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 28 2013: I think Barry Palmer is on point. We need to flush out what does the word mean mean? Just as what is meant by human? Human as differentiated from all other creatures? Human as in human response which makes us human? Which seems like what Alex was seeking. Once we look at all the possible meanings of mean and human, it then just become a matter of definition.

    I think many responses missed the theme of the question(s) asked. I didn't see anything about what makes us differnet from other aminals, but what is our huaman condition? Why do we do what we do? What motivates us? How can one of us be so kind and onother so unkind? How can one be kind one moment and unkind the next?

    A bit more philosophical. A unique set of DNA manifesting itself as what we commonly think of as people with the ability to recongnize a unique self from all others, with a broad band of emotional and cognitive responses including recall and predicitive abilities as well as acknowledging others have similar abilities with which we can empathasize.

    In a phrase: A menagerie or set of contridictions.

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