TED Conversations

Alex Hutchins

This conversation is closed.

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?

Share:

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Jun 26 2013: I believe that the question is too broad.

    You can take just about any approach to this and find a different answer.

    Is this a re-phrasing of "The meaning of life"?
    • thumb
      Jun 26 2013: What does it mean to be human and the meaning of life are mutually exclusive although I am sure some clever person of rhetoric can prove otherwise. To say something is too broad is to avoid answering the question, plus I see no way to break down the question in cumulative parts in order to get to the final destination of answering the question.

      What I have learned over my 65 years of existence is that one answers questions of complexity in simple terms and one answers questions of simplicity in complex terms.

      The problem with this question is not the question but people's inability to creatively think outside-the-box which is a form of problem solving. This new generation in which we live is a microwave generation that wants down and dirty or quick and dirty answers to everything which affords them to opportunity of not having to think at all.

      We want to live in the moment and not care about the past or the future. We assume that someone, either our parents, friends, relatives, or the government will take care of us. We assume that America will always be on top of the hill and that we are God's chosen people because we live in a land of abundant resources.

      We have not had a war in this country since the Civil War (9/11 was not a war) and we do not know what it is like to live in that type of environment. Most, if not all, of the kids today will never have an experience like Vietnam where returning soldiers came home to a country that hated them, unlike the soldiers of today.

      Yes, What Does It Mean To Be Human is broad because it is a board topic and will obviously be interpreted differently by different people of different cultures. And, it is a subject that quite honestly, hardly ANYONE ever thinks about...

      So, what does that tell you about Human Beings?
      • thumb
        Jun 26 2013: Alex,

        I may be that clever ;-)

        What does it mean to be human? ≈ What is the meaning of human life? ≈ What is the meaning of life?

        Some of what I've learned through my 27 years of existence is that there aren't any simple rules for how to answer questions.

        The problem is that you're making it too broad, making it really hard to think creatively about the question. ("Embrace the shake" is a good example of how having all the options leaves us in creative limbo.) http://www.ted.com/talks/phil_hansen_embrace_the_shake.html
        The old generation thinks so lowly of the new generation, always thinking that they are wise with age and the young ones aren't. They seem to think that we don't think just because we're able to process (this digital format of) information faster than you are.

        You and your compadres may want to live in the moment, I and most of my friends enjoy the moment but we talk very much about all the possible futures and different aspects of history. You may assume that the US will always be on top, most people in my age that I speak to see the imminent downfall of the states if it doesn't change it's course radically. And you're resources aren't so abundant as you may think. For example without the Chinese precious metals there would be no Silicon Valley. I'm not even going to mention God...

        You're a blood thirsty nation, you've had few years of peace. You haven't been invaded, that does not mean that you aren't at war. Do you consider war experience to be a essential part of being human? Why is it bad that younglings will never experience that (Vietnam)?

        How do you know what people think? Or maybe you're just in the wrong crowd, because that is not my experience of the world at all.

        This does not tell me anything new about humans...

        Oh and Welcome to TED Conversations, I have a feeling that we're going to speak a lot more.
        • thumb
          Jun 26 2013: Jimmy,
          You say..."The problem is that you're making it too broad,..."

          Being human covers a pretty broad spectrum....does it not?

          Re: Living in the moment.
          In my perception, we can be totally in the moment while talking about, and planning for a future. We can also explore the past for the purpose of learning, while being in the moment.

          When the present moment focuses on the past, or we focus life experiences with attachment to certain expectations for the future, we're not really "being" in the moment, in my perception. I think/feel it's just a matter of focus, perception and intent.

          I do not perceive war as an essential part of being human....however.....it sure seems that it has become that!

          Welcome to TED Alex:>)
        • thumb
          Jun 26 2013: Theo Lamar Alexander....knock it off. You must have better things to do than follow me around!
        • thumb
          Jun 26 2013: Please do not think, Jimmy, that the "old generation thinks lowly of the new generation." Some do and some don't. Some generalize about people's attitudes based on their age, and some see great variation among people of any age.

          As an example, I have a lot of interaction with people your age and cannot say enough about how impressed I am with the diligence and thoughtfulness of those I most regularly encounter.

          And I know older people who consider complex issues thoughtfully and approach projects creatively and with an intensity of focus.

          It is not about age.
        • thumb
          Jun 26 2013: Wholeheartedly agree Fritzie!
        • thumb
          Jun 27 2013: Yes, thanks Jimmy and I feel the same way.
          Though a broad question allows for a broad answer which can be intriguing.
          I am curious about what you think of my approach on an answer.

          "Being human is always striving to do better.
          Being transhuman should be making sure that everything turns for the better for everyone, while always transcending limits and taking responsibility." (ctrl+f for full post)

          Illustrating your comment:
          http://www.kurzweilai.net/war-with-syria
      • thumb
        Jun 26 2013: Colleen,

        "Being human covers a pretty broad spectrum....does it not?" Yes! Too broad! :-D

        To me this question is like asking "how does the earth work?".

        I could answer the question like this:

        "Being human is all about struggle, it's an endless competition resulting in nothing more then more humans repeating it over and over again."
        or
        "Being human is one of Gods greatest gifts, he put us here to simply be and enjoy all the flora and fauna that he has lain before us."
        or
        "Being human is no different from being an insect, we're all insignificant bits of carbon in the eye of the universe."
        or
        "Being human is to learn and explore, to love and laugh and to spread joy and happiness all around, at the same time it's all of those opposites."

        Now, that is not how I would chose to phrase my answer since I can't define the question I can't define the answer.

        (You get that I mean no harm by my "The old generation" right, it was to prove that not all younger people should be stereotyped into "lesser people". )

        Living in the moment; Well said!
        • thumb
          Jun 26 2013: LOL!!! I get that you mean no harm with talking about the "old generation" Jimmy.
          I am very impressed with the younger generation, with many folks like you who are exploring what being human means to them:>)
      • thumb
        Jun 26 2013: LaMar,

        Thank you but there's really no need. We're just in the beginning of this Conversation and Alex is sure to have some good perspectives that he'd like to share and Colleen, well I always welcome her input and through the years I've come to consider her to be a personal friend of mine.

        If you do however feel like strengthening (or weakening) my arguments you are welcome to do so ;-)
      • thumb
        Jun 26 2013: Fritzie,

        I don't think that and I fully agree with you.

        Read my comment to Colleen to understand why I said that.
    • thumb
      Jul 8 2013: The action of trying to define what it means to be human can help to narrow the discussion.

      What does it mean to be a fly? How would the meaning of life serve in trying to define that existence?

      Humans may think a lot but ultimately they are what they "do". It's what we do and how we interact within our environment and with other creatures that define how we are when contrasted with other living things.

      Long before we were a part of the world, other creatures served as the example of what it means to be alive on the earth. It could be that the only real defining attribute of being a human is that we have an ego and strive to fulfill it's needs. Other than that, we are just one of the many creatures that inhabit this planet.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.