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What does it mean to be human?

What does it mean to be human?

Background

How we see ourselves is the foundation for our values, our choices, our relationships with each other, and our relationship with the rest of nature. We are asking what it means to be human from a place of free-spirited inquiry, as well as from a place that recognizes the connections between how we view ourselves and widespread economic uncertainty, democratic paralysis, struggle for democracy, and environmental degradation. Here, we offer a space for those who wish to take on a serious challenge: to critically examine the assumptions of ourselves and others regarding what it means to be human. Our Senior Scholars and Contributors weigh in. We invite you to join the conversation. 

Additional Contributors

Leslie Heywood

Precious, But Not Human

In October of 2001, our son was born with brain damage. The scan of his brain had so many light patches it looked like the cheese cloth we used to separate the berries from the juice when my mother, … Full Response ›
Leslie Heywood, Professor - The State University of New York at Binghamton
Alastair McIntosh

The Moon and Jangularity

It was late on a Sunday evening, the end of a summer’s day, and I was travelling home with my wife. Thin shimmers of mist drifted like skeins of bleached yarn just a few feet over the moorland … Full Response ›
Alastair McIntosh, Visiting Professor - University of Strathclyde
Paul Waldau

Coming Home to Our Animality

Because humans are vision-dominated primates, there is plausibility in the common axiom that “a picture is worth a thousand words”—so I begin by noting one picture of “what it … Full Response ›
Paul Waldau, Associate Professor - Canisius College
David Abram

On Being Human in a More-Than-Human World

I have fallen in love outward.—Robinson Jeffers, “The Tower Beyond Tragedy” Over the last two decades, as I’ve spoken with students and addressed diverse audiences regarding … Full Response ›
David Abram, Founder and Creative Director - The Alliance for Wild Ethics
Timothy B. Leduc

A Thanksgiving Species

“What is it to be human?” There is something deeply mysterious at the core of this question that makes definitive and universal answers seem at best naive and at worst lacking in humility. … Full Response ›
Timothy B. Leduc, Assistant Professor - York University
Dianne Dumanoski

The Survivor's Tale

We find ourselves confronting the unthinkable. Ominous trends continue to accelerate while decades have been lost to debate and inaction. The relentless expansion of modern industrial civilization is … Full Response ›
Dianne Dumanoski, Environmental Journalist
Brian Swimme
Mary Evelyn Tucker
Joint Response

An Integrating Story for a Sustainable Future: A Way toward New Human-Earth Relations

We know that the obstacles to the sustainable development and flourishing of life’s ecosystems are considerable. To meet these challenges, the next stage of evolutionary history will require an … Full Response ›
Brian Swimme, Director, Center for the Story of the Universe; Professor, California Institute of Integral Studies
Mary Evelyn Tucker, Senior Lecturer & Research Scholar | Co-Director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology - Yale
Stephan Harding

What Does it Mean to be Human?

We humans are an exceptional species in at least two respects. We have access to several levels or modes of consciousness, and we have immense freedom of choice—we can decide to make all sorts … Full Response ›
Stephan Harding, Resident Ecologist and MSc Coordinator - Schumacher College
Eva Jablonka

Human Experiencing

 I recently read an anecdote about Frances Yates, the great English historian of dreams. Oswyn Murray describes how he met her in Duke Humfrey's library, the oldest part of the Bodlean library in … Full Response ›
Eva Jablonka, Professor - Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel-Aviv
Michael Dowd

Honoring Our Inner and Outer Nature

To be fully human in the 21st century is to celebrate the fact that we are an expression of a multi-billion-year process of creativity, that we are related to all life, and that our Great Work is … Full Response ›
Michael Dowd, Sustainability Activist, Big History Evangelist
Anne Primavesi

What Does it Mean to be Human Today?

There are as many ways of relating to the world as there are individual human beings. These ways of relating appear to fall into two main categories. The first— most prevalent today—aims … Full Response ›
Anne Primavesi, Fellow of the Westar Institute and Jesus Seminar - Willamette University
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Join the Conversation (52)

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Mary, I love your essay. Thanks for having the courage to speak your truth. At times, I make the mistake of attacking what we know as "science" too directly. When I talk of the need for transdisciplinarity, it generally is ignored. Specialization is a score of 800 pound gorillas ... Read More
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I absolutely agree that human nature is tied closely to our ability to shift states of consciousness. Our ability to grow and shift our conscious awareness is, as far as we know, unique to humans. But the Consciousness theorist are telling us that identity with the ecological self or Nature is ... Read More
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Thanks, Audrey. Stay tuned for a forthcoming Question for a Resilient Future-- Mind and morality: where do they meet? Read More
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oh, and TOUCH, such as HUUGS, releases Oxytocin in our human bodies.
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what it means to be human.....
to live for someone else, to strive for greatness yet give up everything in an instant for that person. to reproduce, and love an innocent creation. it is natural to feel accomplishment in life when you help another person. life has meaning when you LOVE. ... Read Morecompassion ...

understanding the human mind and body is to feel the connection between the earth/nature and human beings....how the earth and gravitational shifts changes us. the cause and effect, the changes that occur in our minds and bodies, with our emotions due to changes in mother nature...to gain a sense of wellness within oneself, self evaluation, the ability to be in control of your emotions. knowing and understanding that the connection of one human being to another through physical touch is needed to survive when we enter this life as infants. without that connection, without that touch sending feelings of comfort that another life is there to guide, love, and protect you . knowing what it is to BE human, and how powerful and amazing our minds and bodies are; how they adapt through environmental changes. WE are amazing beings.
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This is a fascinating concept that would be very important in our understanding of human nature. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it. Would you say that humans and our cultures evolve separately through both genes and memes? What puzzles me is how we expect a newborn to become an ... Read More
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Becoming a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer's or other dementia related illnesses is a powerful way to learn what it means to be human. No words, no rational, no intellectualizing, only the knowing of what it means to be human when compassion, human kindness and dignity become the way to ... Read Morehelp our loved ones live the last stages of their lives..and to know whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves.
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Frances is a wonderful poet and writer who has done marvelous programs for those providing care to loved ones living with dementia, helping them express their joy and pain through creative writing. Bravo.

This might be of interest. I have just come across a very innovative dementia ... Read Morecare model at the Beatitudes Campus in Phoenix. Check it out: http://www.beatitudescampus.org/health-services/memory-support/

Another one of my favorite writers, the late Tom Kitwood, said something along similar lines to what Frances has said. Kitwood wrote in his book Dementia Reconsidered: “Above all else, the reconsideration of dementia invites us to a fresh understanding of what it is to be a person. The prevailing emphasis on individuality and autonomy is radically called into question, and our true interdependence comes to light. …Reason is taken off the pedestal...; we reclaim our nature as sentient and social beings. Thus from what might seem like the most unlikely quarter, there may yet emerge a well-spring of energy and compassion.”
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We are a species that has distinguished ourselves from other animal forms by our store of information that can be used so that we survive to reach our evolutionary potential, and hand on our store of information to our successors.
Before we started using fire and flints, we were a smart ... Read Moreanimal. But our learning, and particularly the means of storing information we have developed, have made is into something different. We not only know what we want, but we can work out the consequences of getting it. In principle we can learn to behave in a manner that puts intelligent survival first, and continues to learn how to achieve it.
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E. O. Wilson in his book, Consilience talks about how we are drowning in data while starving for wisdom. How do you separate the two?
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Long back Freud mentioned about narcissism. It seems that narcissism works as a primal force that individually and collectively makes us oblivious to our shortcomings. Madame is on dot when she worries about such a trend. The only solace that I can derive is from a hypothesis of Arthur Koestler who ... Read More
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I agree that explorations into the nature of narcissism are key to understanding ourselves. One book I have found fascinating to this end is: Zero Degrees of Empathy by Simon Baron-Cohen (Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at Cambridge). I think I too will start to tap into your ... Read More
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In my family I am the scientific “runt of the litter,” so a number of the arguments made this week before the Supreme Court in the case of "Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics" were beyond my comprehension. However, it was clear to me that the holding in ... Read Morethis case could have far-reaching implications for the Center’s question “What does it mean to be human?”

A great many of the justices’ questions to counsel related to the impact that a prohibition on the patenting of human genes would have on scientific research and (frequently marketable) innovations. The plaintiff corporation, already the holder of patents or licenses on seven genes, argued that failure to protect the patenting of genes would have a profoundly negative effect on research and creativity. Their argument is not frivolous. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has already granted more than 4,000 patents to universities and corporations as well as to others who have invested in decoding certain genes.

As the justices grappled with these significant questions, I was reminded of a discussion regarding genetic patenting among a relatively small group of participants at the Chatauqua Institution in upstate New York a few years ago. A startling handout featured a genetically engineered “humanzee,” a being part human-like and part chimpanzee-like. It had undeniable appeal in that, although it was not identifiably “human,” it nevertheless had the capacity to perform all sorts of tasks most humans find unpleasant......for example, cleaning toilets, pumping septic systems, and killing other beings in battle.

A “humanzee” would be, in effect, a sort of subclass of living being that would not have the capacity for self reflection and analysis that characterizes humans, but that could nevertheless perform tasks humans usually undertake with reluctance.

This week the justices appeared to be searching to find a compromise solution.....one that protects innovation but avoids granting patent rights to those persons, institutions, and corporations that isolate parts of DNA which already exist and are found circulating freely in the blood. In short, if nature made it, rather than the inventor, then it can’t be patented.

But nature didn’t make a “humanzee.” Would the innovation of a “humanzee” therefore be patentable, and if so, by whom? Leaving aside the toilets and sewers, who could have the patent on a class of slave-like beings, or on a quasi-human army? As the court deliberates the delicate differences between DNA and cDNA in an appropriate effort to protect innovation, we can only hope that in making their distinctions the justices give thoughtful consideration to "what" may be innovated (and therefore presumably be patentable). It is sobering to contemplate a ”Myriad” spending billions of dollars to successfully develop a useful (if only partly human) species being rewarded with a patent for their innovation.....and then feared for the staggering power of the creations they own.
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Thank you for bringing such a timely example of the importance of this Question to the discussion.

Your reflection provokes thought not only on the question of what it means to be human, but also calls up the ethical implications of any attempt to answer it. By no means a trivial ... Read Moreundertaking! And one that--the more I grapple with--feels very much like peering down a constantly rotating kaleidoscope.
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ok then what do you guys think it means to be human?
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Self in relation to other—the terrifying, strange "other" and (that which may also become) the sacred "other." That is a line of thought I have been personally exploring lately.

As for the Center as a whole, we share a "Manifesto" that we created ... Read Moretogether that reflects our beliefs—our starting point for our work so to speak. See here: humansandnature.org/manifesto

A couple other things....This past weekend the Center co-sponsored the Geography of Hope conference in Point Reyes, California. We spent the weekend thinking about Leopold's ideas, and one of Leopold’s ideas that resurfaced—and we re-explored many times—was this: “There are two things that interest me: the relation of people to each other, and the relation of people to land.” We will have videos and podcasts from this meeting posted as soon as we can so that you—and all our readers—can join in this dialogue as well.

I very much agree with you about the importance of maintaining openness to the unfolding of life. I have thought—at various times and stages in my life—that I had life "figured out." I have now come to where I do not expect to feel that certainty again, but embrace what our founder, Strachan Donnelley called, an "ignorance worldview."

Hey, Paul, thanks for asking. :0)
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Thanks, Brooke. I'll look that up. Frans de Waal has written several books on the topic from a primatology/biologist perspective, and Robert Sapolsky has a powerful TED talk on the topic. I recently submitted an article to Orion on the topic of how sustainability may require our ... Read More
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I would love to read your article (and I bet our other readers here would too). Keep us posted on its publication! I will check out the Robert Sapolsky TED talk. Thanks! Read More
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To be human, is to be incomplete.
If humans were complete, then what’s the point of our existence? Humans are born with a goal in life, we are not told that goal, and we are left to seek it. Some choose to pursue this journey. Some, well they chose to take life for granted. ... Read MoreSome are just blinded by other things in life, like love.

Some think our goal in life is to find that other half to “complete us”. Some think it is to be smart and successful. Some well, they are just clueless and live life as it comes. Out of those 3 who do you think will live there life to its full potential? Honestly, it’s the third.

If you live for one purpose, what’s the point of living? All you’re doing is taking the same journey over and over again. Face it, no one is perfect, no one has a soul mate. Yes there are others that you can relate to on thousands of agendas, but there’s never “the one”, yes people fall in love all the time. Everyone does it, everybody denies it as well. No one likes to admit the fact that they have been heartbroken, but it’s just a way of life. Humans are drawn in by lust not love. The truth is that everyone judges everyone. There no denying it, it’s the manner of life. The statement that no one actually pays attention to the personality of their other half is quite sad.

Humans are very intelligent beings. But not all of us choose to use or full brain capacity for two reasons. Afraid they will get ridiculed and because they are simply too lazy. Some people are outstandingly intellectual, but they don’t chose to live for a successful life, they choose to have a fun life, and live it how they want to. Some humans chose to change themselves and be a fake just to fit in, even if they feel terrible about themselves doing so. Honestly, these types of people are a waste of time. The only time you should spend on these people are to either snap them out of there sheep like behaviour or to tell them there wasting their life by living it as someone else.

Living as someone else, where’s the fun in that. There is none, and to the people who find it fun, to let their lives be lived by others, seriously has something wrong with them. True friends won’t ridicule you for how you look. Yes, if you look stupid there going to make fun but not make you feel unwanted.

Humans have the power to make a difference in the world, and do something good for the earth. But humanity is filled with selfish, greedy and ungrateful people, who only do what they want when they want, just using their existence for their benefit. Not helping others with small, non-time wasting problems.

Humans also have the power to create life. Some abuse this power, some don’t. When a child is born, part of your life style is put into them. If you live in small house, low budget, no doubt you’ll carry on that life style. If you’re rich have a huge house, have all the funding you possibly need, you’re going to carry on that life style. But neither of them are a good life style for multiple reasons. If a person that was brought up with everything they possibly desired, and lost it all they wouldn’t know where to start to regain their fall.

One other thing that humans are capable of, but are unaware that there doing so is destruction. Each day humanity does it part to destroy the earth. This maybe by bombing countries, deforestation, and pollution etc. Amidst all this destruction happening, there are some that dedicate their lives to saving the earth. We take this graceful land for granted. We treat it like a child that treats an old toy.

So is humanity a blessing, or a burden? What’s the point of our existence? What is our journey in life? One simple answer, no one knows. The day that the humankind finds out the answers to these questions, is the day that the whole of the humankind will truly corrupt, and all will be lost.
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I feel that Paul Waldau's approach to looking at what it means to be human is quite productive. In large systems thinking, to be truly scientific, one must acknowledge the biases of the observer. In looking at human nature, we are all biased in various directions, but our very nature may ... Read More
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Earon, if you have not read it already...I think you would enjoy "Moral Origins" by Christopher Boehm (published in July 2012). I just finished it. Boehm gives extraordinary insight into the evolution of altruism and cooperation, making the case that it is a clear mistake to think of ... Read More
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Humans no longer fit to the Darwinian theory, which recognized only random mutation as part of the evolutionary process.

Humans are now able to self-mutate at the level of genes.

This puts them outside the naturally evolving biologic systems described and theorized by ... Read MoreDarwin. And, indeed, outside those of all other living organisms in the known universe.

Do we need a new theory of evolution? Or have humans become a new "boundary" (as per Steffens et al in Anthropocene article) in planetary systems?
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Once again, David Abrams' lyrical prose brings to the forefront the small wonders of the natural world. This post made me think of a quote by Henry Beston: "We need another and a wiser and perhaps more mystical concept of animals...We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their ... Read More
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“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery ... Read More
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Jac, thank you for your comment. The Einstein quote you offer here also embodies the raison d'etre for the Center for Humans and Nature--never stop questioning. Thanks for "thinking here" with us. Read More
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We tell stories. Some are true, most are not. We are only marginally adept at telling the difference. Science is an attempt at a system to get the story right. It sometimes works. Lies (in a broad sense) are not less interesting and certainly not less useful than true stories. They help us attract ... Read Moremates, maintain social cohesion and allow us to feel good about ourselves. From deviousness to entertainment to bull (an old Norse word meaning gibberish and not its homonym meaning male bovine, the confusion of the two having resulted in the term "bullshit", which is actually a stronger term - see, I told a story), telling untrue stories has resulted in development of our imaginations, whether by biological or cultural evolution. Our developed imaginations give us the ability to anticipate the future, to predict, but not to do much about it, as in the case of climate change. Sometimes, the things we imagine and stories we tell promote positive social development and technological progress, sometimes the outcomes are negative. Many instances of both can be found, for example in our dealings with the rest of nature. Telling stories about things getting better does not mean that they will get better, but it might be a necessary precondition.
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Thank you for your comment, Throstur. It reminds me of a quote I just saw on the website, lastwordonnothing.com:
"Science says the first word on everything, and the last word on nothing" – Victor Hugo
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I connect most closely and keenly with this conversation where Stephan Harding lays out Arne Naess's definition of the "ecological self:"

"…the ecological self is not only the human self—it is also the Self or soul of the world, the anima mundi, that ... Read Moreawakens us to our full humanity when we know, palpably, in our very bones, that there is a selfhood far vaster than our own in which we live and have our being, and to which we are ultimately accountable. "

Stephan goes on to write:

"Experiencing our full humanity requires us to attenuate our self-centeredness by enfolding it within a much wider sense of self in which we experience genuine love and compassion for all beings, both living and non-living. There are many names for this wider, deeper self, which is our deepest level of consciousness. My preference is for Arne Naess’s term ecological self because it suggests that the wider self is not some insubstantial, ethereal intellectualization, but rather deeply rooted in the very materiality of our planet—in its teeming biodiversity, its ancient crumpled continents, its swirling atmosphere, and the depths and shallows of its lakes, rivers, and oceans."

I would add that many people in virtually all times and cultures have been aware of the co-existence of what might be called a "subtle ecology" that nests seamlessly into and nurtures the deeply rooted "materiality of our planet."

I believe it is possible to attune to and work with the living energies that comprise this more subtle ecological dimension. Some have conceptualized these energies as actual entities, as the Findhorn Community in Scotland famously has done, for example, seeing them as nature spirits and devas; sentient patterns of awareness and power that help maintain life on and in the land, water, and air.

My recent memoir, A Country Where All Colors Are Sacred and Alive (Lorian Press, 2012) is an account of non-ordinary, anomalous experiences which have opened my mind to the breadth of our human potential as integral aspects of the "ecological self." Such experiences have alerted me to the possibility of consciously collaborating with nature to support and strengthen environmental harmony. Referencing scientific studies that support this possibility, and sharing related stories,poems, and songs, I echo the notion of an ecological self, and further propose that our human natures are embedded in the natural environment in material and subtle ways that render the planet more responsive to our love and partnership than we may have imagined.

Many of us have experiences that point toward a more holistic, interconnected Reality than we normally perceive. Episodes of telepathy, spontaneous healings, confirmed intuitions, precogni­tion,, attunement to nonphysical beings, the amazing precision of skilled dowsing, nonlocal awareness of a distant place which proves to be accurate, or communion with the natural world--all these can expand our understanding of what is humanly possible for us and remind us of an undivided spiritual dimension of ourselves.

The question "What does it means to be human?" could be fruitfully paired with a question that is perhaps more fundamental, namely, "What is a human being?" What is our full scope?

My memoir describes my continuing education in subtle experiences, which can make us more aware of a dimension of interconnected oneness, and empower us to step forward into more conscious, collaborative relationships with the sentient energies of nature. I believe that these relationships can contribute to environmental harmony right now, and may help downscale our climatic predicament in days to come.

A little about the inception and writing of this book:

In 2010, I began to wonder how many non-ordinary experiences I’d had could be confirmed by subsequent events, or verified by the observations of others who were present with me,or which were otherwise not strictly subjective, but at least partially founded in tangible, external phenomena. I decided to compile a chronological memoir of such experiences, supplementing them with relevant anecdotes and reflections.

Over a period of about a year, I primed the pump of my memory and collected a journal full of such stories, to which I added a number of others about off-the-chart synchronicities and instances of what some researchers into the anomalous call “High Strangeness.” Certain vivid episodes of energies sensed in wilderness,or at ancient ceremonial and burial sites, got grandfathered in,though decidedly more subjective in character than other tales.Several unusual incidents occurred over the year which I appended to this collection, and here and there I threw in an original poem or song lyric which called for inclusion. Gradually, a kind of patchwork parapsychological-autobiographical quilt emerged.

Not all of these narratives are descriptive of communions with nature. As they accumulated, I saw that many of them are simply accounts of small moments of extrasensory insight. Taken all together, however, they paint an expansive picture of a responsive universe, one in which we synergistically “interbe” with the natural world and each other.

The book presents a vision supportive of the thesis that we can nurture the natural world through meditation, prayer, blessing, positive intention, loving presence, mindful ritual, celebration, song, dance, and other expressions of joyful creativity. In setting forth this vision, I share formative learnings from my time working at the noted Findhorn Community gardens in Scotland, and an array of other stories about cooperative communion with nature.

In the frightening face of all we read and observe about climate change, A Country Where All Colors Are Sacred and Alive offers an important and heartening message: yes, political and grassroots action is absolutely essential for the protection of our environment, but so is what American spiritual teacher and author David Spangler calls “subtle activism.”

I have addressed community health and environmental issues for thirty-five years, working as a community organizer in Georgia and Arkansas, engaged with others in anti-nuclear research and activism,and co-authoring a book about natural forms of radiation protection.  Most recently I've joined the growing number of people working to alert the public and public health officials to the environmental hazards of “fracking” for subterranean natural gas deposits. I'm convinced that we can help sustain and restore environmental harmony through our loving interactions with the natural world in a way that complements such necessary grassroots and political activism.
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Somewhat paradoxically, I often find myself ecologically aligned in the sterile environment of my laboratory, studying bacteria.

Focusing on what Blake would call a "wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie" reveals its fractal complexity and beauty. Comparing a single ... Read More
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That wee, sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie" appears in Robert Burns, "To a Mouse," not Blake. But Blake might offer a similar vision of "fractal complexity" in, say, "Auguries of Innocence." Read More
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I love your Blake reference. Your comment resonates with a book I am reading right now that you might also enjoy (if you have not read it already): The Forest Unseen by David Haskell. Read More
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Dear Ceara and Aidan, thank you for the wonderful feedback. Ceara I especially agree that it is our "limit experiences," those that touch upon life and death, that jolt us out of our ordinary complacency and tendency toward abstraction, as if being human were primarily a cognitive ... Read More
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This is unbelievably profound and powerful. Thank you so much for sharing your story, for making all of us think, and think some more, about what it means to be human. Read More
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Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this most personal story and the thoughtful conclusions it helped you draw as your intense emotion, so much a part of the human experience, collided with your deepest rationality, an equally strong part of humanity. I think it is impossible to reflect upon... Read More
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Being a Tree

To be human is not to be a tree.

I must have been seven, spring, 1958; our car was a Nash; Dad was filling the tank. Pulling the door latch, I sidled around to stand near, my head just above the fuel cap.
"Don't come close," he ... Read Moreordered.
"I like the smell."
"It's poison!" he said, pushing me away. "Damages the brain."
"Then why do you use it? Everyone breathes it when it goes into the air."
"Trees clean the air, through their leaves."
When we drove on, trees glided by. One, twenty, seven hundred. Cars came toward us. One, two, forty, three hundred. Days and weeks of cars.
"Daddy, don't trees get sick?"
"They breathe different stuff than we do, carbon dioxide, and they give us oxygen."
"So the smell is carbon dioxide?"
"No. It's lead; trees collect the bad stuff in their needles and leaves, but they turn the CO2 into oxygen for us to breathe."
Poison in their needles. Trees were many, but they could die; I had seen trees dead. Where in their needles would the lead go?

To be adult is not to be a child.

Decades later I remembered those trees. No rain the summer I was pregnant with my second. The earth congealed and cracked. Lining the drive north were sickening trees. The southern edge of the pine forest seemed to fall, the trees closest the freeway anemic. Whole swamps stood with bare tamarack and spruce. Could my driving be causing this drought?
An earth of dying trees is no place for young life.
In the city, boulevard saplings dropped their leaves. Crazed by my audacious pregnancy in time of drought, I loaded my two-year old and a bucket onto a wagon and pulled them along the sidewalk, dumping half a pail of water at the base of each trunk. Passers-by asked if I should be lifting water in my condition. My condition? What more essential in pregnancy than the watering of trees?

By the early 90s the world had spun out of control. Winter did not settle into its time. Young birches died, crown down. Army worms chomped leaves in a speeded-up cycle, no winter freeze snapping the world clean. The uncovered earth offered small creatures no where to hide, no snow to burrow beneath.

Does only a child of the forest know that people and trees are close kin?

Elsewhere the message was other. Trees are resources. Renewable. Trees, like owls and beaver and snowdrops, are for the pleasure of man. Humans reason, humans speak, humans have opposable thumbs. Humans, the teachers and textbooks assured, are different, above.
Walking among trees teaches that we are together. We are individual and one. All of us, one and alone.

Through those 90s and early 00s, incipient insanity woke me each morning. Seasons had slipped. Seed-time and harvest could no longer rock the nursery of life with a regular planting then picking, planting then picking. White pines yellowed; moose lost life to liver fluke. And no one, no human, screamed. People waved greetings: "Another beautiful day! Can you believe this excellent winter?!"

Could it be human not to feel gut-connected with life? Is awareness only a matter of disposition and chance?

My five-year old son pinched spruce sprigs from branches, laid them one-by-one into a stream that ran through moss and cedar trunks, over the rocks, into the lake. The sprigs sputtered out sap that propelled them wildly in circles, motored by a pitchy fuel. He set one twig afloat and another.
"Now stop," I told him. "Ask the tree. Ask the tree if you can take yet another."
"Trees don't talk," he replied in his best adult voice.
"Ask anyway."
He faced the tree and moved his lips, nodded, then pulled down a sap twig. It riffed off on a watery ride. He turned to the tree. Paused. Asked again. Spun toward me dismayed—"It said no!"
We walked home.

This is an academic journal. I cannot write here that trees and humans are one. I cannot tell you that together we speak.

A winter ago, pondering my daughter’s life, I walked to a scraggly, crowded part of the woods, plopped down in the snow, leaned into a hefty white pine. After some moments, I felt the massive trunk moving against my back. Looking up, I saw the top swaying, just so much, bending to wind. I spoke to the tree.
"Will you watch over my daughter? When I am gone, will you keep standing here, caring somehow for my girl?"
I didn't expect words from the tree, but they came.

"If you will take care of mine."

Young pines rarely thrive in crowded woods; cones don't open without flame. Still, I stood and searched for an unlikely child of this tree. To the east, behind a young fir, hemmed in by two scrappy poplars, stood a slender white pine, crowded and gasping, but there.

After we buried my father this fall, my nephew walked with me to the woods. "We'll cut down the fir," I told him, "the two poplars, and even the birch that's too close. We're going to give this pine space." We did it, cut them all down.

To be human is not to be a tree.
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i have a question how does thnksgiving relate to human nature Read More
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We'd love to hear your thoughts on the relationship between thanksgiving and human nature. In the meantime, check out Michael Dowd's essay "Honoring Our Inner and Outer Nature."

http://www.humansandnature.org/to-be-human---michael-dowd-response-24.php Read More
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I agree that there is a productive tension in the exchange above. On one hand, the scientist asks how the intersection of culture and genes can give us more information about ourselves, hence more control over our problematic collective behaviour. Yet on the other, the philosopher correctly ... Read More
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David, I enjoyed your comments. I hope that we humans are able to use our connections with nature to calm down our consumerist frenzy and our fear-driven ideologies. That is, before our relationship becomes predominantly one of mourning for the losses that we humans have already set in motion.
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In much of the discourse regarding humans and nature, there is little mention about human nature. When it does make an appearance, it is often received with suspicion. One of the wnderful things of evolutionary theory is that it presents a story of the kinship of life. We are all related. Sooner ... Read More
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We at the Center are deeply interested in human nature. Stay tuned for more Questions exploring this important area! Read More
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" before genes there was evolution without replicators." you say.

You may like our paper

"Evolution before genes", but which has holistic replicators not template ones.

Cheers,
Chrisantha

... Read More
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It is an honor to have Mary Midgley associated with this project. Her independent voice is as on-target today as it has been in the past. Her essay emphasizes the hubris that can be associated with both science and religion, when humility is required. It is interesting to note, however, that both ... Read More
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For the most part, the action that is needed is the withdrawal of our suffocating boot on Nature. Forest areas that are no longer grazed by livestock recover amazingly. But to release our boot on Nature, we perhaps need to achieve veganism as the normative behavior, the kind of renunciation and ... Read More
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There is a breath of fresh air in these papers that arises from the fact that rather than dwelling on environmental or climatic crises as some kind of external phenomena, they more accurately depict these crises as functions of human ways of relating to the world. The Midgley and Wilson articles ... Read More
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Your suggestion of Co-operativeness or Super-Sociality (developed through Group Selection) as the genuinely unique Mark of Man – the main source of our strange extension worldwide - delights me. I had almost given up hope of finding any such single mark that accounted so well for the odd fate... Read More
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As a new parent, my husband and I have challenged ourselves to be more conscious of our relationship with nature and how we foster a love of the environment for our daughter at an early age. Throughout her youth, I want to strive to be more deliberate in the plans we make as a family and how our ... Read Moreadventures and conversations impact the world in which we live.

We absolutely do not have it figured out yet, but look forward to revisiting the site often to weigh in with our experiences and insights as individuals and as a family!
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Having children. I can't think of anything that has challenged me more to think about what it means to be human. I often ask myself...how should we relate to one another? How can we / should we relate to the non-human world?

Stay tuned for an essay (coming soon!) from Leslie ... Read MoreHeywood that will challenge all of us......and perhaps particularly those of us who are parents.
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Beautiful, very true, and really important... Read More
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Thank your to sharing your connection to these ideas. What I find most compelling about Stephan Harding's essay is the concept of the ecological self. He presents one way of cultivating an ecologically conscious worldview by immersing oneself in the natural environment. It would be useful, ... Read More
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