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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 26 2013: What other creature on this planet is self-destructive (suicidal)? Reason makes us human :} There is a reason that humans (we) do or not do things. There are reasons why we want to explore, divide, conquer, believe in a higher power, sing, laugh, cry, ...a cause behind all questions, because we are human. I apologize for keeping my answer so simple and repetitive to what seems to be a complicated question to many but I do have a good reason. :} Any other answer is a subcategory below a simple one word answer. I have thought about this for years. Culture makes no difference.
    • Jun 27 2013: How do you know for certain that other plants and animals don't "explore, divide, conquer, beluieve in a higher power, sing, laugh, cry"? Just because we may not yet be able to communicate with them does not mean that they are somehow sub-human.
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        Jun 30 2013: I did not suggest they are sub-human. The difference is reason. Can you prove they can reason (logic, mathematics, create art or even make sense of reality)? It's about the difference not the greater being. My point is the difference between impulses and reasons. To know why we feel the way we feel. I have a pain in my gut-I am hungry-I need to eat-that tasted bad-I need the energy though. OR I'm playing football on a hot day-I need to drink lots of water-it is good for me to do this-I drank too much water and now I'm on my way to the hospital-I found out I did not have enough sodium with my water-that is the reason I feel the way I feel now-I have experienced this and know for sure now. I have reason not to drink too much water next time because of the lack of sodium intake. What animal can demonstrate this? What animal self-destructs (sub-human?)?
        • Jun 30 2013: I can't prove animals/plants can reason or not. All I can say is that reasoning (as opposed to impulse) can often be a detriment to us. It can cloud the truth as with children who often "see" things more clearly than adults do. How do animals know what plants are poisonous to them and which are not? Surely it's not instinct alone.
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          Jul 4 2013: Vincent, Do you suppose the 4000 year old redwood experience the confusion that you describe above in its quest for longevity, or does it have a less ambiguous behavior pattern internalized?

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