Sunday, May 22, 2022

On the Advantages of Being Human

I find it interesting that so many individual human beings think that
their purpose in life is to be individual. Now, to me, this is
impossible. Though a human's point of view seems naturally biased
towards imagining themselves as an individual, we are all the result of
a process, inexplicably connected to other processes. My point of view,
my particular, individual point of view, is tied to my unique sense of
the world, in and around me. It is also tied to my history, both my
personal history captured and saved in my memory, and my genetic
history, captured and saved in my genes and manifested in my body. It is
my genetic history, the result of a process of trial and error, survival
of changes that improved my chances of survival, that built my body,
including my brain, which is capable of observing and learning.

As an individual, my genes have come to me through a long process known
as evolution. My genetic knowledge has been built upon a heritage that
goes back over a billion years. So even at the very beginning of my
life, I owe my existence to a string of events that spans beyond my
comprehension; billions of choices, chances, and variations. At birth, I
owe my existence to a process completely outside my control, encoded in
a message that defines me in ways beyond my understanding.

How I perceive the world through my senses is the starting point of my
"individual" journey. My sense of who I am begins to take form, and "I"
begin to exist as my body discovers its relationship to the world around
it. But even here, my individual experience is guided by a long history
of "shared" learning. Shared learning is the lessons I learn through
modeling or imitating what other entities have learned. My genetic
traits have hard-wired my modeling ability, so it comes naturally. I not
only learn from direct experience, I learn from the experience of others.

Most importantly, as an infant I model communication skills, like
talking. I may have been born with some basic, genetic communications
skills (crying, laughing, eye contact), but my ability to learn from
others depends on the deeper communication skill of language. Initially,
I learn from watching and listening to others. As I get older, I was
presented with the skill of reading, the ability to learn from people
who live beyond my sensory world, and who may not even be living. I'm
not sure at what point "who I am" was based more on the lessons beyond
my own senses, but I would guess that happened some time around
adolescence. My world exploded as the lessons I learned from reading
easily exceeded those I could garnish from my "individual" experiences.
In fact, by now, my personal experiences were heavily influenced by the
learning I had gotten from the "virtual" experiences books had given me.

By the time I reached high school, I was no longer an "individual".
Rather, I was a process of learning, dominated by lessons, carefully
culled and passed on from the past. And the more I wanted to learn, the
more I surrendered to the process of culling the lessons of the past.
But how do we, as a species, decide what lessons to pass on? How do we
decide which lessons get the attention, energy, and commitment necessary
to keep them alive to pass on?

The scientific method is a process by which sensory experiences are
culled based on their shared perception. It is a process of
communication, a process that permits learned information to be passed
on to future generation.

To claim that I am an individual, and as such, need only make decisions
with my own, selfish interests in mind, is a rather narrow view of who I
am and how I got here. To think that I am even able to make decisions on
my own is a bit of an exaggeration. Certainly, I am responsible for my
own decisions, in that I am the one making the decisions. But those
decisions are overwhelmingly driven by my education, which is a
distilled version of the experience of millions of other human beings,
many long-since dead. Imagine the decisions I would make if I had never
learned to speak, had no way of communicating with others, never learned
the lessons passed on from generations past. I am responsible for my
decisions, and I take on that responsibility. But to say my decisions
are my own is a bit laughable. To deny the legacy passed on to me, both
genetically during the past billion years, and through teachings of the
past 100,000 years, is an arrogance that satisfies the small,
self-rewarding part of me that I know as my ego. I choose to be humble,
based on evidence that who I am is defined more by those before me than
on my own existence. I choose not to forget that who I am, and what I
accomplish, depends on a much larger process than my own experiences. I
acknowledge that my well-being is the result of a process of testing,
gathering, and remembering lessons, a process that has been going on for
over a billion years. I commit to feed this process, not just feed off
of this process, by giving back and contributing, rather than satisfying
my own ego and consuming and destroying, the very source of my well-being.