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Emergence of Human Consciousness in Homo Sapiens: Nietzsche's Point of View

Emergence of Human Consciousness in Homo Sapiens: Nietzsche's Point of View

According to Hegel human consciousness emerged hundreds of thousands of years after human beings appeared on the face of earth. So, Nietzsche's saying that human consciousness is still something new on this earth seems highly plausible. And being something new, it is not as reliable as our primitive instincts and unconscious derives and knowledge are.

So what is the reason behind the emergence of consciousness in humans?Nietzsche attributes it to some sort of change of habitat. In the primitive habitat humans were at home, they knew everything about their environment beforehand and there were no worries there. Instincts were sufficient for them to decide all type of issues and problems.

As soon as humans were compelled to leave this old natural habitat, they confronted the new land or terrain, or the new world as a problem in itself. In the new place humans were not at home . Nietzsche writes in his Zarathustra, "uncanny is the human existence and still without meaning."

This uncanniness allowed them to confront everything as a problem in itself. It was like a fish coming out of water on the dry land and finding each of its old aqueous tricks to deal with aqueous problems grossly insufficient to deal with the new world. So, it was the new habitat that compelled humans to think. Elsewhere in his Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche has written that thinking and reflection actually emerged in humans as a problem. 

This metaphor is present in other philosophers' work as well. For Hegel humans were living a life of nature, and then all of a sudden they had to separate themselves from the nature to find them in an alienated environment. And it is in dealing with the challenges of this environment that humans develop consciousness and thought process.

After being alienated from its primitive mode of existence; a mode in which humans were neither reflective nor ethical, man started working on perfecting a new ideal. That ideal was the ideal of a moral existence. Man was at one with nature; he has no checks or ethical responsibilities on him. Human desire and will was not checked by the morality or super ego; man was living aesthetically.

By living aesthetically it is meant that man was living a life of immediacy and spontaneity; an ideal for many of the romantic thinkers. However, as soon as man knew morality, his immediacy no longer remained , and with ethical checks, man had to think about the moral value of his desires. And then there are certain moral values and checks that are almost like a taboo in human society, and no human being can even think of breaking these taboos.

Freud discussed this idea in his totem and taboo that savages have a fear of incest that is similar to the fear found in neurotics. Freud learnt this idea from Nietzsche, who in his writings compared the sudden transformation of character in those who become saints after leading a licentious life for years, with epileptics and savages. He called this sudden transformation a kind of religious neurosis.

So, man after leaving the garden of Eden, the life of immediacy and spontaneity in which man had no neurosis or dis-functionality, a life in which man was free to pursue his desires without any ethical morose and there were no checks on him, found himself in a state where the old tricks failed. man confronted this new existence as a problem in itself.

Not only that the immediacy had gone, but with it the confidence in instincts and natural dispositions, for the new terrain was strange and man , being alienated did not feel at home there. 

Facing these problems humans had to calculate, think and assess before taking each and every step, for this precarious world did not allow an easy going being to survive.

However, according to Nietzsche Homo sapiens were pragmatic thinkers as compared to their truth loving brethren Neanderthals. And this pragmatic attitude allowed them to survive while Neanderthals who were by far more intelligent as compared to Homo sapiens, owing to their love for knowledge and truth did not survive.

Neanderthals , according to Nietzsche lived side by side with Homo sapiens for thousands of years and surely there were cross marriages between the members of two groups. But Neanderthal were slow in responding to the problems, for they thought deeply about the issues and were more interested in knowing the facts and truth rather than finding the practical solutions of the problems. That is the reason why , owing to their deep thinking habits, unable to tackle the threats to their survival, Neanderthals soon disappeared from the face of this earth.

By: Khalid Jamil Rawat


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