If so, then Why Tell Stories?

In the comments on an article The Passive Voice linked to about automation and if it is what defines humans from non-human creatures, a discussion got started about what separates humans from other critters, if anything.

I stayed out of it because I have some very, very strong thoughts on that topic but don’t have the philosophy and biology chops to argue my case. When someone begins by saying “humans are no different from other animals…” what follows often tends towards either an anti-people statement, or a justification for something that society frowns on for good reason. I would argue that humans are different because we have souls, because we seek for something greater than we are greater than we can be, but keep searching and striving anyway.

“Since we are no different from all other animals” why not practice selective breeding for the good of the species? Why not thin out the unfit and the suffering? Why not act on every impulse that feels right at the time instead of exercising restraint? Why bother telling stories and aiming for eternity, or The Eternal, if we’re just piebald apes.

Please note that I have no difficulty with the idea that we are hominids, and that we are in some way descended from a common ancestor along with gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and the occasional lemur. The Great Author may indeed have used that as a way to create us, for all that I know, and I’m not going to worry about it if He did.

Where I have serious problems is when people discount the differences between humans and other critters, and go the way of “A child is a gorilla is a ferret is a shrew is a mosquito.” Or “Since we’re just animals, and no one expects dogs and bears to not follow their inner desires, why not…” have sex even if the other person is reluctant, take things you desire, beat up someone just because you can, what ever.

As best I can tell, the overarching goal of every culture and civilization is to stop people from doing just that at times and places where it will cause harm to the culture and society. Violence is channeled and directed, other impulses are channeled, and those limits are reinforced by the idea that not just one’s fellow men and women, but also a totem spirit/deity/ one’s ancestors will frown on such things, and even punish certain transgressions. To my knowledge, even the most intelligent other creatures do not exhibit anything we can identify as that. Wolves, whales, ants, and other “social creatures” may have something akin to rules about behavior and getting along, but thus far I do not believe anyone has seen anything comparable to the belief systems generally classified as religion.*

At the next level, we men and women start aiming to be better. Not just so that the jaguar spirit or Al’lah will not punish us, but in order to please the deity and others, and ourselves. We behave better than we “should,” we sacrifice our resources to build cathedrals and endow hospitals and to help people who don’t even know or care that we exist. We aim for the spiritual stars, as well as the literal stars.

If you read the first and second creation stories in Genesis, and the subsequent chapters, you find that there are already other people by the time Adam and Eve have children. But, according to some Jewish commentators, Adam was the first person with a true soul, and he and Eve were made “In the image and likeness of G-d.” There was something different about them. Something special.

What other animals tell stories? What other animals need stories to make sense of the world, whether those stories are about a divine power creating everything and ordering it, or the Big Bang, or Darwin and Wallace’s ideas about evolution and speciation?

I realize that the very fact of following a group that, to take one comment out of context, “has retreated into the Dark Ages of Mysticism,” means I am inherently biased about charges that humans are “just” animals. Too often that “just” seems to justify really, really bad things. Would it not be better to say that we are far more than simply animals, and to strive for even more?


*Elephants… may be different. I just don’t have really trustworthy sources to cite either pro or against elephants having anything as abstract as human religion.


10 thoughts on “If so, then Why Tell Stories?

  1. So you have noticed it, too. It seems that the only reason our Leftist enemies argue that “humans are just animals” is to justify animalistic behavior.

    • Except human sex roles – those are entirely social constructs. Biology has nothing to do with it. Sexual dimorphism is a tool of the patriarchy. Just ask any progressive. (No, I’m not seriously arguing culture doesn’t have a part to play in human sex roles, but only a part.)

    • ” It seems that the only reason our Leftist enemies argue that “humans are just animals” is to justify animalistic behavior.” The demon infested Satan worshipping Left wants to de-humanize humanity precisely so they can not only get away with treating us like animals, but they want to convince us all that they are doing good when they treat us that way.

    • That, and to further dehumanize the other animals who disagree with them and (when they have the power to accomplish it) exterminate them.

  2. You are both wrong.

    There is a use of equivocation without even realizing it. We in fact are animals* in the very real biological sense, and thus are no different from animals* in that sense. However in the second sense of the word meaning non-human animals, we are in fact different.

    You in particular are wrong in assuming mystical attributes surrounding religion as unique characteristics. Sorry I share none of your beliefs or motivstions in these areas and I am still fully human.

    • Do you ever try to do better at something than you did last time, above and beyond what is needed to accomplish the basic task? If so, I would argue that that striving makes you different in nature (using the Greek sense of “innate quality of a thing”) from an elephant or turtle. Why you choose to excel is for you to decide, but that striving to excel strikes me as being a quality of humanness as opposed to animalness.

      I’m sorry if I failed to be clear that following a religion or not following a religion does not make a person more or less human in my understanding of things. You are human by being born a homo sapien and by your later actions. Why you do those actions… I see one reason, you see another.

  3. Whether we are much different from animals is looking at backwards. The question should be: how much are animals like us? Birds and mammals, anyway.

  4. It’s a deeply sad state of affairs when so many have cast off any sense of wonder at the consciousness they possess. We have, through a purely materialist frame, deluded ourselves into thinking that reality writ large, is represented by merely the observable universe, and that all that is observable, can be explained as having emerged from the observed.

    Whatever else material empiricism is at this point, it is at least amazingly small minded. It is supremely useful as a mental discipline in the Scientific Method, which is focused on material causality. Science… was never a philosophy. It is only in the darkest irony that those who subscribe to it as such do so in great part on the assumed sense of intellectual superiority in doing so.

    Yet it is almost inarguable that in historical context though, there was some some tipping point in accumulated scientific knowledge passed some time between one and two centuries ago that implanted this idea in the collective mind. Hayek called the deployment of Science as a false metaphysic, and its use to justify all manner of usurpation of authority, “Scientism”. Its emergence is undoubtedly correlated with Nietsche “killing God” during the same period, but it is not precisely the same thing.

    The idea that there is in fact simply, more than what we see, is not necessarily mysticism. Any more than metaphysics properly understood is. It is no small tragedy for the evolution since of our shared culture(s) and for our individual thinking, and for even far more than that within our entire framework for communicating and relating to each other, that this idea that material empiricism is the only reasonable lens through which to view existence, has become culturally dominant.

    It has enabled all manner of inhuman obscenity… but that is a different thread.

    Yet presently, we are at something of a profound juncture even in some prominent areas of Scientific pursuit, that few are aware of. We are at this point beginning to come full circle with the realization that, not only is “the universe” not necessarily “all there is”, but that indeed, the observable universe CAN’T be all there is, if it is to exist as we observe it. This is why of late in cosmology and physics, there has been growing interest in things like “multiverse” theory (which is not the same as the absurd idea of parallel universes based on every quantum probability that has been so abused in Science Fiction). We are beginning to think of the “universe” as a thing, and “reality” as something else… something broader. Something ultimately, infinite… which has always been a throwaway word.

    But now it can’t be.

    And here we are speaking of Consciousness, and how it is common that many will try to “frame” it in a shallow perspective that leads them to a tedious sense of meaninglessness. This is ironic since within this area we are most definitely meeting the old idea of, “the more we know… the less we understand.”

    Generally in the 90s as neuroscience came into its own, the idea that consciousness would soon be “deconstructed” in terms of it being an emergent phenomenon of neurons and synapses and whatnot, was widespread. This is most definitely not the case anymore. And I suspect it will get more elusive as we move further in our inquiries. I likewise suspect that a true AI will prove infinitely harder than we have imagined until recently. Perhaps impossibly so. And that… will prove instructive.

    Consciousness. There is nothing more worthy of wonder, because there is nothing else we know of in the universe that can do so.

    We have come to a place in our collective, as manifested particularly in popular culture rooted in the West, where a middlebrow conceit of “SCIENCE!” has taken hold of the main. This SCIENCE! as a vague belief set, pretends that human consciousness has been reduced to an empirical phenomenon. Indeed, many think that the “smart” position is to consider it essentially meaningless (which makes quite literally everything else in the human milieu meaningless as well). It is a quirk in nature that left us with an “unnatural” set of proclivities. It is a cruel illusion, except there is no cruel. We are in fact, corrupted by this unnatural state.

    This… is not only a profoundly nihilistic idea that poisons clear thinking, it is something far worse. It is incredibly stupid and small minded.

    But it is endemic, and I suspect that most simply imbibe this concept and secretly nurture its festering anti-rationality as though it is a “truth” to be shouldered. It is no wonder that there has been an explosion of shallow wisdom directing the many to “live in the moment”. This more than anything, is meant to merely suppress the “Munch’s Scream” scenario that this perspective of abject meaninglessness foments.

    And yet the demonstrable fact is, that sentient beings, live across time. It is animals that live in the moment. We actually emulate this self annihilation as we demean the very consciousness that affords us a moral frame to SEE existence! There can be NO greater thing to be in possession of! Animals existence truly is deterministic even when their behavior is complex, because they respond to impulses without conscious restraint. Without the choice to restrain, and especially, to restrain for an abstract concept like loyalty or beauty or love.

    This observation is not only meaningful, it is what meaning IS. There is no “freedom” in the moment. The freedom we have, is to choose a path where meaning is the object, and wrap ourselves in principles that adhere to the virtue of it. We can then steer the course of our lives by that compass. People do. They embrace destiny, which does not need to be one of “greatness” to be meaningful. The moral frame of consciousness has a different standard in which goodness is far more incandescent that greatness.

    If we do not see “freedom” through its association with restraint over time, then we will not know it, and we will have less meaning. Most of our consciousness will be focused on rationalizing self indulgence after the fact. We will for example, tend to adhere to “philosophies” in which we claim we had to “follow our heart” and whatnot.

    Animals, are amoral. Sentient beings, are INCAPABLE of this. We can only be immoral, and then pretend. This is not semantics. There is in essence, a moral universe. It is inextricably bound to consciousness. Its rules are as implacable as the laws of physics are in the material universe. We are not talking about cultural “moralism” here. Typically that phenomenon is once removed from a true moral frame which is immaterial, and has as much to do with the material constraints facing the people a culture emerges from. Pragmatism is a purely material perspective. Cultural mores are typically quite pragmatic.

    Regardless, all this we can actually say we know about consciousness. Much of it has been known since the ancients. There is at some level within reality, a literal infinity of possibilities. This is what is meaningful about existence. This infinity empowers strong arguments indicating it is essentially a certainty that existence is meaningful.

    And in the present epoch, there is I suspect, a kind of binary decision point being faced individually and collectively. At the core of it all, we are faced with the idea as sentient beings in which one must literally choose, to pursue meaning. This is a binary because on one side is essentially, an abyss that we pretend we can grasp. A nothing. On the other, is an unknowable and thus terrifying… something.

    0 or 1, this is the choice, and the only one that matters, and the one that the vast majority of minds today have made for them by default, and then bear the profoundly bitter consequences.

    So…. yes. We have lost our sense of completely rational and justifiable wonder at the infinite reach of consciousness, and replaced it with a false certainty borne of finite empiricism that we call rationalism, when it is tediously not.

    And… we think of ourselves as animals (if not even less), and count ourselves smart for the absurdity. We speak of how much better the world will be when it is rid of us, and count ourselves wise. (talk about wisdom on the cheap!)

    In itself, this is not unique. And it never ends well historically. But more disconcertingly, I so indeed think that this time the metaphysics of our shared state, mostly but not completely due to technology enabling a real time bandwidth that is truly unnatural, is truly unprecedented in its breadth and depth. Few institutions and ideas are left unbound to to the palpable crisis as it continues to unfurl.

    Buckle up. We live in interesting times.

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