Saturday, June 26, 2010

What's Human?

The start of a great idea happens on a blank page like this. You got to be blank to get that idea. How blank is anyone, by the way? Everyone has something going on in their life. A nagging trouble I mean. If not world politics, some local stories of unimportance. We can't get to a state of clean slate anytime. Then what's the point of this objective thinking. We can't get ourselves out of this muck of sensory inputs which pin us down to only a particular reference frame, may be a two or three for the intellects out there, but largely leaving us in quandary about the universe. About nature. About facts. Forget about Truth alright. There is disagreement on whether it exists as a singular or in multitude. There isn't any lab which would fix that. Not yet, I suppose.

Quandary as a child is an innocently cute act. You would get hugs and kisses from all the loved ones for the doubtful eyes you cast on any judgment. There is even an admiration about the various points of view you hold as a child, however stupid they seem to you now. I have seen parents getting together and admiring each others' children. It's a ritual of acceptance of their style of upbringing. As much as an architect seeking approval for the blue print he provides for a community hall. The blue print here is to understand this complex world which seemed too opaque to the earlier generations. To give them the benefit of doubt, I would assume that they had studied and determined the opacity of things. Their progenies would do the same. In different professions and of course expressing their helplessness in different gestures and mannerisms.

Objective thinking might require us to be insensitive, to keep cool, to be not affected by any emotions. I won't say a clean slate like mind. Just a different slate may be. Much like a dual switch between objectivity that doesn't hurt and a compromise that is life. I think irrationality plays as much role in life as rationality does. Between any two rational acts there may be countless irrational thoughts. Much like between two rational numbers there are many irrational ones. I am not sure if there is any single mind which hasn't even thought anything irrational before crossing it out as an impossibility. Our irrationality might be keeping us human in a sense. Could we tag beauty, love, hate, anger, contentment, pride, guilt and other feelings as rational? Is there a rational anger? There might be logical anger. Yet there might not be a logical love. May be a rational love? How insipid that would be? May be these feelings, call them irrationalities if you will, are as much needed as the bridges of rationality that we construct between truths or facts.

Cartesian thinking (originated from Rene Descartes) summed up in the phrase "I think therefore I am" is a very strong case for rationality. It led to successive thinkers to view the world in a Newtonian frame. That the universe is governed by definite laws. Without ambiguities. Then came quantum theory essentially multiple ( dual as of now) states of an object. I can't help notice the overlap ( of times but may be ideas too) in the rise and acceptance of Non-determinism and Existentialism in the Twentieth century. There might not be any connection but the irony of this overlap is interesting. In search for what's human and essentially for a purpose to our existence we have hit upon a quagmire of multitude. Confused multi-level parking lots. Each of us has a favorite spot there.

We stand on a slippery ground of rationality. And to hold ourselves together we need multiple supports. May be multiple constructs of truths. We might be accepting a few now, but what defines us as human would be an openness to accept others' truths. And this is a very difficult thing to do for collective societies.


BP said...

Why Being Wrong Makes Humans So Smart (

Musings of a wanderer said...

@ Praveen

Thanks for the interesting article!

Sravan said...

"I won't say a clean slate like mind. Just a different slate may be." Will a single slate be sufficient? Or a collage of all slates possible, "multiple references" as you called it.

"Objective thinking might require us to be insensitive, to keep cool, to be not affected by any emotions." Insensitive to what?

Is a person attempting objectivity, attempting to see the bigger picture insensitive to a small cross-section? Or being sensitive to humanity as a whole, the universe as a whole?

Musings of a wanderer said...


As you say, a single slate is never sufficient. Even a collage of them might not be. But I believe a single individual cannot have a 360 degree view of things. Though a well thought out intuition might be of help to acquire new slates in this collage.

Insensitive to his own emotions that might affect his assessment.

This is a difficult question to answer for me. By being insensitive to a small cross section one could be sensitive to humanity as a whole. This is a rare case I guess. Most of us are sensitive within our own limits. If being sensitive is a safe thing for us, we are. Sometimes we might bind being sensitive to being rational and sometimes to being irrational. We have to choose on a case by case basis. My idea was to give irrationality a chance. However, irrationality is defined. A chance to see the other half of one's thought.

I remember getting flayed for answering that one should be insensitive in a Moral Science class in school. I had the only impression that sensitive people weep! I was the only guy who gave an opposite answer in the class and almost got ostracized.