эссе “Humans as we are”
There is a big question about what does it mean to be human. Since times immemorial people tried to solve this problem but we don’t yet have any plausible or even tentative answer. Yes, we built cities and roads, we reached the highest and the deepest places on the Earth, we indeed conquered our planet and became the most representative species in the world excluding the tiniest ones. And more and more. But we are still quite totally ignorant about the very our nature. What is here wrong?
So in the sake of truth many of us consider they actually have the solution. There are mind, conscience, labor, love, compassion, bipedality to name just but a few. But all these and also unmentioned human qualities themselves are begging for answers. We cannot even tell what are they representing leaving any reminder about their essence. Though there isn’t cul de sac or some sort of impasse.
It’s not so difficult to see that all these and also others propositions are starting from. All they depart from the distinction between ourselves namely humans and others animals. What is more problematic is the very notion that there is some sort of chasm, gap or difference. Why we decided that we are in any sense unique in comparison to others critters? And more important – is it so at all? This essay is directed at these questions which as I hope can help us to ask the first one – what does it mean to be human.
It’s unlikely excluding the most outrageous objectors that anybody will protest to view humans as animals. We are natural creatures in the very sense of this statement. Our history is full of all sorts of adaptations and was deployed in correct accordance to all laws of evolution. The place we are now holding was in no ways predestined or kept by someone in mind from the outset. We are just that – one more specie among others. Nevertheless we view ourselves as something or someone different. Why is it so?
I think this state of affairs is due to three interconnected and very powerful illusions which almost everybody of us takes for granted and almost never tries to prove or in some sense bothers to deal with them. So let me orderly pay attention to each of them. But before I will start I need to explain my way of reasoning.
Of course I don’t think people are stupid or equivalent to others animals. It’s certainly ridiculous to align us with them but only if we ponder about ourselves as absolutely unique specie. All our brethren are the same in the very this sense – we are alive therefore we are exceptions, creatures happen now to be on the surface of Earth. What I try to say here is simple. Every animal is unique because it is.
But – and this is a critical point – we don’t need or must think about human as something special. Most people are mediocre in almost all their features. Frankly speaking we are average. This is known as a normal distribution. I’m almost perfectly sure that my readers have spent until now very ordinal and in most cases predictable lives. Exceptions are rare. And this is what we have to keep in mind comparing humans and animals. So.
Our first illusion says us that we have some sort of domination over others beasts or at least are in a superior position. Be it due our mind or compassion or conscience or another trait. How did we come to this conclusion? Very easy. We have all of this qualities therefore other critters have not. The only reason of this way of thinking is due to our ignorance about animal’s abilities. We just don’t know have they something reminiscent to mind, language, conscience or not. Because they don’t utter to us in a way understandable to us or because we don’t grasp what they actually express.
Let me show this in one example. People can speak. It’s very doubtfully that somewhere or whenever we are living here there was culture or group of humans who never communicated to each other. It seems impossible. So our language is quite naturally our universal trait. And due to our proclivity to make all what we only encounter anthropomorphic we consider that all others animals must have something like our language. And if they haven’t they are inferior to us and therefore we are the best. The problem here is in our ability to discern only those things we are prepared to.
Of course animals don’t talk leastwise we do. But they need and must in some way communicate to each other. And there are indeed many examples of exactly just that. Bees’ dance, scents for ants, echolocation in bats, s’ songs and so on. Even our closest relatives, great apes, chitchat with a help of gestures, grooming, mimics. So all these and also others creatures have some sort of communication. Though theirs are unlikely than ours mustn’t bother us at all. In the end the purpose of all these speeches is a delivering of information.
Moreover we have a bias to overestimate an ability of our language to function as well as it is only possible. Far cry from it. Many misunderstandings prove this very fact every day. More often that it is permissible we miss, sidestep, stumble and awkwardly spell whatever we try to promulgate. And this isn’t the end of story. The very our nature puts many limits to this our trait thus we cannot hear some sounds and also pronounce much more of them.
In addition our languages are very confined in another way. We simply don’t have enough words to say all what we want. And this is not even mentioning grammar, syntax and others features of our speech. I don’t of course think that animal communication is better or fuller than our, but if we hark at that that we have there is a notably gruesome and grim picture.
Surely there isn’t the man or the woman who knows all the words and all the languages. The latter are much bigger and complicated than all our faculties to master all their aspects. Otherwise there were much more polyglots than there actually are. But even if we all were some sort of these people it in no way helps us to make our communication flawless or extremely exact.
Alas, we don’t have the language which were able to deliver all information about the world in all its totality. It’s simply impossible. And as for our brethren in the wild the very our ignorance and misunderstanding of their way of communication haven’t to assert that we are in this respect superior or even the best in comparison to their abilities.
I devoted so much time to the question about language because all my conclusions and assumptions of its nature concern also all others our traits such as mind, conscience or even this very strange feature spirituality. The fact that we happen to hold just these qualities means nothing except of that we have them. Say we don’t possess echolocation or cannot differentiate many hues but we don’t think it’s critical. On the other side many animals can do it, but it doesn’t mean they have to proudly announce this.
So why people possessing such traits as language, culture, mind or anything else pretend to take even grasp some sort of superior position? Who has granted us such a right to proclaim we are the pinnacle of evolution? Is there something what may be called the apex at all? From the standpoint of Darwin’s theory there aren’t and even cannot be such places. All living beings are perfect in the sense of their presence here and now. And there is no difference how it occurred. It’s just happened – as in case of humans so also in case of all others creatures.
We have the right to be proud of ourselves but it also means that all our brethren have the same right however inferior they seem to us. We simply don’t know what is better for surviving – our minds, for example, or their claws, furs, skins and so on. In nature there is no end of history – only transient points. And one of them we occupy now. What will happen in future is not only unknown but also unpredictable notwithstanding all our or in the same vein their accomplishments. It’s too early to promulgate our victory whatever it means.
The second illusion is of a quite another sort. There is much discussion about free will today. As in the case of Christian theology there is the question, namely how much people are free and to paraphrase it what does it mean to have self? Scientists, alas, don’t agree with each other on this topic. Some declare there isn’t such a “thing” as self at all, others think there is something but don’t know what it exactly is.