Dilemma of Man
From Martin LeFevre in California
As the New Year begins in northern California a cold, wet fog envelops
the land. But the sun burns off the shroud by early afternoon, and
shirtsleeves become the order of the day.
Things change dramatically again as the sun goes down. The temperature
drops precipitously, requiring coats and gloves. Fortunately, I come
prepared after riding the bike to the edge of town to watch the day end
beside the stream.
An orange band of color clings to the horizon after sunset, and a
filigree of bare branches in the western sky look like a spreading
network of veins reaching upward. The scene evokes mystery, reverence,
and affection for the earth and all life on it, including man.
A small falcon passes overhead. In the silence of being I stand, and
watch the kestrel perform its sublime search pattern over the fields. It
passes in front of the huge blinking antenna towers, and seems to land
on one of the guide-wires as it hovers for ten seconds or more.
Then it flies a short distance and hovers in place again, flapping its
wings in a quick but effortless motion as it scans the ground for prey.
After moving across the field in this manner for some distance, the
kestrel tucks its wings back and suddenly plummets—parachutes almost—to
The ending of thought in undirected but intense attention, if only for a
few timeless moments, renews and restores one’s spirit. Living in terms
of the continuous chain of thought, which is how most people live out
their lives, is slow suffocation. Only by learning how to die to thought
each day can we truly learn how to live.
Clearly, the evolution of ‘higher thought’ was both a necessary
precondition for experiencing the awareness of the universe, and a
tremendous impediment to it. This is the dilemma of man, and it is
probably shared by all sentient species, wherever they arise in the
Humans are bringing about only the sixth mass extinction in the history
of life on earth. Think about it: In three and a half billion years of
life, a sentient species that is inextricably embedded in the network of
life is extinguishing animal and plant life at a rate only seen with
comets or meteors striking the earth!
This is not just a human conundrum, but also a cosmic one. It goes
beyond the self-centered issue of whether life exists anywhere else
amongst the billions of galaxies, to the very deepest spiritual and
philosophical questions of ‘intelligent life.’
How can one species, which evolved along with all others, have so much
power? Is ‘higher thought’ a meaningless mistake of evolution, or is it
a stage through which some sentient species pass, and others do not?
There must be creatures on other planets, with separating and
manipulating brains like ours, who have faced the same existential
crisis that humankind is now facing.
I propose that some species possessing ‘higher thought’ are transformed
in the crucible of self-understanding, to live in harmony with nature on
their planets (and by extension, the cosmos), while others remain
incorrigibly divisive and fragmenting, and fade away. Will humans join
the pantheon of awakening species, or fail and go extinct?
That word ‘incorrigible’ is an interesting one. The definition of it is:
“Somebody or something that is impossible or very difficult to change.”
Of course those are two very different things—impossible and very
difficult—and it isn’t clear at this point which one applies to
We are humankind, and so cannot stand apart from it and analyze it. But
we can see ourselves from a higher perspective.
Is the transformation required of the human species a matter of balance,
or is it something much deeper and more radical? Obviously it is
something greater, since the very existence of man’s gross imbalance on
this beautiful planet, and the callousness with which humans kill each
other and other animals, begs the question.
Humankind may be standing at an ultimate crossroads. I feel the
universe, and the intelligence that permeates it, wants us to succeed,
wants us to make the transition from a smart ape to a wise human being.
But only we ourselves, as undivided human beings (literally, in-dividuals)
can decide which way things will go.