Excerpt for How Not To Be A Monkey In The 21st Century - A Guide To Who You Are And How To Live by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

How not to be

a monkey

in the

21st Century


A guide to who you are and how to live

Copyright 2017 Jeff Rice

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means – graphic, electronic or photocopy – without the prior permission, in writing, of the author.



Part 1 - The Universe is a complex place


Meaning at each level of complexity

Complexity increases with each level

Spontaneous generation


Lack of predictability

Life on other planets


Part 2 - Prehistoric People Problems

Positive feedback

Biological basis for psychology

Caveman psychology


Part 3 - You are now leaving Planet of the Apes, please drive carefully

Caveman emotions

King of the castle

Conform to the norm



Brain the size of a planet

Information age

Family ties

Natural selection?

Economic growth models

The luxury of ethics

Inevitable insecurity

Sustainability, sustainability, sustainability

Part 4 - Conclusion


Life can be confusing.

What should I do for a career? How best can I relate to other people? Is there a God or Gods? If there’s no God, what then? Just what is going on!?

This book is about perspective. When making decisions in life, we need perspective.

This book will help to tell you who you are.

The perspective that this book will give you describes how you got to where you are today, more details of how humanity evolved and the shaping of our psychology, and bearing all that in mind, it’ll give some pointers for how you can move forward in a confusing world.

To understand how we got to where we are, I’ll take a look at how various aspects of the Universe evolved to produce a clever ape on a small blue-green planet in a spiral galaxy 14 billion years since the birth of the Universe.

Don’t worry – I’ve tried to keep everything brief and easily digestible.

We then move on to have a look at human psychology in more detail. Once you know where it came from, how it evolved and why, it puts a fabulous perspective on how we all behave and why people do what they do.

Then once we know ‘how’ and ‘why’ we got to where we are today as an animal like no other on Planet Earth, we’ll then look at how things might go in future and play with a few ideas as to how we might actually shape that future and be active participants in creating a world we all want; whatever that is.

Is modern human industrial society some sort of weird, freaky spin-off that’ll soon die out and leave life on Earth to get on with business-as-usual? Or will humanity evolve to become Earth’s crowning glory; custodians of a beautiful planet? Or perhaps something else will happen?

I’ll often refer to humans, throughout this book, as ‘cavemen.’ Ok – cave ‘MAN’ is a bit sexist. And we didn’t all live in caves. Far from it. But ‘caveman’ is a relatable and light-hearted image, so if you’ll forgive me, I’m going to stick with it.

The main theme of this book is that something new is happening to humanity. Could it be that the confusing and complex state of humanity could be the growing pains of the growth of an entirely new level of existence in the Universe? Something unimaginable; the Next Level of existence?

Part 1 - The Universe is a complex place

So what is the meaning of life? How can you find out? Where do you even start to consider imagining thinking about it?

One popular observation about the Universe is that it seems to be structured into various levels. These levels of complexity, each one the foundation for the next, can be crudely divided into:

•Subatomic particles



•Biochemical molecules

•The first life forms, e.g. bacteria (Prokaryotic cells)

•Bacteria band together to form more complex single cells (Eukaryotic cells)

•First simple multicellular organisms

•Multicellular organisms increase in size and complexity - They evolve specific bodily tissues and organs with specialised functions

•Evolution of plants and animals

•Ecology - The interaction of diverse communities of species - Complex ecosystems are formed (which started with the bacteria)

•Psychology, including evolutionary psychology

(Here it starts to break down and becomes less obvious)


•Human societies?


•…the Next Level? Something new we’re yet to see?


One problem with this description springs immediately to mind. It involves the problem of reductionism. Reductionism is a very useful concept and has played its part in the evolution of science and scientific method. It basically involves the breaking down of any structure or system into its component parts to allow analysis.

This habit of science has become a very common aspect of our psychology. We use it all the time without really thinking about it. Just think of any one problem in your own life. How would you set about solving it? It might be a fault with your car or computer. Maybe you're having some kind of interpersonal difficulty at work. But how do you go about trying to understand all these things that at first might confuse you? Well, you try to understand the problem by breaking it down into its component parts. Which part of your car is actually faulty? You eventually determine the one problem with your computer - you've not plugged it in. Things aren't going well at work, what could be causing it? Is it X, Y or Z? Maybe you break down your boss's behaviour and work style into specific criticisms in order to have a better understanding of why he should in fact get the sack.

How many elements are there in the Universe? Well initial ancient examination suggested four elements - earth, wind, fire and water. After much examination and further splitting into smaller and smaller parts, we ended up with the atom and the periodic table of the elements.

So reductionism has been and still is a very useful intellectual tool.

Reductionism begins to fail though when you start to examine areas of life of increasing complexity. For example, try to describe the beauty of a sunset in reductionist terms. You could argue that the warmth of the sun’s rays help to heat your body, thus providing you with a net gain in energy that in turn makes you feel good. Or possibly a sunset creates the image of a stable, functional environment where an organism subconsciously knows that it'll be able to live long and prosper. Or maybe the colours do interesting things to your brain's network. In these reductionist terms, such descriptions sound ludicrous. It's much better to simply say that it's just beautiful, and that's it.

The same applies to my description of the levels of the Universe. One of the first things you notice is that this whole sequence is really a continuum, a spectrum. It's hard to draw a line between two levels. There is obviously a huge difference between simple unicellular organisms and the human body. But if you follow evolutionary history, you can follow the continuum right through from one to the other. The habit of reductionism makes us want to break this hypothetical structure of the Universe down into component parts, as I have done, in order to allow better understanding. And this is perfectly acceptable. However, it's also important to bear in mind that this can be difficult to do, resulting in inaccurate descriptions of, and division into, separate levels. It's also interesting to notice that at the end of this spectrum with lower complexity, i.e. atoms and molecules; it’s much easier to make the distinction between the Levels of Complexity in the Universe. An atom is composed of electrons, neutrons and protons. Atoms by themselves are really just atoms. When two or more of them bind together, then obviously, you've got molecules. As the levels become increasingly complex, putting in that reductionist dividing line becomes more and more difficult. Where does the body end and the mind begin, for example? Is technological evolution a separate level or an expression of our psychology? And what of quantum weirdness?

Meaning at each level of complexity

So, reductionism is a useful tool up to a point. You can understand life and its systems by looking at and analysing its components. However, as I've already briefly said, it is also useful to keep in mind that each of these successive levels of the Universe have their own meaning and that they can make more sense if you don't examine them in terms of reductionism.

Take the level of ecosystems. An ecosystem works due to the interaction of its component parts. It is made up of parts in the form of individual species and numbers of individuals of those species, but it's the way that all the species within an ecosystem work together that make the ecosystem. So an ecosystem is about the relationships between organisms rather than being about the organisms themselves. It's about the structure of the network.

One model of this would be the food web. This is one of the first things we learn in biology and is usually represented by spider charts linking the various organisms together in a diagram to create a 'spider-web' like pattern. Such a pattern nicely depicts the network of the ecosystem.

Another example is diagrams of trophic levels. These put organisms into a hierarchy depending on what they eat or what eats them. So at the lower levels you have plants. These are fed on by herbivorous animals, which in turn might be eaten by carnivores. This again is a nice visual representation of an ecosystem, albeit an oversimplification applying a certain amount of reductionism.

An individual human life also puts reductionism in its place in terms of meaning. It’s more or less pointless to think of your own life as being that of a bunch of cells that in turn are made up from biochemicals. It's much more meaningful to describe an individual life in terms of human aspirations, plans, desires, love and loss. The level of human life has its own meaning. It means something to experience life as human. And, I'd guess that we all feel pretty self-important and self-focused. There are of course reasons why such psychology has evolved; the preservation of the ‘Selfish Gene.’ It makes sense to look after ourselves and our own interests and to pass on our genes.

Most people would also agree that there is a significant difference between the pre-biotic soup on the early Earth and the very first simple organisms. The appearance of life out of this unappealing primordial slime represents a new level of meaning in the Universe. The beginning of life! We don’t yet know how life started and how the transition from chemicals to life happened. But the appearance of life, however we define it and however it started, is a pretty special and distinct thing.

Technology often seems to have a life of its own and seems to be something separate to us. It can produce discrete entities that are analogous to life forms, such as cars, computers, robots, rovers to explore Mars and eventually ‘life forms’ with artificial intelligence. We can relate to technological items as life forms. A car, for example, has a life-span, it gets old, we feed it fuel, we might give it a name and it eventually ‘dies’ and goes for recycling. When it comes to reproduction and the next generation, the car has to rely on us to do that for it. In the future, machines will be able to reproduce themselves. Technology is something new in the Universe (as far as we’re aware) that humanity has created and has new properties and new possibilities. It’s arguably a discrete level of complexity in the Universe. You could argue that simple technology in the form of simple tool use has been around for millions of years and has been, and still is, used by a large variety of species. For example, twigs used by crows, stones used by chimps and dolphins have been observed using sponges to protect their snouts when foraging on the sea floor.

To sum up - Each level of complexity in the Universe has its own meaning.

Complexity increases with each level

If you think about each of these proposed successive levels of evolution in the Universe, it's easy to see that complexity increases with the generation of each new level. As you move from one level up to the next, a whole new tier of structure emerges. You've still got all the structure of the previous level but now you also have a new level of structure within a new level. The old structure is now wrapped up in the new structure.

One level acts as the foundation for the next. As each level develops, it encapsulates all of the previous levels. Atoms are composed of subatomic particles. Molecules are composed of atoms that are composed of subatomic particles. The first primitive bacteria were composed of molecules, which were composed of atoms, which were composed of subatomic particles. Single-celled organisms banded together to produce simple multicellular life. Over time, individual member cells started to perform different functions. Think about the variety of cells in your body – skin cells, blood cells, muscle cells, neurons – all very different, performing different functions. Somewhere along the line, the biology gains consciousness, psychology, more complexity… which is now you reading this. You feel like a discrete entity, perhaps a mind that inhabits a body, that has all these previous levels bound within.

After the big bang, there was only electromagnetic energy. This condensed into something entirely new - sub-atomic particles. So, at this stage, a new type of structure developed in the Universe that was more complex than what went before. These particles condensed to form atoms and again, you get a new type of structure and a new level of greater complexity. The origin of life creates a new level of structure and a new level of increased complexity. And so on all the way up to our present situation where life's complexity seems to be overtaking us. Modern human society seems too complex to cope with or understand. Or, perhaps something new is happening and unfolding that we don't, as yet, appreciate? Are there other levels of the Universe yet to unfold?

When we were cavemen, life was pretty straightforward. It was tough, of course, but relatively predictable and went on pretty much unchanged, seemingly indefinitely. Think of all the complexity of caveman society. You've got the biological complexity of the individual human bodies, evolved over millions of years. You've got the psychological complexity of the individual. And you've got the complexity of the caveman society and its social interactions. Both the society complexity and the individual psychology complexity are also tied up in evolutionary psychology. Our psychology is fashioned by evolution to be most efficient. It’s useful to think and behave in certain ways.

Life on Earth today is increasingly complex with interactions of psychology, sociology and technology. Human processes are also interacting negatively with the entirety of Earth’s ecology. Is the modern human complexity ‘going somewhere?’ In some ways it ‘feels’ like it is. Surely ‘something’ is going to happen?

Spontaneous generation

It also seems that within a particular level, you get a build up of complexity within that level which results in the spontaneous generation of the next level. So, on the pre-life early Earth, you'd have a huge build up and diversity of chemicals and biochemicals; a rich soup simmering away. Once you get a high level of complexity and diversity in this situation, life seems to spontaneously emerge. How it actually started is still a matter of much debate. One theory suggests that life arrived on Earth, hitching a ride on comets and meteors. People of more spiritual persuasion think that life needed a spiritual spark to get it going. Some relatively simple proteins, such as prions, are able to replicate themselves but it's still a leap to self-replicating DNA. It’s probable that the complexity of the pre-biotic soup reached a point where life became inevitable.

When the Earth reached the stage of having an enormous diversity of bacterial life forms, where can it go next? It's like it reaches a bottleneck of activity. It gets as complex as it can be for that level of existence and then, quite spontaneously, does something new and unexpected. Bacteria bind together to form a eukaryotic cell, around 100 times the size of a bacterial cell, containing many more complex structures.

It is worth mentioning that before complex, eukaryotic, single cells appeared on Earth, bacterial life existed for about 3 billion years. During this time, bacterial life formed the first ecosystems. Think of the complex diversity of the global bacterial ecosystems, flourishing for all that time. These bacterial ecosystems provided the foundation for the multi-cellular, plant and animal ecosystems of the future. Some would say that if all of the complex life on the Earth disappeared, bacterial ecosystems would continue along nicely, thank you very much, and that the Earth would function pretty much as it does now. I’d recommend reading James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis to explore this in more detail. As much as I admire Lovelock’s work, I don’t find him very ‘optimistic.’ He seems quite happy for humanity to wipe itself out or for all the Earth’s rainforests to be replaced by agriculture. I suppose that’s the detached scientist in him, simply examining ‘what if.’

Once life gets up to the multicellular level, doing new things starts to become a habit. During the Cambrian Explosion, some half a billion years ago, a huge diversity of life erupted in a relatively short period of time, filling the seas with weird and wonderful creatures. If, on any planet, life exists only in the sea, it seems obvious that any organism that can find a way to exploit the bare land surface is going to do quite well for itself. Evolutionary pressure means that plants and animals will always be looking to evolve into slightly improved forms that can take advantage of any particular situation. So foxes will evolve to run faster to be better at catching rabbits and rabbits will evolve to run away faster from faster foxes.

It also seems that in order to navigate a body around, whether you are a human, a fox or a whale, that a mind is quite a useful thing. So again we have spontaneous generation, in this case, of a discrete, singular mind. Psychology must have been around for hundreds of millions of years, albeit very basic at first.

What about the use of tools by humans? So many animals use tools which tend to be naturally occurring objects like twigs and rocks, but only with humans has this tendency exploded into complex tool forms: the industrial revolution, information technology and the beginnings of space travel. Tools obviously have a use and so they are going evolve in much the same way that organisms evolve. There is pressure from the human mind for simple tools to be refined and improved. It seems inevitable that high technology has evolved. But why has it for us and not for so many other animals that also use tools? I’ll come to that later.


The second law of thermodynamics states that with the passage of time disorder increases in the Universe with energy just being spread out like an even layer of heat. This is entropy. So after all the suns of the Universe have burnt out with their energy spent, you end up with a dead, lightless but tepid Universe.

The structure I've outlined so far, for the way that complexity unfolds within the Universe, goes against this. Or at least certainly seems to. In the structure I’ve described so far, complexity and order increase over time rather than decrease. This is disentropy.

Physicists would argue that ultimately planet Earth will die along with the life on it thus bringing all the complexity that the Earth has gained and developed over all those millions of years back down to zero. Does this feel right to you? It doesn't to me. I'm more optimistic than that. I'm not put off by the vast weight of the huge body of knowledge that is modern physics. I think the complexity that has evolved on this world will persist beyond the eventual death of the Earth. Could it even survive the end of the Universe? That's getting a bit ahead of where this book is going, but who knows what the very distant future will bring?

We need to focus on life as it is now, where we are now and what new levels of complexity in the Universe might come next. It's pointless to get bogged down thinking about the end of the Earth. That's about 500 million years away. We need answers for today and for this century.

The Universe has some more evolving to do yet, possibly much more, and it’s happening right here on Earth.

Lack of predictability

Imagine being back in the caveman cave. Think back about 150,000 years from today. Sat there with your hand axe and pointed stick, could you ever have imagined the evolution of the motor car? Looking from then to now, there's no way our early ancestors could ever have known how the level of technology could have evolved and expanded to the level of complexity and diversity that we see today. And it's not finished! Today, we don't know where technology will take us tomorrow. New scientific discoveries are always just around the corner. Digital and information technology are racing away with advancement. It terms of information technology, we’ve already caught up with science fiction from just a few decades ago.

Now try to put yourself in the position of observing a Universe with no life in it at all. This is hard to do of course, because you're there to think about it. But imagine a planet with no life on it in a lifeless Universe. A billion years from where you are, the planet you're looking at will have life on it, but you don't know that. So, standing there, how could you ever have predicted that something as complex as a bacterial ecosystem or lush rainforest could emerge on this lifeless rock? Or that some time after that, an ape with a pointed stick could be staring back at you.

From the perspective or point of view from each level, it's impossible to predict the evolution of the next level. Because the next level, whichever level it is, is something so totally new, with a whole new level of structure, complexity and meaning, that you can’t possibly predict what it's going to look like.

Imagine standing on the Earth when the first fish were crawling out onto the land. Could you ever have guessed that the far, far distant descendants of those fish would one day be walking on the moon, or be sitting chatting in coffee shops?

From the point of view of any one level, it's impossible to know what new level might follow on. That's pretty much where human society is today. Could it be that a whole new level of existence is about to emerge. Could it be happening now? Human life and also therefore all of life on the Earth are certainly changing very fast. For non-human life this change is headed towards extinction, and possibly therefore, extinction for humanity as well. However, I suggest that there are other levels of complexity yet to evolve in the Universe and that a new level is about to emerge within, and through, humanity. Now that’s what I call unpredictable. Humanity and associated technology and psychology are the leading edge of expansion of complexity in the Universe, currently expressing itself on Earth.

Life on other planets

If the structure of the Universe does indeed unfold in the way described, then that must apply to the Universe as a whole and not just to the Earth. Life on other planets seems as equally inevitable as the evolution of life and complexity on this planet. As long as the initial conditions are right, and I suspect that there is a wide variability for these initial conditions, then life will spontaneously emerge. If those initial conditions are right, which more or less means the right temperature, which means the presence of water and that there's enough energy available to run the planet's systems, everything else will follow on automatically. The Universe must be teaming with life.

On planets with life, the evolution of an intelligent, technological species is also inevitable. Except perhaps, on ocean planets. Put simply - you are never going to discover fire under water. So, no Bronze Age, no Iron Age, no metals and no industrial revolution. Well, possibly. If we want to discover and understand sentient life in an aquatic environment and how sophisticated it may or may not be, we need look no further than our own planet and take a closer look at the dolphins and whales. My suspicion is that as they've been out there for millions of years with a rather large brain, and mainly because of their large brain, that they must have reached a certain degree of psychological and social complexity, and in some small way or other are in fact superior to humans. We just don't know what that is yet.

It's likely that another planet with its own technological prodigy has advanced to greater levels of complexity than we have. They could be a million years further on than we are now and have a whole new level or levels of understanding and knowledge of how the Universe actually is. It's probably why they more or less leave us alone and ignore us. To them, we’re just a bunch of apes throwing rocks at each other. Perhaps they are waiting. I think the breakthrough will come when we finally train a planet-spotting telescope onto a sister Earth across the galaxy, get a good look at it, and determine that it supports complex life and even high technology. At that point our stellar neighbours will probably say "Ok. Hi there. You've found us. How are you?" The next step would probably be an invite over from them, with us meeting the technological challenge to get there. Well, it’s a nice image, a polite interstellar invite over for tea.


So, it seems that the Universe and the way that it expresses itself on our planet, evolves in a series of levels. Each level represents a new plane and type of existence in the Universe. Complexity increases with each level. It also increases to a maximum within each level to allow the spontaneous generation of the next level. Each level has its own meaning, it means something different. This evolution also seems to be going against the tide of entropy in the Universe.

The human race is changing so fast and in so many ways. Never before have we found it so easy to travel around the planet. Information technology allows data to flow around the planet further, freer and faster opening up an ever expanding intellectual and horizon. This also means that we are undergoing rapid cultural change. New planets in distant solar systems are being discovered all the time.

And on top of all this, we're causing the Earth's sixth mass extinction through our activities, thus eroding the foundations of all this growth. If levels of ecosystem diversity collapse does human society collapse?

It's certainly a time of change, a time of transition. Where is evolution in the Universe taking us? If the Universe does evolve in a series of levels of complexity, what's coming next? What new level might we be currently being born into? Where are we now and where are we going next?

This first chapter serves as a foundation for my description of where we are now and where we are going; what levels are coming next. For further reading and more detailed analysis of what I've described as ‘Complexity in the Universe,’ have a look at the work of Peter Russell and also of Fritjof Capra.

Part 2 - Prehistoric People Problems

Now we need to take a look at the current situation. I use the phrase 'current situation' rather broadly here. We're looking at the evolution of the levels of complexity in the Universe, in relation to humanity. Human evolution has, so far, taken about 3 million years. What leads us up to the point where we are now? What elements and events in our recent past allowed us to evolve as we have up until now, today?

Positive feedback

Take a creature, any creature. They all probably have a fairly similar and basic psychology. Mammals, birds, lizards and amphibians all evolved from the first fish to walk out of the sea. It is likely that the more complex an organism is and the more convoluted its evolutionary path, the more complex its psychology, however, on the whole, non-human animals probably don't differ that much. Dogs are probably more psychologically sophisticated than lizards and lemurs could almost certainly outwit sheep.

If an animal has had a convoluted evolutionary path, it has probably lived in a variety of habitats and in a variety of ways to get it where it is. Dolphins, for example, are now ocean-going mammals but, at one time they would have lived on the land as cat or dog-like creatures. If an animal occupies a certain ecological niche, lives a certain way, it's likely that its brain will evolve to be efficient in that niche. An efficient brain equals an efficient mind. New and subtle brain structures could evolve to allow the animal to be effective at what it does. As the animal evolves into a new niche, like dolphins taking to the water, it seems reasonable that the animal would hang on to useful brain structures that it had evolved for use in its earlier form and that are still useful in its new form. To survive in new environments, an animal might need new 'bolt-on' bits of brain structure and so the 'brain kit' would become more complex as an animal progresses along its evolutionary path. Not all animals upgrade their brain as they progress through evolution. If your role in life doesn’t need much of a brain, the brain will become more simplified, as in marine filter-feeding tunicates. It’s tempting to add a joke about politicians…but moving on…

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