Humans, as a general rule, spend A LOT of time thinking about themselves. For crying out loud, there are entire branches of science dedicated to it! Anthropology, sociology, psychology, clinical psychiatry, neuroscience…. One could even argue that literature and philosophy are simply extensions of this ongoing self-centered thought process. And for what? Why do we as a species spend so much time trying to understand ourselves? This is a vexing question because, like all questions beginning with why, there is no straightforward answer, if any at all. Also, it’s not a question many people try to answer. (I feel quite comfortable making that generalization, though it is probably not completely true. No generalization ever is. That is why they are called generalizations.) I do not see any evolutionary benefit from spending so much time thinking about ourselves. Maybe we were more aware of our abilities and could fight off predators more easily. Maybe it is simply a result of our social behaviors, and, in order to put up with others, we tried to understand them. I don’t know.
What if all of this thinking was useless? What if it simply wasted our time? What if it didn’t matter who we are? Because, for better or for worse, we are who we are, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon. Understanding our nature won’t change it, and, in all actuality, it’s not likely that it would change the way we approach the world. I doubt that it would make humans more compassionate, more forgiving, more accepting.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that I still want to understand human nature. And I don’t know why. I just do. This is the really annoying and frustrating crux of the matter: as much as I believe that it would, in all probability, do absolutely nothing for the human race, I still want to waste my time figuring out what human nature actually is. Why? It makes no logical sense whatsoever. This is really quite frustrating. I keep coming back to that horrid “w” word with its ever elusive answer.
So, here’s what I do know: we are star dust. Carbon and hydrogen and some other scraps leftover from the birth of the sun. We are atoms and space held together in 100 trillion cells for awhile. And our birth, was the birth of the first atoms. They could have become so many, many other things at this very point in time, but didn’t; they became us. After our consciousness dies and our atoms disperse, they will become part of another life, and then another, and another. Life is dynamic, constantly creating and destroying and recreating itself.
Then again, anyone who has taken high school chem and bio could tell you that. What this means about human nature…..I don’t know. But the atoms that create our cells come from our food. If we are our atoms, then we are our food. Literally. Whether or not that makes us the “self-creating animal” or not, I feel is still up for debate. As Imogen said, the idea is very romantic, and it is an idea that I’ve struggled with for a while now. It is not so much the idea itself that bothers me, but it’s implications. This implies that unlike other animals, we are responsible for how we have turned out thus far. We are more accountable for our actions in a way. Everything we do is not necessarily for pure survival or evolution. It also implies that we are somewhat better than the other creatures. But that is not so. I would say that we are equals with door mice and dolphins, snakes and pandas. We are different, yes, but not better.