Society is a magic trick, and civilization an illusion that is born from the belief it stems in human kind. The real nature of humanity is not in the gatherings, nor the seeming solidarity that comes from human beings wishing to band together. All is essentially necessity for safety, and rarely is a true bond that can hold together against any threat. Humanity is by its own nature a fragmented, imperfect race, and destined to create what it will eventually destroy so that it might create again. There is no ultimate truth to being human other than to exist.
Expounding on this, humanity is a race that exists within a complex network of simplicities. Among all the creatures that walk the world upon which humanity resides, human beings are the only ones that seek to contemplate their own existence in such abstract matters, proving the presence of higher thought that is at times rather self-defeating as well as quite grandiose. The true roots of humanity have long ago been all but forgotten and left to fade in the collective memory of the species, an ancient and forgotten history that humans seek to move beyond. Whether humans are a product of mechanism or mentalism is always a debate, meaning that the species is either bound by the workings of the flesh or the mind. Many would prefer to think of being bound by both sides of the argument, as physical, living beings that are capable of higher reasoning and self-realization that is far greater than any other creature alive. Yet for all the intelligence of the human race it is seen continually that as a people humans so often forget that they share the same humble origins as any other organism.
No creature that has ever drawn breath is a simple product of mechanism, as all creatures are greater in some regard than the sum of their physical parts. Humanity is not different in this regard, but has taken to thinking otherwise. The ability to rationalize, to reason, and to promote higher thinking has often blinded humanity to the truth of their nature. In truth humanity is at times no better than the simpler, more savage beasts that share the same world. The difference in this is that those beasts of the field, sky, and water do not make the pretense at being anything other than what they are. This is the hubris of humanity, that its members would cloak themselves in imagined ideals such as civility and rationality.
So then what is it to be human? Countless philosophical debates have been held to determine what makes up the essence of humanity and where the origins of homo sapiens define the race as a whole. To date many think they have the answer yet few have truly ever brought a definitive idea to the table that is embraced by the many. That is among the essence of humanity, the diversity that is brought forth by differing factors that help to determine how each individual will choose to live their life. Humanity is not a boxed commodity, it is not an easily explained mass of mechanics and theoretical thought processes that can be easily classified and placed into any category. To be human is to be different, to challenge the norms, to conform to what is desirable and leave the rest, to be as difficult as possible in a simplistic way. There is no one set way to be human, only the certainty that humanity is and most likely always will be a quandary to themselves.
There are many qualities that make us human, both physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. In the physical sense we are bound by the sensations we perceive with our five senses, and if believed, the ubiquitous sixth. Perhaps one of the greatest quotes ever that covers this particular niche is spoken by actor Matt Doran during the movie The Matrix, when, as the
character named Mouse, he tells the main character, “To deny our own impulses is to deny what makes us human.” (The Matrix, 1999). Not only is this a very underrated sentiment, it is in effect a driving part of the movie and a very important aspect of humanity. As humans are bound to the flesh and bone forms they are given, this firmly cements at least one very important meaning to being human.
When considering the physical aspects the original thesis stand firm: being human is to exist. The physical nature of the race demands the simple, basic need to prove such a theory, as most organisms will do whatever it takes to survive. Humans are no different in that basic need, but have throughout history attempted to divine the how and the why of their existence, seeking deeper meaning hidden within and without their own experience. This search has gone on for thousands of years, eliciting an untold number of explanations, theological, psychological, and even spiritual debates as to origin, reasons for being on this world, and where the race might have truly come from.
It is perhaps the ego, rather than the id, that drives such beliefs and insists that humanity and all it means to be human is rooted in something far grander and more mysterious than the physical realm to which the species is bound. Among all creatures, the ego is nowhere near as strong nor as intricately developed as in humans. This is both beneficial as well as detrimental in that it can inspire humanity to great heights of wonder and impressive display. But it can have the opposite result as well, as ego can just as easily tear down what it creates. The balance between the ego and the id is a tenuous one that humanity very often seeks but too often misses.
Flashes of humanity’s vast and ever-reaching ego can be seen not only in the physical world where the species asserts so much dominance, but in the many workings that are created by human imagination, human hands, and human beliefs. Perhaps one of the greatest
expressions of humanity can be seen within the annals of film, book, and audio recordings that bombard billions of individuals every day. Were it not for the entertainment of the masses and the absolute need for humans to express themselves, the identity of the species might have a very different look to this day.
Alluding to the opening statement, the essence of humanity as caught in film is such that “Flesh is a trap, and magic sets us free.” (Lord of Illusions, 1995). There is no tangible connection as of yet to the spiritual side of mankind and the flesh that houses it, only the theory that it is an extension of sorts born of the ego, an erstwhile imagining that is otherwise bound by the chemical and physical responses in the human brain. If this is truth, then mankind is indeed trapped within the body, and the “magic” that binds us is no more than a genetically diverse network of physical connections that grant the illusion of something else, something more than what we can so plainly see.
There are so many beliefs, so many quotes, and so many ideals containing the ideals of what it means to be human that one might as well try to count the stars rather than list them all. Yet for all that human kind is bound by the physical form in which they are born, there is undoubtedly a variance within the essence of humanity that is not so easily explained by either mechanism or mentalist ideals. The ego and the id are observable facets of humanity that, while still not concrete ideals, offer a more down to earth and easily measured sense of humanity’s more realistic and therefore more rational definition. In divorcing imagination from the process of defining humanity it becomes far easier to define the species.
At the core, the most basic and fundamental of needs, desires, and innate habits and instinctive behaviors, humanity is in truth not so far above other creatures found within nature. Unfortunately, at times humanity is also far less evolved than other creatures, as among so many
humans are the only species that seeks to war with their own kind over matters that are not as valuable as resources and territory. Animals such as wolves, hunting cats, and many other similar creatures will vie with one another for territory and food, but will otherwise leave each other alone if not openly provoked. It is rare to see an animal in nature take up a vendetta with another creature simply out of spite, and even more rare to see entire species take after one another for anything other than their biological needs. This is where humans differ, and this is where the species falls short.
To be human is not only the physical and mental aspects of the race. Being human also has come to mean, sadly, that the ego often superseded the id, and allows others to make poor judgments based upon factors that have little if anything to do with the survival of the species. At one time mankind was no different than their fellow animals, and would fight for their place in this world and the food in their bellies. But when the rise of civilization came, so too did the rise of the human ego, and the need to find answers beyond the mere act of existing. With the rise of deities, religion, and other such ideals that stem from the ego came the need to defend those ideals, the desire to see those beliefs carried on and adopted by others. And thus did humanity go to war with itself not for food, or for land, but for ideals that did not feed the starving, nor shelter the homeless and poor. On top of all else, being human has become the illusion that an ideal is more important than life itself.
Not only are war and religion reflections of humanity’s desperate need to search for more beyond the basic needs of the species, but so too does technology act as a means of idealizing what is beyond the necessities of being classified as human. Human beings’ ability to dream, to look beyond what is known, is remarkable in that unlike other creatures it allows humans to think about the “what if” and not just the “what is”. In this regard it is easy to see just how the
ego has allowed the indulgence of the imagination to shape and mold the human world in the image it has taken today. A great many facets of human life have arisen from needs that are far from basic, but are instead a part of the ethereal ego and the many machinations that have been fabricated by the melding between mankind’s ego and the mechanist mindset that is never far from the species despite the fact that it is, at times, taken for granted.
In fact not all acts and products of greatness are entirely possible by the reaching and positive climb of the ego. In some cases, the essence of humanity is the need to excel because of fear. To better explain the following passage from the story titled Imposter by Phillip K. Dick is a rather poignant reminder of what drives humanity at times to excel and to create more imaginative and creative methods by which to insure that the way of life that has been devised will continue. The passage goes, “Perhaps at some other time, when there was no war, men might not act this way, hurrying an individual to his death because they were afraid.” (Dick, 1953). Fear is as strong a motivator as hope, love, and all other emotions that can influence the ego and therefore the machinations of mankind. It is perhaps at times even stronger than love, or hope, creating a desperation that is hard to ignore and easy to embrace as the only true hope.
There is a great deal to being human, and it is nothing that can be easily observed or measured within the confines of a lab, unless those who are seeking the ever-elusive meaning of humanity and its driving force are content to seek only the biochemical and otherwise physical answers. In the case of mankind being walking meat machines supported by a calcified skeletal structure, there is no doubt humanity’s inherent corporeal form or reality. Once the discussion of what it means to be human enters the realm of what cannot be seen, there is little truth to hold onto and much conjecture to be had. The magic trick begins in earnest the moment the human mind is cracked open like a prize to be discovered and sifted through, as through the mechanist
view much can be seen that serves as cause and effect. But when it comes to irrational behaviors, uncontrolled and unforeseen reactions, there is still much to be learned.
Much like a cartographer mapping the high seas neuroscience seeks to map out the essence of humanity by filling in the darker corners of the mental map to see what might lurk within the unknown regions. It is an attempt to divine what it is that truly sets us apart from the animals of the fields, and why humans are considered special in any way. Thus far the search has turned up a great deal of theory and hypothesis, and even some immutable truths, but it has yet to truly find that one undefined key that will lead to absolute revelation. The mystery is not enough for some, as they seek the wires behind the grand design, the end to the smoke and mirrors that is mankind’s ultimate trick. Human beings are meant to exist for a reason, yet despite many being offered as theory, no single one has been universally accepted by all.
There is no real mystery to humanity. At its core human kind is composed of a vast array of checks and balances that are set by both the body and mind to insure that survival from day to day is a goal that remains constant. No one organism will seek its own demise other than mankind, which argues that survival instincts are not the first priority of all humans, and thus begs the question as to why. That is where the mystery begins, though even this can at times be explained, the trick behind the unknown discovered and dissected so as to make it a known commodity rather than allow it to remain a mystery. Being human is a fine trick to be played on humanity, but in turn the species has learned how to look past the tricks to the gritty truth.
Being human is to exist, not just to survive. It is a state of being that has been foisted upon the human race for reasons that have yet to be fully understood. What is true is that the human race is here, and biologically has been tasked to survive, to thrive, and to push forward. Theologically, spiritually, and existentially, it’s still a magic trick, and one of the grandest of all.
Dick, Philip K. “Imposter.” Astounding Science Fiction June 1953. Print.
Lord of Illusions. Dir. Barker, Clive. Perf. Scott Bakula, Kevin J. O’Conner, and Joseph
Latimore. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1995. DVD.
The Matrix. Dir. Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie Fisher, and Hugo
Weaving. Warner Bros., 1999. DVD.