Abstraction and Guts
I decided to write this morning about abstraction – but that was too abstract a subject. I needed something more concrete to balance it. The point I wanted to make was that we have become too abstract and have moved away from our bodies.
Then I remembered a book I had read called The Second Brain. Its point was that our digestive system (our guts) have a lot of self-contained intelligence – focused on the complicated process of digesting our food. And it is complicated, involving lots of powerful secretions mixed in at just the right time in just the right way.
The result, as you know, is poop – our most indispensable product – one we could not live without. We can be brain-dead – but our guts will continue to work happily without a brain to boss them around. In fact, our brains are what make us eat too much or too little.
But somehow we have come to abhor our guts (they are too dirty) and adore our brains (which can only think). We have become inhuman computers – and consider this a big improvement. The worst decision we could have possibly made.
Now I must amplify on that decision – and explain its many ramifications, since it affects everything our advanced society does. We insist that our selves and our society are machines. And then wonder why everything goes so wrong. We should wonder how anything works at all.
As people, we have abilities that a machine can never have. (We have values, for example.) Some of these values we could easily do without, but we have to accept ourselves as a package – both good and bad. And work with what we have – instead of trying to be something else. I am not saying that we should not try to be better – only that we should be realistic about what we are trying to be.
This is most clear in what we call our economy - where things have really got mixed up. We insist on letting it control us – instead of us controlling it. We don’t look behind the curtain to see what is really going on.
What is really going on is the oldest story in the book – the rich and powerful are back in control, pulling the levers of power. Which in our case, is the software that runs the computers that run the economy. Understanding that software is not so hard, fundamentally. Any bright high-school student could master it in one course – if such a course were available – which it is not.
We only have to make the decision to build a better world – for us, not something else.
And that includes our guts.