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?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Jul 8 2013: To be human is to have an awareness that we are beings towards death. This is what separates us from other animals, they are alive, they communicate with each other, they are social and communal but human beings are the only ones that have to wrestle with the existential angst that the day will come that we will cease to be alive.

    It is this acknowledgement of death that leads us to find and accept a meaningful way of spending these few short years we have on this planet, in varying degrees we accept society, community, religion, we make value judgements, we love. We probably do all these for self preservation, to keep us going on for as long as we can, or we try to distract ourselves from that most fateful day.

    This is not a depressing view of humanity either in my opinion, it is empowering and uplifting to know that we have a finite amount of time to experience reality how we choose to experience it. I think deluding yourself away from this truth, and being unwilling to grapple with your angst when it comes (and it will come) is truly a more depressing state of being.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.