Friday, January 21, 2011

It's Me Against the World, or isn't it??

Some philosophers thought of what they called a pre-social human or the man of nature in ancient Greek terms. There is no evidence in history that such a human being has ever existed. Humans are essentially social animals. Any human being born in this world needs to be taken care of for a relatively long time. An infant born in this world without parental support will certainly not survive. However, in addition to the relatively long period of time required for any human being to be capable to survive on his own, the social nature of human beings extends beyond the need for parental support. We share with some other animals this tendency to live among large groups. This tendency to bond with others is a natural product of biological evolution shared by so many species including humans. The concept of pres-social animal defies empirical evidence. However, it might be useful after all to think of how the life of such a human being, isolated from any social relations, would be like.

In addition, to the empirical evidence suggesting that human beings need to bond to others in a manner equal to their need for food, sex and shelter, philosophical reflections upon human life revealed that human beings living in isolation would lack lots of what makes us humans. Such a pres-social human would not desire any thing other than his biological needs satisfied. Such a human being conception of happiness would be entirely different from ours. It can further be argued that such a human being might not be conscious of life as well. Consciousness has been explained as our ability to reflect upon our perceptual experiences. Such reflection requires an ability to form beliefs. Those beliefs can be thought of as linguistic representations of our perpetual and introspective experiences. A pre-social animal lacks language. After all, language is a social practice. It might be hard to think of a human being who is not conscious of his surroundings. However, this might be better understood by reflection upon the first two years of your life. As a two years old infant, you lacked language. In this early stage of life, you were certainly able to perceive your surroundings, hold memories, and be aware of your feelings of hunger, or pain. However, even though your experiences were to a large extent similar to your current experiences as an adult, it can be claimed that you were not conscious back then. Lacking language, you were not able to reflect upon those experiences and therefore you were not conscious of them.

So, a pre-social human has a motivational background so limited compared to us. In addition, his experience of the world lacks consciousness. This would certainly make such a pre-social human different from how we think of human beings to a large extent.

What is important about attempting to think of such a human being is that it reveals a lot about what makes us humans. Living among a society certainly has a great effect on making us what we take ourselves to be.

Others make us humans through two main ways interacting together, namely through language and actions. As we learn language, we don't only get to learn the name of things or the rules of grammar but in addition we learn the rules of rationality and the ultimate goals of life. Any language has inherent within it rules of what makes its own statements true or false. Those rules constitute the basis of rationality. In addition, language is used by others to guide our behavior. Guiding our behavior through language allows us to conceive the goals toward which our actions should be directed. So, as we grow up and our linguistic communication with other expands, we get to acquire rationality and we get to theorize of what is most significant and valuable in life. Linguistic communication with others provides us with reason and in addition it reformulates our desire so that it would extend to a much wider extent than being limited to the satisfaction of our mere biological needs. This claim can be better understood if we returned back to our pre-social human. Certainly this man of nature, even though might have mental and physical abilities similar to you, would lack reason and values. This is not only because he lacks a language through which reason and values can be explained to him but because he is not living in a society in which reason and values are crucial for his own survival.

Living among others doesn't only allow our desires and reason to evolve but in addition it shapes our will. Desiring something is one things and wanting to follow your desire or not is a totally different thing. Whether you want to follow your desires or not is governed by your own will. Will is shaped to a large extent by your habits. Others affect your habits either directly or indirectly. You get used to do things in a particular way either through imitation of others as you grow up or by finding your own way. Even, when you start doing things your own way, you are affected by the social system you live in, and therefore, others would still affect how you get used to do things even when you are not imitating them any more. This developing habitual pattern of yours shapes your will.

The effects of others upon you, whether of shaping your reason, desire, or will, are not objects of obvious awareness to most of us. Most of us at best have mere intuitions about what they generally desire, will to do, or figure out as reasonable. Cognitive psychologists have found out that most of our learning process goes unconsciously in our frontal lobes. Christof Koch in "The Quest for Consciousness" argued, based on empirical evidence, that consciousness lies at the prefrontal cortex rather than within the frontal cortex itself. Learning and thinking take place within the frontal lobes. The results of those processes are presented to our consciousness in the prefrontal cortex as mere intuitions.

However, as we reflect more upon our intuitions and as we brake down the components of what resides in our frontal lobes and bring them to the consciousness of the prefrontal cortex, we get to find out that reason, desire, and will might pull us in different directions. The wisdom transmitted to each one of us by others through language and actions is not yet prefect. That's why each individual human being still has an unfinished job. Each one of us through his life, needs to realize his own desires without violation of reason and through reshaping his own will. As you figure out new ways to solve this conflict and as you become more successful in achieving this piece of mind, you will affect others in return. This interaction between each individual of us and with the sum of wisdom created by others through centuries of cultural evolution might help us one day to know what is most significant to us and how to act in the right way.

When each one of us understand the role played by others in shaping the human being one is, we would understand the scope of our individuality better and we would get to learn to have a mutual respect between society and the individual. How you should respect others and how should others respect your individuality is something that I will write about later.


  1. Great post, Tarek - with lots to ponder over.

    A central point is, I think, the deep connection between consciousness and language; and language is, of its nature, commmunicative, social. I've written a little about this myself; here and here.

  2. thanks Francis.....I will certainly review those links. anyway, i read some of your posts and they are wonderful. it is true. i just like them so much. they are inspiring and captivating. your blog is certainly one of my favorites.

  3. Thank you for your kind words, Tarek.

    Completely off the subject ... Egypt is at the top of all news reports here in Germany today. Is everything ok where you are?

  4. I won't describe the situation here in Egypt as threatening at the moment. I can't describe it either as dangerous or whatever that might have a negative implication. I would like to describe it as promising and significant.
    The rallies might not be that big, and the violence used by the authorities against the people might be more alarming to you than me since I and so many Egyptians are used to hearing about such accidents, almost on daily basis, for so long.
    However, what is great is that people are really changing. It is amazing to witness that. It seems like people are realizing that things don't have to be the way they are. People are not afraid any more, they are not negative any more. Instead they are so much full of life in a way that I have never seen before. I think the government will get to put things under control eventually, but I think this is not going to be the final round. Things will change in Egypt in the recent future.
    Anyway, don't worry I am safe and I am spending my day as usual. Thanks for your concern.

  5. Events move quickly, don't they, Tarek? The world is watching history being made in Egypt - and is particularly admiring the maturity and restraint shown by the overwhelming majority of those protesting. May you get the political leaders you deserve. Our hearts are with you.