Tag Archives: human condition

Alain de Botton

Despite our best efforts to clean it of its peculiarities, sex will never be either simple or nice in the ways we might like it to be. It is not fundamentally democratic or kind; it is bound up with cruelty, transgression and the desire for subjugation and humiliation It refuses to sit neatly on top of love, as it should. Tame it though we may try, sex has a recurring tendency to wreak havoc across our lives: it leads us to destroy our relationships, threatens our productivity and compels us to stay up too late in nightclubs talking to people whom we don’t like but whose exposed midriffs we nevertheless strongly wish to touch. Sex remains in absurd, and perhaps irreconcilable, conflict with some of our highest commitments and values.

Alain de Botton, How to Think More about Sex, New York, 2013, pp. 5-6

John Gray

‘Humanity’ does not exist. There are only humans, driven by conflicting needs and illusions, and subject to every kind of infirmity of will and judgement.

John Gray, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, London, 2002, p. 12

Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin

[T]he human mind is used to thinking in terms of decades or perhaps generations, not the hundreds of millions of years that is the time frame for life on Earth. Coming to grips with humanity in this context reveals at once our significance in Earth history, and our insignificance. There is a certainty about the future of humanity that cheats our mind’s comprehension: one day our species will be no more.

Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin, The Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind, New York, 1995, p. 224

Frank Jackson

The physical sciences—physics, chemistry, biology—tell us a great deal about what our world is like. In addition, they tell us a great deal about what we are like. They tell us what our bodies are made of, the chemical reactions necessary for life, how our ears extract location information from sound waves, the evolutionary account of how various bits of us are as they are, what causes our bodies to move through the physical environment as they do, and so on. We can think of the true, complete physical account of us as an aggregation of all there is to say about us that can be constructed from the materials to be found in the various physical sciences. This account tells the story of us as revealed by the physical sciences.

Frank Jackson, ‘Consciousness’, in Frank Jackson and Michael Smith (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy, New York, 2005, pp. 310-311

John Barrow

The constants of Nature give our Universe its feel and its existence. Without them, the forces of Nature would have no strengths; the elementary particles of matter no masses; the Universe no size. The constants of Nature are the ultimate bulwark against unbridled relativism. They define the fabric of the Universe in a way that can side-step the prejudices of a human-centred view of things. If we were to make contact with an intelligence elsewhere in the Universe we would look first to the constants of Nature for common ground. We would talk first about those things that the constants of Nature define. The probes that we have dispatched into outer space carrying information about ourselves and our location in the Universe pick on the wavelengths of light that defined the hydrogen atom to tell where we are and what we know. The constants of Nature are potentially the greatest shared physical experience of intelligent beings everywhere in the Universe. Yet, as we have followed the highways and by-ways of the quest to unravel their meaning and significance, we have come full circle. Their architects saw them as a means of lifting our understanding of the Universe clear from the anthropomorphisms of human construction to reveal the otherness of a Universe not designed for our convenience. But these universal constants, created by the coming together of relativistic and quantum realities, have turned out to underwrite our very existence in ways that are at once mysterious and marvellous. For it is their values, measured with ever greater precision in our laboratories, but still unexplained by our theories, that make the Universe a habitable place for minds of any sort. And it is through their values that the uniqueness of our Universe is impressed upon us by the ease with which we can think of less satisfactory alternatives.

John Barrow, The Constants of Nature: From Alpha to Omega, London, 2002, pp. 290-291

John Barrow and Frank Tipler

[O]nce space travel begins, there are, in principle, no further physical barriers to prevent Homo sapiens (or our descendants) from eventually expanding to colonize a substantial portion, if not all, of the visible Cosmos. Once this has occurred, it becomes quite reasonable to speculate that the operations of all these intelligent beings could begin to affect the large scale evolution of the Universe. If this is true, it would be in this era—in the far future near the Final State of the Universe—that the true significance of life and intelligence would manifest itself. Present-day life would then have cosmic significance because of what future life may someday accomplish.

John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, Oxford, 1986, p. 614