Adaptation to the Environment vs. Openness to Being
As I've mentioned before, I'm not a bitter person, but I do still mildly resent the fact that it took me half my life to unlearn my left wing brain-washing and soul-dirtying and rearrive at where my philosophical endeavors should have started to begin with. I wasted so much time assimilating things that are not only wrong but harmful to the soul and incompatible with true happiness or fulfillment.
What in the world is the world? Or, to put it another way, what kind of world is the world of man, and is it the same as the world? Ever since Kant, the answer has been No: our world -- the world we perceive -- is just a form of our sensibility, a kind of projection of our neurology. Therefore, it is not the world. Rather, the world -- whatever that is -- is radically inaccessible to man. (Which begs the question of how we can even posit it, but whatever.)
This question is addressed in an enjoyable book I'm currently reading, For Love of Wisdom: Essays on the Nature of Philosophy, by Josef Pieper. One of the themes Pieper develops is the idea that all other animals merely live in a world, whereas human beings are privileged to (potentially, at least) live in the world.
For example, people assume that all animals with eyes, when they look at an object, see the same thing, when this is demonstrably untrue.
Pieper cites the example of a certain bird that preys on grasshoppers but is incapable of seeing the grasshopper if it isn't moving. Only in leaping does the grasshopper become distinct from the background -- which is why many insects (and higher animals) "play dead."
In their resting form, it is not so much that they are dead as literally invisible. It is as if they drop into a hole and no longer exist in the world of the predator. Even if the bird were starving, it could search and search, and yet, never find the unmoving grasshopper right under its beak.
What this means is that the animal cannot transcend its biological boundaries, even with an organ -- the eye -- seemingly equipped for the task.
Pieper quotes the biologist Uexküll, who draws a distinction between the animal's environment and the actual world. As he writes, "The environments of animals are comparable in no way to open nature, but rather to a cramped, ill-furnished apartment."
Animals are confined to the environment to which they are adapted, and from which they can never escape. Most of the world is simply not perceived or even capable of being perceived. In fact, the world did not come into view until human beings happened upon the scene.
But given Darwinian principles -- which, by the way, we can only know about because we have transcended them -- how did mankind escape its cramped environment and enter the wider world?
Or did we? Are we as trapped in a narrow cross-section of reality as our tenured apes? If so, then both science and religion are impossible. Like the bird looking for the immobile grasshopper, we could find neither "the world" nor "God," despite the most diligent searching. Indeed, we wouldn't even know of the existence of the reality for which to search. But if science is possible, then God is necessary. Or, to put it another way, since God exists, science is possible.
Pieper writes that the human spirit is not so much defined by the property of immateriality as it is "by the ability to enter into relations with Being as a totality," in a way that transcends our mere animal-environmental boundaries.
Now, as Schuon always emphasized, the intellect is not restricted to a particular environment. Rather, it is universal -- "relatively absolute" -- and therefore able to know the world. As Pieper writes, "it belongs to the very nature of a spiritual being to rise above the environment and so transcend adaptation and confinement," which in turn explains "the at once liberating and imperiling character with which the nature of spirit is immediately associated."
This is what I was driving at on p. 92 of the book: "Up to the threshold of the third singularity, biology was firmly in control of the hominids, and for most of evolution, mind (such as it was) existed to serve the needs of the primate body. Natural selection did not, and could not have, 'programmed' us to know reality, only to survive in a narrow 'reality tunnel' constructed within the dialectical space between the world and our evolved senses."
But then suddenly Darwin was cast aside and "mind crossed a boundary into a realm wholly its own, a multidimensional landscape unmappable by science and unexplainable by natural selection"; humans ventured out of biological necessity and "into a realm with a vastly greater degree of freedom, well beyond the confining prison walls of the senses."
Thus, natural selection is adequate to explain adaptation to an environment, but it cannot explain our discovery and comprehension of the world. Pieper quotes Aristotle, who wrote that "the soul is in a way all existing things."
What does he mean by this? What he means is that the soul is able to put itself in relation to the totality of Being. While other animals have only their little slice of Being, the human is able to encounter Being as a whole.
Thus -- running out of time here, but thus -- to be in Spirit is "to exist amid reality as a whole, in the face of the totality of Being." Spirit is not a world, but the world. Or, to be precise, "spirit" and "world" are reciprocal concepts, the one being impossible in the absence of the other. Science itself is a spiritual world, or it is no world at all, only an environment. Usually an academic environment.
Bottom line: there is no naturalistic way to get from the restricted intelligence of animals to the open intelligence of humans.