Neil Paul Cummins
Neil Paul Cummins (born 1975) is an English philosopher, environmentalist and futurologist. He is best known for proposing that the human species has an important place in an evolving planet (is special) because its purpose is to geoengineer the temperature of the Earth's atmosphere. Part of this view is that human-induced global warming is in the interests of life; it is a positive event in the evolution of the planet.
Neil Paul Cummins grew up in the countryside in the south-west of England. He studied Economics at the University of Exeter from 1993-1996 (BA 2:1). He studied Environmental Studies with The Open University from 2002-05 (BSc 1) and then studied Philosophy at Lancaster University from 2005-07 (Distinction). He completed his PhD in Philosophy at the University of Reading in 2011 after working with Galen Strawson.
In 2008 he won an international philosophical writing competition run by the Spinoza-Gesellschaft. He presented the winning essay - 'How much of man is natural?' - to the international conference of the Spinoza-Gesellschaft in Marburg, Germany (September 2008). In 2009 he was invited to the Venice Summer School on Evolution and Human Uniqueness.
The Three Questions
- Does the human species have an important place on the planet?
- If the human species has an important place on the planet, how does this relate to the environmental crisis and human-induced global warming?
- How does all of this relate to the decisions and actions of individual humans?
Cummins claims that these three questions are deeply interrelated. The human species has an important place on the planet and this is deeply related to the environmental crisis and human-induced global warming. Furthermore, individual humans have been endowed with certain feelings/motivations by the universe; most humans act in accordance with these feelings/motivations and this ensures that human culture has an evolutionary trajectory towards human-induced global warming and planetary geoengineering.
The Philosophical Worldview
- The Earth and the Sun, like all other parts of the universe, are ageing entities.
- The Universe is divided into two parts – life and non-life.
- The entire Universe is pervaded with states of feeling (panwhat-it-is-likeness).
- Life is a good state of feeling for the Universe to be in.
- Life, and complex life in particular, require certain conditions in order to survive.
- When life arises it strives to stay in existence by spreading out over the planet it arises on and by regulating the temperature of that planet’s atmosphere to keep it favourable for its continued existence (as described in James Lovelock's Gaia Theory).
- As the Sun’s energy keeps on increasing the point will come when, in the absence of a technological species, the ability of life to regulate the temperature of the planet’s atmosphere will cease.
- In order to survive non-human-induced global warming life needs to evolve a technological species.
- Becoming technological entails the opening of a division, part of the universe has to see itself as 'non-natural' and as opposed to 'nature'. Becoming technological also involves manipulating the 'natural' to the extent that an environmental crisis and technology-induced global warming are generated.
- On the Earth the human species is that part of life which is technological.
- The purpose of the human species is to be the saviour of life through developing and deploying the technology which regulates the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere.
- Individual humans, just like all parts of the universe, naturally act/move in a way that maximises their state of feeling (towards pleasure and away from pain). The majority of humans acting in accordance with their feelings gives the trajectory to human culture which ensures that the human species fulfils its purpose.
- The human species is special because it is the technological saviour of life on Earth.
- The human species will fulfil its purpose because of concerns about, and the reality of, human-induced global warming.
- This is the only reason that the human species is special ('raised up above' all of the non-human life-forms of the Earth). The human species isn't special because of rationality, consciousness, spirituality, language, culture, tool use, or any other 'unique' attribute.
This view is outlined by Cummins in his first book: 'Is the Human Species Special?: Why human-induced global warming could be in the interests of life'. He is also the founder of the paradigm of 'panwhat-it-is-likeness'. According to this view, mind and consciousness are very rare attributes in the universe, but states of what-it-is-likeness pervade the universe. The 'panwhat-it-is-likeness' view is developed in detail in: 'An Evolutionary Perspective on the Relationship between Humans and their Surroundings: Geoengineering, the Purpose of Life & the Nature of the Universe'.
Panwhat-it-is-likeness is best thought of as different to panpsychism as the latter implies that psyche or mind or consciousness pervades the universe. In accordance with the Buddhist Theory of Atoms, Cummins contends that smells/tastes/feelings pervade the universe, and that only two senses evolve in humans - seeing and hearing.
In 'Saviours or Destroyers: The relationship between the human species and the rest of life on Earth' Cummins describes how we are living through a painful technological birthing process; life is bringing forth 'technological armour' to help ensure its future survival. He claims that there are two implications which follow from his philosophical worldview:
- That if we realise that that the universe/life is 'inevitably' moving towards a better state through this current transitional stage of a painful technological birthing process then we can act differently. We cannot stop the process, but we can reduce the suffering it involves (for humans and for non-human life-forms). He claims that resources can be focused on geoengineering the temperature of the atmosphere, and resources that are currently being used trying to avoid this outcome can be more fruitfully deployed (they are wasted resources because not only can the outcome not be avoided, it is actually a positive outcome). Resources can be redeployed to other pressing environmental and developmental issues which need to be dealt with at the surface of the Earth.
- As parts of the ‘feeling universe’ (panwhat-it-is-likeness) we can seek to be more effective at living ‘in tune’ with our feelings and thereby effortlessly move to an optimal state of feeling – one that maximises our health and happiness. He claims that if one uses one's thought processes to ‘disobey’ one's feelings one will not be optimally happy. One should simply let the universe do its thing within one and thereby let the universe naturally move to the highest/best state of feeling.
In 2012, Peter Xavier Price, from the Sussex Centre for Intellectual History (University of Sussex), wrote a response to Is the Human Species Special?: Why human-induced global warming could be in the interests of life. This is some of what Price had to say:
"Cummins' account of what he calls the 'trajectory of human evolution from hunter-gatherer to technological society' —indeed, the very thread upon which his whole argument is based—appears, in truth, to be little more than the eighteenth-century Scottish 'four-stages-theory', albeit in slightly modified form. Had Cummins acknowledged this interesting fact, he might even have reached the conclusion that we may now be entering (or already find ourselves in) a quinquennial, climatical phase of a potential 'five-stage theory', replete with its own conundrums and challenges."
- 2010: Is the Human Species Special?: Why human-induced global warming could be in the interests of life, ISBN 978-1-907962-00-4
- 2011: What Does it Mean to be Green?: sustainability, respect & spirituality, ISBN 978-1-907962-13-4
- 2011: Should I be a Vegetarian?: a personal reflection on meat-eating, vegetarianism and veganism, ISBN 978-1-907962-12-7
- 2012: An Evolutionary Perspective on the Relationship between Humans and their Surroundings: geoengineering, the purpose of life & the nature of the universe, ISBN 978-1-907962-53-0
- 2012: Saviours or Destroyers: the relationship between the human species and the rest of life on Earth, ISBN 978-1-907962-52-3
- Cummins, Neil Paul (2010), Is the Human Species Special?: Why human-induced global warming could be in the interests of life, ISBN 978-1-907962-00-4
- Cummins, Neil Paul (2012), An Evolutionary Perspective on the Relationship between Humans and their Surroundings: Geoengineering, the Purpose of Life & the Nature of the Universe, ISBN 978-1-907962-53-0
- Cummins, Neil Paul (2012), Saviours or Destroyers: The relationship between the human species and the rest of life on Earth, ISBN 978-1-907962-52-3
- Price, Peter (2012), 'Human Specialness': The Historical Dimension & the Historicisation of Humanity, ISBN 978-1-907962-67-7
- Blog: Humans in the Cosmos
- Amazon Profile
- Human Nature, Cosmic Evolution and Modernity in Hölderlin
- Millenium Alliance for Humanity & the Biosphere