Proud to be human

April 15, 2019

I regularly reflect on what it is that makes us humans different from other species – not necessarily superior, but different – and feel it is our capacity for reason, and our self-awareness. We have astonishingly complex brains, and when we use them sensibly, they are capable of incredible things; consciously we can hand our knowledge down through the generations, building on what has gone before. People have sought to know, to find out, to understand the workings of the world and the cosmos, and, because of our individual mortality and our awareness of this, have wondered about whether there is an ultimate cause or creator, and whether there is any other state of existence awaiting us after the end of this one that we know. It is possible that in our need for this reassurance, we have invented those very things… “Everyone is the first person to die,” the king is told in Ionesco’s masterpiece, Le Roi Se Meurt.

I can know of our human past and what we have achieved as a species – the good and the evil – because it has already happened and we have historical records of much of it; many of these achievements contribute to what I suppose is a sense of pride in our species: there have been great thinkers, scientists, inventors, writers, musicians… Our future is unknown because it hasn’t happened yet; some of it I will get to see in my remaining time, and an enormous amount of it I will not. And because I have an imagination, I know that there are things I would dearly like to see in my lifetime – a human landing on Mars, contact with other intelligences elsewhere in the universe, solutions to our problems (self-inflicted, I know) such as climate change; I wouldn’t mind a socialist utopia, either. On the other hand, I have no wish to live through war and ecological disaster, and sometimes fear for my descendants because of our lack of intelligence as a species.

There is a science fiction tour-de-force, written during the Second World War, I think, by Olaf Stapledon: Last and First Men, in which he imagines the future of humanity into the incredibly far future, through a number of different incarnations, wrestling with enormous epochs of time – billions of years – as humanity moves to other planets, evolves new capacities, far outshines what we are currently achieving. And yet, there is the awareness that eventually we must die out. Various incarnations of humanity pass on, along with geological ages, and it’s with a pang that, quite near the beginning of the novel, our variant homo sapiens, First Man, and all our physical and intellectual achievements vanish as though they had never been… such a waste, it feels, in an unfeeling universe. And yet, surely, that is how it must be, however we comfort ourselves with other possibilities.

But one thing is for sure: life will outlive me. There is an Arabic saying I came across a few years ago which I love: one day, you will only be a story: make sure yours is a good one. To me, that seems a thing to aspire to.

2 Responses to “Proud to be human”


  1. I read an interesting quote about story and the human experience in a memoir I just finished, making me think it doesn’t matter how good the story is, as long as there is someone to tell it. It seems appropriate to share it here:

    Stories themselves have spirit and being, and they have a way of communicating on different levels. The story itself communicates with us regardless of what language it is told in. Of course stories are always funnier and more vivid when they are told in their original language by a good storyteller. But what I love about stories is they can survive and continue in some form or other resembling themselves regardless of how good or how bad the storyteller is, no matter what language they are told or written in. This is because the human brain favors stories or the narrative form as a primary means of organizing and relating human experience. Stories contain large amounts of valuable information even when they storyteller forgets or invents new details.
    ― Leslie Marmon Silko, The Turquoise Ledge: A Memoir

    Liked by 1 person

    • litgaz Says:

      I like that, particularly the part about the human brain preferring stories. I could have used that point years ago when I used to argue with my father when he said one can’t learn everything from books… More seriously, it fits with my experience and understanding of story, as I’ve reflected over the years, and I’m re-experiencing it as I read to my grandson.

      Liked by 1 person


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