The theme for Southern Oregon University this year is On Being Human.
As opposed, one may wonder, to WHAT?
Animals? Oh yes, lets all conveniently forget that humans are part of the animal kingdom and use that particular dichotomy! Or, more honestly, we could just say any other species of animal. So humans are humans, dogs are dogs and cows are cows. (Let’s make that bovines are bovines; don’t wanna leave out the bulls!) So the question becomes what does it mean to be human rather than, oh say, a cat?
Well, aside from a distinctly lower chance of landing on our feet when dropped, my first instinct is to bring up the simple fact that we’re discussing this question in the first place. I have a feeling that cats tend to think more about things like how to get that warm hand over there to do something useful like to pet it. Of course, until we develop the technology to read a cat’s mind, we’ll never know if it’s contemplating what it means to be a cat or just plotting to steal your sandwich.
Not to mention, not all humans consider this question. Putting aside the people who just live without asking questions or, really, ever thinking too hard about anything, we have infants. I’ve actually recently come across an argument that infants aren’t even actually human, nor, by that definition of human, are those people who go through life without thinking. However, as that’s a discussion for another time, I’m going to continue this article under the assumption that infants are, in fact, human. Small humans though, who it’s generally agreed don’t have thoughts more complex than uncomfortable now, scream so mommy’ll fix it. The idea that we’re born knowing everything and forget with time isn’t unpopular.
I could get into the qualification that a human is someone who has the POTENTIAL to ask this question, but without a mind-reading machine to back me up I’ll just leave that can of worms firmly closed.
So what does it mean to be human as opposed to any other animal doesn’t seem like an overly productive question. So, I return to the original one.
Being Human as opposed to what?
You see, one of the most notable figures in sci-fi said something to his half-alien best friend, something that I find almost humorously meta. Everybody’s human, said Captian James T. Kirk. Or was he an admiral at the time? I forget. He should’ve stayed a captain anyway. That’s not the point. Kirk was describing the fact that every species has all the same strengths and weaknesses of humans. Klingons can love, Andorians can fight, and Vulcans can cry. In a meta sense, one glaringly obvious, Kirk means that sci-fi writers are human. Every alien to ever hit the page, web, or screen (small or large) is ultimately human.
Maybe they’re designed from a single aspect of humanity. Maybe they’re designed to be incomprehensible to the human mind and drive men mad with a glance. Everything that has ever been on television or in a book originated in a human mind. So while no, I don’t believe we’re alone in the universe, until something decides to actually contact us, we can’t really ever answer what it means to be human as opposed to alien.
So, again I ask what does it mean to be human as opposed to WHAT?
A divine being?
Oh look, it’s another can of worms. Let’s just leave that lid on too.
So, ultimately, the truth is, I don’t think there’s an answer.
I don’t think there is an opposed to.
I don’t even think there IS a definite answer to, What does it mean to be human?
Calm down, I’m not saying it’s not an important issue, or even that it’s not a good question. All I’m saying is that the whole discussion is a journey without a destination. But it’s a fantastic journey, expanding minds and inviting dialogue between all sorts of people; and since when has the destination mattered anyway?