What is man?

Discussions on the nature of being, existence, reality and knowledge. What is? How do we know?

What is man?

Postby Neri on March 10th, 2017, 1:42 pm 

Although it may seem an impossible task to answer such an expansive question within the limits of this forum, it is not at all difficult if one approaches the matter with open eyes.

Such a question requires a purely empirical approach—specifically, one based not only on personal experience but also on biology, on the historical and anthropological record and on observations of the primates most closely related to humans. Clearly, analytic logic can play no part in such an endeavor.

Accordingly, the notions that our consciousness somehow transcends the physical world or that the physical world exists only in our minds or that the nature of the world outside of us is somehow beyond our comprehension--are all derived by means of a so-called logic dehors of all sensory appreciation. Accordingly, these notions will have no place in this discussion.

It may be said, quite plainly, that we are a kind of ape. Our physical form, our biology and our physiology can hardly make this clearer. The history of our species also shows that we share certain behaviors with other apes.

Like them, we are social animals with a violent disposition. However, our violence is largely directed to those we consider outside of our social group. Within the social group we are notably cooperative, even loving and empathic, particularly when it comes to the rearing of children. The same may properly said of our duller cousins.

Like all apes, we have intense sexual passions. Whatever violence exists within ape societies typically consists of brutal confrontations between males seeking domination over the same females. Anyone with knowledge of the criminal courts will acknowledge the reality of this state of affairs where humans are concerned. Human history catalogues centuries of brutal autocrats not unlike alpha-male apes.

On the other hand, there is an enormous difference between humans and other apes. We are the only ape—nay, the only living creature-- with the power of speech. This is no small thing.

Like other apes, we do make primal (in a sense, “musical’) sounds expressing emotions or giving warnings. However, we also think and speak in words.

Words express our ideas, and our heads are full of ideas—very clever ideas that have allowed us to live far more comfortably than other animals. So much so, that it sometimes seems that we have thoroughly domesticated nature in general and our own human nature in particular. Unfortunately, our primal instincts always return to haunt us.

The questions arise: What is the meaning of right and wrong in the human condition? What exactly is it that satisfies us.

As to the first question, it should be obvious that “good and evil” are not physical realities existing outside of us. They belong only to the mind (or, more properly, to the brain). But what meaning should we attach to the words in quotes?

It is not so much a question of me or anyone else attaching a meaning to right and wrong. Rather, it is a question of identifying a meaning that arises out of human nature--that is, one not learned but built into us genetically. In this respect, it is important to recognize the context in which the human moral sense arises. This has everything to do with human societies—families, tribes, street gangs and nation states, as well as social groups joined by a common language, culture or creed. The latter expression refers not only to those sharing a common religion but also a common political belief (such as fascism, communism or liberal democracy).

Those joined together in a human society in these ways consider one another “us.” Those in other such societies are considered “them.” This distinction is present in the consciousness of all apes, not only humans, and has been amply demonstrated in the behavior of chimpanzees, mountain gorillas and orangutans.

A general moral principle is applicable to all those considered “us” [with the exception of the alpha male and king or autocrat in the case of humans]. That principle is, “Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.” Because this principle is found in virtually every human society, we are safe in saying that is a genetic constituent of human nature.

This moral principle, however, does not apply to “them”—the outsider, the foreigner, the infidel, and the enemy in war. Quite the contrary, we dehumanize such people and, in many cases, take great satisfaction in assaulting and killing them. This is a reality of human nature that cannot be ignored.

Indeed, we are never fully satisfied unless we can do violence in some way to those who are not “us.” But, one may ask, why is it that murder is comparatively rare even internationally in time of peace?

The answer lies in the fact that, to a large extent in modern times, we have been trained to suppress our violent inclinations where the outsider is concerned. Yet, when those inclinations have been given free reign in time of war, the result has been human slaughter on an unprecedented scale.

When we are called to war, our primal urges come readily to the fore, and we kill with ease. We are terrified in such circumstances; yet in a strange way, the experience is deeply satisfying, and we feel that our lives have far more significance than ever before.

When we return home, we certainly do not miss war, but we miss that feeling. The desire for it is built into our primal nature. It may be repressed or transferred, but it can never be eliminated. It is part of what makes us what we are.

The Marxists (like all utopians) tell us that man, left to his natural inclinations, will be “good,” and that it is only corrupt social institutions that make him otherwise. Yet no one is more brutal than a Marxist to those who do not share his creed. Indeed, the falsity of that creed, in this respect, is amply demonstrated by the very behavior of its advocates.

The primal brutality of our nature is something we try to come to terms with. We do this by transferring our brutal inclinations into comparatively benign and even productive activities.

Thus, we enjoy blood sports such as prize fighting and cage fighting, bull fights and the like. We go to car races, secretly hoping that drivers will be killed or seriously injured. We delight in violent films—the more violent the better. We devour plays and novels that depict murder and mayhem in excruciating detail.

Many surgeons enjoy their work not so much because it helps the patients but more so because they derive pleasure from the brutality of what they do. Thereby, they channel their primal inclinations into productive work. There are many other similar examples.

The trouble is that these things blunt our violent nature but cannot erase it. Our primal instincts dwell in us under pressure, waiting to burst forth. One may say that in us are planted the seeds of our own destruction--that nature herself has sent us out on the road to oblivion.
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Re: What is man?

Postby Braininvat on March 10th, 2017, 4:27 pm 

The Marxists (like all utopians) tell us that man, left to his natural inclinations, will be “good,” and that it is only corrupt social institutions that make him otherwise. Yet no one is more brutal than a Marxist to those who do not share his creed. Indeed, the falsity of that creed, in this respect, is amply demonstrated by the very behavior of its advocates.


A small point on terminology here. The philosophy of Marx was not in support of this brutality you reference. You seem to describe totalitarians appropriating Marxist ideas and using them for their own self-serving dictatorial systems. Their actions no more define Marxism than the Spanish "Christians" in the New World in their campaigns of slaughter, rape, and cruelty would define the teachings of Jesus. Marxism is, in fact, an anarchist and communal philosophy which bears little resemblance to the political systems of central authority and repression it has been yoked to. Scandinavian collectivism and worker-owned factories there are probably closer to Marxism than any of the regimes that actually dub themselves "Marxist" and even they are far removed from Marx's vision in that they have a strong central government.
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Re: What is man?

Postby Eclogite on March 11th, 2017, 3:46 am 

Braininvat has identified an error in your post. There are others. Overall the post appears to me to be a mix of unfounded assertions that are arguably mistaken and statements of the blindingly obvious. It is not clear what you wish to discuss, if anything, or if you mistook the forum for Blog Central. Before I engage further would you clarify your intent?
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Re: What is man?

Postby vivian maxine on March 11th, 2017, 8:31 am 

Braininvat » March 10th, 2017, 3:27 pm wrote:
The Marxists (like all utopians) tell us that man, left to his natural inclinations, will be “good,” and that it is only corrupt social institutions that make him otherwise. Yet no one is more brutal than a Marxist to those who do not share his creed. Indeed, the falsity of that creed, in this respect, is amply demonstrated by the very behavior of its advocates.


.


Maybe the brutal Marxist was simply proving his own contention by not leaving man to his natural inclinations.
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Re: What is man?

Postby neuro on March 11th, 2017, 10:05 am 

Neri,
I believe that excluding consciousness as a transcendent aspect (I don't mean esoteric or metaphysical, simply capable of looking at things from a higher perspective) from the discussion is misleading.

The complexity of human consciousness adds an extra dimension to the process of evaluating what is good (not morally GOOD, simply more advantageous) for oneself.

Without consciousness, there is no right or wrong, no GOOD or evil, there is no ethics and no moral.
Cooperativeness, as well as aggressiveness, may well be written in genes (human genes as well as other animals'), and certainly tends to guide behavior towards the pursuit of what is good (advantageous) and the fight against what is dangerous or bad (disadvantageous).
But what consciousness adds to this is the capability of considering all direct and indirect benefits that come to me (and my family, my children) from the well-being of others, and from my and their being "nice".

In the end, GOOD (ethical good) simply is the best solution for everybody when the whole complex picture is carefully considered.
But for this, you need a consciousness.

In this perspective, I would not dismiss Marxism so simply, though my judgment on those who claimed they were applying it (self-defined Marxists) does not differ much from yours.
Neither would I share the view that surgeons are sadistically inclined people who have found a socially acceptable way to satisfy their aggressive instincts...
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Re: What is man?

Postby wolfhnd on March 11th, 2017, 8:00 pm 

"Dictatorship of the proletariat" does not sound very anti authoritarian nor anarchistic. All collectivist ideologies become brutal because they deny the primacy of the individual. Rights are properly and necessarily the property of individuals an when applied to groups disintegrate the very thing they hope to establish by dividing the population into arbitrary identities.

I was a bit thrown off by the title of the thread because I would expect any definition of being human to include the dimorphic nature of the species. Science has a perfectly adequate definition of homosapien. The question of what is it like to be human is in some ways a better philosophical question. Science can be tool to help us probe the experience and keep our philosophical musings focused but we are why creatures as much as we are how creatures. It isn't sufficient to explain how culture and physiology evolved but especially in the case of culture we want to know why should it be that way. There are physiological restraints on cultural evolution but we have a great deal of freedom in selecting the nature of the environment that culture evolves in.
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Re: What is man?

Postby dandelion on March 11th, 2017, 10:39 pm 

Another consideration is there may be alternative views about human nature, such as those of professor of anthropology, Fry, questioning evolved adaptions of war-likeness and violence. For instance, according to his book, (2011), lethal raids by equidistantly related chimps, bonobos, haven't been observed (page 398).
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Re: What is man?

Postby Neri on March 12th, 2017, 3:16 pm 

BIV,

By the expression, “utopians,” I refer to advocates of the various forms of anarchism, all of which propose freedom without enforceable laws.

I argue that such a creed is not consonant with human nature in that a society without enforceable laws will inevitably descend into barbarism or despotism.

To me, barbarism is force without freedom and law. Enforceable laws without freedom, I call despotism.

Anarchy requires a degree of cooperation and empathy not found in humans. My point was that Marxism, although it proclaims a kind of anarchism, inevitably devolves into despotism. History amply demonstrates this fact.

Further, I was suggesting that the characteristic fanaticism of the Marxist evinces a high degree of intolerance and hostility toward those who disagree with him and that such an attitude [because it is perfectly human] makes anarchism impossible.


Eclogite,

As the title suggests, my OP concerns the nature of man. I think this should be a matter of some interest.


Vivian,

Quite correct.


Neuro,

I regard consciousness and freedom of the will as purely empirical and physical.

Although I did allude to the fact that we are the only animals that speak and “have thoughts in their heads,” my OP was not a dissertation on the nature of consciousness and the will. Therefore, I saw no reason to go into these matters more deeply. Further, I think you are well aware of my views in this regard.

With due deference to your profession, I do not think that a medical degree has the effect of erasing the primal blood lust of any member of our violent and predatory species. I have prosecuted far too many physicians to believe it. Need I mention Dr. Mengele?


Wolfhind,

See my response to BIV. My own preference is for a republic, which has freedom and enforceable law.


Dandelions,

My point is easily demonstrated by the interactions between Native Americans and European settlers. The US Declaration of Independence refers to Native Americans as:

“…the merciless Indian savages whose known rule of warfare is the undistinguished destruction of all ages sexes and conditions.”

Indeed, the Native American tribes were at that time engaged in continuous warfare with each other. They were brutal beyond description and regularly engaged in torture. They employed these practices against the European settlers. However, it did not take long for the Europeans to adopt the same tactics—so thin was the veneer of “civilization.”

In Europe, the Vikings were extremely aggressive, murdering and torturing innocent people without remorse. Today, the Scandinavians are considered among the most “civilized” and peace-loving peoples. Yet, there has been no change in the size or constitution of the Scandinavian brain since the 10th Century. The blood lust of their human nature has not disappeared. It lies suppressed and ready to show its ugly face should the circumstances arise.
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Re: What is man?

Postby dandelion on March 14th, 2017, 10:19 pm 

Dandelions, plural- I like that, I wish I'd thought of that when joining.

Others here likely have a better understanding than me, but although it could seem violence may not necessarily be as characteristic n close primate relatives as the impression given, regarding human past, research may also question extent of violence, e.g, the research discussed here- http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/09/ ... -ancestors. I think among such questions is a suggestion that impressions given may be skewed by the way an amount of difference involved in violent events may stand out beside less obvious, more peaceful, backgrounds.
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Re: What is man?

Postby Eclogite on March 15th, 2017, 2:17 am 

Neri » Sun Mar 12, 2017 7:16 pm wrote:Eclogite,

As the title suggests, my OP concerns the nature of man. I think this should be a matter of some interest.
I agree, but
1. It is far too extensive a topic to be properly addressed in a single thread. Therefore, to be productive some specific aspect of man should have been its focus.
2. Since it is of interest it would have been more productive to post observations that were not "a mix of unfounded assertions that are arguably mistaken and statements of the blindingly obvious".
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Re: What is man?

Postby Neri on March 15th, 2017, 11:54 am 

Dandelion,

While scholars may differ on the exact percentage of humans killed by other humans, anyone who has ever cracked a history book can hardly deny that the number is enormous. Of course, this does not take into account the millions who have been blinded, maimed and otherwise horribly disabled. Nuclear weapons have been used once against civilian populations. It is just a question of time before they will be used again—this time to more widespread effect.

If one views the matter with open eyes, he will not engage in denial where the brutality of his own species is concerned.


Eclogite,

Being human, I presume you have some understanding of the subject. Therefore, I ask:

What exactly do you think you are?
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Re: What is man?

Postby Eclogite on March 15th, 2017, 1:25 pm 

Neri » Wed Mar 15, 2017 3:54 pm wrote:Eclogite,

Being human, I presume you have some understanding of the subject. Therefore, I ask:

What exactly do you think you are?
A member of the species homo sapiens. Which aspect of this identity did you wish to discuss?
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Re: What is man?

Postby Neri on March 15th, 2017, 2:36 pm 

Eclogite,

What do you understand to be the nature of your species so far as being violent or non-violent, kind or cruel?
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Re: What is man?

Postby Eclogite on March 15th, 2017, 4:18 pm 

Neri » Wed Mar 15, 2017 6:36 pm wrote:Eclogite,

What do you understand to be the nature of your species so far as being violent or non-violent, kind or cruel?
Here are three responses. Choose your favourite:

1. Highly variable dependent upon context, genes, culture, age, sex, social position, experience, etc.

2. Two Anecdotes:

It is said that there was a zoo which had a sign on one of its cages which read "These animals are dangerous. When attacked they defend themselves."

When my children were around ten I told them I had the most dangerous animals on the planet in one of our rooms. I explained they would be quite safe and asked if they wanted to see them. Of course, with the natural curiosity of children they were enthusiastic. I slowly opened the door so that they were able to see their reflections in the mirror I had carefully placed.

3. As I noted earlier I found your statements of the bloody obvious to be trite and annoying. Humans are capable of great violence and incredible levels of support and cooperation. Society evolved to try to get the balance right.
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Re: What is man?

Postby Braininvat on March 15th, 2017, 7:42 pm 

Sounds like the topic has gotten some focus and the thread is heading into Stephen Pinker territory.

For me, language is the big game-changer in opening up a vast range on the violence spectrum. It creates memetic platforms for everything from militaristic shock-regimes to communal peaceful Buddhist tea-ocracy. As Dostoevski said, "Man is the animal who can get used to anything." And language is how that's done. Try talking a cat into veganism.
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Re: What is man?

Postby Neri on March 16th, 2017, 12:07 am 

Eclogite,

On the one hand, you are prepared to teach your children that they are the most dangerous animals on earth. On the other hand, you say that humans can be anything imaginable depending on genetics and environment.

Yet, although there are genetic differences among individual humans, there must be a hereditary endowment that makes all humans a single identifiable species, and that is what I am talking about.

The question is not what you or any person may be, but rather what those things are that make all people human despite their differences. I am not so much talking about the fact that humans stand on their hind legs or have large brains, but rather I concern myself with an understanding of the basic instincts native to our species.

Any wild animal can, up to a point, be trained to act against its natural instincts, but there will inevitably come a time when it will disregard that training. Instincts are powerful things in humans as much as in other animals.

We are predatory animals that love, even need, the blood lust of the hunt. However, as I pointed out in my OP, there is a kind of dichotomy in the patterns of behavior where human social groups are concerned.

To any individual human, a social group is one to which he believes he belongs. Thus, such groups may be of any size or description.

All individuals who believe they are in a group to which they belong consider themselves “us.” The outsiders are considered “them.” The “us” are trained to be cooperative within their group but to be wary of the “them,” who do not merit the same treatment as “us.” This particular behavior we share with the other great apes.

We are trained to be less assaultive to those who are “us.” On the other hand, when a dispute arises with “them,” we are encouraged to give our blood lust full reign. This summarizes the human condition and explains why there will never be lasting peace for all mankind. Our instincts tell us that we must destroy “them” even if we destroy ourselves in the process.

The trouble is, this “us-”and-“them” business is not all that stable. That is, individuals considering themselves “us” can change their opinion at any time and view a part or all of the group as “them.” This is why we have civil wars and violent disputes of all kinds within a social group. It is this inherent instability that makes anarchism impossible.

Something more than training is required to suppress assaultive behavior in human societies, and that is the force of law.
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Re: What is man?

Postby Eclogite on March 16th, 2017, 3:57 am 

Neri » Thu Mar 16, 2017 4:07 am wrote:Eclogite,

On the one hand, you are prepared to teach your children that they are the most dangerous animals on earth. On the other hand, you say that humans can be anything imaginable depending on genetics and environment.
Let me be very clear: I was not prepared to do this, I considered it mandatory to do so. Failure to have taught this lesson would be the equivalent of never warning them that guns should only be pointed at others in exceptional circumstances.

Your second sentence is ambiguous. The ambiguity is generated in the phrase "anything imaginable" which seems to ignore the powerful restrictions created by nature and nurture.

Neri » Thu Mar 16, 2017 4:07 am wrote:Yet, although there are genetic differences among individual humans, there must be a hereditary endowment that makes all humans a single identifiable species, and that is what I am talking about.
Their ability to interbreed. Nothing more.

Neri » Thu Mar 16, 2017 4:07 am wrote:To any individual human, a social group is one to which he believes he belongs. Thus, such groups may be of any size or description.
Bollocks. We are still stuck with our heritage of a tribal species accustomed to dealing with a hundred or so individuals. The research on this is so well established I will be offended if you insist I provide citations.

We have become adept at overcoming this in order to live in a global society. It is why passengers on the London Underground don't look each other in the eye and why charities feature the plight of a single starving child, not the dying multitudes.


We are trained to be less assaultive to those who are “us.” On the other hand, when a dispute arises with “them,” we are encouraged to give our blood lust full reign. This summarizes the human condition and explains why there will never be lasting peace for all mankind. Our instincts tell us that we must destroy “them” even if we destroy ourselves in the process.

The trouble is, this “us-”and-“them” business is not all that stable. That is, individuals considering themselves “us” can change their opinion at any time and view a part or all of the group as “them.” This is why we have civil wars and violent disputes of all kinds within a social group. It is this inherent instability that makes anarchism impossible.

Something more than training is required to suppress assaultive behavior in human societies, and that is the force of law.
Please see my previous comment, reproduced here for your convenience:

As I noted earlier I found your statements of the bloody obvious to be trite and annoying. Humans are capable of great violence and incredible levels of support and cooperation. Society evolved to try to get the balance right.

Neri, if I am coming across as aggressive it is because I do not see anything new in what you are saying. As I commented earlier your remarks are a mix pf either wrong, or obvious. I am engaging here only to express that opinion. This is the closest I get to the blood lust you think pervades all humans.

If you begin to say something new, or significant, my attitude will change. I look forward to it.
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Re: What is man?

Postby wolfhnd on March 16th, 2017, 4:37 am 

You made need to expand the concept of violence to include more than just the physical. Language can inflict harm in ways that may not be obvious.
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Re: What is man?

Postby vivian maxine on March 16th, 2017, 9:36 am 

Neri wrote:We are trained to be less assaultive to those who are “us.” On the other hand, when a dispute arises with “them,” we are encouraged to give our blood lust full reign. This summarizes the human condition and explains why there will never be lasting peace for all mankind. Our instincts tell us that we must destroy “them” even if we destroy ourselves in the process.


I sincerely hope you are wrong but I fear you are right. Now is it possible to figure out why we are so inclined? And can we do anything to correct that pre-wired tendency?

Intellect, Man is the only creature who can investigate, analyze, interpret and explain the mysteries of the universe, the weather, the wiring and functioning of the brain, diseases, the rock in the field, even what makes humans tick - sometimes even extrapolate and change those mysteries to suit his own wishes.
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Re: What is man?

Postby Braininvat on March 16th, 2017, 10:13 am 

We are predatory animals that love, even need, the blood lust of the hunt.


I keep encountering unsupported statements like this one. Humans are omnivores, and there are indigenous groups that gain almost the entirety of their nutrition from gathering due to living in areas where game is scarce or unreachable. Roots, fruits, nuts, eggs pilfered from nests, grubs, etc. Some anthropologists have theorized that the basket, rather than the spear, was the earliest and most significant human invention. Given all that, I think it's best to be cautious when we define humans as "predatory." Tigers are predatory, humans are versatile.
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Re: What is man?

Postby vivian maxine on March 16th, 2017, 10:48 am 

Biv, have you read A Dissertation on the Roast Pig? It's a theory about how man came to eat the forbidden pork but it could as well apply to how man went from what he could gather to what he could kill - any meat.
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Re: What is man?

Postby Eclogite on March 16th, 2017, 11:59 am 

vivian maxine » Thu Mar 16, 2017 2:48 pm wrote:Biv, have you read A Dissertation on the Roast Pig? It's a theory about how man came to eat the forbidden pork but it could as well apply to how man went from what he could gather to what he could kill - any meat.

I am not being funny, but is that the one by Charles Lamb? If so I recall reading it fifty four years ago. I remember it as being very amusing, but nothing else: fifty four years is a long time. I remember we embraced the schoolboy humour of a Lamb writing about Pig.
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Re: What is man?

Postby Neri on March 16th, 2017, 12:23 pm 

Eclogite,

I can assure you that you are capable of considerably more aggression than that contained in your comments. If you had any experience of war, you would know what I am talking about. I should add that I myself am capable of much more aggression than that involved in telling you that your repetition of rubbish makes it no less so. I will bridle these instincts as much as I can in the attempt to present a rational explication of my views.

In the last world war, the English engaged in the fire bombing of civilian populations in Germany resulting in hundreds of thousands of men, women and children being burned alive. The Americans dropped atom bombs on two Japanese cities incinerating almost two hundred thousand men, women and children with thousands more dying a slow and painful death from radiation sickness. These actions were popular in both countries.

The Germans and their allies were no less brutal. The Japanese systematically murdered more than a hundred thousand innocent Chinese civilians and brutalized, starved and outright murdered thousands of American, English and Philippine prisoners, many of whom were civilians. The Germans put forward a plan to exterminate all European Jews for no reason other than their religion. More than eight million Jews--the old, the infirm, as well as helpless women and children—were killed in gas chambers. The able bodied were worked to death.

These divergent nationalities and cultures have one thing in common. They are all human. One does not have to look far in the historical record to find human behavior as brutal and pitiless. The human race has been more or less continuously at war throughout the millennia of history—both in tribal and so-called civilized societies.

Something more than cultural pressures are involved in these stark realities. And that must be the genetic nature of man himself. As you put it, this is “bloody obvious.”

Because the genetic constitution of the English, Americans, Germans and Japanese could not have changed in a few generations since the last world war and because the genetic instincts of the human race as a whole could not have changed significantly in a few thousand years—we are left with the unavoidable conclusion that the human race is violent and murderous as a matter of evolution.

Because no amount of training and social pressure can change these basic instincts of man, we can expect further warfare on a grand scale until our species destroys itself in nuclear conflagration. Of course, I sincerely hope that this conclusion is completely wrong--yet, sadly, the facts are the facts.
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Re: What is man?

Postby mitchellmckain on March 16th, 2017, 12:24 pm 

I have said there is no theory in science with more supporting evidence than the theory of evolution. I said this even though I am a physicist. Don't get me wrong. I think there are physical theories like relativity and quantum which have also long crossed over from the hypothetical to the factual in science. On the other hand, there is an unfortunate tendency to go overboard with general scientific theories and turn them into a theory of everything that borders on making them like a religion/ideology and thus forcing all things to fit into the dimensions of its explanation.

I am reminded of a scene in the new sci-fi film "Arrival" where the physicist meets the linguist and challenges her written claim that language is "the cornerstone of civilization," claiming instead that science occupies that role. Once again, even though I am a physicist, I complete disagree. Instead I quite agree with the linguist's original claim and would even make it a bit stronger to say that language is the substance and foundation of civilization and our very humanity (of which science is an important part to be sure). Language with the abstract capabilities and the facility to encode information with more scope, subtlety and complexity than DNA is what really separates us from the animals. Therein lies our humanity without which there is nothing which separates us from other primates and animals because our biology and chemistry just isn't very different from the rest of life on the earth. Of course, many, including myself, like to emphasize how thin a separation language makes, to say that if we are more, then we are not more by very much.

And yet... back to my original point... we can also go overboard, making too little of this separation, turning the science of biology into some kind of grotesque religion/TOE and ignore the rather significant differences between humanity and biology. Much like similar ideologies which reduce aspects of life to one dimensional terms, saying it is all about economics or survival of the fittest, these represent a serious danger in setting our aim and ambition far too low -- the worst kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

The truth is, however, this thin separation from other animals which language makes, is also a rather significant/profound difference which holds all of our promise and hope for the future. No other species on the planet has members which devote all their time and effort to study and appreciate some rare species of beetle in one corner of the earth worried about its continued survival. No other species on the planet has members which study the farthest reaches the universe in time, space, and scale. No other species on the planet explores the limits of abstract thought in logic and mathematics. We have opened up a whole new dimension of awareness of reality and it really would be unfortunate to make so little of these things by reducing our identity to nothing more than chemistry and biology in the same jarhead manner that psychopaths look at other human beings as nothing more than bags of meat.

To reiterate, there is a proper balance here. We are both fundamentally alike AND profoundly different, AT THE SAME TIME! Surely embracing both ends of this spectrum isn't so much more difficult than holding onto the human awareness the universe consists of both elementary particles at one scale and a vast field of billions of galaxies at another scale.
Last edited by mitchellmckain on March 16th, 2017, 1:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What is man?

Postby vivian maxine on March 16th, 2017, 12:40 pm 

Eclogite » March 16th, 2017, 10:59 am wrote:
vivian maxine » Thu Mar 16, 2017 2:48 pm wrote:Biv, have you read A Dissertation on the Roast Pig? It's a theory about how man came to eat the forbidden pork but it could as well apply to how man went from what he could gather to what he could kill - any meat.

I am not being funny, but is that the one by Charles Lamb? If so I recall reading it fifty four years ago. I remember it as being very amusing, but nothing else: fifty four years is a long time. I remember we embraced the schoolboy humour of a Lamb writing about Pig.


That's the one, yes. I'd never thought or heard of Lamb writing about Pig. Funny. But, no, the dissertation was serious. It showed - after a disastrous fire killed a man's pigs and he, licking his fingers, discovered that pork was pretty good eating. He paid a price for his "sin" as did some of the other early pork eaters but the idea caught on. It occurred to me this morning that a similar fire accident killing animals farther back in history could be the same story and say how man started eating meat in general.
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Re: What is man?

Postby Athena on March 16th, 2017, 12:56 pm 

I believe we are God consciousness.

God is asleep in rocks and minerals, waking in plants and animals, to know self in man.

Or perhaps the best way to think of ourselves is as host to the microbes within that far out number us and control our bodily functions and even can affect our thinking.
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Re: What is man?

Postby wolfhnd on March 16th, 2017, 1:08 pm 

I think you can look at teeth and determine that humans are omnivores.

"This conclusion runs counter to (i) recent isotope work suggesting that the australopithecines did in fact consume significant amounts of meat (7) and (ii) nutritional work suggesting that meat may have provided critical nutrients for both young and old hominids"

"In such a land of variable opportunities, the generalized craniodental toolkit of the earliest hominids may have had a distinct advantage"

http://m.pnas.org/content/97/25/13506.full

It is clear that humans are not evolved from carnivores which hardly seems necessary to point out. The above article points to adaptation for a wide range of foods which is consistent with adaptability in our early ancestors.

That said there is evidence of evolution to eat meat.

"Our fondness for a juicy steak triggered a number of adaptations over countless generations. For instance, our jaws have gotten smaller, and we have an improved ability to process cholesterol and fat."

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news ... _diet.html

According to the above article we are now evolving to eat Mush as a consequence of civilization. This highlights how the interplay between culture and physiology may make it impossible to know what early human diet was.

It seems likely that paradoxically the fact that we are not carnivores meanss we are more violent. Social carnivores have evolved mechanisms to defuse aggression that non carnivores may not have. A lion of course is only relatively more dangerous than a chimpanzee but it may be a question of efficiency. If you are a highly efficient killer there may not be time for unrefined social instincts to kick in.
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Re: What is man?

Postby Neri on March 16th, 2017, 1:29 pm 

Mitchellmckain,

To a certain extent I agree with your contention that “language is the substance and foundation of civilization.” I also believe that mankind is violent and warlike by genetic predisposition. The two are not mutually exclusive.

It is a historical fact that great civilizations have been involved in wars more brutal and destructive than those of tribal societies. Also, let us not forget that it is science that gave us the hydrogen bomb.
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Re: What is man?

Postby Neri on March 16th, 2017, 1:57 pm 

Eclogite,

I noticed that I have not responded to your declaration that we are a “tribal species accustomed to dealing with a hundred or so individuals.” Apparently, you believe that the sense of “us” and “them” is restricted to such small groups.

There is a difference between how many individuals we are accustomed to dealing with and the social entity we believe we are a part of. As I pointed out previously such a social group can range in size from a street gang in Chicago to a nation state like England or Germany.

Are you seriously contending that in the Second World War, the English in their millions did not consider themselves “us” and the Germans “them” in the sense that I described—or indeed that virtually all Germans had it the other way ‘round?
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Re: What is man?

Postby mitchellmckain on March 16th, 2017, 1:59 pm 

Neri » March 16th, 2017, 12:29 pm wrote:Mitchellmckain,

To a certain extent I agree with your contention that “language is the substance and foundation of civilization.” I also believe that mankind is violent and warlike by genetic predisposition. The two are not mutually exclusive.

It is a historical fact that great civilizations have been involved in wars more brutal and destructive than those of tribal societies. Also, let us not forget that it is science that gave us the hydrogen bomb.


It is useful to look at things in terms of power (just because we should be wary of reducing things to some one dimensional aspect like this doesn't mean it isn't useful to use it as a tool). I see the morality of a human being as coming down to a race between their development of power in the world and their development of a regard for others. In fact, I often claim that a child with power is a good definition of a monster.

Science gives access to a great deal of power in the world and we can only hope that we have made enough progress in developing our regard for life and others so that this gain of power does not destroy us.

I have a theory about psychopaths that the requirements of survival in a world filled with war and violence, which has evolved a psychological switch inside of us that gets flipped in children who are exposed to too much violence. It may even be a switch which is easier to flip in the white male according to the common profiling of serial killers.
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