Ideas as Lightning Rods

28 November 2007 at 12:47 pm Leave a comment

On my drive into work these days I’m listening to one of the Modern Scholars courses by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto called Ideas That Shaped Mankind, based on his book Ideas That Changed the World.  As I listen to the opening lectures on the rise of early civilizations and the emergence of sages, I am reminded again about my idea of how ideas are like lightning rods for energy:  humans get behind ideas and are willing to fight and die for them.  Fernandez-Armesto speaks of the origin of ideas like utopia that hearken back to the Akkadian era and that plague us still (with our expectation that the state will provide us with happiness).  I am anticipating the talk on sages and thought about how the ideas of Jesus have been a lightning rod.  Now when I say “lightning rod” I am speaking literally:  these ideas are “energy attractors” insofar as they organize human energies and channel them toward certain kinds of activities (evangelization, warfare, education).  I think there is much to the idea of “meme wars,” wars over these major ideas (whether these wars are argumentative or military).

I think that we are undergoing a major moment in the history of humankind:  the channeling of energy away from certain parts of the brain (the fear-center: the amygdala) and toward the cognitive centers of the brain (the pre-frontal cortex).  We see in some of the fundamentalist versions of religion (both Christian and Muslim) a reversion to the fear-channels and in the progressive versions of religion attempts to steer energy away from that which invokes violence.  This is the radical idea of Jesus (the “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemy”Jesus) that is so hard for humans to implement because it requires overcoming instinctual fear-based responses that are genetically programmed and go way way back in the history of our species.

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Entry filed under: energonomics, memes.

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