“The Book” so far…

13 Oct

Yeah, like I’m going to write an entire book…

Know thyself. Attributed to the great ancient thinker Socrates, this saying is often learned and commonly quoted. Books, movies, television, and advertising trumpet the lesson of knowing thyself. “Know who you are!” we are told, “be true to yourself.” Yet a significant aspect of this ubiquitous lesson is conspicuously absent.Know thyself.But how does one do this? The challenge of “know thyself” is, one presumes, more than knowing a name, job title, and a few descriptive words like “nice.” Indeed, the lofty goal seems to be understanding one’s very nature.    “Human nature” is a familiar phrase as well. How often are acts of violence, abuse, and addiction simply written off as due to human nature? Selfishness, greed, and arrogance, are all attributed to varying degrees to human nature. And what of all the selfless acts of rescue and heroism, all the noticed and un-noticed good deeds? Are they too due to this great unsolved mystery of human nature?    Why is a phrase as common and familiar as “human nature” so rarely defined? When an attempt at defining human nature occurs, it is affected and conditioned by the experience of those doing the defining. In other words, the nature of each individual is in many respects different. But is your nature as a human reader different from mine as a human writer? Is human nature based entirely upon individual circumstances and experience? The answer is yes, of course, on some level. Deeper than that however, there is the nature of being human that links all individuals who are human. I’m referring to the design of human nature, the thing that makes us all humans, despite all being unique and different individuals.    Every living creature we are now aware of on planet Earth can be seen as having a clearly discernable (if intricate and complex to reveal) design. When we engineer or produce something (from art, to technology, to a live event) we recognize the importance of design. One way of discerning what our own design might be is to look at how one individual human is similar to every other individual human, as well as how humans are different from other living creatures.    The physical substance of humans is the same as all other living creatures on planet Earth, being made up of the same elements as all Earth life (likewise, non-living matter on Earth is also composed of the same elements). In addition to physical makeup, all humans share a history – human conditioning – just as all earth life shares Earth’s experience. We are kin with all Earth itself and all life on it in that we share the same chemical components, and we share our dwelling – Earth – with all creatures and life of it.    Our bodies, in their dazzling complexity, may manifest the complexity of our nature. Each human body is unique; no two individuals are exactly alike, even identical twins, yet each human is recognizable as to species. We humans all share many characteristics, but no two of us are exactly the same. A good analogy for this sameness – being made from the same ingredients in the same recognizable pattern – as well as this simultaneous difference – because of varying interactions and emphasis – is the reality of words. In this language we have 26 letters in the alphabet. Only 26. Just over two dozen – not a very large number. Yet consider the size of an unabridged dictionary: packed with words, all different, yet each from only these 26 letters. That isn’t all. There are tomes filled with medical, legal, and other specialist terms and definitions. Science fiction writers invent new words. Parents and writers concoct new names. Science currently recognizes 118 elements on the periodic table. More than four times the number of letters in the alphabet, these elements make up our physical and nonphysical substance, and the dictionaries of human distinction will never be closed. In this analogy other life forms – while possessing more elements than the alphabet – do not possess as many as humans. Human beings have a complexity beyond that of other earthly life.

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