Consciousness Rising

Comments and Views of some of humankinds important critical thinkers

It was but some 50 to 100 thousand years ago that humans acquired speech. It was only some 13,000 years ago that humans first started to domesticate plants and animals, a prerequisite to abandonment of a hunter-gatherer existence. Villages, steel swords, politicians, kings, churches, priests, and other manifestations of human community organization soon followed.

But when did humans acquire consciousness? Consciousness is a quality of the mind generally considered to encompass such attributes as subjectivity, self-awareness, sentience, sapience, and the ability to perceive the relationship between oneself and one's environment. It is a subject of considerable research in philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive science. In terms of evolutionary biology, we humans are barely out of the Stone Age. Many humans still seek truth not in the science of the natural world, but in the supernatural. While the reasons are not completely understood, one plausible and partial explanation is that many humans are unable to engage in critical thought because their consciousness has not yet been sufficiently raised. After all, effort is required, and humans appear to have to learn critical thinking skills. Critical thinking consists of the mental processes of analyzing or evaluating information, particularly statements or propositions that people have offered as true, in order to reach well founded conclusions and answers.

The famous Yale educator, William Graham Sumner, stated:

Critical thinking is the examination and test of propositions of any kind which are offered for acceptance, in order to find out whether they correspond to reality or not. The critical faculty is a product of education and training. It is a mental habit and power. It is a prime condition of human welfare that men and women should be trained in it. It is our only guarantee against delusion, deception, superstition, and misapprehension of ourselves and our earthly circumstances.

Many political and religious systems intentionally hinder critical thinking. Propaganda is a means of preempting critical thought by influencing the opinions or behavior of people. Rather than impartially providing information, propaganda deliberately misleads using logical fallacies, that while convincing, are invalid. The Soviet Union and Germany's government under Hitler explicitly admitted to using propaganda. All religions, and especially cults and fundamentalism have sophisticated propaganda techniques to indoctrinate their flocks, and inculcate members in the supernatural; this is the root of the centuries old conflict between science and religion. Of all the potential targets for propaganda, children are the most vulnerable because they are the most developmentally unprepared for the critical reasoning and contextual comprehension required to determine whether a message is propaganda or not, and whether a message is rational or superstitious.

Examination of the recorded human history, the mere blink of an eye compared with geologic time, reveals a constant history of humankind’s inhumanity. No other animal within the tree of life appears as capable of cruelty as do humans. Sadder still, our brief human history is replete with examples of the most vile human behavior occurring when a conjunction formed between government and religion, a reality that was not lost on those who wrote the U.S. constitution, and particularly the First Amendment that addresses the rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly, freedom of petition, and also freedom of religion, both in terms of prohibiting the Congressional establishment of religion and protecting the right to free exercise of religion.

This page has links to pages with words of some critical thinkers that provide food for thought.