Human beings

Does anyone find it curious that there are millions of us just sitting like zombies watching t.v or silently interacting with our computers.

My own personal existence has of the most part been just sitting idly and thinking, whether it be in a classroom, reading a book, at my computer, or infront of the t.v. What a strange thing it is how this is life, all virtually going on silently in my own mind with the movement of a few fingers hitting some keys on my computer or buttons on the remote.

Do you guys and girls not find it peculiar that this is what a lot of our lives are like. And another third of it is spent in sleep. I find this point in history just so remarkable but so strange.

Are we progressing or forgeting what it is to be human?

By the way what do you guys and girls think it means to be human? I personally feel like an observer not acting but reacting to what life throws at me. Perhaps only when I touch another human being do I feel human or hmm… of this world; alive. Especialy a girl (I’m hetrosexual). But even in touching a guy, handshake, hug, whatever I seem to feel present, part of the world. Or even my dog. hmm… Interaction with living creatures is what life is really about isn’t it. Contact with other flesh seems to end all solipism for me. Well enough mundane babble for now, what is being human to you?

I don’t what what being human is to me…I wont pretend I do. One day I think it may mean that I’m a robot who fooled himself that he’s more important than the tasks he complete, the next day I feel like I’m a clock and everything in my life are cogs and that without me, they would have no purpose.

All I know … fuck… I’m not even certain I exist anymore. Reason seems flawed to me, now… and I’m trying to sort all that out.

However, I hate being touched while I’m sober. It almost… hurts. Hard to explain… I just cannot stand it. I think only one or two people will ever be able to touch me in my life without a recoil reaction on my part. I even recoil from my own mother…

Hello UndergroundMan,

We’re constantly forgetting what it is to be human, but then we remember…only to forget again.

“Being human is an accomplishment like playing an instrument. It takes practice. The keys must be mastered. The old scores must be committed to memory. It is a skill we can forget. A little noise can make us forget the notes. The best of us is historical; the best of us is fragile. Being human is a second nature which history taught us, and which terror and deprivation can batter us into forgetting.” – Michael Ignatieff, The Needs of Strangers

You asked if we are we progressing. I’d ask: “Progressing to what?” The universe is progressing toward entropy. Is that progress? I am progressing, hour by hour, towards my death. Is that progress? Life brings us triumph one moment and grief the next, but I can’t convince myself that life has moved humanity along a road to some over-arching thing called progress. If I were to admit that life is getting better with the passage of time, that would imply that my life is inferior to those people who will follow me. But I refuse to admit that anyone - past, present, or future - could love better than I love. In fact, nobody else will better enjoy: hiking in the mountains, tending their garden, listening to Handel, or doing mathematics. In these things I take a backseat to no one. In his Song of Myself, Whitman wrote:

There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

It’s part of what my life is about. Suppose you happened across a photo, taken last week of your face, on the Internet. You’d say something like, “OMG, that’s me!” But what if you similarly happened to see a picture taken last week of your thumb on the Internet, would you suddenly say, “OMG, that’s my thumb?” Probably not. Ditto for pictures of your heart or your bladder. But suppose you came across a post you made last week to ILP. Wouldn’t it be as recognizable to you as your own face? and far more recognizable than your thumb or your heart? My point is that our thoughts are more of an explicit part of who we are than are any of our random body parts, save perhaps our face. A cardiologist might save my life by transplanting your heart into my body, but neurologist could not save me by transplanting your memories and beliefs into my head after I’ve lost my own.

“Suppose some poor wretch suddenly became King of China, but only on the condition that he forget what he had been. As if he had to be annihilated and the King of China created at the same instant…” – Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics (1686)

By exchanging our intimate ideas about our personal life we’re reaching out as surely as we do when we reach out to shake someone’s hand or to briefly place our hand on their shoulder. From an earlier post;

For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In complement extern, ‘tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve.
For daws to peck at. I am not what I am. – Othello, Act 1, scene 1:

Our philosophy is autobiographical in nature, and as such, it’s rightfully dear to us. It’s sensible not to tell the grocer about our metaphysics. We don’t put our philosophy out where the daws might peck at it. When a man offers his thoughts for my scrutiny it’s nearly as if he’s taken the picture of his wife from his pocket and placed it in my hands. I hope I would not be so callous as to say, “God, what a cow!” No matter what she looks like, the way he’s spoken about her and the delicate way he handles her photo tells me that this image is precious to him, and I’m likewise compelled to treat it with deference. So it should be with our philosophical ideas. Yet I equally remember something said by Germain Greer:

“Every time a woman makes herself laugh at her husband’s old jokes she betrays him.”

When I offer up my ideas for critique I don’t want you to spit on them, but I do want you to pick them apart in order to help me to improve them. And when you offer up an idea for my critique I’m not going to betray you. If I spot a flaw in your argument then I’m going to rip it apart in the smartest way that I know how. But I’ll do it with respect, and I’ll only do it as long as I think you can handle the critique. If you tell me that Fairies live at the end of your garden then I owe it to you to return an honest appraisal. But if I suspect that you’re psychologically wedded to your fantasy then I’ll just let it go. I’m a philosopher, not a psychologist. When I’m tearing into something you’ve said, you ought to assume that you have my respect. An insult from me, more often than not, will come in the form of silence.

I realize that I’m drifting off-topic here, it must be because I’ve had it in mind to start a thread on the topic of how philosophers ought to argue. Over and over, I see people here react to a critique of their claims as if it were a personal insult. Where do people get such ideas? Do chess players “go ballistic” when an opponent captures their piece? do I insult you by capturing your bishop?

Done correctly, a philosophical argument is a pleasure for everyone involved. Done incorrectly, it’s little more than a cat fight in which everyone angrily stalks away licking their wounds and having learned nothing. It’s not enough that we’re able to produce good arguments, a good philosopher allows himself to be persuaded by better arguments. If you angrily reply to my polite critique then we both lose. I lose by having taken the time to initiate an argument. It’s as if I’ve set up the pieces and invite you to play, only to have you sweep the pieces to the floor when I make a move that threatens you. But chess isn’t about moving our pieces around the board so as to avoid each other. Neither is philosophy about staying out of each other’s philosophical shadow. Philosophers don’t discuss their points of agreement; they discuss their disagreement. And in so doing they hope to shine a light into each other’s shadow. Part of the pleasure of discussing philosophy among friends is the hope that your vantage point covers my blind spot and visa versa.

Well, that’s surely enough for now.


edits: spelling, punctuation, etc.


It is always a pleasure…

Would this premise support the idea that we went from being perfect or complete into a steady progression towards imperfection? I might be stating this completly wrong. What I’m trying to say is that, could the universe have been in the ideal state at one point, and now due to entropy, we are reverting?

Thanks Smooth,

Suppose our universe began as as an ultradense, ultrahot, singularity. Was this the ideal state? Was it perfection? I’d ask, “Perfect for whom? Perfect for what?” Surely not perfect for a day at the lake.

Now try to imagine our universe infinitely expanded, infinitely red-shifted and flattened. Would this be the ideal state? Would it be perfection? Again I’d ask, “Perfect for whom? Perfect for what?” Surely not perfect conditions for skiing.

The term “perfection” is a human abstraction. I don’t see how it could survive outside of a human context.


Great post Michael. I really enjoyed reading what you wrote and took a good deal to heart. I agree with what you say and shall attempt to dicipline my self more fiercly when engaging someone in dialogue. Love your analogies.

Now concerning progress, I would refer to technological progress. To philisophical progress in thought. How far have we really come; so far that its amazing to ponder and yet at the same time we are no different now then the days of yore.

Smooth wrote:

Based upon what do you make this assumption?

I’d point out that we’ve definitly gone out of tune and harmony, perhaps it is to that we must all strive towards. Does your exprience lead you to agree with me that harmony is something innate in us all, with nature and other beings?