Some basic Questions
Here are a few basic questions from the study page:
- Can we identify a set of shared tendencies/behaviors/traits that all/most humans share across time and culture?
- How do our shared human qualities affect the way that we interact with each other?
- How does the concept of human nature apply to who we are as individuals?
- How can human nature be distinguished from animal nature?
- To what degree can we attribute our behavior to inherent biological or external cultural factors?
- Can we identify a set of shared tendencies/behaviors/traits that all/most humans share across time and culture? Here are several to begin with: creation of religion, use of logic/rationality, use of written language, creation of the arts, tendency to subjugate others or bend them to our purposes, use of force to get what we want, use of cooperation to get what we want, formation of groups, creation of us vs them dynamic with groups we aren’t a part of . Some of these are also shared with animals.
2. How do our shared human qualities affect the way that we interact with each other?
I think the most important answer to this question relates to the formation of the us vs them dynamic. Human beings tend to form groups and to want to be a recognized part of a community. This can be very healthy for us as individuals (being part of a group) This effects the way we interact in two ways. First if we are trying to be part of a group we take on the behaviors of the group we want to belong to and appeal to members of the group for acceptance. Secondly if we see ourselves as part of a group we may interact with members of another group in a negative way trying to keep them out of our group or to deny the other group resources. We see this behavior in the fear and anger people have towards immigrants.
3. How does the concept of human nature apply to who we are as individuals?
This is one of my favorite questions. As an artist and associate professor at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth Texas, my job is to help students understand their individual nature in the context of a curriculum/dialog established by a wider community. I can see that individuals have the potential to develop there own sensibility. The idea of human nature if we apply it in an inclusive way means that what anyone does is part of human nature. Because of this, the concept of human nature is ever expanding as human beings demonstrate increasingly developed or novel behavior over time. One example of this is the invention of new ways of making art and new approaches to being artists. So the question becomes: “What is your nature?” and “How does that nature relate to the nature of other individuals and groups from our time and from history?” I view human nature as an open possibility in terms of nuance or variation on established themes and behaviors we have seen since the beginning of Homo sapiens.
4. How can human nature be distinguished from animal nature?
It is clear that we share a lot with our animal relatives. We all have physical needs for survival and many animals form social groups. I think anyone with a pet knows that animals have emotions and emotional attachments. Animals develop ways to get what they want and humans do the same. As mentioned in my answer to #1 the use of written language, the formation of organized religion and the creation of the arts are three areas that I believe are unique to human beings. Also our ability to reason and to deal with abstract concepts such as mathematics are human traits. (That doesn’t mean we are less human if we struggle with math.)
5. To what degree can we attribute our behavior to inherent biological or external cultural factors?
My take on this is that for most of us the cultural factors play a determining role in our behavior. Our individual behavior is influenced by our inherited biology which predisposes us, to some degree, toward certain behaviors. If you imagine that these inherited tendencies can be rated on a scale of 1-100 most of us would have tendencies that are somewhere between 30 and 70 with 30 being a lower tendency to engage in a behavior and 70 being higher. In other words most of us have an average tendency to engage in any given behavior. Because of the power of learned behavior, habits and environments enforced on us or by us as we become part of a society, these can actually turn on and off some of our genetically given tendencies (epigenetics) and condition other innately generated behavioral tendencies. There are some however that have higher levels of genetically inherited tendencies who are unable to use cultural or even rational forces to control their behaviors. I would welcome the response of more educated minds to this question. Especially those with specific knowledge of human behavioral science.
It is hard to answer all 5 of these questions separately, as they all end up relating to each other. So I will touch on bits and pieces of all 5 questions about human nature here. First and foremost, we have to have a concept of what makes us specifically human. Yes, it may be biological factors, but mostly it is what is happening in our minds. And, in order to understand what is happening in our minds, we must have a theory of that. For me in particular, that is consciousness and our ability to think about our own thoughts. The certain theory of consciousness that I follow is called Higher-Order-Thought (HOT) Theory, which on a basic level states that one is conscious when they become aware of their own thoughts, desires, etc. Many believe that being conscious and aware of own’s one thoughts does not only occur in humans but other animals, so it must not be what makes us human.
I do argue that what I call cognitive consciousness is something that only occurs in humans and is what makes us human. This is being conscious about specifically our thoughts and desires, rather than being conscious of feelings and sensations. For example, it is hard to argue against the idea that animals, like a dog, are not aware of their own feelings. Dogs react to pain and hunger, and they can be aware of that. Being aware of one’s own feelings and sensations is something I call qualitative consciousness. On the other hand, it is arguable that only humans can be aware of their thoughts and desires.
If having cognitive consciousness and being aware of one’s own thoughts and desires is at the core of what makes us human (of course you may argue against this claim), there are many different aspects that can come out of this. You may ask yourself, why does this happen? When does this occur? These questions are still yet to be explored. However, we may be able to view the consequences of the beginnings of consciousness.
The “us v. them” dynamic is a large part of this. Once a human becomes conscious and aware of their own thoughts and desires, then they inevitably become aware that other people around them must also have their own unique thoughts. This then creates a problem. “Do other people around me have different thoughts than I?” “How can I allow myself and others to be on the same page in order to strengthen our survival?” Once somebody, specifically early humans, becomes aware that others may have different thoughts, a person may then try to act in a way to get everybody on the same page. Thus, we can start to see the beginning of religious behaviors, etc. Early religious behaviors arguably were intended to create a group dynamic, to have everybody believing the same ideas about the world. This could have created better survival rates.
There are many many more details that go into this point of view, but this is a general overview of the way that I see human nature. Feel free to ask me questions!
Shared human qualities deeply influence how we interact and connect with each other. For instance, our innate sense of empathy allows us to resonate with another person’s feelings, often prompting us to comfort or assist those in distress. As inherently social beings, our urge for connection and community drives us to foster relationships, collaborate, and even form vast societies. Our universal capacity for communication, whether it’s through words or gestures, is pivotal for expressing emotions, ideas, and navigating conflicts. This intrinsic curiosity about the world and others enriches our conversations and helps us appreciate diverse viewpoints. Even though we come from varied backgrounds, our universally shared emotions, such as joy or sadness, serve as unifying threads, enabling connections on a fundamental human level. Additionally, our collective pursuit of purpose and meaning often results in rituals and traditions that act as communal bonding agents. And while our differences may lead to conflict, our shared desire for harmony propels us towards compromise and understanding. But, what psychological and emotional effects arise when an individual deeply desires change but consistently finds it unattainable?