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#37 On Being Human
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20th WCP: The Importance of Being Human
You can always update your preferences in the Privacy Centre. Before you continue Learn More How Verizon Media and our partners bring you better ad experiences To give you a better overall experience, we want to provide relevant ads that are more useful to you. The jotter you'd create would be a sort of commonplace book full of paradox and conflicting ideas, shocking facts and redemptive anecdotes, turbulent with two or three millennia of human thought.
It would be by turns pessimistic and celebratory, mawkish and solemn.
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The philosopher Martin Heidegger, who was particularly concerned with questions of being, said that no inquiry can proceed without first tackling the fundamental question "Why is there something rather than nothing? Potter is only a little rueful in noting that Dawkins's team always wins, and is relieved that the other side, captained by William James, doesn't seem to care. Having established that, from his perspective, materialism is pretty much correct, and that reductionism can take us a long way into understanding the nature of matter, the middle third of Potter's book meditates on questions of how that matter can be transformed into life.
12 Rules for Being a Human Being
Most writers would be nervous about flanking their own offerings with excerpts from Tolstoy, for fear that the reader might make unflattering comparisons, but whatever this book might lack in cohesion, or in the progressive development of an argument, it makes up for in enthusiasm and ambition. Having established that Tolstoy hated violence and that scientists can now make decapitated flies take off simply by shining a light on them, Potter moves on to other subjects: emergent phenomena, genetics and tool-making. The first two sections open with quotations from Shakespeare, but the epigraph of the third and final section, "On Being Human", suggests a change of gear: it's a phrase from You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier: "Being a person is not a pat formula, but a quest, a mystery, a leap of faith.
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One of the most arresting passages, more powerful than any of the pronouncements by physicists or biologists, is a full-page reproduction from Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man , addressing how appalling it would be to face an eternity of anything: "For ever! For all eternity!
Not for a year or for an age but for ever.