By Roland Watson

In this article, I'm going to examine some of our other characteristics, and how they also help shape who we are. As part of this, I'm going to redefine the idea of a human life.

Other human characteristics

People have a number of other characteristics that we should consider. For example, for all of the abilities that we derive from our consciousness, it still has serious limitations. What I mean by this is that we have both a short and a narrow span of attention. We can only keep a few ideas active in our mind at any one time, and then only for a short while. Indeed, if we concentrate on one idea, we forget about all of the others.

This in turn is compounded by our short memory. Unless something happens to you, it is soon forgotten.

As an example of this, all of the different atrocities that have been committed around the world in recent years, are old news. No one, except the actual victims - the ones who survived, remember them at all. Also, this is another example of our indifference to the suffering of others.

These limitations of our consciousness, together with our innate selfishness, are the essential attributes that underlie the fact that the problems we create continually recur.

An individual's decline

We also saw earlier that the certainty of death is the defining fact, or form, of our existence. But, coupled with death is our inevitable decline. After a brief flowering in youth, many aspects of our life slowly degrade. To call it simply a life cycle misses this point.

You experience a physical decline. You grow old, get fat, lose your hair, and your skin loses its elasticity - you lose whatever good looks you might have had. Your output of hormones falls, and you lose your sex drive. Your eyesight and hearing fail. Your susceptibility to disease increases. And, your brain shrinks. You may even end up helpless, like a child.

You also experience a mental decline. You lose your mental flexibility and tolerance. You lose your ideals. You may become bitter, or agitated, unable to cope. And, you realize that while you are able to do anything, you do have limits, if only a limited amount of time, and that there are therefore many things that you will never accomplish.

Finally, you experience a social decline. Your children, if you have any, leave home. You lose their company and support. Your friends die. It seems as if the world is moving away, forever vigorous and young, and you are left behind.

It is not a pretty picture.

If it appears that I am being somewhat cynical and jaded, you may be right. One of my objectives with these articles, though, is not to paint a pretty picture - of life, but a realistic one.

Is balanced by how we develop

However, and so as not to overstate the negative, it is worth recalling our many positive aspects. Many, many people are kind and compassionate, and feel a strong need to help others, including other species.

And, of course, the types of decline I have just described are, or they should be, offset by all of the wonderful moments that we have and the incredible people that we meet, and also the personal development that we achieve through experiencing and learning about life.

Your personal history

I want to return to needs again, specifically, to our instincts. Our most basic instinct is to survive, which I have redefined as the will to live. This will to live comes first, and to accomplish it we must survive.

Indeed, every man and woman alive today is a survivor in a struggle that has lasted for the entire history of life on earth. To get to you, every one of your ancestors had to survive, and not just your ancestor homo sapiens, all of your ancestors in all of our predecessor species as well.

This is your entire lifeline. Also, along the way, many, many individuals, an untold number, did not survive and procreate. Their lifelines died out.

Viewed this way, each life is unimaginably precious. Every living thing represents an unbroken string of life billions of years old.

Who you really are

This idea leads us to another reappraisal of what constitutes life. We can recall here that in earlier articles I made the case that both the planet earth and the universe are also alive.

For organic life forms, though, we think of life only in the context of distinct individuals. However, this view represents a bias. It is yet another arcane form.

The real phenomenon of life is the entire lifeline. Every individual being on the earth today is only the latest manifestation or iteration of such a lifeline. Gametes and seeds are not breaks, only transitions.

Life is the entire lifeline, including every distinct physical form and consciousness, and the breaks between them. You are only the latest link in your chain.

This grand idea also clarifies the question of purpose. The issue is not your purpose, what you specifically should do, but the purpose of your entire lifeline, of life itself. The key question about purpose, for a human life, for all life - once again - is what the force of life is trying to do through us.

In conclusion, in their struggle to survive your ancestors lived through innumerable wars and cold-blooded battles. And along the way, they - maybe not all of them - but certainly many, had to behave at times without any semblance of ethics. Ruthlessness, murder, nothing could stand in the way of their survival.

As a consequence of this, these behavioral patterns have been ingrained in our psyche, perhaps even coded into our genes.

The most successful survivors would actually have had a lust for blood and battle, that's why they were so good at it, and this is with us now, inside us. Indeed, it is a core element of our being.

In this article, I have tried to look deeply into our instinct - as individuals - to survive. In the next, I will consider the instinct to procreate.

© Roland Watson 2014