Disentangling the Human Condition

by:Johann,Kirupakaran and Tharun

I was having one of those nights. I had been in bed for almost two hours but was just as awake as I had been throughout the day. It was one of those nights where you find nothing more encapsulating and enterprising than staring at the dark ceiling. You know the kind. The one where you suddenly become aware of your existence on a floating rock being lassoed around in space with the kind of precision that only nature can achieve.  It dawns on you how small and insignificant it all seems. This is perhaps the best way in which one can attempt to describe what it means to be conscious. 

We have always struggled to define or understand it. Psychologist William R. Klemm writes this in his piece ‘Is Consciousness Unique to Humans,’  “There is a solipsistic view that consciousness is the only reality, that what we think, we experience of the world is an illusion created by consciousness.” Scientists will describe it as a series of chemical reactions generated in our brains. It could be both. It could be neither. However, this innate ability that we possess is often touted as something that is used to define what it means to be human. Again, we don’t yet know if consciousness is something that is unique to a singular species. There are countless articles, blogs, research papers expounding about how animals and plants have a conscience. Most studies have either been inconclusive or justify their subjects’ actions as being evolutionarily motivated. This is precisely what makes this topic so difficult. How are we to know if they are not to tell us directly? Won’t any other conclusion be a mere hypothesis or an arbitrary guess? One could argue how it is that dolphins and elephants are able to identify themselves in  front of a mirror. Or how Grey parrots have learned to pick up and associate meanings with human speech. These examples, as it appears, have been enough for scientists to classify certain species as being conscious while others as not. It must be kept in mind, however, that we are measuring consciousness by how closely these animals behave to humans. This in itself indicates a higher level of consciousness that has definitely never been recorded. A definitive answer to this question may allude to us forever.

What our conscious minds do know (mostly) is the difference between right and wrong. An inbuilt capacity to judge the actions of others and frame opinions must surely be what distinguishes us. Nature doesn’t show a penchant for morals or justice the way we do. A lion killing its own cub without a tinge of remorse is commonplace in nature but a similar act among a human society is a surefire way to guarantee yourself a life sentence at the least. This is not to say that nature does not have morals. In fact, countless arguments can be put forward explaining how these ‘moral less’ species of which we refer follow a much stricter moral compass than the man himself. This brings us to the matter of pride. Self-consumption and ego are as much a part of human nature as being conscious. 

A possible reason why humans have continued to remain so distinguished could be that our pride prevents us from exploring the “what-if?”. We tend to maintain our own narratives, justified by our conscience. The lack of a proper definition for a person’s conscience gives them leeway to alter it according to their whims and fancies. Our ego prevents us from drawing the line, even when we know that we have moved much ahead of where it should have been. This can be seen in cases of popular personalities such as cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar. The ‘God of Cricket’ had a rather unpleasant career-ending. Silent echoes of his poor performance could be heard everywhere and yet he kept going. The very people who had lovingly placed him on the throne were now foraging for ways to politely tell him “It’s time to step down.”

The act of letting go becomes much more difficult when you aren’t the only one involved. The people around try to shelter you from the fact that you are no longer the person you used to be. They look out for your interests because that is what their conscience terms as correct. Your conscience on the other hand assumes this to be their sign of approval for you to keep going at it. But deep inside, even you know the truth. It is this internal conflict of conscience that each one of us struggles with.

One of the most interesting incidents involving this internal conflict is the making of Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s 1990 film titled ‘Dreams’. Kurosawa, who is still considered as one of the greatest filmmakers to have lived, had been out of action for half a decade then. Known for his action-filled Samurai films, Kurosawa’s following had gradually receded just like his power of sight. So when a practically blind, filmmaker from yesteryear went knocking on doors of production houses to produce his latest project, they were skeptical. The film was far away from the action genre. It was quite literally a compilation of Kurosawa’s dreams that he had over the years. 

Ultimately the film was co-produced by Veteran filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who had been an ardent follower of Kurosawa. Despite its unceremonious creation and lukewarm reception, the themes of the film resounded the conflicts that a person has. Even while making the film, Kurosawa knew that this was a subtle reminder that the world had moved on. 

The struggle of moving on doesn’t need to be career-defining. Neither is the struggle only limited to people in the public’s eye. A relationship as basic as that of a parent and child faces it. As children grow up, they tend to distance themselves from their parents. On the face of it, this feels like a loss. What needs to be understood is that the act of moving on is nothing but natural progression. One cannot resist it even if they tried to. Moving on from something is not the same as sacrificing. It is simply a way of redirecting your energy to focus on other aspects of your life.

Similarly, there exist a multitude of such phases and stages in life. The ambiguity of it all has invoked a sense of fear within us. Humanity has always feared the unknown. Evolution needed this fear to continue to survive this species but somewhere along the line, this fear became a limiting factor. An unbreakable wall if you will. It made humans ignorant and led to the rise of disbelief in what they saw around them. However, as time went by, this very barrier of fear transformed into a beautiful feeling of curiosity. The curiosity which led to many intellectuals providing to the world their understanding of everything around us.

With the passage of time, the complexity of our lives has also exponentially increased. There is an infinite number of directions that life can go in. The expanse of it baffles the human mind which results in us attempting to understand it. Science covers a vast majority of one’s understanding but there are some things that are simply beyond its ambit. This is where religions, ideologies, philosophical concepts, and other concepts arise. 

Concepts such as nihilism which with their radical skepticism and extreme pessimism lead to existential crises have been a growing emotion in today’s time. Similarly, there exists a plethora of ideologies, many of which even seem conflicting at times.

Why do so many conflicting views exist? Is there any way of knowing which is right? Is all this thinking pointless or does it hold any actual merit to our everyday lives? The answers to these questions are pretty simple. As I see it, life is like a coin with the number 6 printed on it. While one may see the number 6, another may see the number 9. Though utterly conflicting, both the conclusions are true, from their respective perspectives. Both of them are describing what they see but do not realise that their view is limited. Similarly, although there exist multiple conflicting views and interpretations, they are all true in their own sense.

Why do human beings, as a species, place so much reliance upon such interpretations and understandings? To explain this, an apt analogy would be being lost at sea in a storm, with waves crashing onto you as you do your best to stay afloat and breathe as much as you can. For an individual in that scenario, a single rope thrown from even an unseeable ship delivers ecstatic joy. This rope gives him support, a direction to move in. What this rope gives to the man is what the understanding of life gives to us. It gives us hope, it gives us the assurance that there is something beyond all this. We are born into the stormy sea of life and we do our very best to get through it.

At the end of the day, no matter what we understand or what we interpret of life, the fact remains that there is boundless joy and beauty in it. That is the very gift of life. There may be dark days; there may be days where the world feels like it is about to burn, but the ability to wake up and keep moving in the direction that we have decided upon leads us to our long-desired destination. Our directions may be different, but we all end up at the same destination. It may be a long journey, or a short one, but somewhere along the way, in some discreet way, we fall in love with it all.


This blog page serves as a platform for the Editorial department of The Hindu Education Plus Club at VIT Vellore. We provide opportunities to budding authors across campus to hone their writing skills. We publish blogs four times a week, where writers can communicate their views on any topic of their choice with our readers.

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