The Question of Man

Panorama scenic view of the Continental Divide.

Throughout the Ridgeview education, students face the question “What is man?” constantly. Moreover, in living an examined life, it is impossible to avoid the question.

Over Winter break, I had the pleasure of reading a book called A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes by Adam Rutherford. Although I enjoyed its exploration of genetics, I loved its take on the limits of science. Our current understanding shows that though man is in some part determined by his genetic make-up, in many ways our genes are not our fate.

Thirty years ago or so, scientists believed that once they could sequence man’s DNA, they could figure out what it indicated, tracing the very existence of humanity on the molecular level.  Instead, they found a convoluted mess of repeated sequences, pseudo-genes (sequences that have all the indicators of coding a protein, but do not), micro-sequences (tiny sequences that regulate many complicated processes in indirect ways), and other “junk DNA.” Additionally, there does not seem to be a clear-cut way in which nurture interacts with our genetic nature.

It is indeed wonderful that the very map of man cannot completely describe him.  This secures the need for the humanities all the more. If science had successfully demystified man, would we be able to debate freedom? What about free will? If, indeed, whatever is must be, then does the naturalist’s fallacy truly matter? In other words, if what is must be, does it matter if it is not right?

This realization can also be shown in the contrast of the dystopian worlds of Orwell’s 1984 and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Whereas the former describes a science-based society based on optimizing humanity, the latter shows a society placated by a lack of knowledge. Both societies wage war against the humanities because Socratic examination complicates life; they were formed on the very basis that the humanities are freedom to man. If you want to eliminate liberty, start by doing away with the humanities.

However, man is not merely ivory-tower examination. He is also a being of action, as I will discuss next week.

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