits from non-dual mindfulness skill development.
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with how we know what we think we know. Practice of non-dual mindfulness results in getting to know ourselves, our unconscious yet habitual automatic pilot reactions to life. As we gain skill into settling into unhurried inner peace, a transvaluative experience occurs that comes to value peace over stressful discord with ourselves. Many techniques such as neurofeedback and hypnosis can help accomplish similar ends, while doing so with reliance on an external operator instead of gaining lifetime, portable skills.
Psycho-Physical Training: BodhiBuilding
For decades I’ve largely kept physical training (resistance training) separated from non-dual mindfulness training for the public. Yep, I catered to popular stereotypes due to several decades of dismissive responses. The world has, happily, changed. Candace Pert’s work on the ligand-receptor system underscores the whole system wellness importance of coordinated, integrative psycho-physical training/skill development. Hence, it was time to step up to the plate with what we’ve done for decades.
Physical training has grown in sophistication in recent decades due to programmatic methods scheduling progressive development over the course of months and more. Most of our orientations to ‘meditation’ are simplistic – simplistic in that Sanskrit and Chinese traditions have the same sorts of progressive skill development and training models that physical training does. Wonderful news. Psycho-physical training does one important thing: it unlocks fuller expression of genomic potentials for whole person wellness that do reductionist, half-hearted approaches.
Where does Bodhi-Building fit in the Paleo or Physical Culture worlds? It’s a harbinger of things to come, a new guiding paradigm. Specifically it’s client centered rather than one sizes fits all. It can be done at home or in a gym. It’s demanding yet simple: you meet yourself with every rep of every set, gaining skill in dense intensity leading to surprisingly rapid improvement. In practical terms, it aims to prevent, arrest, even reverse chronic degenerative diseases plaguing Western civilization.
Bodhi means wisdom, hence the outcome of BodhiBuilding is one of gaining liberating personal wisdom empowering voluntary self-care in wellness based on stimulating rich expression of dormant genomic potentials.
For those interested, watch for a separate BodhiBuilding website coming very soon. Applications will be taken for learners, both one on one and by use of web technology for remote mentoring.
©2013, Ken O’Neill. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.