Opinion: Human thought


What does it mean to be human? Is it the notion of a physical or corporeal being? Is it the form and shape of our chromosomal spiral? Is it that we are distinctly less hairy than our ape cousins in Rwanda? There are countless, readily identifiable characteristics that distinguish us from myriad other lifeforms similarly bound to this spinning blue ball that we all call home. Still, we are, perhaps because of the necessities of the planet, remarkably similar. We breath oxygen-rich air. We thrive in a narrow band of temperature variation. We eat, process calories and produce waste. Many of us have hinged limbs and brains protected in a skull. To a distant observer, we might not be that different from goat to person.

Still, these top-of-the-food-chain creatures, we humans, have long imagined and queried what is it, if anything, that makes us distinct. Do we have a soul, imbued by a creator? In the fourth century AD, theologian Augustine of Hippo claimed the individual human right to eternal salvation. Or, is our advanced sentient thought, as exhibited by complex interpersonal communication, sufficient for us to hold ourselves out as unique, special? Cogito, ergo sum. Seventeenth-century French philosopher Rene Descartes held that because we humans could think, and then prove it, that we are special and distinctive from other beings.

Any first-year law student should be able to amply describe the principal of negative implication. That is, that some things are best defined by what they are not. What is it to be human? It is not to be inanimate. It is not to be inorganic. Good. But can we be human if we lack thought? Can we be human if we lack civility? Can we be human if we lack faith, compassion or free will?

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