We are fascinated with ourselves. For ages, we’ve traveled to remote areas to examine relics of our past, to dig up our collective history in order to ascertain how we became the dominant species on the planet.
We study the ancients in our quest to determine who we are. Egyptians built their pyramids as tombs for their Pharaohs; Stonehenge was used for religious purposes; cave paintings around the world were done to tell stories and differentiate ourselves from the lower orders.
We conduct experiments on our brains and bodies, pursuing more and more information about every aspect of our lives. From concussions to cancer, from free will to determinism, from the limits of endurance to the possibilities of increased strength. Our focus remains largely on human endeavors.
And perhaps that’s how it should be. After all, we’re human. It makes sense for us to study ourselves, to learn our limitations and potentialities. It’s not like that’s all we study. We sent Cassini to Saturn and Deepsea Challenger to the bottom of the ocean. We found 91 volcanoes under Antarctica and a 110-million-year-old nodosaur in Canada.
So we are capable of study outside ourselves. But even when we do that kind of exploration, we generally bring it back to how it impacts us humans, which makes me wonder sometimes if our study of self makes us too introspective collectively, if we attach too much importance to human actions and events.
Everything we witness, we witness through the lens of humanity. Global warming, for example, becomes charged with the emotions of people on one side or the other rather than a purely unemotional assessment of the facts.
Some of us want global warming to be a hoax, so we find fault with the “facts” presented to us. Some of us want vaccinations to be eliminated, so we ascribe diseases and conditions to them that bear no resemblance to reality.
All our understandings become colored with the desires we unleash upon the world. Nothing is just itself. Rather, it is itself plus our perception of it. The combination of “thing” and its perception affects us in ways we cannot completely understand. Total accuracy seems like an impossibility because every observation, every notation bears the imprint of humanity.
I concede that total objectivity may not be possible. It may not even be desirable. But I wonder if our fixation on ourselves and our place in the universe limits our ability to grasp that which is outside of us, making at least some of the unknown unknowable.
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