The two sides of human life
The human being as a living organism
Each of us participates in human life first of all because the natural process produces a new body. The formation of the human body is no different from that of other higher mammals: two reproductive cells (an egg and a spermatozoon) merge, and within the maternal uterus that process of subdivision, growth and cell differentiation starts, which ends with the birth, when the baby's body separates from that of the mother and begins its life. In the section on life on earth, a picture has been given of the phases of the natural evolutionary process, which determined the current high informatics complexity on the basis of which a new animal organism is formed: in this respect, the human body and that of a monkey or an elephant show the same complexity. In higher mammals, the newborn cub is usually not abandoned to itself immediately after birth, but is raised by one or both parents, or becomes part of a group, a pack or a herd, until it has learned to survive on its own. In humans things are different, but in primitive living conditions the process of learning the behaviors needed to get food is similar, as can be seen in anthropomorphic apes.
In the animal world, behaviors are extremely varied and complex: such behaviors can be determined by programs present in the brain at birth (instincts), or by learned programs, often through imitation by cubs of the actions performed by the adults. In many animal species, offspring must rely only on instinctual resources since birth: for example, sea turtles (Caretta caretta) are born from eggs laid by the mother in holes dug in the sand of the same beach where she was born. Not only must the little turtles, which come out of the eggs, make the journey to find the way out of the hole, reach the sea (several tens of meters) and swim to the sea to get away from the coast, but they are also able to memorize the geographical coordinates of the beach where they were born, and to which females will return only after some years. The young of the queen's hawk (Falco eleonorae), which nests in some areas of the Mediterranean and on an island in the Canaries, are fed by parents for a couple of months. In autumn, the parents abandon them to migrate to Madagascar, but after a few weeks, the chicks also leave for the same destination, flying alone for over 6,000 kilometers.
The learning techniques by imitation have found a cerebral confirmation in the discovery of mirror neurons, which, however, have been identified, to date, only in humans, in primates, and in some species of birds. These neurons are activated not only when the subject performs an action, but also when it observes an action performed by other individuals, of the same species and also of others. It is possible that similar neurons, which determine learning through imitation, are present in the nervous system of many other animal species. In any case, we are still very far from a satisfactory understanding of the role and functioning of neurons and neural networks in the transmission of programs that determine the behaviors and actions of animals: we observe facts, which often arouse wonder in us, and perhaps we also construct interpretative and explanatory theories – suggested by our psyche – which we then try to verify. But not infrequently some of these theories are defended even when they are not verified or verifiable, simply because we need to delude ourselves that we know, when in reality we still know very little.
If, with a little mental experiment, we try to imagine the evolution of human knowledge in four or five thousand years, we can hypothesize three scenarios: 1) humanity has become extinct due to natural causes or self-destruction; 2) humanity has regressed to a less advanced level than today's; 3) humanity has evolved, greatly expanding its knowledge heritage. In the first and second cases, the process of human evolution would have failed, despite all the efforts and sufferings it costed to mankind. In the third case, our current cognitive stage would be considered more or less as we consider the Middle Ages: an intermediate phase, contaminated by the dark and illusory aspects of a still underdeveloped psyche. This does not mean denying that the push towards increasing our knowledge plays a fundamental role for human progress: we must not believe, however, that the current scientific method is definitive, and could not be overcome in the future by a more complete and effective knowledge acquisition system.
But to return to animal behaviors, such as that of the little turtles that since birth behave like small robots programmed to perform certain actions, cognitive problems concern both the origin of those programs, and the ways in which the programs are transferred and become operating within each new individual, built in ways that are completely different from what we humans use to build our robots. In the current phase of human evolution, our knowledge reaches the more or less accurate description of the biological processes – including the fundamental one of the encoding of information in the genome – but it is unable to take into account and evaluate those aspects that do not manifest themselves through some physical transformation: in simple words, the mental aspects of natural phenomena. Thus, every time we try to trace back the causes that have determined a particular effect, and therefore the origin of the programs according to which the organisms operate since birth, we must be content with attributing them to accidental errors – that is, errors due to chance – occurred in the transcription of the genetic makeup. If this can be considered a satisfactory form of knowledge... I leave it to each of you to judge.
Anyway, leaving aside for now the knowledge related to the transmission of information to each new organism, the behavior of many animal species shows a robotic functioning, in the sense that these organisms act without having any knowledge of the systems that determine their needs and actions. This does not mean that there cannot be a conscious perception of the needs that the animal organism must cope with and of the environmental conditions in which it finds itself: it is however – in many species – a rudimentary, elementary level of consciousness that does not evolve into self-consciousness, let alone what we humans call knowledge. Animals can acquire information on the environment in which they live, on the behavior of other living organisms, and on the possibilities offered by their own way of functioning: this information can be translated into a form of knowledge based on experience and memory, but does not determine creative elaborations aimed at increasing cognitive knowledge. The most advanced animals learn, through observation, imitation and exercise, to operate their bodies efficiently: typical examples are the flight of birds, or the hunting methods of predators. In any case, each animal works without questioning the reasons why it must function in this way, nor the purpose of its functioning. For this reason, their actions cannot be judged according to an ethical criterion: the living of animals consists in functioning within the natural system, of which they are probably completely unaware. This automatic, robotic mode of operation, based on mental mechanisms that remain predominantly unconscious, is also present in humans, since the origin and formation of our organism and nervous system are determined by natural laws.
The culturally programmed human being
Unlike other animal species, in which individuals adopt for centuries and centuries the same behavioral patterns determined by the programs they have received and the environmental conditions, humans – for some millennia – have grouped together in societies that change more or less rapidly. A century ago, on our planet were simultaneously present – in different geographical areas – both tribal societies made up of a few hundred members, who lived in a way we may define as primitive, and much more complex societies made up of millions of members, considered as civilized and advanced. Even today it seems that there exist – in remote areas of the Amazon rainforest – some small tribal groups that have not yet had direct contact with members of the civilized world. On the whole, however, a general exchange of contacts is underway at the planetary level, so that even people living in remote areas of Africa can receive information on what is happening in culturally advanced countries. The reasons for these gaps in the development of different cultures are still obscure: there does not seem to be any genetic variations such as to allow us to attribute the progress or delay in the evolution of a civilization to an ethnic basis. Without a doubt, environmental conditions can contribute to favoring or inhibiting social development, but this too is only partially true.
Today it is politically correct, given that it is part of the cultural programs of our society and our time, to say that all men are equal. This statement makes sense if it refers to the genetic makeup of the human species as a whole, since genetic differences between individuals and groups of individuals are not lacking, but it is evident – and cannot be denied – that the cultures in which a human being is born and raised are varied and very different from each other, without wishing to establish a ranking that could prove arbitrary and questionable, as influenced by the culture of origin. The important fact to reflect on is that – regardless of the culture in which they are raised – all humans are programmed by the socio-cultural milieu of which they are part, as neophytes in the phase in which they grow and acquire cultural programs, and as effective members when they begin to operate on their own initiative within the system. In this respect, all of us are programmed, and therefore conditioned, by the time and the geographical place in which we were born and brought up, as well as by our own genetic heritage. Under these conditions, believing that the conscious Ego can independently determine its destiny is a naive delusion: at best, the Ego can learn to navigate and orientate itself in the sea of the psychic dynamics determined by the initial conditions and the collective evolution of its reference environment.
The mechanisms by which cultural programs originate and spread, affirming themselves over time, are not yet well understood and, above all, still escape our intelligent interpretation. What can be said is that in our days, in the context of complex societies, the variety of cultural programs that are formed, transformed and stratified, has its roots in the historical evolution of cultures shared by communities formed by millions of people, in front of whom the conscious mental activity of a single human observer can have, at best, a role of critical testimony, but certainly not of active transformation. The choices, activities and behaviors of what are commonly called «the masses» are not based on that part of the psychic activity subject to control by a sufficiently evolved conscious Ego, but are determined by continuous, rapid, and not sufficiently consciously elaborated interactions between interconnected brains that exchange signals, stimuli and information deriving from the acquired programs and from their largely unconscious functioning.
Especially in the past, but also in the present, a new cultural program, or a substantial modification to a pre-existing program, almost always originates from a single person's psychic experience, which acquires a very intense power of involvement: if that person is endowed with sufficient psychic energy, that involvement translates into action aimed at promoting the affirmation and diffusion of a new cultural program within a human community. In most cases, these operations abort after some time, often without leaving a trace, but occasionally some of them are successful, turning into well-established cultural programs. To give a trivial but interesting example, consider the global importance assumed by a sporting (that is, recreational) activity, such as football, within our societies. Still in the first half of the nineteenth century different forms of contention games of a ball, with hands, feet or bats, were practiced locally by teams of amateurs: the origin of these games was medieval, although antecedents of them can be dated back to the Greco-Roman period, with analogies to cultures at the time distant from each other, such as Chinese, Japanese or Aztec. But it was only in the second half of the nineteenth century that the football rules began to be codified and, thanks to the work of the secretary of the English Football Association, Ebenezer Cobb Morley, football assumed its own identity which differentiated it from rugby, the ball game at the time more widespread and popular – also under the name of football – in the Anglo-Saxon world. Since then, football has become increasingly popular in the western world, with impressive economic implications and in mass culture.
If you ask someone – even a psychology expert – why such phenomena occur, the answer is that, evidently, they respond to certain psychological needs. The same thing can also be said for religion, which is increasingly considered as a psychological need, and for any other collective need. This psychologic trend, now widespread in our culture, indeed does not explain anything, because tells us nothing about the origin, causes and purposes of these collective psychological needs: what in other times was attributed to some form of divine will, today simply changed the label! That divine plan that some believed to have closed forever outside the door, has already come back through the window: due to the very fact of living, humans can hardly escape the psychic programs that involve and condition them. But apart from these considerations, a first observation that can be made is that cultural programs – which determine the behavior of a human being as a member of a society – often come into conflict with some of the instincts that are part of our body's animal heritage. The consequences of these conflicts fall on the conscious Ego, driven by contradictory tensions to make choices whose results will not conform to its expectations.
In the period between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some exponents of nascent psychology, and above all Freudian psychoanalysis – then at its dawn – thought they had found in these conflicts between the functioning and behavioral needs, imposed by the cultural programs of advanced societies, and the natural drives, the cause of mental disorders – which at the time were called nervous diseases – from which some people suffered. In particular, psychoanalysis claimed that the incompatibility of certain impulses, especially of a sexual nature, with the cultural conditionings of the time, caused their removal in the unconscious, where they continued to act producing those negative psychosomatic effects that then involved the conscious Ego. In physiological terms, this meant that the unconscious activity of the brain took energy, resources and control capacity away from the conscious Ego. However this simplified – and somewhat naive – scheme soon showed its limits and it was necessary to subject it to continuous updates and extensions (which are still in progress), precisely because each human being represents a unique case of interaction between brain functioning mode, environmental conditionings, personal history and development of consciousness: a case determined by energies – natural and psychic – which anyway tend to escape the conscious Ego's control. The original Freudian model, inheritance of the Enlightenment and Positivism, was destined to yield in the face of the psyche's power, precisely because it had to recognize the existence of the unconscious, which could never have been run out by consciousness.
Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) pragmatically believed that the concept of the unconscious could be extended to all that part of the human psyche destined to manifest itself – in one form or another – in a person's mental activity, often avoiding control by the conscious Ego. Even in his case, a nineteenth-century's base optimism and the trust in his own therapeutic abilities led him to identify a path of confrontation between the conscious Ego and the unconscious, which should led to the conciliation and overcoming of conflicts through the realization of a higher order entity, the Self, in which the conscious Ego can live in balance and harmony with the needs of its unconscious mental activity. Jung called this path the individuation process. It is easy to see in this confrontation – at first conflicting and then more harmonious – a transformation of the ancient problem of the relationship between the humans and their Gods. Jung himself did not fail to highlight the mythical aspects of this process: he often emphasized the hazards which the conscious Ego must undergo when it has to face the unconscious, and led as an example the figure of the hero who emerges victorious – and does not succumb – from his fight with the dragon. Regardless of the judgment that everyone is free to make on the evaluation of the functioning of mental processes by these and other eminent psychology scholars, the fact remains that we, as human beings, can describe these phenomena, but cannot interpret them in a correct and univocal way, precisely because everyone is involved in their own psychic dynamics.
Jung defined his life as a self-realization of the unconscious, but this can be said for any life: the important factor is always represented by the way in which the conscious Ego participates in this process, and by the results it achieves. Even Jung recognized that there are normal people, more or less well adapted and tranquil, who travel the path of life without having to deal with great conflicts of a psychic nature, and others for whom navigating the sea of psychic dynamics is always difficult, and involves many risks. He himself fell into this category. It is the same quality of consciousness, which could be defined as intelligent sensitivity, which broadens the field of psychic experiences and submits to a critical analysis the cultural programs developed so that each person may find and interpret their social role. But the complexity of today's mass societies, whose technological evolution had a development completely unpredictable at the time of Jung, proposes personal functioning models very different than those suggested by him. In this respect, Jung let himself be guided by his psychic experiences (nor could he do otherwise), but without taking sufficient account of the fact that they represented only a small fraction of the global complexity of the human psyche.
In our day, a large part of humankind – which in the meantime has grown numerically like never before in its history – is still in a condition of having to face primary needs of natural origin, such as nutrition and cure of diseases, therefore for many humans just coming into this world is a hazard, for which adequate cultural programs are not available, given that those of the past no longer work – the social models having dramatically changed – and the current ones, taken by societies whose historical and cultural development has followed a different path, still don't work well. So it is not difficult to foresee that in the near future the problems of an economic nature, linked to our natural origin, will prevail over any other order of problems, also affecting our cultural development. To many people, believing that this world can be improved once and for all is an indispensable psychological need, necessary to be able to face life. However, it remains a utopia, given that humanity's problems will always exist, even if they change over time and are differently distributed within the social groups. This depends on the fact that almost always, whenever an attempt is made to solve a problem, the proposed solution carries within itself an aspect – which remains mostly in the shadows – destined to develop, over time, a new problem. Each new coin still has two sides.
Consciousness and memory
We have seen so far the aspects of life deriving from the animal origin and the cultural and social evolution of human beings, and the possible conflicts caused by mental interactions between natural drives and cultural programs. Whatever the successes and failures, always relative, that destiny reserves for every human being, the fact remains that life vicissitudes are matched by a series of mental experiences that involve the conscious Ego. Indeed, the Ego of every human being is the only direct witness to this inner story. Beyond all the thoughts, considerations and behavior choices that determine the routine of our ordinary mental life, there are some particularly intense experiences of an emotional, sentimental, meditative or cognitive nature, which leave a deeper trace in our inner life. These experiences are fixed in the memory, often in an indelible way, that is for the duration of life, even if the intensity of their memory re-enactment – in relation both to the exact reconstruction of the events, and to the perception of the feelings connected to them – is destined to become more evanescent as time goes by.
Although the psychic experiences of the conscious Ego follow one another, always focusing on the present moment, our personal identity is essentially based on the memories of our life, even if – in some cases – a part of us can feel that it exists independently of our personal history. It is evident that not all the events of our life are memorized so that they can be easily remembered: indeed, most of them are definitively erased. Exceptions are a few people, endowed with an indelible (and sometimes annoying) memory (HSAM, Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory) that – for years and years – cannot forget any detail of their everyday life. In any case, memory seems indispensable for the meaning of our life: even when we do not remember what happened to us on a certain day in the past, particularly in terms of our internal experiences, we nevertheless know that we were conscious of what was happening to us. But there are cases in which memory is damaged, due to injuries or degenerative diseases that affect the brain, and at least a part of the memories can no longer be recalled to consciousness: in similar cases, what about the conscious Ego and its personal identity?
We must recognize a close dependence between our identity and personal history, and our brain's functioning. From this point of view, the phenomenon of split personality – which occurs spontaneously in cases of somnambulism, and can be induced by hypnosis – is also of particular interest: in such cases, the conscious Ego, in its normal state, remembers almost nothing of what the subject has made or mentally experienced during the altered state. Sometimes, two distinct personalities can be observed that alternate for more or less long periods in an individual's mind (alternate personalities), each of which does not remember the events or mental states connected to the other personality. There may even be more than two personalities (multiple personalities), of which one or two prevalent and more stable, and the other occasional and unstable: in these cases one of the prevailing personalities can also remember what happens during the other dissociated states. For all these reasons we cannot consider the conscious Ego as a stable and permanent subject, whose existence is based on our personal history and on our destiny in the course of this life: the Ego is only an experimenter subject, as it is endowed with consciousness, and the continuity of its experiences of this life will anyway be interrupted by death or loss of memory.
Just the possibility of not retaining mnemonic traces of mental events that have been consciously experienced, means that the Ego can never be certain that it has not had psychic experiences which it does not remember. On the other hand, when the so-called false memories are activated, or when – through hypnosis – memories of alleged previous lives are recalled, we can never be sure that these experiences correspond to facts that actually and objectively happened, even if it may seem so to the Ego. From the point of view of the conscious Ego, every psychic experience – and therefore also what can be considered as fantasy – can become real, that is, assume those mental requirements that we associate with reality: in fact, the requirement of a collective consent, needed to validate objective reality, is completely lacking. Or this collective consensus can also actually be granted, given that mental activity is able to create a plurality of subjects who confirm what the conscious Ego is experiencing, as happens for example in dreams, in which a protagonist character (the Ego) interacts with a plurality of other actors, even antagonists and endowed with their own personality, who appear to act autonomously with respect to the Ego.
A completely normal case of loss of memories related to mental events that may have been consciously experienced is that of young children. The first memories of our life, in fact, usually date back to a period between two and three years of age, and often have the characteristic of being separated from each other, like the islands of an archipelago. Yet, starting from the first year of age, the behaviors of babies, as perceived by adults, for example by their parents, often present an organizational coherence, as if they were aimed at achieving certain goals through conscious activity. Furthermore, the reactions of those who take care of babies are almost always based on the hypothesis that they have some form of consciousness: if the baby cries it is because something makes him suffer or causes him pain, if she laughs it means that she is happy. But nothing can make us sure that there is at least a glimmer of consciousness, since we do not keep any memory of it.
And what about those cases in which – due to a stroke, a brain injury or a state of coma – a person awakens and regains consciousness of his own Ego (and therefore also self-awareness of the fact that he/she exists again as an Ego), but doesn't remember much of her previous life anymore? We have already repeatedly highlighted how the very existence of our Ego depends on consciousness: without it, anything can happen to our body, and any action can be performed on it, in complete indifference by that sole entity that is intimately connected with it. But memory also has its importance, especially that part of short-term memory that ensures the continuity of the mental experiences of which we become aware. In fact, a form of consciousness made up of many separate instants, each destined to be immediately forgotten – as could happen in a baby – would not be sufficient to form the self-awareness of our Ego. Instead the loss of long-term memory, although it may represent a traumatic, problematic and even painful event, does not compromise the existence and self-awareness of the Ego, which continues to exist, just as a mutilated body can continue to live without some of its limbs or non-vital organs.
One can reflect on the fact that some meditation techniques involve a temporary loss of long-term memory, through the concentration of consciousness on an object of contemplation which is fixed in a timeless continuity. The Ego, as a conscious subject, merges with the contemplated object, but does not lose the self-awareness of its existence, since the experience – although becoming timeless – remains characterized by the continuity produced by a particular form of short-term memory. If, once we are dead, we can continue to exist as a conscious Ego, this new form of existence will also have to be based at least on a short-term memory, while any memories of this human life of ours are destined to become more and more evanescent, until they fade away.
Expectations for the future
But, apart from memory, there is another aspect that characterizes the human experience of the conscious Ego: it is the desire for the events of our life, including psychic experiences, to occur in the future in accordance with the needs we perceive. While memory, and in particular long-term memory, is turned towards our past, which for us is determined and unchangeable, our aspirations and desires – however delusory they may turn out – are always directed towards the future. Obviously, as our life goes on, the future turns into past, and what was an expectation – sometimes intensely desired – is frozen into a definitively fixed experience. Thus, when we reach the threshold of old age, we know that there are no longer the resources nor the time to have long-term expectations for future events in our life, and therefore sometimes these expectations can be transferred to a possible afterlife.
Expectations for the future can also be divided between short-term and medium-long term. The former, in general, manifest themselves mentally as desires that determine forms of behavior by which a certain result is expected, while the latter can be considered rather as life guidelines, perceived as hopes when they are aimed at something that is felt as positive, or fears otherwise. Although experience shows that life events often do not have a result that conforms to our intentions or our hopes, the commitment to achieve something still remains the most widespread and promoted model of human functioning in our culture. In fact, our animal origin already contains the premises for such a way of functioning, given that every organism, in nature, is always required a competitive effort for the satisfaction of primary needs, such as feeding, reproduction and care of the offspring: survival itself always carries risks. In complex societies like ours, based on interpersonal relationships and on the interactions between human subjects and objects to be managed, the (often competitive) commitment aimed at obtaining a result, is activated and stimulated through a series of cultural programs – based on rewards and penalties – always processed having the management of primary needs as a basis.
The forms of meditation and inner reflection, developed by some branches of western philosophy, and even more so by the oriental one, are poorly considered by these cultural programs which in any case pursue activities aimed at transforming the world, and therefore must first of all promote the operational mechanisms that determine desires and expectations, hopes and fears. On the contrary, the so-called mind control techniques through meditation have the purpose of releasing mental activity both from its links with objects, and from the influence of the acquired cultural programs and related commands and desires, having as objective what it is sometimes defined as mental void: a state of contemplation in which the mind, isolated from external stimuli and from the activity determined by the acquired functioning habits, focuses on its essence. However, it must be recognized that, even in this case, the choice to devote oneself to meditative activity – like any other choice – is determined by an expectation: usually, the conscious Ego wishes to improve its existential condition, or wants to expand the field of its own experiences.
In any case, apart from the mental activity internally perceived, meditation and reflection techniques involve a suspension of the interactions between our psychophysical system and the objects of the external environment. This suspension can suppress the sensory stimuli coming from the environment – and from our own body – to the point of making the body fully anesthetized. Instead, the cultural programs that determine our mental functioning accentuate the importance of the stimuli that are transmitted to us by objects, conditioning our reactions to the point of creating real automatisms based on the rapid and not meditated response to environmental stimuli. The suspension of bodily activity is justified only in those cases in which a creative mental activity is required – based on forms of reasoning and intuition – aimed at pursuing objectives of collective interest, which will then have to be translated into action. That the two forms of mental functioning – one directed towards interiority and renunciation of action, the other determined by reactions to objects and stimuli from the world, and by the need to transform them – are both possible, is a fact: although active extroversion by far prevails today, there is no lack of historical and cultural examples of humans who have isolated themselves to practice meditation techniques and mental asceticism. For long periods of time, some cultures have favoured expectations and behaviors of this type, which today are considered, in principle, unproductive and weak.
Meditation and yoga techniques, suitably transformed and adapted, are accepted by our culture insofar as they contribute to balancing the stress required by productive and economic needs, which remain antithetical with respect to the original objectives to which those ascetic practices culturally aimed: the liberation of the conscious Ego from psychic conflicts and the achievement of a state of complete bliss. The same societies that in the past culturally supported these goals and the relative paths, have now converted to the economic production systems of modern western culture: as a matter of fact, it is the same individuality of the human being that is incorporated in the formation of a social superorganism. The phenomenon shows some analogy with that through which the aggregations of single-celled organisms were transformed into multicellular organisms, within which the individual cells, specializing in performing certain functions, were no longer able to live independently. We are at the antithesis of the yogis of the past, who – alone and naked – devoted themselves to their inner practices, completely indifferent to environmental stimuli.
Anyway, beyond these considerations on the cultural evolution of mass societies and on the role that the single human being can have within them, the fact remains that each of us, since we begin to live as a conscious Ego, evaluates and acts according to some expectations, regardless of whether these expectations are then successful or unfulfilled: this applies both to a business woman or man, a manager or a politician – people with a more pronounced social role in our complex societies – and to a neophyte who decides to undertake the path of yoga. Obviously, the objectives are different, but the dynamic that leads to choose and to act is the same: to get tomorrow something that we feel the need today. In this way time, along whose arrow life flows unidirectionally, creates the tension by which the psyche's energy acts, exerting its constant action of transforming the world and influencing – in one sense or another – the cultural programs on the basis of which social groups are induced to operate. The continuity of time means that every goal conquered today presents the conditions for a new problem that will have to be solved tomorrow, and every satisfied desire soon turns into a boring repetition destined to create a new desire. So society can continue to move forward, or – as they say – to evolve: but at a certain point our individual life begins to decline until it dies out.
The tension of living
It can be said that the cultural programs of our complex societies represent the collective evolution of a vital tension already present at a primordial level in the animal origin of our organism. In fact, the life of an animal in its natural environment continuously produces tensions, perceived by its nervous system, which can be translated into more or less conscious inner experiences, which can also be memorized. An animal must obtain food, escape predators and dangers, be able to mate, reproduce and take care of the offspring and, in case it is injured or ill, it must try to heal, otherwise it will succumb. All these natural needs are not neutral, but translate into commands and forms of desire that manifest their effects on the animal's nervous system, creating psychic tensions that must be released. An animal cannot quietly decide to let itself die when it is still in full force because it is no more interested in the game of life, or to meditate or reflect on the meaning of life, without caring of what can happen to it: it must live, regardless of the fact that its life will inevitably end with death. The animal is always subject to a power – nature as a god (Deus sive Natura) – whose laws and commands must be respected.
The cultural programs that operate in our complex societies are, at least 90%, the result of the historical evolution of those interactions between brains that gave rise to the first societies and then to human civilizations from about 50,000 years ago to the present day. This data already shows us that it is a very short period of time compared to the eras in which nature dominated unchallenged on our planet. If we then consider that most of our cultural programs have been developed during the last 250 years, often radically changing previous programs, we cannot help asking ourselves some questions about the origin of the forces that forge mankind, causing these sudden changes. The production processes on which the current world economy is based are very complex and interconnected, to the point that even a limited event can trigger a global crisis, with dramatic effects on a large part of human population. The justification according to which these production processes are necessary to meet the primary needs of humans is only partially true: it is the abundant availability of human energies that makes possible the functioning of such a complex economic system, which therefore supports itself, so to speak, also through the increase in human population (which has tripled in the past seventy years).
To give an example of what I've said, let's consider the operation of a modern industrial plant for the production of cars, in which tens of thousands of people work. The whole production cycle is carefully organized, and the system's level of information is very high: from production to control and storage of any single item, up to their mounting through perfectly organized assembly lines, everything is carefully designed, organized and controlled, strictly respecting the scheduled times. Part of the work is nowadays done by robotic machines – which too are designed, built and programmed by specialized industrial factories – but human operators are still indispensable, at any level, to perform certain tasks with adequate attention and mental concentration, in a cycle that repeats over time, and in which each operator specializes, improving their performance through repetition. On the day when it were possible to replace human operators with other robots, the evaluations on the economic convenience of the operation would decide the dastiny of these specialized workers. It is thus possible to produce daily a certain number of cars which are then put on sale on the market.
Although no animal shows the need to have a car – and therefore the possession of a car cannot be considered a primary necessity deriving from our animal origin – today's social needs, including the need to move to go to work, entail that a large number of humans feel intensely the desire to have a car, to the point of not being able to do without it. Thus the car industry has developed so that it can best satisfy this desire of social origin. But when most of those who want to have a car have managed to buy it, the desire has been largely fulfilled, and as long as a car is able to work there would be no need to replace it. The industrial organization that manufactures cars should therefore reduce their production, but while expansion is seen as a positive process, contraction must be avoided as far as possible: therefore the various factories, in competition with each other, design and build increasingly efficient, comfortable and technologically advanced models, at the same time making use of intense advertising campaigns aimed at stimulating the desire to replace the car already owned with a new model in as many people as possible. We are therefore at the antithesis of the satisfaction of primary needs: here it is a matter of satisfying artificially induced desires.
This is only one of the many examples that can be given, to describe the economic (and psychological) functioning of our society based on consumerism and induced desires. Moreover, the consequences of a consumer crisis would be dramatic, because many people would lose their jobs and find themselves without resources to survive: if during periods of economic expansion it seems that everything is going well, among the general optimism, today's crises – in contraction periods – can spread with a domino effect, involving very numerous human masses. Therefore we cannot state with certainty that the so-called progress is at the service of humans, but it is more likely that humans are at the service of this evolutionary process whose goals remain obscure to us. As for the fact that today we live much better than a hundred or two hundred years ago, in relation to the satisfaction of our primary needs, the comparisons that we make concern – at most – the historical memory relating to our culture, but we lack the direct experience of the psychic dynamics of other cultures, whose life models were very different from ours. On the other hand, it is not certain that our model – which currently prevails on a global scale – will not go into a crisis in the future, giving rise to very different cultural forms.
The foregoing considerations, be it clear, are not naive attempts to propose or promote alternative social models, the organization of which I would not even be able to imagine. They are simply the exposition of the various illusory and programmatic aspects through which the human psyche manifests its potential and produces its effects, conditioning the conscious Ego and denying it the freedom to develop autonomously. For this reason human life has always been considered more as a test or a school that requires commitment and discipline, and in some cases a true prison, a place of suffering and a tears valley, instead of – so to speak – a gym where you can freely practice. But what has always created the greatest interpretative problems about the meaning of life is the enormous difference between individual destinies, which clearly contrasts with the presumed equality of all human beings. In this regard, the same human psyche has advanced the most diverse and imaginative theories, without ever being able to present sufficient evidence to confirm one or the other hypothesis. So let's try to examine a couple of these theories.
One of them claims that – once life is over – every human being will be examined and evaluated in relation to the conditions in which they found themselves in life, taking into account the difficulties encountered and the pains suffered: it is, all in all, a fairly balanced hypothesis, which however does not give us any information regarding the composition of the examining commission or the evaluation criteria, which everyone is free to imagine as they like better. Generally the psychic basis of this theory is founded on enantiodromia, that is, a form of higher justice through which – for example – if the conscious Ego has suffered a lot in this life it will have to be compensated with intense happiness in the afterlife, or, if it caused suffering to others, it will have to be punished by suffering a lot, always in another life. Another theory, that of karma, is connected to the previous one, but puts rewards or punishments within a cycle of human lives, referring to the theory of reincarnation. Actually – as usually happens with these theories of psychic origin not supported by evidence – various interpretations of karma have been given, and only one of them considers the destiny of a life as a consequence of the actions performed in previous lives.
If karma is interpreted as the process by which each of our actions has consequences, for ourselves and for others, it is the trivial ascertainment of a matter of fact. If it instead referred to the theory according to which the fate of a human being during their life depends on the merits or demerits acquired in previous lives, the lack of continuity of consciousness and memory between these different lives – referred, it is not known by what criterion, to a single spiritual entity – makes this theory entirely lacking any validation. In practice, given that we move in a field where it is impossible to perform any cognitive research with a scientific method, we rely on the mental elaborations which are proposed to us by the human psyche – also through the diffusion of various cultural programs of religious, esoteric or occultist kind – to seek a solution to this enigma that life poses to us. As it happens for many mental facts, also in this case one or the other proposed solution will be accompanied by an emotional-sentimental feeling, which may induce the conscious Ego to prefer it to others. Moreover, in most people the custom and the mass of those who share one or the other of these cultural programs, will be sufficient to dispel any doubts about their real value.
We are left to examine another theory, in our day rather widespread, according to which human life would be exhausted in itself, and every individual destiny would vanish into thin air once that its life has come to an end. According to this theory, the only entity that could possibly have a certain meaning would be humankind as a whole and in its need for chronological evolution, at the service of which each human being would be generated. This theory evidently recalls the natural order that we find in the organic world, where the individual is at the service of the species, and reproductive needs can prevail over the same needs for individual survival. The reason why even this theory deserves to be evaluated lies in the fact that it presents itself as an extreme solution to the enigma of human life, as it affirms that there is no such enigma. It should be noted that it is still a (reductive) answer of psychic origin, which tries to close the issue by denying the very existence of the enigma, precisely because the human psyche can no longer find and propose any other solution that may seem satisfactory to the conscious Ego.
This is why it is so important to maintain a full awareness of the reality of para-psychological or para-normal events, which – precisely because of their characteristics and the impossibility of being explained on the basis of our knowledge of physical and biological laws – confirm us that the enigma of life is still existing, and that this mystery cannot be solved on the basis of the resources available to us: in addition to the energies that we can know and – to some extent – control, there are others (with which we must also come to terms) which are capable of influencing, for better or for worse, the evolution of human life on this planet, escaping our control ability. It may also be that denying the existence of these forces is a useful expedient to reduce their influence, positive or negative that it be: the historical events of the past, when the existence of these forces was recognized, do not show particularly attractive living conditions, at least as far as our culture is concerned. However, taking into account the problems that humankind – as a whole – will have to deal with in the near future, we must recognize that our condition of impotence could again be evident in emergency conditions.