What and who we are

This is what we are. A sentient life form, each one of us with a limited term, intent on preserving and extending our life as much as possible and keen to sustain a richness of experience, a sense of excitement or both. From the earliest times our mortality has been a deep concern and in far less certain times the belief in an afterlife of some kind clearly became an almost obsessive preoccupation for those who managed to rise above the basic human involvements with survival and comfort. Divination, placation of the gods and preparation for the afterlife were as much a part of the foundations of early religions as morality and ethics. And religion was intimately entangled with the emergence of the arts.

We should explore the essential features of human experience both from within and by observation. It will then need to be acknowledged that, in the end (and in the beginning) all we have is experience. But raw or direct experience is filtered through layers of invented and received interpretation. We progress individually and collectively through iterations of direct and received experience, embodied in culture, language, metaphor and ritual. We learn that we are a part of a cosmos that has dimensions and depths that suggest that human life is a fragile, chancy and insignificant thing. As biological entities we are locked into a cycle of birth, life and death that we are constantly trying to escape but which we must eventually come to terms with. We are social creatures, but we are also competitive. We believe in individual freedom, but this is only meaningful within a social framework of compassion, justice and equality. Our lives are enriched by sensory, physiological, emotional and intellectual pursuits and accomplishments.

There is no real way of ruling out the possibility of a metaphysics. Scientists are concerned with evidence and are consequently dismissive of perceptions supported only by faith or belief. There is a danger in this. We need to understand our limitations within the physical and biological universe and respect the power and wisdom vested in it. All conscious human acts are, almost by definition, partial and swayed by immediate circumstance or some pressing need or desire. Nature moves, on the other hand, in an interlocked and minutely incremental way meeting a myriad of unarticulated purposes and relationships that take on form and order. Unlike human will and wit, nature operated in a nano-world before humankind had even discovered fire or split a flint. It operates at a physical level in microseconds and at an evolutionary scale over eons. The dramas and battles for survival of the animate world are a part of an apparently cruel self-regulating epic that only offends our misplaced human sensitivities. There is always a partiality about what we experience and the actions we take that extends to our highest intellectual achievements. We need to acknowledge the partiality of science and technology and the prejudices of the moment to gain true wisdom.

We are the spawn of the Cosmos. We are fleeting, complex biological systems. We are lizards, dogs and apes. We are hunters and farmers, artificers, traders, explorers, observers, poets and sages: we are family and friends and we are stewards of the earth. But, there is a God is within us and for God’s sake we must rise to meet our destiny.

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