TED Conversations

Alex Hutchins

This conversation is closed. Start a new conversation
or join one »

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?

+10
Share:

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Jun 26 2013: Well that's a rather simple question actually, If I were to ask a toilet what does it mean to be a toilet what would it say? It would say (if toilets could talk) that being a toilet means to take **** and flush it down a hole. Now obviously there are more details to the exact mechanics of what it does but its meaning or point i guess you'd call it is to flush. Now moving back to what it means to be human it's quite simple to answer it live, breed, and die. now the exact mechanics of a humans life breeding and dying are infinitely complex but it all still boils down to the same simple thing.
    • thumb
      Jun 26 2013: Charles Curt. All living beings reproduce, live and die. Reproduction is kind of a tax to pay to Nature. If you choose to structure your life experience around that - it is your choice (or you have been culturaly imposed that choice). But there is and can be much more to life than breeding. I think it is more valid to think that we breed to live rather than we live to breed. The greater thing cannot be subdued to the smaller one. Life is above all a subjective experience, the construction of yourself, life in community and taking your individual and unique voyage.
      • Jun 26 2013: i don't base my life around anything but the truth and no you are alive to pass on your genes. If you could tell me something else that makes you incredibly important in the scheme and time scale of the universe pray do tell. Because everything can be boiled down to a simpler description he asked what it meant to be human most people simply don't understand what that question is asking but i do and it is just asking what do humans do. And sure there's more to life it's called evolution but that's a whole different matter and has nothing to do with being human as our evolution and dna have been around since before humans.
    • thumb
      Jun 26 2013: Interesting... that you speak in the form of a trilogy: live, breed, and die. But, not everyone breeds... and while live is different for all of us as you mention, you forgot birth. And, birth in different areas of the world has different implications on how we live and breed and die. But, you also forgot thinking, making choices, wars, the soul/spirit, and evolution, which I am sure you will roll up into your trilogy.

      However, all those functions have nothing to do actually with being human... they are conditions of our Creator, who caused all of this to happen. We had nothing to do with how we were created and we have no choice in our birth or death (unless it is suicide) so again, there is no reflection on being human.

      You describe the function of a toilet and the function of a life but our function has nothing to do with being human and could take place without being human, just like a toilet.
      • Jun 26 2013: Well i didn't mean it as a trilogy but yes you're correct on that we are born but is that really a function of what it's to be human? no nobody even remembers their birth but yes i guess you could add that in but it isn't that important. Also thinking choices ect ect is all a part of living. If it is a part of something else please tell me.

        And actually all these functions have to do with being human even if we were made by a creator he made us with those basic functions but of course each one is infinitely complex.

        And you asked what it means to be human, most people simply don't understand the question because they think it is asking the deepest and scariest parts of magic and specialness. But it's not it's simply asking what do all humans do the same and it's those 3 (4 counting birth) parts. But if your question did not mean what our function is then what is the answer to your question? But the fact you asked what it means to be human you can take that very question and ask anything that (like a toilet) because nobody understands how to respond to that question unless they know what the question itself is asking. If they did you would get many more responses in your class.
    • thumb
      Jun 28 2013: Re: Charles Curt (1st post) June 26 2013


      Every day, how many people after “ **** ” and says: thank you so much, I am healthy !

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.