It is hard for a person to put the human experience in perspective. A person will describe his experiences as a human experience, so will a community, and the experiences between two people and two communities will differ immensely. And they will differ between two cultures by leaps and bounds. To put it in a perspective, the human experience is a collective wisdom of not one but many individuals, communities, and cultures, with every bit from here-and-there. If someone asked you to put the human experience into words, your account will be different than mine, than more-or-less anyone’s – it will be heavily biased on a side you identify yourself with, whether that side is religious, spiritual, natural or philosophical. To get a fair view of the human experience, the perceiver needs to be a non-human. No intelligence has taken birth – or has been found – that can put human experience in a perspective. Yet some can, and we can more-or-less interpret it from them.
A dog itself would share different dimensions of human experience – a stray’s will differ from a pet’s by an array of its own personal experiences. So would a pangolin’s from a tiger’s; as would an aphid’s from a honeybee’s. Collectively, this is their wisdom of their experiences with humans.
Of course, the title of this article is indeed too great to even be a title for an article. One could write countless pages for countless eons, and would still fall short to complete the book on human experience by a moment in time. Here I do not even try to explain my human experience being a human myself but I hover around the periphery of the subject, pondering what a human experience is like – do I perceive it in the right way when I play fetch with my pet? What he perceives me as is the human experience? I yearn to know as much as I yearn to know what an encounter with an extraterrestrial will be like – both these instances are equally unimaginable.
The human experience however is bound by this world. It is like a forest – every tree’s trunk is the edifice which serves as questions – or visions – upon which numerous stems – or ideas – branch out, on which numerous leaves – or cultures – branch out, and the ultimate aim – rather a subconscious aim – of this forest is to spread – physically and philosophically. If we indeed view the human experience as a forest, it had to have had an ancient tree –or two – which propagated and evolved, and thrived. The two trees were seeded with a doubt – who we are and what do we do. And the trees flowered, and they did what they did for they felt the time was right for it.
Today, we are living with the same questions – who we are and what do we do, although it is reverberated through every human soul on a more personal note – who am I and what do I do. We are doing what we are doing for we feel the time is right for it. But all the things that we do today are different than yesterday, than the time before, and I’m afraid we are losing our path which should have led us elsewhere. It is time we retrospect upon our current question, and ask the next: how long can we go on like this? If not like this then how?
Daniel Quinn in Beyond Civilization asks the same question. To quote his essay The Mayan Solution (pp. 53):
[…] We are making the world inhabitable to our species and rushing headlong towards extinction, but Civilization must continue at any cost and not be abandoned under any circumstance.
This meme wasn’t lethal to pharaonic Egypt or to the Han China or to the medieval Europe, but it’s lethal to us. It’s literally us or that meme. One of us has to go – and soon.
But… But surely, Mr. Quinn, you’re not suggestion we go back to living in caves and catching dinner on the end of a spear?
I’ve never suggested such a thing or come anywhere close to suggesting such a thing. Given the realities of our situation, going back to the hunting-gathering life is as silly an idea as sprouting wings and flying off to heaven. We can walk away from the pyramid, but we can’t melt away into the jungle. The Mayan solution is utterly gone for us, for the simple reason that the jungle itself is gone and there are six billion of us. Forget about going back. There is no going back. Back is gone.
But we can still walk away from the pyramid.
[The pyramids Quinn talks about can be referenced from pp. 51 – 52 of Beyond Civilization.]
Many, many people are already challenging the pyramids, many have moved on to the next question - how long can we go on like this? If not like this then how? But it is not enough. Quinn subtly hints at another question: Do we fit into the scheme of nature anymore? We have to. Returning back to the wild, fortunately, is still a possibility, however preposterous or unlikely, for although we have walked a long way off, there is always a shortcut to the right way, or, to omit the right-and-wrong entirely, let’s call it the nature’s way. What humanity has done by walking off-course is switched off those memes that come to us naturally (say, hunting to feed than hunting as a sport, but there will always be those who choose the latter), and switched on those memes which are irrelevant but we’re still holding on to.
If it isn’t the time we asked the right questions we’re still ages away from talking of the human experience. It is a continuous process, faster than evolution, but it is recorded in history nonetheless (from where we can learn and be better humans), and it is predictable for the future if we continue on the current course. Every individual, every community is shaping its own experience – this enriches our human experience in turn – but it is not about the sum of a few communities, or countries, anymore – it is about our planet.
The secret about human experience comes to a surprisingly simple equation. It is not special as we think we are. It is ordinary – and by that I mean we are no different than the ant you squished or the snake you killed. The equation I believe in is that the human experience lies between letting a trapped mouse walk free and in killing it. What we will do is what we have been told – consciously or subconsciously – to do. It’s probably as simple as that.
For those interested in delving deeper, here are very few references I had a chance to browse through. There are many more out there, and I hope the young minds at schools are taught this:
Ishmael: An adventure of the mind and spirit by Daniel Quinn
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkin
Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s next great adventure by Daniel Quinn
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkin
Sociobiology: The New Synthesis by E. O. Wilson
--<< Read the previous The Cogito article The Mantis in doubt.