Do not be taken back by the tongue twister title of the insight offered in today’s stren. A simple explanation reveals how this concept helps us to understand and even predict our behavior. Later I’ll show you many examples of the practical knowledge revealed by this concept, including what we must do to survive and thrive as most tribes acquire weapons with ultimate destructive power.
Ontogeny refers to the growth and development of an individual in form and function from a single cell to its complexity at maturity. Phylogeny is the creative process beginning with the evolutionary history of a species. The embryo of the most complex life begins as a single undifferentiated cell. As species have increasing complexity, the methods of adaptation progress to greater sophistication. Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny (simplified as ORP) signifies that an organism progresses to its highest level of function by entering and then graduating from each of the less sophisticated preceding levels of development. ORP provides us a valuable map of where we came from, the direction we are headed, and what alternative paths we might choose to reach our preferred destination faster, easier, and with great accuracy.
Nature programs all life to complete the life cycle. Simple species are born pre-programmed with all they need to survive. As organisms become more complex, trial-and-error learning, mimicking role models, and conscious problem-solving are added. Only our species has been gifted nature’s latest model brain with sufficient intelligent use of symbols to attain self-mastery. We alone may attain sufficient self-mastery to partner with nature in determining our destiny and all that is about us. We continue to grow our godlike constructive and destructive power. ORP tells us we are on a rapid path to create unprecedented human catastrophe and possibly self-annihilation. Our future requires that we act wisely and decisively.
Haeckel’s alleged fraudulent embryo drawings1 shown above brought him discredit.
1See Wikipedia, Ernst Haeckel: ref. Richardson and Keuck, "Haeckel’s ABC of evolution and development," p. 516
Ernst Haeckel introduced the ORP concept in 1866. Modern biology disproved his theory that all species progress from simple cell to complexity in a straight line, but they provide credible evidence that all life shares similarities until branching leads to different species. Each branch may differ from another branch. For example, the branch leading to humans and apes shows greater similarity than the branch leading to dogs and hogs. The embryonic stages of species are most similar but differ as they mature and “branch” into maturity. Genetics and molecular biology show there is greater similarity between species as we approach the base and roots of the tree of creation.
A modern interpretation of ORP introduced by English philosopher Herbert Spencer is that culture conforms to recapitulation theory. He said Education is the repetition of civilization in little. The ORP principle is expressed in our continual refinement of civilization, morality, and our religious and political ideologies. Learning conforms to the following progression: genes ⇨ trial-and-error ⇨ mimicking ⇨ mental rehearsal ⇨ self-initiation. Our first “education” is provided by the directions encoded in a succession of genes that go back millions, even billions of years prior to the 9 months of our gestation. All life is hardwired at birth to repeat the life cycle within the constraints provided by nature’s authority - fate and circumstance. As the most complex earth creatures, only we have been gifted a newer segment to our animal brain with sufficient intelligence to create sophisticated symbols, and manipulate them to create imagination and phenomena original to nature - bombs and buildings, religious and political ideologies, and moral values such as forgiveness. We create the skills we call humane by discovering the universal rules of cause-and-effect and applying common sense to identify universal values such as “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Treat others as you would have others treat you.” “Share for mutual benefit.” Common sense based on knowledge is an elective skill. Most individuals passively allow themselves to remain partially developed, stuck in rules demanded by the hardwired authority of our animal brain: “Eat or be eaten”; “My way, or my tribe’s way - the only way!”; “The Aryan race is the superior race.”
The gods and idols of the earliest religions served only their tribe; they provided magical power to dominate “the other side.” Such giant leaps of faith based on wild assumptions led to bizarre rituals, such as burning “witches” at the stake, are being replaced as our advances in science direct us to more universal assumptions supported by knowledge of cause-and-effect. Darwin’s concept of evolution is a contemporary example of a disputed confrontation between those who believe God magically created everything including human beings and then rested after six days, and others who assume the creative force that explains humane becomings required billions of years and is still progressing within the universal laws of cause-and-effect.
Nature has gifted us its latest model “human” brain containing a sophisticated cerebral cortex. It is the seventh of a series of specialized brains2, each of which has erupted from prior specialized segments. The six segments to first develop have been referred to as the “animal” brain. Humankind represents the leading edge of creation because this seventh segment uses symbols to provide us the power of interpretation. Only we grow and pass knowledge of cause-and-effect forward from generation to generation to attain the mental freedom to create godlike power. We now determine who survives and who becomes extinct. The ORG principle helps us understand that nature has thrust us into unchartered waters and is providing us both the opportunity and the danger to assume responsibility for our own destiny and that of all about us.
2The medulla, pituitary, pineal, pons, cerebellum, thalamus, and cerebral cortex are one of many classifications.
The fact that physical development occurs well ahead of mental and emotional maturity is of considerable practical interest. Brawn precedes brain. The adage coined by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” applies only after the development of language. The prophet Mohammad is quoted as saying: “The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr.” Communication skill may surpass violence. Peace by changing one’s assumptive views may benefit all whereas the sword too often results in death. The recent introduction of weapons with ultimate destructive power (WUD) has again tipped the direction of energy towards muscle and our animal brain; it presents us with our most imminent crisis.
We derive our special godlike power by our ability to create assumptions about the data we receive and design original action pathways not available to other species. As we attain our highest level of function, we become conscious of our consciousness, i.e. self-conscious, we may self-program directions to our will power. The assumptive views or beliefs we create to interpret our conscious awareness may override the prescribed action pathways of instinct and tradition, fate and circumstance, nature and our nurturers. This super mature stage of development, available only to humankind, provides us both opportunity and responsibility for our destiny and that of all about us. The creative force that brought us to this level, be it God or nature depending on your assumptive worldview, is throwing us out of the nest - telling us to become free and “fly” on our own. It has provided us the intelligence to proceed and succeed. The freedom that we hold precious requires that we choose among alternatives – wisely or stupidly. Wisdom is applying common sense to newer knowledge to make good judgments. Stupidity is allowing ourselves to uncritically obey the authority of tradition that advocates yesterday’s effective solutions to manage today’s problems.
Now I will keep my promise to provide many examples of the practical benefits from our understanding of the principle, Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny by first elaborating the most important. Through the scientific method, our generation is rapidly increasing our godlike power of creation and destruction. Human selection as overtaking natural selection to determine who shall live and who shall become extinct. Increasingly, we assume responsibility for our destiny and that of all about us. Our animal brain directs our thinking, feelings, and actions long before the humane portion of our brain, the cerebral cortex, is sufficiently mature and equipped to consistently adapt our mega-power to constructive outcomes. Instinct and tradition would have us advocate yesterday’s methods to solve today’s problems – instinct, trial-and-error, and mimicking role models. Our animal brain is hard-wired to advocate survival of the fittest through domination and destructive confrontation, “war followed by cure.” The rapid proliferation of weapons with ultimate destructive power offer us no second chance.
ORP allows us to predict the outcome of being led by our animal brain and understand how we can prevent it. We must progress beyond our repertoire of inherited behaviors, the newer behaviors we add through trial-and-error, and mimicking our role models to attain our highest level of function, the stage I call super-maturity. We must teach ourselves a newer way of thinking that adds common sense wisdom to self-mastery. Nature has provided us a “freedom organ,” our intelligent cerebral cortex. Freedom conveys to us the choice to express our growing godlike power favoring constructive or destructive outcomes, or some combination of the two extremes. By progressing through our developmental stages to super-maturity, we can add wisdom to the power of mental freedom. We can self-program the humane values that elevate us above other life. Such values include but are not limited to the mental freedom to choose among alternatives, love, forgiveness, compassion, cooperation and collaboration for mutual benefit, mercy, kindness, and humor. At issue is to what degree we direct our will towards mass construction instead of the opposite.
The ORP concept helps us understand that individually and collectively, we are a work-in-progress reaching inward to become the most civilized species and master of our destiny. This highest level of maturity is exclusive to humankind but only attainable if we unite to elevate us above our animal phase of development. Here are the promised specific useful insights “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” offers to help us attain our highest level of function.
• The genetic inheritance that first determines who and what we are was determined far earlier than the 9 months preceding our birth. Their prescribed directions have their origins in the simplest life forms that gradually progressed to greater complexity.
• All life remains servant to instinct and nurturers, to fate and circumstance, to nature and nurture.
• Nature prescribes a primary mission common to all life: Repeat the life cycle!
birth ⇨ attain sexual maturity ⇨ procreate ⇨ protect young ⇨ die
• The life cycle becomes increasingly complex as the form and function of the species becomes more complex.
• Nature has gifted humankind its most advanced brain to add to the animal portion of our brain. We proceed through the same development phases as other species but only we have the capacity to teach the super-maturity that frees our will to assume personal responsibility for our destiny.
• Mental freedom from the pre-programmed authority of the animal brain is a hard earned choice, not a given.
• Physical development precedes mental and emotional maturation. The animal portion of our brain is competent during our early years and continues to seek dominance through our lifetime. Our cerebral cortex gradually reaches full physical maturity circa 18 years after birth while mental and emotional maturity for most humankind is attained by their late twenties, thirties, or never.
• The animal portion of our brain is genetically pre-programmed to demand sexual activity before we acquire the freedom to choose wisely.
• Savage “animal brain” behavior precedes civil behavior.
• Fight or flight and survival of the fittest behavior for our own and our tribe’s self-serving interests precede cooperation and collaboration for mutual benefit of all tribes.
• Our earliest assumptive worldview, i.e. valued beliefs including religion and political ideology, are inscribed by authorities beyond our control such as fate and circumstance.
• Genes and our nurturers teach allegiance to our self, our local tribe and its rulers.
• The animal portion of our human brain is wired at birth prejudiced to repeat the life cycle for the benefit of our self and our local tribe at the expense of “not us”: fight or flight, self-preservation, eat and not be eaten, procreate, and protect our offspring through destructive confrontation.
• The common sense motivation to cooperate and collaborate for mutual benefit with “not me” and “not my local tribe” may be acquired with physical maturity and appropriate education.
• Local priorities precede global priorities until we are taught or teach ourselves otherwise.
• Whoever or whatever is not of my family or local tribe are there to serve our needs.
• Our thoughts, thinking and will power are first servant to instinct; then our nurturers add the traditions they demand. With education in the use of symbols and skill in reflective thinking we may become our own person and assume responsibility for our own destiny.
• The simpler means of education and problem-solving gradually proceeds to more sophisticated means of education:
Hard-wired problem-solving skills ⇨ trial-and-error ⇨ mimicking ⇨ no-trial learning by cognitive rehearsal ⇨ adding common sense knowledge to no-trial learning to create more accurate assumptions and shared universal values ⇨ a newer way of “reflective” thinking to assume self-mastery
• The assumptions we assign to data are based on great leaps of faith until we increase our knowledge of the universal laws of cause-and-effect. Common sense is the application of knowledge of nature’s universal rules of cause-and-effect.
• Even as we acquire knowledge to make more accurate, less wild, leaps of faith, we are reluctant to abandon established faith-based assumptions. Our animal brain perspectives persist even as our “newer” cerebral cortex progresses to maturity and super-maturity.
• Applying common sense to the universal rules of cause-and-effect enlightens us to universal wisdoms: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Treat others as you would have others treat you.” Our animal brain advocates self-serving values.
• Common sense is an elective skill; most individuals, in varying degree, passively accept the rules of what our early and current authorities dictate.
• The power of knowledge that makes us godlike creators and destroyers grows before we attain the common sense wisdom to consistently constructively apply it.
• The prejudged assumptive worldviews of instinct and tradition (fate & circumstance, nature & nurture) that determine who we are and what we value precedes our ability to create a contemporary worldview supported by current knowledge.
• Dependence on authority precedes common sense problem-solving and self-mastery.
• As our animal brain acquires the ability to create action using symbols, the first and most predicted primitive expressions of our instinctive physical fight, self-preservation instinct will be blaming. Blaming to punish others and to punish our self (guilt) is a more efficient safer way to control behavior than physical confrontation.
• Blaming when we experience frustration for what we lack precedes the development of an attitude of gratitude for what we have.
• Worry precedes the development of optimism; it has greater survival value in a savage environment.
• Humor and laughter increase with civilization, as we lessen the need to preoccupy ourselves with red alert life threatening emergencies. They serve to dissipate chronic stress.
• Greed and speed are emphasized before wise creeds and good deeds.
• Physical muscles precede the development of mental wisdom.
• The desire to receive precedes the satisfaction of giving.
• The primary physical signaling system to produce action consisting of chemicals and nerves precedes our secondary signaling system consisting of mental and spiritual values.
• The assumptive views that lead to action are first based on great leaps of faith until we acquire the knowledge of cause-and-effect that gradually lessens the size of the leap.
• Most of what we call “evil” or “immoral” is better explained as the expected natural expression of animal “survival behavior.” Appropriate education in civility is lacking or inappropriate education has been role modeled.
• ORP explains why we must replace an-eye-for-an-eye punishment with forgiveness, love, education, and effective limit-setting; why we must replace the two-category thinking advocated by our animal brain with a newer way of common sense thinking supported by universal knowledge of cause-and-effect.
• Our animal brain demands survival of the fittest weapons with increasing destructive power that will rapidly create our own extinction unless our most capable leaders unite to popularize a newer way of thinking using common sense wisdom.
Stren 67 explains how we must proceed to succeed. Stren 68 describes the process of progressing from immaturity, to maturity, and to super-maturity; from depending on our animal brain to teaching ourselves the skills our newer freedom organ requires to elevate ourselves to the humane civilized qualities we now preach but have yet to effectively teach. I hope this concept, “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” serves to shed more light than heat.