My last 3 posts have been rather abstract explorations of the ideas of purpose generally and human purpose more specifically. Now I’d like to deal more directly with the idea of human purpose, of how we might wish to live as humans on this earth.
Because a moving towards is also always a moving from one’s current coordinates, I think it’s useful to start by looking at how we humans live in the world today, to.review the current state of the human.
Of course, it’s such a broad and deep topic that it’s somewhat ridiculous to try to address it in just a couple of posts. So, I’m just going to paint a few very broad strokes. And while some of what I say might be contestable, there isn’t much time or space to support these claims.
At this point, in 2013, we’ve made our way from the fledgling homo sapiens of 200,000 years ago to today’s global technical civilization. From a numerical point of view, we’ve been very successful as a species. In just the last 10,000 years, human population has grown from 1 million to over 7 billion today. And some estimates show that human population could reach almost 11 billion by the year 2100.
We’ve been so succesful that by one estimate, about one quarter of the earth’s biomass.is utilized for human existence, and by another perspective as much as 83% of the biosphere is “classified as being under direct human influence”. Our usage of earth’s resources has become so great that according to Global Footprint Network, we are using earth’s resources at 1.5 times the rate that it regenerates them, and that this could increase to twice the replenishment rate by the 2030’s.
So, seen from a purely biological perspective, we’ve been astronomically successful in the survival of the fittest game. This unprecedented exponential expansion hi-lights the uniqueness of humans. For better and worse, we’ve gone from being a species to being The Species, a species impacting the entire Earth. Humanity has become a transformative force in life’s unfolding.
One of the reasons for the growing number of humans is that we live longer, with life expectancy having doubled over the last 150 years. In comparison to early homo sapiens, it is estimated that a current 72 year old Japanese person has the same probability of death as one of our 30 year old hunter-gathering ancestors. And while much of the increase in lifespan comes from reduced infant and childhood mortality, “since 1970, the main factor driving continued gains in life expectancy in industrialized countries is a reduction in death rates among the elderly”.
Not only have humans been fruitful and multiplied, but we’ve also been altering the conditions of our lives as humans. The developments of the last few centuries have brought a level of material comfort to a substantial segment of humanity that would have been only enjoyed by a very small elite in earlier times. And, in recent decades, this material prosperity has begun spreading out to some countries that had been previously immersed in poverty.
Accompanying this prosperity, our lives have been enriched by the fruits of technology, especially over the last two centuries. These technolgies aid us functionally ways (refrigerators, microwaves, automobiles), informationally (computers & telecommunication) and biologically (medicine & bioengineering). These allow increased capabilities for human thought and action.
And, of course, these technologies are made possible by the development of science, the increasing sphere of human knowledge. These allow us increasing understanding of such esoteric matters as dna, cell biology, human cognition, subatomic particles and their strange quantum world and the history and strange phenomenon of the cosmos.
Looked at on their own terms, these developments show humans as a huge success story in the game of life. We’ve And they are all true and are worth taking seriously. And they definitely display the uniqueness of humans as a species, as beings who incorporate a new dimension in their beinghood. They illuminate humanity as the emergence of a new force in the blossoming of life on earth.
And yet, all of these things, these great human accomplishments, are only part of the story. There are things about our current world that are not so rosy and bright. To fuly comprehend our current situation, there is another perspective we must consider.
We have to look beyond our numerical growth, our material successes, even our expanding knowledge. We need to look at how we live in this world, how we coexist with each other and with the rest of life to get an accurate reading of the state of the human.
- The Question of Human Purpose
- The State of the Human – Part 2: The Sorrows of the World