What Does It Mean To Be Human? May 22, 2008

What Does It Mean To Be Human?

For a high school English project, recent graduate Peter had to come up with a creative response to the following question:

What does it mean to be human?

Here’s what he did and what he observed:

… I interviewed 100 people on the street, and, interestingly, very few of them chose to define themselves by religion. I think it’s pretty cool that there are so many people who understand that they don’t need religion to give their lives meaning.

I’m guessing a number of people in the video below would call themselves religious. But when faced with the question, watch how many of their initial responses mention God…

Nifty project.

I need to find something like that to do in math…

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • Colin M

    Really interesting and inspiring!

    On the other hand, I get the feeling that the neighborhood he interviewed these people in wasn’t necessarily a representative cross-section of the U.S., or the world. I’m sure if this same question were asked somewhere else, you could get a majority of religious answers.

    So to me this doesn’t say much about what the average person thinks about religion — however that doesn’t make the video any less touching 🙂

    p.s. I love “I don’t know, I’m 10.”

  • Agree with Colin M; interviewing just one neighborhood is likely not an even sample population of any country.

    We just wrote a somewhat related story. Our article asks why theists believe we have some special relation to the universe and that humankind is not just the result of a chain of coincidences. Why do we need God to be a human with morales?

  • Being human means doin’ it doggy-style.

    Um, no…wait…

  • Richard Wade

    Most of the people in the video are perplexed at first because the question “What does it mean to be human?” is a ridiculous pointless, meaningless question. What the heck does “mean” mean?? I have never understood the meaning of “meaning” when applied to life, people, the universe, etc.

    What is the meaning of being a hamster? What is the meaning of being a rock?

    Everyone in the video who got past the initial dumbfoundedness started listing activities that they can do, like to do or think they ought to do. Those are very concrete things. “Meaning” is the most empty of all abstract concepts. How is a list of activities a meaning?

    Assuming the existence of some kind of significance-point-purpose-meaning-whatever that has to be added onto human life from the outside, like a label giving the title of a painting stuck to the wall next to the painting and then spending years searching for it is an idiot’s pastime.

    You’re alive. What meaning is needed to be added from outside?

  • Interesting. Do you know where these interviews were done? What city, I mean?

    I do think the question is a little vague. Most people in the video seem to have interpreted it as, “What is the meaning of human life?” whereas I read it as, “What distinguishes humans from other life forms?” But still an interesting project.

    My favorite answer was the last one, the kid who said, “Have fun. Learn. Adopt cats.” Yup, that more or less sums it up.

  • Hey, this is the producer of the video, here to address your questions.

    First, this video was shot in a fairly wealthy, conservative Chicago suburb. I shot it in the late afternoon in a popular walking destination.

    Second, I know the question is vague, but it’s what I was assigned. I didn’t pick the question, but the way I took it is that it’s so open-ended that every person has a (at least slightly) unique answer to it. I agree with Richard in that I think that we define our own meanings, but the common threads between us all allow us to have a frame of reference against which we can distinguish ourselves. When asking the question, I didn’t add anything to it other than those specific words because I think that the process of determining what the question means is as important as answering it. There’s no one answer, but I think it’s important for everyone’s answer to be heard to give each of us a fuller understanding. And that is why I responded to the question with this video.

    I’ll be happy to respond to any other comments, questions, etc. Just post them on here! Thanks for watching!

  • bernarda

    One guy clearly spoke about god and I think a heard a fleeting reference by another person, but that is all.

  • RNB

    I confess that I didn’t listen carefully through every minute of it, but interesting that people tend to use “adult” qualities and do not refer to the essence of being human as being in possession of a certain DNA …
    would they redefine being human if they claim to be “pro-life”?

    (or was this point too obvious?)

  • your question, Hemant: “What is number?”

  • your question, Hemant: “What is number?

    Hmmm… in reference to my use of the word in the post? Probably over 85% based on latest surveys 🙂

  • Jen

    Peter, that was a beautiful video! I got a Chicago vibe off of it, but I couldn’t pinpoint it for certain. I liked the music, especially.

    I liked the opposable thumb guy!

    I understand all the fuss about what it means to “mean” something, but I kind of like that it was such a broad question because that means there were all sorts of answers. I don’t know what I would have assumed the question meant had I been asked on the street. And I probably would have given a goofy answer, most likely.

  • mikespeir

    I’m glad they didn’t ask me. I wouldn’t know.

  • Hemant, how about “What does zero mean?”

  • severalspeciesof

    … “What does zero mean?”

    That’s easy,… “God”
    Think god of the gaps, a filler for nonexistance.

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