ad astra per alia porci

anthromorphological tendencies – the human ego and imagination
July 29, 2007, 5:18 am
Filed under: diary, the arts

“Ego is the immediate dictate of human consciousness” – Max Planck

Despite human society’s regard of humility as a virtue and the professions of most people to be humble, it remains that the ego is always a predominant and central aspect of all human beings. Its influence is almost always subtle and usually imperceptible, since it works on the unconscious actions and thoughts of humans. At the end of it, we are driven and motivated by our desire to stroke our egos and this is seen in many aspects of human behaviour, endeavour and thinking.

However, there is a tendency to deny the ego in Asian cultures, and since I am from a quintessentially Asian society, I can vouch for it. Good school results are attributed to the vagaries of luck by parents when they chatter with other parents about their children even though their children probably worked their butts off for it. One should not go around announcing one’s achievements. The proud will get their just deserts. Despite this, I do believe that denial doesn’t lead to nonexistence and there is a thread of commonality in terms of human wants and desires that runs through all cultures. The ego is a human thing and no culture is considered removed from its influence.

One example of how our egos work its way into our behaviour is found in the general trend of advice offered in all self-help books that teaches readers how to deal with people and foster good relationships with others. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is probably the most famous book in human relationships; I quote his six ways to endear oneself to people:

Six ways to make people like you

1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
2. Smile.
3. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

Doesn’t every single piece of advice requires a person to cater to another person’s ego and sense of self? The name we love most is our own. The interests that are most important are our own. We desire validation of our uniqueness as individuals. Our relationships are fraught with ego issues and it can arguably be seen as a central aspect of all human relationships. Thinking properly through all the friendships I have, I cannot confidently say that none are untouched by the works of the ego.

Consider how friendships are formed and how couples are attracted to each other. The most important factors that lead to “chemistry” is how similar the two persons in question are. We talk about how commonality of interests, hobbies, world views etc. are the key factors that lead to blossoming relationships, but do we realise the underlying focus on the self? Essentially we like people who are similar to ourselves and this is a manifestation of our own self-love. This puts an entirely new spin on the clich├ęd phrase “love is selfish”.

Masturbation is probably the single most direct example of self-love (not to mention the one of the most physical and controversial) and I can’t help but relate this unashamedly “selfish” act to most human interactions that involves one party seeking to endear themselves to another. The young upstart seeks to curry favour with his bosses by complimenting them. The old rule of the workplace that says one should never drive a car that is more expensive that your boss’s. The teenage boy who woos a girl by sweet-talking her, making exaggerations about her beauty and intelligence. When we “stroke the ego” of another person, we essentially engage in a game of emotional masturbation and take advantage of the human desire to fulfill the ego and validate one’s individual nature.

This is only one example of the ego at work in relationships. What about our thinking and intellectual creativity? It seems to be particularly influenced by our tendency to see ourselves in everything we imagine.

One of my pet peeves is our species’ portrayal of alien creatures. Yes, aliens. Why do we constantly endow our imaginations of the physical appearances of extraterrestrial creatures with human features? Consider all the fictional cartoon aliens or movie alien characters in our popular culture. Most if not all are conceived with distinctly humanoid features, like limbs, eyes, ears and even hair. What is the probability of an alien race in the multitude of galaxies in this universe resembling us humans in even one slight bit? To have us humans existing the way we are today is the product of a culmination of extraordinary improbable events; to have an alien race existing in this universe and resemble us is even more remote in terms of chance. If alien races exist, they are probably not going to resemble anything on this good Earth by a single bit.

What I believe is that we see the world in our image, which is itself a function of our egos. To us, aliens should have human features because we can’t think beyond the context of the self and the confines of our individuals. This concept extends to our choice of pets. We like dogs and cats and rabbits because they resemble us; they have a symmetric face with the essential facial features and they are warm-blooded, amongst other things. We squirm at the thought of slaughtering and eating a dog but we fret a lot less over eating fish or shellfish.

Interestingly, our anthromorphological tendencies extend even to our conception of God and the divine, a field in which there is an even stronger need to separate what is human and what is not. As much as Christians believe that man is created in God’s image, I beg to differ. I contend that God is created in man’s image. A simple test of this is to observe our own portrayal of God in our cultures.

Consider Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel: God is portrayed as an elderly, robust man with flowing beard and white hair, which is a very typical depiction of God in the western world. What is the basis for the assumption of God as a humanoid with human features? There simply isn’t any. To depict God in human form would be in a way to debase the purity and moral superiority of the divine, bringing him down to the dross world of humans. Alternatively we can see ourselves as trying to become God, usurping his seat of moral superiority. We seek to reconcile with him by making him human, and in doing so betray our own need to see our own image in everything which is especially pronounced in issues that matter a lot to us and are essentially undefinable and open to speculation. The human form is both a source of comfort to us and a means to satiate our own egos. It is impossible to deny the pervasive influence of the human ego.


1 Comment so far
Leave a comment

Very nicely put. I agree.

There is a reason however that anyone who believes in the Old Testament of the Bible would believe that God looks like us physically and that is because it states that we were created in His image.

Could mean from a purely spiritual standpoint of course.

Comment by Monty

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