The 5 Blows to the Human Ego
Donna Haraway, one of my favorite professors from my time at UCSC, came up with a list of the four major blows to the human ego: ideas which caught on, undermined our supposed central place in the universe, and diverted culture. They are:
- The Copernican Revolution, which allowed us to realize we weren’t the center of the universe.
- Darwinian thought, which allowed us to realize we weren’t separate from animals.
- Freud’s ideas of the unconscious, which allowed us to realize that we weren’t in full control of our selves.
- Cyborgs, robots, and automatons, which allowed us to realize that non-humans could do the work of humans.
I haven’t seen this list referenced anywhere since Haraway introduced it offhandedly1 in a seminar, so apologies for no original sourcing. I think about it at least once every three months.
Stumbling on the 4 Blows to the Ego this morning I realized a fifth has emerged over the last couple years:
- The Kepler revolution, which allowed us to realize that planets and solar systems are not the exception, but the norm.
It is now accepted that the Milky Way contains at least as many planets as it does stars. This is quite a change from my childhood, when all the space literature I read marveled at the exemption that was our solar system.
As Kepler winds down we’re just beginning to see this thinking trickle out of science communities into mainstream narrative. Only time will tell how it affects our culture, thinking, and overall worldview.
Casually tossing out giant, mind-rearranging ideas on the way to her seemingly unrelated central thesis is the defining element of Haraway lectures and writing. ↩