Consciousness, soul on ice: How do you feel about being an "animal?" Early in his acclaimed book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Professor Harari keeps dropping that particular A-bomb right on our fine-feathered heads.
We pondered one part of the following passage in Saturday's post. Today, we'll focus on that one type of name-calling:
HARARI (pages 3-4): There were humans long before there was history. Animals much like modern humans first appeared about 2.5 million years ago. But for countless generations they did not stand out from the myriad other organisms with which they shared their habitats."Animals much like modern humans" first appeared a long time ago. Before too long, the cheeky professor is explicitly calling us modern humans "animals," with all ambiguity gone:
On a hike in East Africa 2 million years ago, you might well have encountered a familiar cast of human characters: anxious mothers cuddling their babies and clutches of carefree children playing in the mud; temperamental youths chafing against the dictates of society and weary elders who just wanted to be left in peace; chest-thumping machos trying to impress the local beauty and wise old matriarchs who had already seen it all. These archaic humans loved, played, formed close friendships and competed for status and power—but so did chimpanzees, baboons and elephants. There was nothing special about them. Nobody, least of all humans themselves, had any inkling that their descendants would one day walk on the moon, split the atom, fathom the genetic code and write history books. The most important thing to know about prehistoric humans is that they were insignificant animals with no more impact on their environment than gorillas, fireflies or jellyfish.
HARARI (page 5): Homo sapiens long preferred to view itself as set apart from animals, an orphan bereft of family, lacking siblings or cousins, and most importantly, without parents. But that’s just not the case. Like it or not, we are members of a large and particularly noisy family called the great apes. Our closest living relatives include chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans."Like it or not," we're "animals" too. Or so says Professor Harari.
Many people understand that we are technically "animals." By that, we mean that these people will agree to this point when asked. But to what extent does this fact truly inform our world view?
As Harari says, we humans, at least in the western world, have tended to view ourselves "as set apart from animals." We possess a soul and the animals don't. Or we alone possess consciousness. Or maybe it's our rational faculty which plainly sets us apart.
After all, aren't we humans "the rational animal," as Aristotle is said to have said?
We're perusing that passage from Harari's book on a lazy, rainy day in which we're still recovering from the joys, and yet from the rigors, of a week of competitive Shopkins. But to what extent does some rational faculty truly set us apart? Are we possibly "seeing ourselves from afar" when we praise this part of our game?
In his latest piece at Slate, William Saletan works very hard to construct the latest Others. We humans have done this through the annals of time, as we prepare for our tribally-driven wars.
We met Will once long ago; he seems like the nicest guy out there. That said, we thought he was working a bit too hard today, torturing underwhelming groups of statistics to construct an Us and a Them.
We humans seem inclined to do this in much the same way we're inclined to breathe. Does our "rationality" drive such ruminations, or is it some "animal" instinct?
Does rationality lead us to pummel statistics? Could it be something more primal?