There are, and have been, so many theories about what what differentiates human beings from all the other animals. Some of the theories I’ve encountered recently include:
- The ability to copy each other’s actions and ideas, and then pass on those actions or ideas. These actions and ideas are referred to as memes.
- The use of complex language.
- The use of tools.
- The ability to reason.
Now, I know that many of these attributes are contested, both as to whether they actually are unique to human beings, and as to whether they are definitional of human beings. I make no claims for any of them. They just started me thinking.
As human beings, we tend to need to systematize our understanding of the universe. We seem to have a need to create intellectual structure. We are of the kingdom “animal”, whereas the pine tree, while still living, is of the kingdom “plant”. I majored in Classics, which was in the same division as English literature, though in a different division from the History department, even though we required several history classes in order to graduate.My self is composed of many parts: the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. Animals are often categorized into groupings of wild animals, farm animals and pets.
All of which leads me to ask: Why do we do this? What do we achieve by the creation of this order? What happens if we try to experience the universe unfiltered by the categories which we impose upon it? Would we simply be overwelmed, unable to cope with treating each unique object as a thing in and of itself? Probably. I suspect the closest we come is when we engage in mindfulness meditation. Nonetheless, what do we miss by organizing our world so completely? This process is, after all, the root of stereotyping, by which we assume we know far more about an individual based on things we believe to be true of most members of a group to which they belong.
I don’t have a particular solution to this quandry. More of a suggestion: take a little time today, and imagine the world around you if you didn’t already have a system for it. How would you see it?