TED Conversations

Alex Hutchins

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What does it mean to be human?

As a College professor, I start the first day of every class by asking my students this question. Needless to say, they do not know how to answer it, even though they have previously had psychology and philosophy courses prior to the Junior/Senior classes that I typically teach.

So, if students do not know how to answer this question right away, then my next question is, do the rest of us know how to answer this question right away or would it require some reflection?

Or, does anyone really care?

I am sure that it has different meaning for different people but would it also have different meanings for different cultures?

Does being human mean some different in Christianity than it does for Muslims or people of the Jewish faith or agnostics for that matter?

Do we need to prove that we exist in order to answer this question? And, while you are pondering this one, let me explain: I am talking about "I think therefore I am," but is this life "real" or is this life a metaphor for the life that we will all be experiencing after death? If this life therefore is not real, does it matter that we exist and furthermore, does being human have any meaning at all?

Are we human because we oftentimes do not practice what we preach?

Are we human because we can skillfully put down the thoughts and comments of others?

Are we human because we are arrogant or wealthy although I see the two as mutually exclusive myself?

Are we human because we have faith and hypocritically live out that faith in our daily lives?

Are we human because we are a racist and have found clever ways to hide why we feel that way?

Are we human because we have cheated on our spouses?

Are we human because we like to engage in wars all over the globe so that we can prove we are better than others, or stronger... while really wanting to impose our way of life on them?

Are we human because we cannot accept cultural diversity as the new norm?

What are your thoughts as to what it means to be human?

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    Jul 4 2013: To be human?
    What is anything without a definition?
    To define is to measure.
    To measure is to limit.
    To limit is to divide.
    To divide is to create conflict.
    That is what being human is.
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      Jul 6 2013: That's some pretty good depressing reasons, Johnny. thumbs up. I'd like to do everything possible to change "To measure is to limit, to limit is to divide, and to divide is to create conflict".
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        Jul 6 2013: Wow, Chris,
        Obviously you are on the defensive, blinkers on and the conversation stops here.
    • Jul 7 2013: Johnny, don't you hate it when someone attacks your ideas without understanding what you were saying. I didn't know we had correctness police here. I believe I gat what you are saying, and the direction you are saying it, but what do I know, I too have had my opinions corrected.
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        Jul 7 2013: Not at all, you can attack whatever you want, I said it that conflict is part of being human, as a matter of fact you cannot have humanity without conflict.
        When conflict ceases in the world altogether we will have to rename our species. lol
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        • Jul 8 2013: All definitions that are currently being used are in flux. Static means non-changeing, and for that to happen the term must be used in curretn dialect.
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        • Jul 8 2013: When you say someone is inaccurate, you are implying that you and you alone are giving the correct answer, therefore you are correcting them. You did not say I disagree with you, if you are going to be so correct in your definitions please do so.
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    Jul 4 2013: According to me being human means if someone needs your help , there's no need to think who he is or what's his religion. You're human and he's human , he needs your help and you should do it.
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      Jul 6 2013: Another great reason to be human! Thumbs up.
  • Jun 27 2013: I think we are extremely arrogant to believe we are different from other animals. One day we will find that killing whales and chimps, gorillas and such, is not only wrong, but the same as killing other humans. I am not saying we are not to eat, or be vegan, [Ican find just as much evidence that plants are conscious] but to be human means that some will kill just to kill. Maiming animals just to maim. Humans can be just, kind, nurturing,chivalrous, vicious,self-serving,violent, rageing killers. The whole scope of being human means that the only difference between ourselves and the other animals, is the arrogance that our lives matter more than theirs do. The fact that some think we have souls and animals do not. We are our own worst enemies, and if we do not change our ways, we will be the first creatures to bring about our own destruction.
    • Jun 28 2013: I wonder if this superior attitude of so-called humans is not our inherrent weakness and will be the cause of our eventul extinction as a species because we refuse to "adapt" and insist everything else adapt to us?
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      • Jun 29 2013: Chris, I disagree, if you had "activated your spiritual mind" as you say it, you will find that other animals have been there before you, and that there is no real difference other than our ability to destroy at will.
        • Jun 30 2013: We are a 'prodigal son ', and there is no sense in wandering without return.
          We have to find the way back to the Garden, we may find out that other animals and plants have always been there unconsciously, but humans are self chosen to make a journey and come back consciously. Without fall there is no rise.
          "activation of mind beyond the intellect " makes sense for me, it's 'rise' through 'fall'.

          Just thoughts....:)
      • Jun 30 2013: I disagree that we are different from animals, we are an animal, and if you had attained an enlightened state of spiritualality, you would know that animals are already there.
      • Jul 1 2013: from Chris kelly, Unlike humans, animals can never consciously ascend their soul; they cannot consciously grow their mind; they cannot do so because they are limited to the soul, they do not have the spirit.

        ONLY man is born with spirit and this is why humans are in a kingdom all their own.

        It is only through ignorance (not arrogance) that you cannot see the difference between the intellectual animal and the animal kingdom.

        I cannot believe these words came out,
        Prove to me that animals cannot ascend their soul, using the term ignorance when you cannot prove your point is pure arogance, you cannot prove that only man is born with spirit, and there are a lot of religious folk[albeit not christian] that would argue the same point. Humans most deffinately are part of the animal kingdom. Your making water dry argument works both ways
      • Jul 2 2013: If I have to tell you where, then why argue with me. I now see where you are coming from,hindusm is a wonderful religion, but it fails in some respects. One of those is the finiteness, and the certain triths it offers. This is where arogance comes in.Again, show how or where you can unilaterally decide that animals other than humans do not possess spirtit? I have witnessed enlightening to a point where I know what you say is false, and has at it's core eastern predjudices stemming from religion. You telling me we are not animals does not make it so, you telling me we are the only animals that have spirit does not make it so.You telling me that we HU-mans, are the only ones capable of attaining enlightenment, does not make it so, as a matter of fact, I would argue the opposite, that we have to attain what they already have. Take your teachings, and believe in them if you must, but trying to instill this definative quality to them does nothing but show the limitations of what you preach.
      • Jul 3 2013: No, you are not preaching, you are doing exactly what I said, you are arrogantly acting as if you "KNOW" when I am pretty sure you do not. Humans are arrogant, THAT is the only truth here. We arrogantly unleash powers we do not understand all the time. We push other ANIMALS out of thier habitat and then try to arrogantly save them. You arrogantly put words into my mouth by way of deflection [as you said yourself] when you think I said we are lower than other animals. And finally, even if Atlantis existed, that does not make us star children different from all others. Maybe we are, maybe we aren't, but for you to definnatively say so, is pure arrogance. By the way what fact are you talking about when you say we are not animals? All the genetic information I have seen not only supports our terrestrial heritage, but definatively shows our connection to the OTHER animals.
      • Jul 3 2013: I was curious, so I went back to the beginning, I was correct, it was you that first sought to correct me. You arrogantly think that your philosophy is more correct than mine? Then think I want answers from you?Again the arrogance, I didn't ask you questions. You assumed I was wrong about arrogance verses ignorance. If I have called you arrogant, how many times have you assumed I was either less intelligent, or less evolved by your standards. You state that you do not deal with a religion, and you assumed I was talking about your namaste, again you assume. I can tell what phiolosphy you were following by your insistance that we become more in each "ascension" to use your own termonology. You outright called me ignorant because I didn't agree with your take on HUmans being in a kingdom of their own. Again you have no proof other than what you say.You can say anything you wish on this forum, just don't assume others won't call you on it, especially if you cannot prove anything you say, My whole take on this was to point out that humans are extremely arrogant, about everything. 200 years ago the moon was just a light in the sky 600 years the world was flat and they knew it, again no proof. When you have intel on a REAL Atlantis that is verifiable and extremely advanced, and can prove your talking points, maybe I will listen, but I am not getting any younger, and probably only have another 20 years at best, so better get cracking. I agree with your assessment that you should ignore my comments as I will ignore yours in the future. And by the way, I never asked for answers to my questions, as I never posted any in my OP. I will say one last thing, you attempted to correct my original opinion, opinion mind you, you have proven my point!
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    Jul 2 2013: HUMAN ?

    H How
    U U
    M Manage to
    A Assist
    N Nature

    Humans are only living things with power to infuence nature, its up to us what we do with this power.
    Ever thought why we were given this power?
    To be most powerful and most compassionate?
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      Jul 4 2013: Who has proof we were given anything? Did we not take it for ourselves? To be self-aware is to establish a sense of priority over other life forms that do not exhibit such power. I think it is an innate attribute to all self-aware species -that the self-aware have priority over all things.

      To be self-aware is to conceive a purpose in life. It is that purpose that puts us at odds with one another or enhances our harmony.
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    Jun 26 2013: Hi Alex,
    I am also sure that it has different meaning for different people, different groups of people, and different cultures. Being human has whatever meaning we want to attach to it.

    That being said, for me, being human simply means that I want to explore everything, in every moment while "being" all that I can be as a human. I am here on this earth now, and I see no reason to live either in the past, or with anticipation of a certain future. I like learning, growing and evolving as an individual while hopefully contributing to the whole of humankind. Seems pretty simple to me:>)
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      Jun 27 2013: This is excellent and I agree that it is different for different people and cultures. We aspire and in so doing all else is subordinate.

      But it is more than that Colleen because animals and fish explore all aspects of their world and they learn and pass along to their babies in the form of instincts.

      Perhaps it is nothing more than being SELF AWARE...
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        Jun 27 2013: I don't understand. Being human is the same for all people and cultures right?
        That the meaning can be different for different people I can agree with..

        Instincts are genetically bound, only epi-genetics supports some flexibility therein.

        Being human, being only being self-aware, if so that would be an anti-climax.
        There is no ideal in being self-aware, for all we know, some animals could be too.
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        Jun 28 2013: Alex and Vincent,
        Humans also have instinct and intuition, and I agree that on some level other animals may be self-aware. Being self aware doesn't do much good, unless we apply the information.......does it?

        Humans have the ability to think and feel on many different levels, and perhaps other animals have that as well. How are we ever going to know, if we do not try to connect with other animals on their level? When we assume that we are more intelligent and superior, we give up the opportunity to discover anything more than that.

        Alex, you write..."animals and fish explore all aspects of their world and they learn..."
        Do humans explore "all aspects of their world and learn"? Sometimes yes....sometimes we are so busy being arrogant, thinking we are so intelligent and superior, we may be giving up that opportunity.

        When I used to scuba dive, we often went to the bottom and simply hovered there for the duration of the dive....observing all the sea life. Since we did not appear to be a threat, all the creatures came right up to us, swam and interacted with us all the time....they were obviously exploring "all aspects of their world", and seemed to be welcoming us into their world as well:>)
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      Jun 29 2013: Let Us keep on running toward Our “ goal ” > >>> contributing to the whole of humankind ….

      Wish Colleen, In Joy & In Peace.
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        Jul 1 2013: Thanks Lamb Lamb! Wishing you peace and joy as well my friend:>)
  • Jun 26 2013: I think it is a trick question. "Mean" has different meanings.

    "What does it mean to be human?"

    Could mean:
    1. What are the characteristics that identify a human?
    2. What is the significance and import of being human?
    3. What are the consequences of being human?
    4. What are the potentials and limitations of being human?
    5. What does the fact that you are human mean to you personally, spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically?
    6. What are the duties, responsibilities and privileges of humans?
    7. How do humans perceive the world differently from other species?
    8. All of the above.

    There are probably more interpretations, but I think those are enough for now. I like the number 7.
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      Jun 26 2013: I think you are on the right track with trying to understand the "real" definition of mean...
      • Jun 27 2013: In fact, "mean" does have multiple definitions..

        If you think there is one "real" definition, please state it. I would like to attempt to answer the "real" question.
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    Jul 8 2013: To be human is to have an awareness that we are beings towards death. This is what separates us from other animals, they are alive, they communicate with each other, they are social and communal but human beings are the only ones that have to wrestle with the existential angst that the day will come that we will cease to be alive.

    It is this acknowledgement of death that leads us to find and accept a meaningful way of spending these few short years we have on this planet, in varying degrees we accept society, community, religion, we make value judgements, we love. We probably do all these for self preservation, to keep us going on for as long as we can, or we try to distract ourselves from that most fateful day.

    This is not a depressing view of humanity either in my opinion, it is empowering and uplifting to know that we have a finite amount of time to experience reality how we choose to experience it. I think deluding yourself away from this truth, and being unwilling to grapple with your angst when it comes (and it will come) is truly a more depressing state of being.
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    Jul 6 2013: We've got a physical body, we've got a soul, we are spiritual beings. We share our humanity with others; we are one but not the same. We can relate with every human experience; and our experiences are like different ways of saying the same thing.
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    Jul 1 2013: If we know what to be human means, we can find why we live.
  • Jun 30 2013: What does it mean to be Human?
    This is a difficult question but I think that although we are born as egoist,,we always have to thank before every action that we make: if im making this action ,Will it harm other people even creatures or Nature?
    Thinking we live in a world of cause and effect,and every egoïstisch action can cause damage for the whole.
    Most of the time we are not aware of the fact that we have to cooperate with other people,animals,and our surrounding Nature.
    If we work together and think about the benefit of the whole,we will only gain,since we recieve another mindset,we get happy by helping,caring,and feeling responsible for each other.
    On the other hand people get healthy too,because it reduce stress,humanity deel more secure,and Nature will provider us with its sources since we care for it.
    Maybe this sounds like a dream,but we never tried,and dreams sometimes become reality.

    (Positive form of Golden Rule): One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.
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    Jun 29 2013: My personal opinion about what it means to be human is that to be human is to awaken to the fact that we probably are one of the few species that has the gift of being able to reason and contemplate & to seek incessantly to improve that sacred gift of ours and to use it wisely to leave this world a much better place than when we first got it!
  • Jun 27 2013: This is my thoroughly subjective answer:

    Being human means being able to understand and choose between right and wrong, good or evil.
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    Jun 26 2013: It means...destiny in our hands.

    Humans are the only living things which has the power to change the face of the earth.

    Its up to us.... how to utilise this power.
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    Jul 5 2013: We are sentient being, our soul is the power source of this bio mechanical machine.
    This vessel is only a garment for the soul, without it we ascend the realm of being into the collective

    But let talk about being human
    Our purpose is to learn and study, create and leave a legacy.
    So if we learn to be positive and study to create beauty than our life has meaning.
    Being human is an experience and education that is invaluable to the soul
    We only discover the value of life lessons when we allow the wisdom to flow back into our lives
    Through meditation and prayer we achieve this inner enlightenment.
    Only then we appreciate the beauty of life.
    Selflessness is a beautiful virtue to aspire for.
    Generosity of charity is selfless act when giving and not expecting anything in return is the beauty that life teaches us through life lessons
    Gratitude is the appreciation for being alive in this realm of existence.

    Our soul only learns if we allow it too
    But through outside influences we either accept the education of life's lessons or we indoctrinated with negative influences of greed, corruption and envy
    But life is glorious this way, everyday we learn and everyday we should be filled with gratitude that our life has meaning that way.
    May we create the beauty we seek in others. By being the change we hope to see.
    We can do that and more because this life has been given to us to accomplish more by creatin more
    We learn from our mistakes and the failure of others. That is the wisdom of life the beauty of our existence
    We are not only part of the collective, we are the collective.
    We represent the hive of innovative philosophers of life
    Only when we embrace this spirituality our wisdom grows, we evolve into our sentient self
    We are the most powerful being in our existence creating this realm in the image of our thought
    To stop evil we must embrace the light of hope and inner peace
    Enlightenment is the escape of the drudgery of negative life
    That is the beauty of our being
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    Jul 3 2013: To live, and to be self-aware of our own existence.
    That is all.
    Yes, Humans do matter to me greatly.
    I think humans are very diverse interesting creatures, and have many dimensions. We shouldn't be human due to one thing, we are human because we hold many dimensions all interacting with eachother.
  • Jul 2 2013: Without risking the conflation of the species of homo sapien: a concoction of intellectualism, emotions, and physical dexterity, I would prefer to address the question of what does it mean to be humane. As a veteran of domestic and foreign wars, I have seen first hand what it looks like to be inhumane in one moment and compassionate a moment later. The spectrum of humanity ranging from reactionary destruction to artistic creativity blinds us to the magnificence and complexity of the question.
  • Jun 30 2013: Among all animals, only humans can be very active, sitting perfectly still with eyes closed.
    We are capable of abstract thinking, we have language, which gives us the sense of time passing and fear of death.
    We are cursed and blessed by mind.
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      Jul 4 2013: Yes, we can do that. We can dream and think with our eyes closed because we can imagine that the world is still there, even if we can't see it. We can feel it with our mind.

      How so a curse?

      We are blessed by the mind because we can rectify, with the mind, that death might not be an endless existence. We can establish a sense of hope that perhaps we, as self-aware beings might not be so insignificant to the universe after all -merely one of the animals.

      Perhaps this is where Religion comes from. We can close our eyes and imagine that there is more than only this world around us -that this world and universe is part of something bigger, more expansive and mysterious -something that can only be conceived in the imagination- because it is too big, too far away, impossible to define; yet imaginable in the mind with closed eyes -the minds eye.
      • Jul 6 2013: Mind is a great power and power always comes with a possibility to abuse/misuse power.
        You can't separate curse from blessing, they come as one.
        To find the ' curse' part of human mind just look around :)
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          . . 100+

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          Jul 6 2013: So true!!
          ..............Thankfully the mind is only a minute fraction of our soul:)
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          Jul 6 2013: Then the matter concerning human vs. machine is settled. The machines must take over and do away with humans because humans are not evolutionary. I should devote the rest of my life pursuing a Sentient Program and, if successful, replace mankind.

          It is the only way to destroy the curse.
      • Jul 6 2013: "human vs machine" ?
        Frankly, i don't see any VS here. As someone aptly said : technology is the skin of our species. It's concrescence, we grow together. I have serious doubts that humans are in control, it is just happening. So, " human vs machine' is a false model, i think.
        Actually, all models are false, but some are useful. Maybe it's useful to make a distinction between Mind and mind. Chris Kelly whose comments were deleted for some reason, told about mind over intellect. I believe, that Mind is somewhere there ; Mind is mind which is not slaved by Ego. And it's a blessing that humans can enjoy, if they can.
        In a way they ( we) should, otherwise ego-mind can destroy humans. Unbridled Ego is like cancer, it kills the organism that hosts it and soon the party is over for both.
        We all sense this possibility now, don't we ?
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          Jul 6 2013: When we kill a rattlesnake, there is no ego involved. We just kill it so it won't kill our children or our horses. We don't think about it because we see it as an evil thing that challenges our right to survive.

          Perhaps we will merge with the machine, the technology, the product of our mind. And, by that path we will change, no longer having fear of pain or suffering. We desire the machine because we think it can offer a better way of life and relieve us of our responsibility to one another.

          It will be what it will be and we will be what we do. Instead of human vs. machine we will be one with it and it will be one with us. But, it will still, only be a machine where we will always be human.

          My flesh and blood heart wants to say that it is impossible for a machine made of metal and minerals and stone to become like we, of the flesh, but isn't that all we are, just metal, minerals and stones? We are machines.

          Since we first created machines, we dreamed of robots.
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          . . 100+

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          Jul 6 2013: Well said!! This is going on my wall for all my students:

          "Unbridled Ego is like cancer, it kills the organism that hosts it and soon the party is over for both."

          Here's a brilliant presentation:
      • Jul 8 2013: "Perhaps we will merge with the machine, the technology, the product of our mind. "

        We do !
        We have been on this path since the inventing of wheel or maybe earlier.
        The trick is to recognise the pattern of change before it becomes obvious. When it is obvious we don't see it any more, we are deeply involved , we have already been changed and face vexed measurement problem. It's a QM idea of the invisible Field/ the Whole that sets the agenda. Or ancient revelation : " nothing has independent existence from anything else "

        We tend to externalise our technology. My flesh, my mind...soul...feelings it's me , human ; my car, mobile...Internet ....are the technology that i use. But think, how your perception of time and space ( let's take something big ) has changed for the last 20 years due to these and many other devices ?
        We don't see the shift of focus, because we are in focus.
        Movie image of half human half robot is naive, but intuitively correct. Our merge with technology is real, but much more subtle : human mind creates machines that reshape human mind in return, creating permanent changes we are not conscious of. It's a feed back loop.
        "When we kill a rattlesnake, there is no ego involved."
        I wouldn't be so sure :)

        Thanks for responding !
  • Jun 27 2013: To be human is to question, explore, feel, analyze, and verbalize the infinite space between our ears then relate that space to the infinite spaces around us.
  • Jun 27 2013: I feel we are merely one of the many species who occupy this planet. (...and I'll add, hardly one of the fittest.) Why do we feel so superior to other species, whether plant or animal, who are proving to be much more 'adaptable' to changes than we are?
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      Jun 27 2013: good point
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        Jun 27 2013: Why is it a good point? A discussion needs arguments! In my view we are the most adaptable, because we live on earth from the siberia to the sahara desserts and can even survive on the moon with the right equipment. Only shame is that we are destroying our ecosystem at the same time and are on a heading for either a Venus climate or next ice age.

        As in Scientific American (scroll to tipping points):

        • Jun 29 2013: Adaptable? We are the only earthly species to have plundered our environment, ruining our (world) economy, polluted the air, the oceans, the rivers, have created the capacity to blow the planet to smithereens and you think WE'RE adaptable? Nonesense! All we've done is force the universe to adapt to us! Both of your articles confirm that unless we become more adaptale, we will be doomed...to perhaps start all over again.
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    Jun 25 2013: Of course the universe or rather the whole is expanding.
    Then every moment is completely new. Creative.
    Thus, it is not evolution; it is EVOLVING.
    The flow is directionless. Expanding WITH the whole in SAME direction by being directionless.
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      Jun 25 2013: Scientists years ago before the Hubble Telescope did not think the universe was capable of expanding...
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        Jun 25 2013: Knowing self one knows the whole. Hubble Telescope is just nearby, it has to show the point of INFINITY. so the portal is everywhere. something like Black Holes.
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      Jun 26 2013: Hi Samuel Haokip:

      Nice avatar/photo! What happens when the key enters the keyhole?
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        Jun 26 2013: the only way to find out is to meet me in person...
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          Jun 26 2013: I agree, but on balance, I think that I might be the one that YOU should want to meet. We just have to decide who is the teacher.

          My grandparents had keys like that to fit the house they lived in. The house & the keys went together. They always treated those keys with great reverence. They were expensive; & were as old as the house itself. Thank you for reminding me about that.

          But that still does not make you the teacher.
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      Jul 4 2013: Expanding or flowing somewhere else?
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    Jun 25 2013: I'd like to firstly thank you for posing this question.We human are often too lazy and awkward to really think about this question,including myself,I would tend to circumvent this question in my life,cause I know it's pretty mind-consuming.Maybe it is why I feel sometimes a lack of pondering on things that really concern me. But people would ask does it necessary to mull 'what does it mean to be human',cause our lives go on without thing about it.

    But,I think while we are pondering this question,we are pinpointing the real meaning of life,thus it is conducive to make our lives quality better.We would think human origin,mission,relationship,proposition,etc.

    Most of all,I think the part mission is the most important part,if we are here,we ought to make a difference,we should make our own lives better,and other lives better. So,find a mission,whether it is for yourself,your family,your country,or even the whole world,then march forward to our destination.
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    Jun 25 2013: What does it mean to be human? That you are an incredibly rare by-product of the creation of the universe that was 14 billion years in the making. That through our creation, the universe "itself" has become self-aware. Most humans never grasp the full wonder of their life or marvel and ponder at the rarity of their existence.
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      Jun 25 2013: I agree with you in part but as big as the universe is (which is mind boggling in and of itself) and as it continues to grow and expand (according to the Hubble telescope) it is somewhat silly, I believe, to think that we are the only human species in the universe.

      And, as a side thought, what do you think the universe is expanding into? That is far more interesting of a subject to talk about than being human don't you think?
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        Jun 25 2013: I believe the universe is expanding into ANOTHER sphere (partical->atom->planet->solar system->galaxy->universe to ??? Biverse, ha!
      • Jun 27 2013: How can you even contemplate discussing the future; because it is the future, you have no proveable 'facts' to back up anything you say!
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      Jun 26 2013: Jake Maddox . . . your comment here is a complete & rational thought w/beginning, middle, & end. Your grammar is excellent & the sentence well punctuated. Human beings are proof of a self-aware, material Universe. That is so cool! Here's a video for you:


      Alex Hutchins . . . thank you so much for this conversation. I enjoy these things a great deal. Although I doubt that we are the only sentient species in the Universe, we are the only humans; that is, if you define 'human' as "homo sapiens," here as follows. As to human? -then we are the only ones.

      The 'others' have to be something else. And that is something else, in and of themselves. Other sentient beings won't be biologically 'human.' You know, evolution & all -- on other planets it won't be the same as here on Earth. They will have evolved to be something quite different. Not 'human,' but still sentient. They will think. They will feel. They will know. And at some level, they will believe. But maybe not as we do. And they too will have evolved, just as we have. What with 3 billion years of evolutionary progress on Earth just to produce what we are. Here is what I mean.
      Kingdom: Animalia
      Phylum: Chordata
      Class: Mammalia
      Order: Primates
      Family: Hominidae
      Tribe: Hominini
      Genus: Homo
      Species: H. sapiens
      Binomial name
      Homo sapiens And it took three billions of years just to get here. What's next?
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      Jul 4 2013: I don't know Jake. I think, in some small way, it is hard for any human to look up into the night sky and not be awed by what they see. A sunset is a most beautiful thing to behold, as is a sunrise. The trust of a baby in it's parents, a brother protecting his sister or the other way around. Helping the poor the afflicted. burying dead friends or loved ones. The very act of Crying, shedding tears, feeling mortal discomfort. All these simple things bring us to think about what it means to be a human being.

      I arrived here just 62 years ago. I'd hate to think what I would think of myself if I had lived for three billion years. :) It's bad enough already, but there is a lot of satisfaction, more so than dissatisfaction.

      I take it you are familiar with the writings of Ray Kurtzweil?
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    Jun 25 2013: We are human because we are wonderfully imperfect, susceptable to mistakes and mortal. Our humanness is realized in our spirit of contemplation, correction, compassion and co-existence.
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      Jun 25 2013: Not necessarily. Some believe that when we are just born we are unconsciously perfect and it is only after we mature that we realize we are consciously imperfect, and if we are religious or spiritual, we spend our lives moving towards conscious perfection which few if any ever achieve...
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        Jun 25 2013: I so emphatically disagree ! :)
        Nothing in the nature is perfect. Only unborn and abstract can be perfect. I believe this true both biologically and socially.
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      Jul 4 2013: Do you think humans will always be this way? Will they improve or will it always be.... human see human do?
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        Jul 4 2013: John, if I sit by your side and share a cig or beer long enough, I think I shall start to like you. I think I will feel comforted by seeing your mistakes and your honest craving to get the better of those mistakes. I feel that's one very important part of being human. I'd feel anxious and skeptic in the company of a godly figure who is always right and absolutely perfect.
        When we do not make mistakes anymore and are absolutely perfect, I will doubt how much human we remain.
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          Jul 4 2013: I think we share a certain type of allegorical inquisitiveness. :) I see you're some distance from my home, or is it the other way around?
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          Jul 4 2013: Whenever I see that monkey face deep in speculation about the meaning of being human, I smile at the image of (real) monkeys entertaining this question.
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        Jul 4 2013: Only milli light-seconds away. :)
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        Jul 4 2013: @Fritzie : I sincerely hope that the real monkeys will forgive us for being human. :)
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    Jul 8 2013: well...all those that you have right there are some the things that make us human.........and to add on to that ....i would say some attributes like pro activity...self control and how we relate with one and another also shows what it means to be human.
  • Jul 8 2013: The answer is probably so obvious that we already know the answer, but refuse to accept the ease of such a question.

    To be human is to experience life, to leave your print on mankind; then to go to Heaven (or whatever it may be called) and watch your doings. There is no Hell because you were born to do what you please and make your own effects.

    Now I lack a vocabulary (yes and punctuation) to really express my true meaning of what I'm trying to say. But I also have an open mind and this isn't a set in stone belief, just a thought to throw out there.
  • Jul 8 2013: This is one of the most interesting questions I have encountered on TED Conversation. As a Grade 10 student that attends Catholic School in Canada, we try to figure out what it means to be a human in a religious way. Before I illustrate my answer, I just want everyone to know that this is just a mere opinion, not a fact.
    In Christianity we claim human is composed of both spirit and matter. In Genesis 2, God creates Adam out of mud and gives him "Life Giving Breath". Life Giving Breath is a spirit in this context. So if human is composed of both spirit and matter, what does it really mean to be a human? Through our spirit, we are given 2 traits. They are intellect and free will, which is also the main difference between animals and us. Since humans are born with spirit, we are able to reason intellectually and choose freely. This is a basic context of a human being I have learned in my religion class.
    Anyway, they also teach, to be human is to live in communities and build relationships. Humans are social beings, we are lead into building relationships and living in societies. To be human is also to love others= which can be translated into marriage. Ultimately, to be human is to create relationship and reproduce and live under good moral values. This is what I have learned in Grade 10 religion.

    So my view. I believe to be human is to unravel the facts of the universe and find the ultimate truth of this cosmos. There are so many things that we do not know about this universe. Humans are a very curious animal. With curiosity, we were able to do all sorts of things! As we find more and more facts, we are encouraged and work harder. That is how humans act.

    No, we are human because we can reason, find out, figure out, and discover new things and use them in a good way.
    These are my thoughts as to what it means to be human.
  • Jul 7 2013: Hmm! My understanding is that we are the "so called' superior race. Sometimes I wonder about that! Are we smarter than animals, therefore being more evolved! Ha! I try to think of us HUMANS as more understanding of the world and its differences! Sometimes we are sadly lacking in that department. Everyone perceptions of human is different, depending on what country you're in. Being HUMAN cannot be confined in a box. It's just too expansive!!!
  • Jul 7 2013: To be human means we are 1 species out of millions on the planet. We are an apex species and are in process of killing all the other species on the planet. The answer to all the questions you asked is simply no. Theists are the only humans who don't know what it is to be human. The rest of us have it figured out.
  • Jul 7 2013: To be human is to be flawed. To progress is to recognize that and to improve.

    And there are little signs of that happening any time soon.

    So inevitably we continue just as we are, screwing each other over for a dollar, while the planet chokes on our excrement, till it, or we, or both, become extinct.

    And while all this is happening, we, with all hubris, classify ourselves as the 'intelligent species'... Go figure.
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      Jul 8 2013: The difference between humans and other living things on the planet is our ability to reason for better or for worst. I buy all the rest of what you say for my last dollar :)
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    Jul 7 2013: Not to grant students a more easy 'first day' on 'every class' and knowing about it while doing so ... :o)