The red alien a few steps above us on the staircase would see human consciousness the same way we see that of an orangutan—they might think we’re pretty impressive for an animal, but that of course we don’t actually begin to understand anything.Our most brilliant scientist would be outmatched by one of their toddlers.The industries that do often focus on the human condition—philosophy, psychology, art, literature, self-help, etc.—lie more on the periphery, with their work often fragmented from each other.

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Hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary adaptations geared toward animal survival in a rough world are very much rooted in our DNA, and the primitive impulses in us have birthed a bunch of low-grade qualities—fear, pettiness, jealousy, greed, instant-gratification, etc.

Those qualities are the remnants of our animal past and still a prominent part of our brains, creating a zoo of small-minded emotions and motivations in our heads: But over the past six million years, our evolutionary line has experienced a rapid growth in consciousness and the incredible ability to reason in a way no other species on Earth can.

In the last post, I described the way my own path had led me to be an atheist—but how in my satisfaction with being proudly nonreligious, I never gave serious thought to an active approach to internal improvement—hindering my own evolution in the process. Society at large focuses on shallow things, so it doesn’t stress the need to take real growth seriously.

The major institutions in the spiritual arena—religions—tend to focus on divinity over people, making salvation the end goal instead of self-improvement.

We can’t conceive of what life higher on the staircase would be like, but absorbing the fact that higher stairs exist and trying to view ourselves from the perspective of one of those steps is the key mindset we need to be in for this exercise.

For now, let’s ignore those much higher steps and just focus on the step right above us—that light green step.Just kind of haphazard attempts at self-improvement in one area or another, whenever I happened to feel like it.So I’ve attempted to consolidate my scattered efforts, philosophies, and strategies into a single framework—something I can hold onto in the future—and I’m gonna use this post to do a deep dive into it.— Alan Lightman You go to school, study hard, get a degree, and you’re pleased with yourself. You get a job, achieve things at the job, gain responsibility, get paid more, move to a better company, gain even more responsibility, get paid even more, rent an apartment with a parking spot, stop doing your own laundry, and you buy one of those juices where the stuff settles down to the bottom. You do all kinds of life things—you buy groceries, read articles, get haircuts, chew things, take out the trash, buy a car, brush your teeth, shit, sneeze, shave, stretch, get drunk, put salt on things, have sex with someone, charge your laptop, jog, empty the dishwasher, walk the dog, buy a couch, close the curtains, button your shirt, wash your hands, zip your bag, set your alarm, fix your hair, order lunch, act friendly to someone, watch a movie, drink apple juice, and put a new paper towel roll on the thing.But as you do these things day after day and year after year, are you improving as a human in a meaningful way?Considering that the human mind is an ocean of complexity that creates every part of our reality, working on what’s going on in there seems like it should be a more serious priority.