…we are creatures that know we are creatures; moreover, we are creatures that create, and know that we create.
We are featuring some of David Loy’s recent writing on our website to introduce you to this thoughtful and brilliant Zen teacher, writer and environmental activist. David will be offering an Eco-Dharma Workshop at Mountain Cloud, May 18-20. Click here for details about the Eco-Dharma weekend.
Click to read Part 1 of this essay on our website.
Creatures that Create
In this way the “two truths” doctrine of Buddhism can help to answer the question of whether human beings are special in some way (which does not necessarily mean that we have dominion over the rest of creation) or are no more special than any other species (as Gould and many others believe). Both perspectives are valid. In one way, we are creatures just like every other creature and of no more value. Nevertheless, there is something that distinguishes human beings, as Buddhism also emphasizes. One characteristic of that distinctiveness is that we are creatures that know we are creatures; moreover, we are creatures that create, and know that we create. If the universe is not a thing but an ongoing creative process, we have become its epicenters, in a way that none of its other forms are (so far as we know). With us, new types of creativity and ourishing become possible.
Many species create. African termites construct complex mounds more than thirty feet high that include nursery chambers and fungal gardens. Unlike such instinctive behaviors, however, humans create something immeasurably more complex and interesting: culture, which in turn re-creates us and conditions the further possibilities we can envision and realize. If we don’t assume the usual distinction between biological and cultural evolution, we can see civilization as a continuation of the same generative process. Our supersized neocortex and opposable thumbs enable us to be co-creators. If “God” is another, more familiar term for the intrinsic creativity of our ever-transforming cosmos, is this what it means to be “made in the image of God”?
We transform eating into growing food, cooking, and dining; procreation into romance, weddings, honeymoons, marriage, and family life (and divorce); communicative grunts into literature, philosophy, and other types of storytelling. We create new “species” that could never evolve without us: hand axes and knives, houses and schools, temples and cathedrals, string quartets and jazz quartets, economic systems and political institutions.
In this fashion the universe becomes endlessly richer in ever-ramifying possibilities. Humans are not just one more manifestation of this process: we have become a unique and important contributor to its incessant creativity.
Modernity has brought about an explosion of ingenuity incomparably more sophisticated than anything that existed previously. Today, innovation of all sorts has become an ever- accelerating feedback loop, as scientific discovery and technological achievements enable fresh ones. Thanks to new communications media, only one person needs to discover something important; within a few days most people who follow the news can know about it, and within a few years it can be utilized around the world.
We have become so accustomed to this process that we now take it for granted, yet it is one of the most extraordinary features of contemporary life. And, although I am as concerned as anyone to decry the institutionalized greed that motivates and exploits so much economic activity today, capitalism, with its encouragement of the entrepreneurial spirit, has played an essential role in promoting that creativity, and continues to do so.
The final installment (part 3) of Are Human’s Special? will be published April 21.
Are Human’s Special was originally published in Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2017. We obtained a pdf of the article from David’s website, davidloy.org. Click here to download the full article.
Images: Featured) Eiffel Tower by Cyndipadilla 1) Michaelangelo Creation of Man photo by Janeb13 2) Frank Lloyd Wright / Guggenheim by Scott2293, CC0 Public Domain from Pixabay.com