• Posted: Jun 07, 2009 12:24:08
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Have you ever met a truly selfless person? They are rare. Should you meet one, you might wonder if there isn't something wrong with them. In fact, there might be.
Novel research published this week asks if species other than humans laugh or giggle. The answer: yes. And this follows related research published the previous week that adds to the list of species other than humans that use tools. Human uniqueness is being challenged. Do you feel assaulted? Your vanity might be asserting itself.
Vanity is an interesting word. It relies on a sense of self for its meaning. And the concept of self is interesting in itself. It is not clear at all that every species develops a sense of self. One way to tell is whether they learn to admire themselves in a mirror. Great apes can and do. Birds can and do. Dogs and cats not so much. A mirror image has no chemical component, no smell. For a great many species a mirror image is therefore not real, much less a reflection of something relevant. Humans, on the other hand, are captivated. And we are quick to measure ourselves against whatever we've seen in others. Unfortunately, our conclusions are often not only wrong but can be self-destructive. What we perceive as desirable in others may not at all resemble what others perceive as desirable in us. Self-destructive vanity takes charge when we throw ourselves in the toilet in favor of some other standard that isn't really us. On the other hand, some among us insist everyone should be measured against the standards we have achieved. And in doing so, we arrogantly devalue and alienate nearly everyone around us. That is also vanity at work.
Some 30 years ago a University of Chicago psychologist by the name of Csikszentmihalyi came up with a concept called "flow". He used it to describe a state of mind wherein a person loses themselves in a process of give and take with the physical environment. The concept had its roots in the writings of Lao Tzu where that poet describes a state of well-being in harmony and at one with the flow of natural processes around one's self, what Lao Tzu called "the flowing stream". In such a state, the ego does not compete with nor clash with the processes of being or doing, but becomes absorbed into them. It's a state a musician might enter into while performing, a writer while writing, a photographer while shooting, a biker while riding. Within such a state, vanity is at rest, turned off, put away. But one is not completely selfless. There is still a sense of controlled coordination between self and process. Put that sense of self to sleep, though, and disaster will result as natural processes consume. No god will intervene, either. Only vanity would insist otherwise.
Wednesday, June 6th, 2007
14.3 mm 68 mm