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Self-Conscious Animal

The self-conscious animal is haunted by a progression of realizations, beginning with that of its vulnerable mortality and physical finitude in contrast to the potential eternity and boundlessness suggested in consciousness. This progression goes on to include the indifference and enormity of the universe as a presence beyond human ken or control, and independent of human intentions. Out of this sense of the impersonal and objective life of the cosmos ultimately grew the key metaphor of mechanism, which turns the tables on the vastness of nature by reducing it to a device of human conception and proportion. But long before, this creature intuitively realized that it could and must define its own world; that hope lay in the realms of consciousness rather than in nature; and that it could shape the external world to conform in limited ways to its ideal expectations. Mankind would also have to adapt itself to the world of its making. If mankind wished to live apart from nature, in a plastic bubble of reason and technology, it would have to remake itself as an artificial creature. This corresponded, in fact, to Man’s deepest desires for self-generation. Above all, then, Man is this self-defining, self-generating, idealizing creature, fleeing mortality and embodiment, the corruption of time, the determinism of nature and the compelling authority of the Real. The hope behind culture is for a more humanly conceived environment—but also that human artifacts and institutions may prevail as repositories of meaning beyond death and decay, so that mankind (and even the individual) may in some sense count.

RELATED TAGS: [autopoiesis, self-definition/creation/generation, autogenesis, vulnerable human condition, indifference/cruelty of nature/the cosmos, metaphor of mechanism, humanly defined world/of human definition, conscious realm, external world, practical idealism, origin(s)/rationale of culture, (in)significance of individual (soma)]

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