The human condition: Quotes and meaning on our nature and condition

What a chimera then is man! What a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe! Who will unravel this tangle? 
Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662, French philosopher, physicist and mathematician, Thoughts

Old Quotes on Human condition and Nature

In the past, man has been defined in many ways. The Bible Wisdom Book adopts a descriptive and traditional view of what the human being is, in a rather poetic way. 

The Genesis shares a more conventional reading, where man is a superior being, with the right to dominate other beings. Pindar, in his Odes, defines man in its light-shade contradiction, in a dualistic and modern angle:

I am a descendant of the first man formed of earth. In my mother's womb I was moulded into flesh in a ten-month period, body and blood, from the seed of man, and the pleasure that accompanies marriage. And I too, when born, inhaled the common air, and fell upon the kindred earth; wiling, I uttered that first sound common to all.
Bible, Wisdom Book, 7:1-2

And God said: «Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that exists upon the earth».
Genesis, 1:26, Bible

Creatures of a day!  What is someone? And who is not? Men are a shadow’s dream. Nevertheless when a blessed glory shined on them, a clear light descends upon men, and serene life.
Pindar, 518-438 b. C., Greek poet, Pythian Odes   


Scientific-geneticist view on human Condition and nature

To science we are beings whose behaviors and horizons are largely determined by genes.

They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rational for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines. 

We are survival machines - robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment. 
Richard Dawkins, English biologist, The Selfish Gene

Almost all aspects of life are engineered at the molecular level and without understanding molecules we can only have a very scarcely understanding of life.
Francis Crick, English physicist and biologist, co-discoverer of ADN, What Mad Pursuit 

Sociologic View: Who Are We?

We are social and cultural beings, largely dominated by our own ideas, and dreams. 

We are in the hands of those gods, those monsters, those giants: our thoughts.
Victor Hugo, 1802-1885, French writer, Quatre vingt-treize  

It’s not only via society and culture that individuals are dominated; they are also dominated by their gods and by their ideas.
E. Morin, French philosopher and sociologist, Method V

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
W. Shakespeare, English writer, The Tempest

Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day.
Bertrand Russel, 1872-1970, English mathematician and philosopher, Marriage and Morals 

Renaissance Humanist View on human condition

Man is a rational being, endowed with dignity and free will, able to fashion and perfect himself, in the form he may prefer. Man has the power to rise himself to superior orders. Pico della Mirandola, a great Renaissance humanist, expresses this vision in a superior way, following and elevating something that has already been sketched by ancient philosophers and writers.

Humanity is suspended somewhere between the gods and animals.
Plotinus, 204-270, Egyptian philosopher, quoted in C. Sagan Eden Dragons

All the animal are bent downwards, gazing at the ground, but to man God gave a raised face, an erect manner and eyes looking towards heaven.
Ovid, 43 b. C. - 17 a. C, Roman writer, Metamorphoses 

Upon man, at the moment of his creation, God bestowed seeds pregnant with all possibilities, the germs of every form of life. And whichever the seeds a man cultivates, the same will mature and bear fruit in him. If vegetative, he will become a plant; if sensual, he will become brutish; if rational, he will reveal himself a heavenly being; if intellectual, he will be an angel and the son of God.

If you see a man dedicated to his stomach, crawling on the ground, you see a plant and not a man. 
Pico della Mirandola, 1463-1491, Italian humanist, Oration On The Dignity Of Man

Philosophical views on human condition

Philosophy points out the human contradictions and the human limits, our animal but also our spiritual side, our ancestral links to the remaining natural world, our illusions, and our smallness… 

For in fact what is man in nature? A Nothing in comparison with the Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing, a mean between nothing and everything. Since he is infinitely removed from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their beginning are hopelessly hidden from him in an impenetrable secret; he is equally incapable of seeing the Nothing from which he was made, and the Infinite in which he is swallowed up.

We burn with desire to find solid ground and an ultimate sure foundation whereon to build a tower reaching to the Infinite. But our whole groundwork cracks, and the earth opens to abysses. 
Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662, French philosopher, physicist and mathematician, Thoughts

We are marionettes handled by unknown hands. We are just swords with which spirits fight.
G. Buchner, 1813-1837, German writer, quoted by E. Morin, Método V

All that threatened the cave man - dangers, darkness, famine, thirst, ghosts, demons – all has passed to the interior of our souls, all troubles us, grieves us, threatens us from inside.
E. Morin, French philosopher and sociologist, Method V

Our spirits are surpassed by the unsupported complexity of the world.
E. Morin, French philosopher and sociologist, Method V

Man is a being possessed by spirits and his gods, a being that feeds himself with illusions and chimeras.
E. Morin, French philosopher and sociologist, Method V

It is possible for me not to be me? And, being me, can I wish to be other? 
Diderot1713-1784, French writer, Jacques the Fatalist

In the core of our singularity, we carry not only all humanity, all the life, but also all the cosmos, including its mystery, present in the heart of our beings.
E. Morin, French philosopher and sociologist, Method V

The phenomenon and the laws that man discovers in nature, are the same that gave him birth, the same that the neurons of his brain use to know things. When man thinks, it is the world that thinks and sees things. 
Hubert Reeves, French-Canadian astrophysicist, in Abordagens do real

What little things we are, how weak and how wretched! Humanity makes for such a pathetic creation.

We all are as humble people are: alone, naked, and revealed, exposed to love and to the light.

If I cannot be other than «me» them «me» is a prison: How can I be free?

We all are born of woman: all begotten not created – the fool and the genius, the honest man and the crook, the old man as surely as the child. And this is a claim which no alien, no angel can ever make.

Man is an animal destined to die; an animal aware of his mortality; an animal with urges rather than instincts, passions rather than reason, fantasies rather than thoughts, anger rather than wisdom.
Andre Comte-Sponville, The Little Book of Philosophy 

Brothers in humanity who live after us, let not your hearts be hardened against us, for, if you take a pity on us poor ones, God will be more likely to have mercy on you. 
François Villon, XII century, French poet, Ballade des pendus

Essay
Human condition & Human Nature

Man remains largely unknown of himself. What are we, in our innermost recesses, behind our names and our conventional opinions? What are we behind the things we do in our lives, behind what we see in others and what others see in us, or even behind things science says we are?

Is man the crazy being about whom Carl Gustav Jung spoke ironically, when he demanded a man to treat? Is man the Dr. Jerkyll that contains in himself a criminal Mister Hyde, and more than a personality, and contradictory feelings?

Are we the result of our dreams, as Prospero, in the Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” asked?

Are we able to raise our nature and become the dignified beings evoked by Pico de la Mirandola (It’s the seeds a man cultivates that «will mature and bear fruit in him. If vegetative, he will become a plant; if sensual, he will become brutish; if rational, he will reveal himself a heavenly being; if intellectual, he will be an angel and the son of God»)?

Almost two centuries ago, Spencer characterized the contradictory features of natives from the African east coast:

«He has at the same time good character and hard heart; he is a fighter, conscientious, good in a precise moment, and cruel, pitiless and violent in the other; superstitious and rudely irreligious; brave and pusillanimous, servile and dominator, stubborn and at the same time fickle, relied to honour views, but without signs of honesty, niggard and economical, but careless and improvident».

It’s probably a good definition of a certain primitive man, to whom we are undoubtedly connected. But we are also cultural and ethic beings.

We are able to change our values and behaviours. As William James says, human beings can change their lives through their mental attitudes.

We can grow ethically. We can dominate part of our own instincts. And that’s why we can be different from the indigenous African described by Spencer.

More: our thought dignifies us («All the dignity of man consists in thought», says Blaise Pascal). We are, in many senses, the conscience of the Universe, and its utmost elaborated product.

As Edgar Morin says, «in the core of our singularity, we carry not only all the humanity, all the life, but also all the cosmos, including its mystery, present in the heart of our beings».

We are creators, creator beings, and, in a sense, we can create, or recreate ourselves. All goes through our mind. It is our mind that constructs our truths and errors, and also the most sublime things in the Universe.

And yet evil and stupidity exist in us. Sometimes we fall, we are stroked, and life reveals its cruelty, and we may think as Mark Twain, and say that it was a pity that Noah had arrived late to the ark. 

In our innermost recesses, there is also the cruelty and the inhumanity of life. Charles Darwin showed that we are descendants of inferior life forms: we have been long ago a «bush and a bird, and a fish silently swimming in the waters», to use the poetic terms used by Empedocles in its Purifications.

From a genetic and evolutionist point of view, we contain in us the survival reflexes and the aggressiveness of the life forms that preceded us:

«All that threatened the cave man - dangers, darkness, famine, thirst, ghosts, demons – all has passed to the interior of our souls, all troubles us, grieves us, threatens us from inside.» (Morin).

Besides, we are also beings that can differ significantly from each other. We are equal, but also different. «The awake involve a common world, but dreams deviate each one to its own world» Heraclites rather enigmatically declares. He thought we can’t help sleeping and living in illusory worlds, even when awake.

For all these reasons, Blaise Pascal’s celebrated definition of the human being, despite the hard language, not exactly agreeable to our ears, is undoubtedly one of the most powerful that can be applied to the rather unknown being that we can’t help being to ourselves:

«What a chimera then is man! What a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe! Who will unravel this tangle?»

 

 

 

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