By Roland Watson
I closed the last series, on the planet earth, by talking about the primacy of our desires to procreate and to consume. Now, in this article, the first in the series where I will evaluate the humans species, I want to consider these desires, and more broadly our needs, in more detail.
In other words, is procreation and consumption all there is to it? What are our needs, and where do they come from? And, how do we satisfy them?
Our needs are form
Our needs are also form. They are influences that are effectively imposed on us. As I have described, our instincts, our will to live and our desire to procreate, are almost certainly genetically encoded in some way.
Our other needs are also a function of this genetic code, and of our environment. We are programmed to satisfy various needs, and the planet is the environment in which we do so.
Our basic needs
Our basic needs derive from our instincts. For our survival, we have physical needs, for food and clothing and shelter. We also have the physical need for security, since the world is a dangerous place. Not only can we have accidents, but other species - a few, and other humans, may try to kill us.
We also have psychological needs. Security, for instance, has a psychological component. We want the peace of mind that comes from feeling safe.
For our procreation, we require companionship, and sex, and also security. And, while the first two of these are certainly physical, they have major psychological components as well.
We actually have many psychological needs, and this results from the fact - once again - that we are a social animal. Our young are absolutely helpless on their own, and must be protected.
This protection, and the other care that is given to us by our parents, over a period of many years, is another form of programming. It shapes us, adapts us, such that we expect, need and want regular contact with other humans. We need friendship, romance and love, and the psychological benefits that they confer.
We also have a variety of other practical needs that derive from our social condition, including for transport; health care, which is a derivative of the need for security; education, to learn about society and life; and entertainment, as a means to alleviate boredom, as a relief valve when life proves difficult, and as an outlet for creative expression.
Where our needs came from
How did we get all of these needs? The answer is that evolution, and history, is a record of the development of our needs.
Human evolution, which has been underway for roughly two million years - this is the presumed duration of the genus homo to-date, has been driven by the desire to find better ways to satisfy our needs. And, it has accomplished this. Also, along the way we have actually developed new needs, which we have found ways to satisfy, or which we are in the process of doing so now.
We are a mammal, and descended from apes; precisely, from a common simian ancestor. And, it is quite possible that the single evolutionary event that allowed us to take off, to achieve our present form, was the development of an opposable thumb.
This event also illustrates the huge impact of chance. The initial evolution enabled us to move from the ground to the trees. But, after a long time in the trees we returned to the ground when we, and we alone - many other simian species did not, realized that our thumbs, which we had used to hold branches and pick fruit, also enabled us to grasp and hold other objects, and to use them as tools.
An interesting question in the determinism versus free will debate is, in our return to the ground, which came first: an opposable thumb of great dexterity, or the desire to hold a tool - or, the desire to cause harm?
The rise of society
Our basic instinct was to live, and for this we needed food, clothing, shelter, and protection from dangerous people and animals. As a social animal, we formed groups to help each other accomplish this. These groups were initially individual families - with leeway for non-monogamous sexual behavior, then extended families, and then small, interrelated communities. This is the origin of tribalism.
Of course, over time our social structure has become much larger and more complicated. But, our basic needs remain the same.
The increasing complexity of social life has in some ways eased the task of satisfying these needs, but in other ways it has made their fulfillment much more difficult.
For example, in modern societies getting enough to eat is usually not a problem, although finding peace of mind often is.
The development of new needs
Over time, we have also developed much more sophisticated needs. Living in social groups, we had a need to communicate with each other. This led to the symbolic expression of ideas, or language.
In addition, as we became better able to satisfy our basic needs, this gave us more time, first, simply to wonder at the universe, and then to speculate about it, and our role in it.
This in turn led to a need for the creative expression of these speculations, and for advanced self-development, all to the end of achieving a positive self-view.
Even more, along the way the role and the complexity of our language expanded as well, to satisfy these new needs, and aspirations.
We are a hybrid
In summary, humans are a curious species, a hybrid of sorts. We are mired in the past, in the need to satisfy our basic requirements, and the behavioral patterns that we have traditionally used to accomplish this.
And, we are reaching for the future, to satisfy our new "higher" needs, aspirations and dreams, and to escape from this older, more primitive behavior.
In the next article, I will consider how we view the world.
© Roland Watson 2014