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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 27 2013: Being human... I don't think there is anything in particular that differentiates us from the rest of the animals of the world.

    Growing up with a Public school education, around elementary school, I was taught that the ability to have emotions a little more complicated than anger, fear and contentment was what made us human. But that never made sense when learning Dolphins are one of the most sensual animals known to man. When a Meer cat dies they gather together and have almost a mourning ceremony where they all just tilt their heads down as if having a moment of silence. There was a wild whale who was save by a group of divers that came swimming back and went up to each individual diver just to be able to stare at them while allowing them to touch her. We can only assume it is a gesture of gratitude.

    Being human, to me, seems to be a type of ignorance that searches for superiority. I think the only thing that will ever worry about being oneself are humans. It is like a cycle of constantly figuring itself out. Humanity seems predictable, but why haven't we figured ourselves out? Thinking we are superior to the rest of the ecological world makes us think we are the best. While being the best we are so vain, we try to beat ourselves.
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      Jun 27 2013: I hear and understand what you are saying, but your thoughts presuppose that we are the only humans in the universe, or should I say creatures. So, is it our arrogance that makes us human?

      If we discovered a vastly superior race of beings, could we then define humanity as submissive or subservient?
      • Jun 28 2013: I understand it sounds as if I'm bashing humans for arrogance, but I do not mean that we are the only ones to experience it. But as a race, Why do we undermine animals or trees for that matter because we aren't able to understand them? And in partaking in this trait it just seems like the natural equation for destruction.

        I don't consider my thoughts to cancel out the fact that there are similar life forms outside of the earth. I am just proposing that arrogance is a trait that follows ignorance. I personally feel like there is a wisdom that all life has that humanity has chosen to ignore because of our choices to not think in relativity, but rather in extremes.

        To answer the discovery of a superior race... Yes I do think humanity could be defined as submissive. There will always be an understanding of classes, hierarchy and castes. I think we would avoid confrontation the same way wild animals avoid humans in todays civilization or we can be just like dolphins, become domesticated and put on a good show.
      • Jun 28 2013: Christna,
        I agree heartedly with your thoughts. Yes, in my mind, being 'human' certainly entails the characteristics of arrogance/superiority'. I love your phrae "..arrogance is a trait that follows ignortance". EXACTLY! Only the discovery of a superior race would perhaps bring us back to a more co-operative characteristic. Only man wages continual wars for ego sake; to reaffirm his superiority.
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      Jun 28 2013: Chrisna and Alex,
      I understand and relate to this conversation about animals, including humans, ignorance and perceived superiority. We have sometimes been told that we are the most intelligent and evolved of the animals here on earth, so sometimes humans have indeed assumed a role of superiority. Even some humans of different races and cultures assume they are better than other races and cultures....superior.

      Does it make us more human to assume, because of ignorance that we are better, or more superior? Or does it make us less human? In my opinion, if we lack the intelligence to recognize other species as a very important part of the whole, we are not effectively using all the capabilities we have as humans, therefore we fail to act humanely...."marked by compassion, sympathy. consideration for other human beings or (other) animals"
      • Jun 28 2013: Lacking 'compassion, sympathy, consideration' defines psychotics and we are definitely headed in that direction...to our detriment. It is as though we are saying, "do as I say, not as I do". We speak of lofty characteristics while we do the complete opposite.
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          Jul 3 2013: Good point M-L. So perhaps it is time to walk our talk and be all that we can be as humans:>)

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