Are Humans Special?

Most characteristics of human beings are shared in different ways with other species. Humanity is special in its ability to dominate all other species and in its capacity for abstract thought. Other species are special, each in its own way.

Because that abstract thought has become increasingly dominant, humanity has increasingly lost touch with the rest of nature. The tragic phenomenon of today’s many threatened species and rapidly changing climate, still substantially ignored by our ‘business as usual’ political mindset, is leading in a clearly unsustainable direction.

In Blind Spots, Christian de Quincey suggests that the roots of this modern crisis lie in this presumption of human specialness – and squarely places scientific materialism and religion in his sights as substantial causative agents.

  • Materialism treats the matter of nature as ‘dead’, insentient and of no intrinsic value – (in this view) only creatures with consciousness have intrinsic value and that comes from brains, especially that great human brain. Doubts exist on the consciousness and sentience of various species, because of course you cannot measure consciousness.
  • In the previously dominant paradigm of Christian religion, biblical scripture reinforces the myth that ‘only humans have souls, or consciousness’.

We cannot do without science and religion; we do need them to eschew this crazy materialism and habit of perceiving human specialness, and forge a new path that sees humans as an integral part of nature, perhaps with a special responsibility to just not screw it up.

 

 

Immortality

I happened to be reading Yuval Noah Harari’s book Homo Deus and around the same time watching Satish Kumar’s interviews Being an Earth PilgrimHarari was speaking of the obsession of certain Silicon Valley magnates with the achievement of immortality, whereas Kumar was describing how both his mother and the activist poet Vinoba Banave recognised when their life was coming to a natural end and accelerated this process by self starvation.

The difference appears to be in the attitude to death. Kumar sees this as the natural culmination of the process of a life; the magnate sees it as an undesirable end to be avoided.

Surely the desire for immortality is a gross illusion of the psychological ego. The process of a life requires a growth of the person to a level at which the ego and it’s selfish concerns are transcended. Here lies the death of the ego that it was so fearful of avoiding, such that it desired immortality. Whether achieving this state or not, the person ultimately dies – Kumar would say this is to be reincarnated and take the process further.

There is no case in nature, out greatest teacher, of a life or process that is without end, or death. Life indeed demonstrates as a set of processes that are born, manifest, grow, flourish and ultimately die.

The search for immortality is a great vanity and illusion of the hubris of the psychological ego.

Of course, this is not to suggest that there is not value in research aiming to increase the typical human lifespan, which may well serve some purpose of which we are not yet even aware.