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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    Jun 26 2013: Hello. I agree with Jimmy Strobl that this question is too broad and there isn't a straight forward answer to it.

    I think the false assumptions about "human nature" or "human - essence" or even "superiority" that may underline alll the afirmations or rhetorical questions made by Alex Hutchins in his introduction mislead by default the discussion.

    Our socialy and culturaly acquired beliefs and mental representations of individual or sets of things may be a strong source of bias. Any judgement is quite based on our senses. But our senses can be fooled or can be fooling us. Just remember the ideia that the sun goes around Earth. Even mathematics, in my opinion, are not totaly reliable. For example, you can atribue a tree the value of 1, but this tree can in fact not be a unit but a set of, to some degree, inderdependent units. In fact the tree is connected with the air, sunlight, magnetism, soil, etc. and forms kind of a 1 with all of them, it cannot exist without them or disconnected from them. You can say a piece of rock is separate from other physical things. But it is just that certain atoms are closer to each other than they are to other atoms.

    Discussing whether we exist is discussing the sex of the angels. We do exist because if we didn't we would be able to chat. Why be a fanatic and proud ceptic?!

    If you take the fancy "I think therefore I exist" seriously then you can say that when somebody is amdinistered strong anesthetics and stops "thinking" then he doesn't exist and then something that doesn't exist has no rights. Thats absurd. And as noble as thoughts can seem to be, they are infinitely simpler than reality itself.

    The reason thatr the idea of perception is so important is because it shows how much of what we see or think about is influenced by what we have learned. Our perception has the power to structure reality.

    Humans are living beings like others with whom they share of a great amount of characteristics - emotions, consciousness, ect.

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