Wednesday, February 3, 2016
The Wonder of Our Finite Species
Many factors influence human choices including our evolutionary past, our temperament, our family background, our culture/worldview, etc., but we aren’t determined fatalistically
by any God or Allah or the Cosmos or Nature or the Big Bang.
As aware humans, (homo sapiens, reasoning and creative primates), we have the amazing ability to choose among various alternative thoughts, plans, actions. We have alternative choice. Our decisions change the world around us and change us.
Homo sapiens aren’t like some modern thinkers claim—only “wet robots,” “puppets,” “bags of chemicals,” or inanimate “bowls of sugar” only being acted on, with no choice.
Existence (space and time) isn’t a cosmic block of amber with all sentient life including humans’ finite lives only petrified termites within.
On the contrary, the cosmos is in creative flux and has at least one species which has rational and creative ability--US.
According to many humanistic thinkers, every human has at least 5 abilities:
#1 Self Awareness:
We primates, unlike many more basic life forms such as a clam;-), are aware that we exist, and aware that we are aware. Also, we are aware to one degree or another of our own eventual ceasing to be in death.
And if each of us becomes a student of history, each “I” can become aware that millions of years existed and billions of humans before this finite “I,” came into being.
We have great ability to learn about our environment from our backyard to far-flung galaxies beyond the Milky Way, and from this present moment in February 2, 2016 to back to the beginning of time billions of years ago, and to speculate about the eventual demise of the cosmos many billions of years in the future.
#2 Ethical Sense of Ought:
NOT only do we have those amazing learning skills to learn facts of what IS
and what was,
we also have a deeply embedded sense of conscience of what OUGHT
what is transcendent, what is essential
what is ‘beyond’ the basic facts of matter and energy.
Our conscience doesn’t tell us precisely what is right and what is wrong, but that we ought to do right and to reject wrong.
However, as all humans usually learn, growing into a reliable sense of ought ‘ain’t’ easy.
Not only does one need to guide, even restrain impulse and instinct, one needs to question the basic assumptions of one’s ethnic, cultural, and national background.
But then all difficult learning takes time and much effort.
Think of learning calculus to build bridges and skyscrapers, or how to perform brain surgery, or to play multiple musical instruments well.
Why should ethics be any simpler?
For more details on this, read a good philosophical book like the skeptic Martin Gardner’s The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener.
#3 Ability to Reason:
Using our thinking ability, we rationally think through possible future actions. We can observe our self, our situation, “stand apart from our self,” in order to make as objectively accurate decisions as possible.
"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead."
#3 Imaginative Reflection/Empathy:
Furthermore, before acting, we can project in our mind how our actual action may affect others. We can seek to understand the feelings of other individuals and understand why they are different in their views and behaviors.
Even when a human is aware, can trust his conscience, uses reason, and engages in empathy—even then everything isn’t solved.
Sometimes much creative thinking needs to take place in order to figure out how to implement good ideas, especially in situations with conundrums and in dilemmas.
#5 Free Choice (opposite of determinism)
Lastly, then we can use all of these qualities to act. Finally!
Of course, usually, we won’t have enough time to do each of these steps for most daily choices. But if we practice these skills regularly, then a shortened method can take place even when hasty decisions and actions have to be made in the moment.
For instance, if I am at the grocery store standing in front of the meat and fish cold bin trying to decide between salmon or crab for supper, and another person walks up and grabs the last filet of salmon, I can respond ethically rather than instinctively or impulsively.
Then if the lines are long at the cash registers, rather than tapping my fingers impatiently, thinking how this is going to make me late for my next appointment, I can be aware in the present, think empathetically about others in the line and the clerk, and smile, even carry on a 30 second positive chat.
The wonder of human consciousness, reason, and alternative choice.
In the LIGHT,