What Does it Mean to be Human?
The parent Institute of this project, The Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge, was founded on providing the basis of information available to the general public, primarily about what it means to be human: our capacities, our weaknesses, our potential. This project is under the direction of our President, Robert Ornstein PhD., with contributions from associates of ISHK, some of whom are professionals in the various fields and others interested amateurs.
The future depends on our understanding who we are, and how the past has made us so: what is unchanging about Human Nature, and what we can and must change to face a world that is far different from our ancestors’ world.
So this website begins not at the origin of the universe, or the billions of years of the development of life from the primordial slush (everyone says “primordial soup,” but that’s too appetizing). The story of our journey starts with a long view of the deep background of our own species and the forces that made us. Backed by an explosion of interest in early human beings, the development of genetic testing, carbon-dating and countless archaeological field workers, we choose from this ever-expanding source, the points of interest that are the most important to our understanding of our own nature.
Where there is superior work by a large organization, we point you to it, and for all important work, we provide a summary and illustrations as well as recommended links. We also recommend many of the most useful works in print and on disk. Our team of researchers and writers concentrate most on areas where important information isn’t represented well.
Where to begin is always a question. Where and when, do we say, humanity began? We follow a long line of early ancestors, a line that is constantly updated by new findings. Finally, around 100,000 – 75,000 years ago, we begin to see new characteristics that define our early ancestors as “human”. We cannot be precise about where or when since the evidence is scattered throughout the world, but the evidence is clear.
If we don’t know our history, social, psychological and biological, we can’t adapt fully to a world that we made.
Call it World 2.0, a crowded world, with humanity not a few scattered tribes as it was for all but the last “few minutes” of our existence, but one that has covered the earth with people, with cement, with communication. Where humanity once was a straggling ragtag bunch, we are now in danger of becoming a monster capable of devouring all life. What to do? First we need to know what the human journey was and to understand the paths we took and why.
Along the way, there are many fascinating facts: even before our early ancestors, homo sapiens, evolved, their ancestors reached what is now Georgia.
About 100,000 years ago modern humans (Homo sapiens) appeared in East Africa and the Middle East. Research in fields such as genetics, evolutionary biology, anthropology, and linguistics will help us follow the major routes taken by modern humans in their expansion from these areas to the present day.
Moving beyond our inheritance; who we are and what we might become
As our contact with other cultures increases, it’s vital to understand differences in human development to appreciate better what we share and can learn from each other. Our need is to evolve more accurate views of our world and ourselves from which we can develop a more complete understanding of who and what we are, and what we might become. We human beings inherit much, and the most important thing we inherit is the ability to go beyond our inheritance.
Follow those who left
Stages of the human journey:
As they navigate through these stages on the website, visitors will see what adaptations/choices were required/selected in various circumstances, how these and adaptations to various environments lead to specific changes in culture, diet, world view, perception, social organization, language, math, and forms of communication. As human beings, we don't only adapt, we make choices. Our goal is to help contributors and readers come to a better understanding of the process: What are the real goals, stated or unstated? What, in the perception of the community or its leaders, were the reasons why something needed to happen? What were the perceived problems and their possible solutions?
Confronting these decisions will be one of the interactive features of the website. Visitors will even be able to suggest alternatives.
Visitors will be able to see which solutions were selected in different communities and why. How did these solutions affect the community and change people's perceptions of themselves and their world? Visitors will see how the accumulation of such creative adaptations makes our cultures and us so different. Visitors will also be able to explore how we are all the same. What are the “Human Universals,” the things we all have in common with which we began the journey and which continue to unite us as human beings?
Key questions about mankind
What is the basic “package”?
What was the first social grouping?
What patterns, similarities and differences do we see in the development of our various cultures, myths and stories, religion, language, diet, emotions, art and architecture, music?
Problem-solving and specialization
Once we begin to answer these questions, like a master chess player, we can better predict outcomes and make moves to ensure a better future. Our own work is, as said, a fragment of what’s available so ISHK will be offering links to a hundred or so recommended works on Human Nature covering the range from prehistory to how we choose the future. This will include, for the first time, available websites, videos, and DVDs.
Among the works are those of Edward T. Hall, Marvin Harris, Jeffrey Sachs, Roger Sperry, Paul Ehrlich, Bart Ehrmann, Elaine Pagels, Marvin Meyer and many others. Links to DVDs will include America’s Stone-Age Explorers as well as evolution and Religion in the Axial Age (published by The Teaching Company) to answer the many, many people who write and ask “How do I find out more, what should I read,” etc. Some are to be found now on www.ishk.net/books/recommended_reading.html. Of course, this is an ongoing project since new discoveries and new works appear regularly.