Little Meditation on Human Nature

Human Playing God

Human always attempt to play god --- to change the rule of nature, and to re-write the supreme laws of human minds. Reprogramming nature and the human brain is also a constant fascination for science fictions and prophecies. I see such efforts as extremely dangerous, which might result in the destruction of human race before they produce any meaningful advances.

We live in a very complex and delicate equilibrium that has been reached by millions of years of adaptation and adjustments. If we suddenly change a single factor of our environment, it might trigger a domino-like transformation of other factors (which are all interconnected and interdependent), hence threaten our own survival because we can’t adapt as fast as we are changing our surroundings. For example, recently Malaysia released thousands of mutant mosquitoes to fight Dengue. However, the consequences of such attempts have not been studies thoroughly or are not even predictable. Back home is the United States, genetically modified crops are approved by federal agencies. The triumph of science in the recent centuries has boosted our confidence in understanding and managing the environment. Some of us assume that we have turned from guests of nature to the master of nature, and that we are authorized to make any change as we see fit. But recent climate change and the intensifying natural disasters around the world have shown how little we actually know about the world we live in.

In Brave New World, we see a future where people are conditioned to be a part of certain castes and perform certain functions from the very beginning of their life. But this totalitarian conditioning does not take into account the mutation of human mind and genes. What if someone from the lower caste start to develop independent consciousness, and infect other lower-caste members with such intelligence? What could the outnumbered Alphas do?

However, warnings against such dangerous god-playing attempts are useless because the temptation to become the Supreme Being is too strong for the ambitious to resist. Or, in the case of genetically modified crops, the drive to make money is too powerful, and our regulation bodies are too weak and underfunded to even understand what those big corporations are doing. Since we are talking about prophecy, I will predict the following: I think sooner or later, human activities and scientific advancements will cause such drastic and unpredictable change to our surroundings that our own survival will be the cost. We will be the modern Icarus who is flying too close to the sun with a pair of wing made of wax and feather. Our attempt in becoming God will result in the downfall of our civilization. It seems like that there is a pre-installed, self-destructive program inside of human nature to prevent us from becoming the master of the world.

The Gravity of Human Nature

Kant once said, “Nothing entirely straight can be fashioned from the crooked wood of which human kind is made”. Looking at all the prophecies we have encountered so far, I find a good way to test the strength of any prediction: to ask ourselves whether or not the future world is based on the same human nature that we possess today. In our seemingly random history, the only thing we can hold on to is the universal, unchanging human nature. People are as crooked two thousand years ago as they are today; they are equally full of hope and love; they are no less cruel or selfish. Human nature is the gravity, and history is the pendulum, swinging back and forth between better and worse. No matter how far we go on either direction, the gravity of human nature always pulls us back to the point where the pendulum is nearest to earth. Once we reach that point, we are ready for another swing. A good system can hold up the pendulum for a longer time in the better direction, but eventually the arm gets sore and the pendulum falls. Similarly, the most repressive regime could only push the pendulum the other way for a limited duration, then the power will be exhausted and gravity will prevail. Human nature, like gravity, is neither good nor bad; it is like the Yin-Yang: in the darkest age, we feel the strongest force of love and hope, while in the best moments, we experience the most evil urge. Therefore, the best systems are always built upon the defects of human nature. Only when we have prepared for the worst can we then hope for the best.

People might say, “we are human, therefore we have this-and-that quality”. I think the truth is the other way around: we have this-and-that quality, therefore we are human. If we are anything other than what we are, then our species wouldn’t even be able to survive long enough to develop such intelligence with which we are now observing ourselves. Before we become smart enough to make sense of “who we are”, we have to survive first. And the millions of years of survival have predetermined who we are. So it is no surprise that we will discover our human nature as it is today, and it is not a long shot to predict that thousands of years later, the same human nature will still linger in every one of us --- if our species could make it that far.






首先,与其说“差距”,不如说是“差异”。因为很多中美之间的不同之处,在不同情况下会有不同的效果。比如中国的中央集权,在兴修水利、高速铁路、核电站 建设等方面,效率就很高,这是美国人非常羡慕的。有利就有弊,利弊相生,在不同的大环境下,中美政治制度会发挥不同的优势。


美国的创新精神、开拓进取、自由独立、平等公正、天高任鸟飞,在自由和平等最大化的舞台上,八仙过海,各显神通,很多的这种精神特质在不少好莱坞电影中表 现得很突出。这是美国竞争力的来源,也是美国梦吸引全球精英的因素。美国的大学校园内,这种精神得到了最充分得体现和锻炼。再比如当下的美国经济,虽然相 对萧条,但是国际上最有创造力和生长动力的企业还是美国的:Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple。。。不过中国这样的企业也越来越多,比如阿里巴巴,百度,比亚迪等等。

我对中国的状况有个比喻:千年古老中华帝国,在二十世纪初期寿终正寝了,也可以说是被一群外国的黄毛小伙子给揍趴下的。不过帝国虽亡,文明不灭。在短短的 几十年内,在一代伟人带领下,凤凰涅磐,浴火重生。于是,中华文明抛弃了帝国的躯壳,又重新作为一个(多)民族国家,投胎到二十世纪的中叶,像是刚出生的 婴儿, 十分脆弱,充满生命,但是同时又有着千年古老文明的灵魂。这个灵魂时隐时现,挥之不去,也千万不能“去”。有时,这个古老文明是最强大的粘合剂,有时,却 是最大的包袱。


中国就像是青少年:自尊心很敏感,对外界的评论很在意。一方面,很想得到外界的认可,另一方面,对自己到底有多少斤两,又不是很自信。中国这种青春期反 应,在国民心理中很普遍:看看中国取得的成就,就觉得中国很了不起,前途无量,世界第一。但是看看自己跟成年人们(发达国家)的差距,又自惭形秽,觉得自 己哪里都不如人。这是中国缺乏平和心态的体现,容易走极端:不是自卑,就是自负。要缓解这种心态,还需要很多时间。不以物喜,不以己悲。和谐社会,就是要 淡定。

中国同时又是一个千年文明的转世投胎。在白天忙的时候(经济建设),感觉不是很明显。就像我们所有人,大部分时间都不知道自己上辈子是什么人。但是晚上, 夜深人静,或是睡梦当中,古老文明的呼唤却又极其强烈。日常生活中,虽然越来越西化、国际化,但是,许多生活中的点滴,仍然是几千年来的文化基因。时不时 地,会有一种蓦然回首、似曾相识的感觉。


中文是我的母语,这是最让我庆幸的一件事之一。因为会说中文,我就拿到了一把能打开千年宝库的钥匙。没有哪个民族、哪个文明、哪个语言,能像中国这样的, 保存两千多年的历史与文化。人其实不怎么聪明,翻来覆去,犯的都是同样的错误,说的都是同样的俏皮话,得到的都是同样的感悟。中国几千年的积累与思索,基 本上 把人类哲学思想所能涉及到的问题都讨论过了。中国几千年的战争和和平,把人与人、国与国之间的关系也演绎得淋漓尽致了。如果把中国的历史、哲学学好了,那 就能从容了。



借用数学语言,我对中国的乐观,不是来自于中国目前的绝对值,而是来自于delta --- 变化、趋势。中国虽然存在很多问题,但是在一天天的变好。美国虽然很牛,但是在一天天的走下坡路。



我对中国的未来充满信心的另外一个原因,就是海外华人以及留学生的力量。中国的高等教育问题很大,所以许多优秀学生选择出国,这在我看来,是最好的“曲线 救国”、“留得青山在”的国家战略。因为这些学生,在国外接受教育和锻炼,既避免了国内全面洗脑的命运、保存了创造力的火种,同时又对中国更加了解、 更加客观、更加关注。






关 于这些问题,我觉得很有价值讨论。的确,这是非常根本、非常重要的问题。这些形而上的问题不解决,中国的未来就很模糊。国家崛起到底是为了什么?一些藏 人、新疆人,他们又怎么看待中国崛起?中国的崛起能给少数民族、农民工、农民等带来多大好处?中国的崛起,给中国周边国家带来的心理、经济、政治压力,又 如何能得到调和?作为每个个人,最终的追求是什么?难道一定要让中国的GDP 超过美国,我们活得才有滋味吗?我们可以选择“不当中国人”吗?




但是,与此同时,如果没有很好的理论指导和哲学信念,那所有的物质积累很可能会与终极追求背道而驰。所以我觉得中国即需要工程师,也需要哲学家、理论家。 如果学者们能找到答案,或是推动人们的思考,那也是中国的大幸。但是,不少读书人,填饱了肚子,读了几本书,就开始酸溜溜的说三道四,满腹牢骚。他们既不 给社会创造价值,又不能解决人们的心灵需要。很多人本来好好的,就是读书读废了:学进去了,没能学出来。吃了别的冒牌学者的残羹剩饭,自己营养不良了。这 也是我们要预防的。

中国近代,有不少关于中国国民性的讨论。关于“中国人是奴才”的言论,我相信:奴才使自己成为奴才,上帝是自己成为上 帝。如果自己觉得自己是奴才,那就没救了。上世纪的一些穷酸秀才,对中国国民性很悲观,似乎一国人民是一成不变的。而打开手机,就发现今年已经是2011 年了。即使是在二十世纪,中国也是“江山代有才人出”。毛泽东,邓小平,周恩来。“数风流人物,还看今朝”。能有这样的气魄,哪里是奴才?二十一世纪,中 国照样会有奴才,也照样会有英雄豪杰。这是每个人自己的选择。