Consciousness In The Cosmos: Perspective of Mind: Jonas Salk
This posting will present the thought of the late Jonas Salk, a medical biologist remembered especially for his development of a polio vaccine. He was the founder of and directed the Salk Institute for Biological Studies (La Jolla) until his death. He was also an adjunct Professor in the Health Sciences at the University of California (San Diego).
One of the world's pre-eminent biologists, Salk deeply considered the emergence of Mind in terms of cosmic evolution. And, for him the mind is part and parcel with the brain and is a natural outcome of our biological development.
Salk begins at the beginning. Life on this planet evolved from certain reactions that occured in inanimate material, reactions that involved the condensation of atoms, carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen. This led to the formation of molecules, some of which possessed biological properties. And this is when life began!
Right at the beginning, too, Salk stresses order and design in this process--in that he notes that "the properties of molecules are conferred by the architecture...of assembled atoms." He harkens to the "remarkable detail manifest in the *design* (pattern or order) of living things." [Jonas Salk, MAN UNFOLDING, Harper Row, 1972, pp. 1-3]
Salk talks of internal organizations, of categories, that provided for the internal changes and accumulative ability of biological evolution. He refers to the great double-helix, the DNA self- copying ability by which hereditary information is passed on by the generations of biological entities.
Moving beyond the design couched in biological evolution, Salk talks of those factors which spur such. He emphasizes that the evolutionary orientation of biological organisms are oriented towards *change.* For Salk "change" and "cause" are intimately related. "The intrinsic nature of the organism influences the range and direction of change that can occur; the change is then added to others, all of which together seem to be 'causes' towards which the developing organism is drawn." [Ibid, p. 49.]
Now what Salk means by "change" actually falls into the philosophic meaning of "end or purpose." There is not only design, but an end purpose for biological organisms. Thus, the "cause to which the organism is drawn, therefore, is contained in the germ plasm of the species and of the individual." [Ibid, p. 49.]
Moving into the developmental (evolutionary) steps of biological organisms, Salk considers the importance of environmental influence(s). Yes, evolutionary change is necessary for survival. But more positively put, the environment evokes the *potential* contained within these "evolving patterns" of biological systems.
And this "environment" for Salk is not only external, but internal. Evolution sparked by our internal environment brought forth the development of human intelligence. It brought forth the qualities of not only intelligence, but imagination and ingenuity as well. The internal environment caused the evolutionary changes that led to man.
Salk considers that the evolutionary jump to "Mind" was profound, as significant a jump as "life" was from inanimate material. It's a measured jump of almost incomprehensible dimensions!
Now the brain/Mind of man has evolved to the point that we are conscious of the questions confronting us. "Concepts, thoughts, and imaginings are the product of that organ." Salk wonders if perhaps the evolution of consciousness might not be analogous to the development of earlier potentialities that existed in simpler forms of biological life--in that they, too, evolved into ever more complex forms and ultimately to the development of man?
Now that "contemplation, abstract thought, science and technology" have finally appeared in man--Salk asks: then what is the nature and meaning of these abilities?
As for the nature of the human faculties, Salk considers the potential for human thought existed in the "precursors" of man's central nervous system. Through evolutionary development of such--language and manual dexterity existed even at the earliest stages of man's evolution.
Examining the nature of the brain/Mind, it's obvious that *ideas* are essential in this description. Salk believes that ideas are those prompters towards "change." Ideas have the power to influence and transform, and they evoke "inherent potential for growth and development and can affect the course of evolution." Ideas lead to new, unpredictable experiences. Salk believes that ideas possess a characteristic as tangible as material substances. "Ideas evolve just as do living things." In their way ideas are a kind of evolutionary feedback system, cycling from the evolutionary process and in turn prompting further, higher evolutionary jumps. Ibid, pp. 8, 77-78.]
Writing years back (in 1972) Salk calls for a concerted effort to study the brain/Mind. He asks to what extent consciousness plays a role, to what extent is consciousness genetically determined? This perhaps led to new fields such as the cognitive and neuro- sciences. Indeed, today, surely if Salk were living--he would be in the midst of the great ongoing "Consciousness Debate" currently being carried out by many great scientists of the world.
But Salk was not only a "pioneer" in reference to polio vaccine, he was a great innovative thinker and he, himself, contemplates on the brain/Mind. In discussing the "nature" of the brain/Mind he is led to ponder on the *meaning* of the Mind. He considers motivations and attitudes, value judgments, emotional responses (to the environment), change and cause, goals and purposes.
Salk believes a "new man" is emerging, unfolding. Thus it is imperative that man's brain/Mind demands a fuller understanding.
Dwelling on his focus of *change and choice,*Jonas Salk declares that these are primary for survival. In humans any innovative choice is related to values and judgments, whether at the biological (survival) or the cultural (life satistifaction) level.
For Salk, change is the order of the day. "The natural selective pressure will now favor one who not only accepts change but welcomes it and contributes to it." On the other hand, Salk realizes that change has also become man's "principal problem." [Ibid, p. 11.]
This business of change and choice is obviously about bringing "consonance" between man's outer environment and his inner self. Salk believes that at birth each of us essentially are a "package of potential." And this *potential* directly relates to change and choice. It's about mastering our destiny, according to Salk.
Harkening to our individual and collective potentiality, Salk says that "each new human individual and each new generation possesses a capacity to respond to 'callings' which are, in effect, purposes and goals." He infers within our potential, individually, that we acknowledge different interests and desires that have to be satisfied. Salk sincerely believes that there is a real need, biologically, to "know thyself." [Ibid, p. 51.]
When we don't understand our potential, the motivations behind our choices, our judgments, then we as individual or as species become "separated" and disease and disorder result at both the individual and collective level. So the physician Salk observes!
Employing our brain/Mind both individuals and society must share in the "talents and orientations which give purpose or evolutionary direction to man, leading to still newer and higher purposes, revealing still further potentiality than has already been expressed." And Salk expressly stresses that our goals and purposes should be "devoted to the purposes of the other." [Ibid, p. 52.]
Through the information in our chromosomes, accumulated through evolutionary time, we have accrued "specifications and operating instructions" that keep us alive. And with the advent of the brain/Mind we have become aware of and recognize the existence of the patterns of order through which "matter becomes 'conscious' of itself." [Ibid, p. 60.]
Now for Salk, this awareness of order is accompanied by our also being aware of value judgments. By becoming more aware of how value judgments operate, are motivated, we can in a sense begin to exercise a determined course over our own individual development-- and we could do the same at the societal level.
In order to do this, Salk believes that we need to come to understand evolution better--both cosmic and biological. We need to come to understand better the natural "arrangements" exhibited in living systems. And especially we need to understand better how to come to know and obey the natural laws of this Universe. "This is our responsibility and our challenge." [Ibid, p. 58.]
The brain/Mind of mankind which has unfolded on this planet is a "highly ordered, differentiated system of individuals with widely divergent temperaments, talents, tastes, and interests." It is a system that not operates only between individuals but to the whole of society. [Ibid, p. 105.]
Salk believes that man needs to become far more increasingly conscious--so that he can operate at a more full and mature level, and thus to allow greater health and harmony to prevail at the larger and higher socio-cultural levels. Values and morals are integral to the success of the brain/Mind. And Salk calls forth that we must evoke our "potential for nobility" over and against our ever present potential for brutality. He believes both characteristics are biologically endowed--but with brain/Mind we now have the capacity for choice and change that can lead to a far better and satisfying level of living.
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