Is There “Psychic Unity” In Mankind?

Via Nick Land comes the link to the West Hunter blog, and the article Same Old. The entry is short:

We now know ( from ancient DNA) that Bushmen split off from the rest of humanity (or we from them) at least a quarter of a million years ago. Generally, when you see a complex trait in sister groups, you can conclude that it existed in the common ancestor. Since both Bushmen and (everybody else) have complex language, one can conclude that complex language existed at least a quarter million years ago, in our common ancestor. You should also suspect that unique features of Bushmen language, namely those clicks, are not necessarily superficial: there has been time enough for real, baked-in, biologically rooted language differences to evolve. It also shows that having complex language isn’t enough, in itself, to generate anything very interesting. Cf Williams syndrome. Certainly technological change was very slow back then. Interglacial periods came and went without AMH displacing archaics in Eurasia or developing agriculture.

Next, the ability to generate rapid cultural change, invent lots of stuff, improvise effective bullshit didn’t exist in the common ancestor of extant humanity, since change was very slow back then.

Therefore it is not necessarily the case that every group has it today, or has it to the same extent. Psychic unity of mankind is unlikely. It’s also denied by every measurement ever made, but I guess invoking data, or your lying eyes, would be cheating.

From this Land quips, “‘Mankind’ is an implausible religious idea. (But quite possibly still a hill the West will choose to die on.)” Let’s examine this notion.

I’ll take the blog author’s word that DNA evidence indicates Bushmen went their own way (exclusively? only mostly?) at some point in the past. There are obvious differences in genetics between them and Europeans, and between Europeans and Han Chinese, etc., all encouraged by separation.

It is also true the Bushman languages, including clicks, are not superficial. That is also the opinion of Noam Chomsky and his co-author Robert Berwick in the book Why Only Us? Language and Evolution, an intriguing work I’ll be reviewing soon. Non-vocalizations in language are not uncommon. Spaniards roll their Rs and the Blonde Bombshell tsk-tsks me often.

Only humans have language, a potentially very large (they like to say infinite, but who has the time?) hierarchical system of communication that is meant primarily (as argue Berwick and Chomsky) for thinking. There also exist translations from various Bush Khoisan languages to, say, English (which are, as are all translations, imperfect).

Having human language is enough to make possible our rational thoughts, even though, as the blog author suggests, thought alone is insufficient to “generate anything very interesting” (he implies) in the way of machines.

The author says “Certainly technological change was very slow back then.” It was. And was everywhere until, really, a century or so ago (in the West). The desire for it is only a little older than that, some four centuries (also in the West). It is an anachronism to suppose the ancients desired as we for technological delights.

But technological progress is not moral, philosophical, or theological progress. Why else do you think it took so long for people, even in the West alone, to key to the idea of building so many “unnatural” machines? It’s certainly not because we’re smarter, but because the pre-machine people had higher, more important, things on their mind.

Machines will not be our salvation.

Can it be that certain segments of mankind are better at making machines? Sure. Why not? That is, as the author says, also what we observe. But then it could also be that certain segments are better at philosophizing. And it could be these are the same groups.

Yet ability to make machines is not what makes us men, or there were no men until the invention of the internal combustion engine. Ability to philosophize is much closer to the mark. To philosophize requires an intellect and language, both of which Bushmen possess. I do not say Bushman philosophy is superior to, for instance, Thomism; I claim it is inferior. I also do not claim Bushmen have nothing to offer.

Finally the crux: the “Psychic unity of mankind”, which the author says is “unlikely.”

If “psychic unity” means having language and an intellect and will, then Bushmen are in unity with everybody else. We are all men. Land is wrong. Mankind is not an implausible religious idea, but a commonsense (metaphysical) definition flowing from the observation of language and intellect. (This is also David Oderberg’s view: read his negative-answer paper “Could there be a superhuman species?“)

If “psychic unity” means having the exact same intellectual abilities in act or in potentia (i.e. blank slate-ism), then Bushmen, and Han Chinese, and whites, etc. are not in unity; and it’s unclear whether even any two individuals are in psychic unity. Which is another way of saying equality is a false doctrine. Equality is a hill the West is choosing to die on.


  1. Sheri

    I suppose it would help if I had any idea what the author means by “psychic unity”. Without that, the whole thing is just a fluff exercise we used to do at 2AM in college when we were bored to death and couldn’t sleep. I see no value to any of it.

  2. Ye Olde Scribe

    I’m with Sheri. What happened to the “collective unconscious”? Have the intellectual new-agers now taken to eating their own, just like the leftists?

  3. Anon

    My edit would be: Equality is THE hill the West is choosing to die on.

  4. The development of language facility in the brain is mediated by the FOXp2 gene in the brain. It is known that Neanderthals have this same distinguishing gene that we do and therefore presumably had a language capability. The different vocalizations for language are not all that relevant. It is syntax. Higher primates can be taught to do primitive forms of ASL, American Sign Language, but they don’t do syntax. Chomsky (for once) is probably correct; language is innate. And where did this facility come from? (Don’t ask Chomsky.)
    By the way it is quite likely that Neanderthals buried their dead and gave them gifts for an afterlife. Is this psychic unity?

  5. Bob

    From Mirriam-Webster:
    psychic unity.: a posited unity of mental structure in mankind that leads to the independent development of similar technologies, traits, and institutions.

    Psychic Unity sounds suspiciously like an invention like social justice, environmental justice, or even some sort of pantheology. If all it means is that we all have a mental structure that allows or even encourages complex languages, then we all have psychic unity.

    I think that psychic unity (mental structure) allows and encouraged the structure of machines, and this has always been part of mankind, and even part of our philosophical achievements. Thinking ideas and the desire to make stuff, it seems to me, spring from a common place, the same wonderful place that dreamed up social justice and notions of fairness and equality.

  6. Gary

    But technological progress is not moral, philosophical, or theological progress. Why else do you think it took so long for people, even in the West alone, to key to the idea of building so many “unnatural” machines? It’s certainly not because we’re smarter, but because the pre-machine people had higher, more important, things on their mind.

    More important — like survival in the next five minutes?

    It certainly may have taken so long to progress from simple machines (Achimedian lever, pulley, and screw; or the even simpler hand axe wedge) because later technology depends as much on sufficiently developed earlier technology (with concomitant accumulated knowledge) and a ready supply of usable materials as it does on inventiveness.

  7. Joy

    No need for the false dichotomy, reducing all to one pyramidal shaped mode and method of thinking. You imprison yourself but it’s clear why that is, having walked close enough to the think sink.

    As for psychic unity? The question doesn’t warrant an answer.
    There is though, a kind of (avoiding the German word). Buzzing in the air kind of ‘trending’, also a horrid word from the shallow Twitter world, which can be noted much of the time, daily, several times a day in fact, without the phoney help of an electronic snooper pretending to some higher power.

    People eating people seems to describe quite clearly the state at present, of factions of the right and the left. Just as in the run up to the election and probably even due to the outcome of the election, all sorts of people are in a panic.

    If you keep seeking to divide, there’s good evidence that you are attempting to rule.

    Some professionally dichotomous thinkers will, if they haven’t already, end up chopping their own thoughts up. Like the worst kind of statistical number cruncher or arbitrary binner to use Mike D’s speak. It is a way to fragment the mind. Chopping and then mixing in new brackets is even worse occult nonsense.

    On “creation” versus “inauguration”, on wonder and scriptural text interpretation, on power…

  8. Ken

    Neanderthals had the gene we think is necessary for speech, but this does not mean they could speak. Other features suggest physical deficits (e.g. their larynx was misshapen — )

    But more to the point, consider the implications stemming from this extinct species: some one to four percent of the human genome, or some our genomes (those of us qualifying as “Eurasian”) is from Neanderthals.

    What to make of that?

    Did Neanderthals have souls?

    If not (and, really, how could we know one way or other) what does that make us hybrids (maybe grandchildren of Nephilim [Genesis 6:4])?

    Recall (NIV):
    “When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. … The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.”

    Could those clearly stronger Neanderthals have been the Bible’s “heroes of old, men of renown”?

    With sons of God breeding with human women…and today we clearly hail in some small (or not so small*) part from Neanderthals, what does that say about us?

    There’s a lot of questions there, with very deep philosophical & theological implications — especially for the sizable part of the population that believes in Biblical, especially with regard to Genesis, literalism.

    * The amount of Neanderthal DNA in us, today, appears to be significantly greater than what separates us from gorillas (98% gorilla & modern human DNA in common) and chimps (about 99% chimp & human DNA in common).

  9. Oldavid

    All the speculations presented here are based on the assumption that “later” is always “better” as per the “Evolution” model.

    Language can change very quickly. Innumerable dialects in just about every language group testify to that. Geographical separation of groups facilitates a rapid and permanent change of language and linguistics, but even a cultural separation can effect a similar outcome. Just try and make sense of some of the lingo and idiom of some of the (particularly teenage) sub-cultures even in your own neighbourhood; some of which don’t have words or concepts to convey intelligent or moral abstracts.

    There are plenty of “primitive” people in the world today with “primitive” language and behaviours. I will contend, though, that such groups are not people “on the way up” in the “Evolutionary” sense, but are the progeny of exiles or fugitives from civilisation: poor people in need of rescue.

    An “artist’s impression” can make the skull of an aborigine into an Homo Sapiens or a “Neanderthal” or a gorilla if he chooses. It’s arbitrary and wholly dependent on ideological prejudice… nothing to do with science.

    Race, language, technology have nothing to do with “psychic unity”… whatever that is.

  10. MosesWithHorns

    No, old boy, later” is always “better” as per the “Evolution” model, is not part of the evolution model. There is no model. Do you just make this stuff up?

  11. Oldavid

    If there is no model what are you trying to sell? A logo on an empty can?

    You’d better go and brush up on the “Evolution” paradigm. “Natural selection” is supposed to eliminate the “unfit before” from the “more fit later”.

    No, I don’t make “this stuff up”… I simply condense irrational statements etc. into their idiotic premises and conclusions.

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