Human life is superior to all other life forms on Earth. Humankind is the number one factor that affects our planet. What is human life?
Human life and expanding its comprehension is the subject of this chapter. It transitions us into the last eight chapters of Audit of the Universe that focus on humankind. It so happens that humankind is unique in ways I’ll elaborate in these chapters. Remember the focus of our quest is: How to establish peace and prosperity on Earth. Humankind, ranking as the highest form of life, has a definite responsibility in finding this pathway.
(Audit of the Universe, chapter 7.1)
Inventory of the Universe delved into the mechanics of human life: Genes, DNA, stem cells, reproduction, chronobiology and many other aspect of how humans are composed. Audit of the Universe is a summary (of which this blog post is an excerpt) of where humankind is in this quest. But Audit would not be complete without a deeper understanding of humankind: Men, women, children, families, relationships. How do individuals, males and females, groups like communities, races and nations function and think? These upcoming chapters delve into the vicissitudes of humankind.
We are going to start by defining what human life is. Down through the ages men have given their best efforts to try to define human life. Here how some major philosophers, whose names you’ll recognize, describe humankind.
The Philosophies of Humans on what is Human Life? Just who are we?
Plato wrote about how we humans have created communities as a way of reinforcing the power of our reason and communication. With animals, a struggle for power or disagreement always goes to the physically strongest in the herd. Human civilization, by contrast, provides a way for the smartest or most socially adept person to lead.
We don’t compete with animals on a physical level, our society has simultaneously supported and been supported by the advanced cognitive power that separates us from the animals.
Aristotle pointed to communication as the factor that defines us. Although some animals are capable of simple communication, only human language captures abstract concepts. A bird can indicate the location of food, but only we can communicate what a space looked like before the food arrived, or describe a plan for growing more food tomorrow. In his discussion of this vital difference, Aristotle also indicated another uniquely human quality – our ability to discuss and internalize moral codes. Morals and ethics are inherently abstract concepts, and only a being who can think and communicate in the abstract can be a moral or ethical creature.
“Or immoral and unethical,” Galacti points out. Reminding us that Audit of the Universe is about the state of Earth today, with each of us having to evaluate whether the glass of peace and prosperity is getting fuller or emptier–more or less moral and ethical.
Rene Descartes, famous for saying “I think, therefore I am,” added the observation that true cognition is only possible through abstract language. The conversations we have with ourselves, the internal thoughts which so define our lives as humans are only possible with the abstract words and ideas unique to mankind. He said “Animals are machines without souls. Lacking consciousness they are incapable of thought. They follow instinct.”
Kant agrees, writing that of all creatures on earth only we are not servants to instinct. Animals are aware of their current circumstance, but humans can imagine changes to our circumstance. This imagination, unique to our human life, is the foundation for everything we have accomplished. Kant also expanded on the discussion Aristotle started, pointing out that only when free of instinct can we be capable of forming morality. Any individual human among us has the freedom to follow or not follow ethics and morals, while a hungry predator must kill. It lacks the ability of conscious choice we take for granted.
Rousseau built on this conversation by adding the concept of “perfectability.” By this, he didn’t mean that we are perfect, or even that we can become perfect. Instead, he identified humans as the only beings on earth that can learn and improve upon itself. Lions 10,000 years ago lived and behaved as lions do today. Sharks have been sharks for millions of years. But we, and we alone, can change and transform as individuals and as a species. Animals obey their instinct, says Rousseau, and thus neither gain nor lose anything from generation to generation. We use intellect, experimentation and imagination to learn, grow and change…and to alter our environment through construction, innovation and invention.
In the late 19th century, Bergson identified inventiveness as another characteristic unique to us. Some animals create tools, such as a monkey thrusting a stick into a termite mound to gather a tasty snack, but even the most advanced animal uses but one or two tools and even then uses only simple, found objects. They don’t manufacture tools. Humankind uses and manufactures a vast variety of tools, and even invents tools for the express purpose of building other tools. This is the flip side of Rousseau’s perfectability. We not only have the capacity to change ourselves, but also the capacity to change our environment.
“As an aside, consider that how we use that inventiveness for good or ill can be … inconsistent,” I admit. Galacti raises one eyebrow in arch agreement.
During the 20th century, Heidigger discussed existence as a concept and defined us as the only creatures on earth that exist. He argued that animals were conscious and aware, but actual existence requires three abilities:
- The ability to see far-reaching possibilities
- The ability to analyze potential consequences
- The ability to make decisions based on that sight and analysis
Of all species on earth, only we have demonstrated even one of those three definitions.
“Over the centuries,” Galacti summarizes, “some of humanity’s most intelligent minds have discussed, debated and considered the differences between man and animals. They have expressed a variety of viewpoints in what differentiates the two, but are united overall in the opinion that humankind is somehow more than the animals.”
“But how?” I ask.
“In trying to identify qualities that make humans, human, philosophers identified several traits: civilization, language, abstract thought, morals, ethics, perfectability, technology, analysis. Put together, they represent different facets of the same human gem: cognitive capacity beyond the physical mechanics of the brain. All animals have brains, and are capable of incredible prowesses, but only man has a mind.”
This blog post is an excerpt from chapter 7.1 of Audit of the Universe.
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