What Is Man…

Posted on May 5, 2014. Filed under: Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

…that you should even consider us, or our descendants that you would stay with them through the whole of time?  We are neither Deity nor Angel, yet, you have accorded us your utmost respect,” said the created to its Creator.

NOT A DIRECT QUOTE — like you couldn’t tell.  That is strictly my interpretation; for the original wording, you are directed to whatever language in which the poet wrote, or the King James Version of The Holy Bible (Psalms 8:4) which, itself, is an abridgement of the original, or to any one of about 6 different versions of the original original.  This is my blog, so, for the moment, you are stuck with my interpretation.

Your words for the day:

  • sentient = sensate; the state of being aware of input from the senses
  • self-aware = an entity’s knowledge that it is separate from everything around it
  • Life’s Prime Directive = every living thing shall attempt to bend circumstances and events (natural and behavioral) to further its own narrow interests in the struggle to survive one more day

Generally, religions concede that Man is of the most inconsequential status in comparison to Deity.  Yet, since Deity accords Man consideration, Man boasts that it is extra special and is the pinnacle of all creation.  With that self-anointing, other creatures are deigned to be totally worthless except to be put to work, eaten or converted into shoes.  Deity gives Man the Insignificant the widest latitude of respect, but, that honored piece of Cosmic flotsam cannot spare even a respectful appraisal, let alone decent treatment, of its fellow travelers through this tortured existence that not one living thing has asked for.

Humans (via The Great Learned) long shouted that only they are sentient.  All other creatures are biological automatons living out their meager lifespans in a dance of instinctive rote so that Man the Insignificant can pretend that it is Deity over them.  Only humans, so the mantra goes, had feelings about existence and could introspectively mull just what it all means.  Animals (everything not human) made cries of pain, but, that was just an instinctive reaction designed to help them live longer to serve Man the Insignificant just a little more.  And characterizing their wails and whimpers as evidence of self-pity was simply humanizing mere animal reaction.  Common folk who lived and worked with non-humans recognized and responded to this mutual inter-species communication.  But, the Great Learned, from the massive towers required to house their massively superior intelligences, just shook their heads and said, “Tut, tut” to the poor, less intelligent masses way down below.

Anyway, that was PLAN A.  Research over the past few decades have shown that many of the behavioral and intellectual traits of humans are shared by an awful lot of non-human beings.  The Great Learned has had to concede that many besides humans are, indeed, sentient.  Lest you think, however, that the Great Learned has admitted that the common masses of humanity are as smart, or even smarter, than they, behold…

The New and Improved PLAN B.  Slicing the “self-aware” implication from the term sentient, the Great Learned slapped a coat of paint on it, mounted it on wheels and gave it its own sitcom.  “Sure, other creatures can feel things just as we do, but, only humans can really think deep about it.”  Don’t think I’m making this up as I go:

  • Darwin, The Descent of Man… :  No animal is self-conscious…   on such matters as whence he comes or whither he will go, or what is life and death, and so forth.”
  • Marc Bekoff Ph. D., Psychology Today, http://www.psychologytoday.com/em/30619.  He said a lot, so I will summarize:  Some animals have self-awareness, there are degrees of self-awareness, more of a sense of mine-ness such as my scent, my buddy, my food;  he said just about as much as he could without saying that “animals have an innate sense of self.”  On the surface, it appears that scientists are embracing the new concepts when, in fact, for every inch of the old way they give up, they add 2 inches of hedging.

It has long been my personal conviction that any life form having to make at least one decision to maintain existence is sentient and self-aware, at least for the duration of that decision making.  The scope of that sentience may not be as grandiose as that experienced by Man the Insignificant (who, by the by, is so great that it can predict the end of the whole world in the far, far distant year of 2012), but, that entity must KNOW WHEN to make its single death-avoiding decision.  Doing it right when it is called for is often the factor allowing continued existence.  What is the point to being sensate if one cannot react in a timely and appropriate manner to the incoming information?  Why would one sidestep an imminent danger if one were not aware of a threat to its personal boundaries?

Sentience, like an object in sunlight, casts its own shadow — that of self-awareness.  Simply put, it means that a life-form receives input from its environment and recognizes that it comes from beyond its corporeal boundaries.  In response to Life’s Prime Directive, that informed entity attempts to maintain its distinctive boundary for as long as it can before its physical components succumb to re-absorption by the reality all around.

There is no point to being sentient without self-awareness, nor can there be self-awareness without being sensate.  It neither diminishes nor enhances the fact of my personal existence to hold that even one-celled animals possess self-awareness, at least to the degree that their available sensory input permits.

I am what I am, they are what they are.  No amount of superior intellectual acrobatics will change that.



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