The tree of knowledge of good and evil is a myth that has always stood out for me as having a special meaning.
I don’t just mean that the myth of the tree of knowledge of good and evil has a special meaning in a merely literary or philosophical sense. I think, beyond their value as stories, myths can have a special meaning for *us*, for our world. They strike a cord in us, resonate with some kind of ancestral memory; indeed I think they came from that place. This is why I think they got to be myths; why they lasted in our collective consciousness for so long. I think myths say something about where we came from, about what we are.
The meaning is cloaked in the guise of a narrative, including characters and events which humankind can identify with. I think man, especially ancient man, often needed this simplicity to make the myths accessible. In this way an understanding of ourselves has been passed down since the beginning of time.
Like many of the myths in the bible (and yes, that’s what I think they’re best referred to as, myths), there’s a strong parallel between Greek myths, and somehow I suspect that there will be parallels in other ancient cosmologies too, though I’m not much familiar with the others.
In the Greek cosmology, the world was torn up in the war between the Titans and the Olympians, who, upon victory, would become the pantheon of Greek gods. After this cataclysm the world was no longer as able to sustain life, and humans went from living from the land in comfort and ease to having to work the land through agriculture to survive.
Another parallel in Greek mythology is the story of Pandora’s box. Pandora was a vain woman and in an act of defiance of her husband opened a box which let all of the horrors which now exist into the world.
Both of these stories, as with the story of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, have a main theme: life was simple and easy and idyllic once, but due to one key event, humans began to have to struggle to survive.
In Pandora’s Box and The Tree Of Knowledge Of Good And Evil, it was woman who did it. I don’t think this has much to do with our ancestral memories and more to do with who was holding the pen.
Indeed when the story of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is ever brought up in modern Christian society, it’s mostly being used to justify misogyny. They are rarely interested in this story for anything else. (Want some *practical* Bible passages? Try Leviticus).
Both Pandora’s Box and The Tree Of Knowledge Of Good And Evil have another common theme. It was the quest for knowledge, specifically the desire for knowing something which they knew that they somehow had no right to know, something forbidden, which brought upon our fall from grace.
I think this is profound. I think if we look closely, we can see evidence of this fall from grace. Most of us have already fallen, most of our societies have already fallen, but the process was incomplete enough to give us the possibility of examining it still today.
The Case Of The Quinoa Farmers
I hate to be so vague with this but I’m going to try to recount from memory a case I heard about. I’m quite certain the essence of this account is true, though I don’t know where to look for the sources. If anyone knows the exact source I’d be very grateful to hear it.
There were some subsistence farmers in South America, who grew quinoa and lived off it. Quinoa fetches a pretty good price on the international market, and some people came along and had the idea of “helping” these guys out.
They suggested that the villagers sell their crop, or some of their crop, which would allow them to buy other things, including more varied food and other products. They managed to convince them with their arguments, and that’s what the villagers did.
However, it didn’t end well. They began to buy alcohol, tobacco, and junk food, and disharmony arose in the community. People’s health began to fail more and they became just generally unhappier, as they found they had suddenly more wants and a struggle to fulfil them. Were they empowered? Yes, but empowered to do what exactly?
A Fall From Grace
This feels to me like a little fall from grace, the same sort of fall that happened in the story of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The forbidden knowledge, in this case, was the knowledge of how to work within society’s system. Tasting the apple of that knowledge irrovocably took away the peace that they’d had before. They couldn’t, or wouldn’t, give back the knowledge to take the peace again, even if they could see they were unhappier while living in the new way.
This wasn’t the biggest fall humankind went through, by any means, but it has the benefit of being recent and (if you can trust my second-hand account) reliably documented.
The Original Fall From Grace
I think the original fall from grace, the original tree of knowledge of good and evil, happened before human records, which is why it is documented in myth and not in history.
I think the original fall was a fall from hunter-gatherer life; specifically gatherer life, in the rainforest, with perhaps a secondary fall from the harsher hunter-gather life outside of the rainforest where edible fruit is less plentiful.
In the idyllic life in the rainforest, where our closest evolutionary relatives still live, humanity’s ancestors ate fruit, which was available all year round, and needed no hunting, no cooking, no storage, no preparation. You just ate it.
Sex was freely available. It happened daily, practically hourly. There were no taboos about it. (Bonobos and chimps still live like this, so stop quibbling. Humanity, like our two closest relatives, is hypersexual in nature and it’s about time we just gave up and admitted it). With this, our needs for affection and bodily contact were surely fulfilled too.
No clothes were needed. (Compare to Adam and Eve realising they were naked and covering themselves after eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil). In the rainforest it’s summer all year round, and in fact clothes are often uncomfortable in the heat and humidity.
They probably didn’t even need to wash themselves. They got rained on, and it was okay because they never got really cold from it.
Humanity didn’t have the issues with hierarchy and unwieldy social structures it has now. You had your tribe, and you knew everyone, and everything you “had”, was shared. Both out of necessity, and out of the simple fact that when everyone knows everyone intimately, there is no need for distrust or control.
Am I saying we lived in paradise? Possibly I am. However, I’m not saying I would go back there necessarily.
For one thing, this is speculation. I think it’s as reliable as speculation about our ancestors gets, though it *is* unashamedly biased towards my own vision of humanity’s true nature. (Any such speculation will unavoidably be biased in this way). I don’t know if this perfect situation ever existed for real, or whether we were genetically modified from bonobo breeding stock by space aliens, or what.
Given my combination of extreme openness to possibilities and strong skepticism (a skepticism which doesn’t overlook the standard paradigm, indeeds tends to question the standard paradigm *first*), I am willing to consider anything, and have no *frikkin* idea what anything was actually like back then.
I think we can look to bonobos and chimpanzees to get an idea, though. Life for them is blissfully free of almost all of our modern day, post-fall-from-grace problems and struggle. Chimpanzees are can be pretty violent at times, a monument to the error of unquestioningly romanticising nature, but, on the other hand, bonobos are very peace-loving, very harmonious with one another, heck, very affectionate, very *loving*. I’m cautious about saying it, but they seem to have something that looks about as close to Eden as I think exists on this world.
I admit it, I’m in love with bonobos; I’ve made a resolution to go see them, possibly film a documentary about them, make my observations about what they tell us about human nature, and do this before they disappear from this world.
So our vision of pre-fall-from-grace is necessarily speculative, even though I think we can be pretty sure that there is *something* there, *some* sort of ancestral memory that makes the story of the tree of knowledge of good and evil so compelling to us. The other reason I don’t think we should go back there is because I think we fell for a reason.
The Meaning Behind The Tree Of Knowledge Of Good And Evil
To get deeper into it, partaking of the tree of knowledge of good and evil meant leaving behind simplicity and beginning to conceptualise. Eckhart Tolle talks about this in his ground-breaking books. Conceptualisation simultaneously gave us power, and made us forget, lose touch with, stop feeling, our true essence.
The further we went into conceptualisation, the more with lived through it, the more powerful we got, and yet, the more we violated our essence. Like the quinoa farmers who lost their primal wellbeing to gain economic power. There have been many little falls from grace like this. Every time, we gained conceptualisation, and lost ourselves. Sometimes we realised we became more unhappy with this change. Yet, we never wanted to go back.
To understand this, Eckhart Tolle makes us consider the example of the “village idiot”. Simple people, people who don’t have the use of a fully functioning ability to conceptualise, they can seem happy. Smiling and stupid.
Or think of animals. Think how at peace they can seem. I often wanted to become an animal as a child, fly off and forget about human problems, forget about the very idea of problems and struggle.
Yet most people don’t want to trade in their intelligence for bliss. It doesn’t feel right. It feels like we have the ability to conceptualise for a *reason*. And you know what? I think we do.
Beyond The Fall From Grace
There’s a kind of simplicity that can be found *beyond* the fall from grace. That is, without taking away our ability to conceptualise, we can find the ability to also *not* conceptualise and simply connect with our inner truth.
The ability to connect with our inner truth would let us build houses when we wanted to, and put on clothes when we wanted to, and yet remain in the rainforest as a preference.
It would let us cook our food if we wanted to, and have food to survive in unusual lands for our species if we wanted to, and yet remain in conditions that support us naturally as a preference.
It would let us choose to remain celebate if we wanted to, withold sexuality from certain people if we wanted to, and yet allow us to revel in our sexuality as a preference.
It would let us withold love if we wanted to, and yet share joyfully in affection and kindness as a preference.
We’d have the ability to discern and to choose how we will express our natures, while at the same time being utterly in connection with our natures: understanding what is actually worth living for, understanding why we conceptualise in the first place, what is of true value, what’s worth striving for.
The Return To Grace
Both inwardly and out, there will be a transcendence of this stage – and that’s what the fall from grace is, a stage. There will be a return to grace after the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but it won’t be a step back, it will be a step forward. Inwardly, we will learn to stop thinking continuously and conceptualising everything to the detriment of our sense of connection. Outwardly, we’ll stop filling our lives with so many complex structures, and once again we’ll allow nature to do most of the work. Many if not most of our greatest problems nowadays were caused by conceptualisation taking us away from the natural solution. So we will return to the natural solution, yet conceptualisation will allow us to enhance that, go beyond that.
The final stage will blend nature and conceptualisation perfectly. Technology, the physical expression of conceptualisation, will no longer be in conflict with nature, but a blended part of it. It’ll come from our natural desires, and fulfill them in natural ways, and all the while it will be a part of nature itself.