Archive for August 2nd, 2021

What’s The Best Reason For Writing? Being Human In A Way No Animal Is

August 2, 2021

Writing, or, more generally talking. Some write because they have to make a living, like the Harry Potter lady, who absolutely needed some income. 

But others, like the writers of Roman epitaphs on their own tombs, write beyond the grave: clearly they are not trying to make a living. Or maybe they are, making a new, better life form, their improved successors.

Evolutionary forces fashion species. Human beings have passed a singularity in the sense that they create environments for them to evolve in. Right, so do beavers. But beavers know only one trick, hard wired by evolution. Human beings find new tricks to fashion new ecological niches, driven by their ever more fertile imagination.   

Human beings have evolved into thinking machines. They are not exactly the only ones. Corvids are obviously very smart and do a lot of thinking. I had an almond bag in a completely unobvious position on a balcony on the ground thereof on the tenth floor and some observant blue jays found it, and emptied the whole thing. However, in the case of human beings, tools have been used for nearly two million years. The latest (2021) theory on human evolution is that bipedalism preceded the big brain explosion. Why would that be? Go back to Blue Jays: they use their legs both for locomotion and manipulation. They do not have two dexterous hands mounted on two powerful arms at any given moment. That prevent the usage of weapons, and tools. Chimpanzees have the power, but not the dexterity, and that’s greatly because they did not achieve bipedalism: only humans really achieved it. 

Amor Vincit Omnia, Love conquers all, said Virgil, Latin poet. And he added: so we may as well succumb to it (or words to this effect)…

The philosopher Bergson called humans: Homo Faber, Homo the Maker. As “maker of his own destiny” the concept is found in  Appius Claudius Caecus’ work. Appius Claudius, censor, consul, dictator and interrex, did not just authored the Via Appia, 23 centuries ago… He uses the concept of Homo Faber in his Sententiæ, referring to the ability of man to control his destiny and what surrounds him: Homo faber suae quisque fortunae (“Every man is the artifex of his destiny”).

Henri Bergson also referred to the concept in Creative Evolution (1907), defining intelligence, in its original sense, as the “faculty to create artificial objects, in particular tools to make tools, and to indefinitely variate its makings.”

As evolution turned humans into mental superiority machines, instincts were created, several of them serving a specifically human production, culture. An instinct is curiosity, another that of solving riddles for riddles’ sake, and all of this is held together by the deep certainties that figuring things out and  that teaching are primary, ultimate values.

Such values are not reducible to Will To Power. A teacher explaining something is not necessarily motivated by pecuniary gain, making a career, or other forms of sophisticated prostitution, and power grab… As Socrates, somewhat hypocritically, already explained (as he struggled to differentiate himself from the “sophists” who charge for their lessons… Socrates correctly viewed that prostitution as a major problem…).

In truth, it could be that the teacher, at least the best teacher, is teaching, explaining, and understanding because these are all specifically human instincts. It’s not about the power of individual humans, it is about the power of the mind over the otherwise supremely mysterious.

Patrice Ayme 


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