Are We Human, or Are We Dancer?

Weekly Debates

On this glorious Pi Day, the Society gathered to discuss a perennial fascination of humankind — namely, the human condition itself and how we can best understand it. The resolution for the evening was Resolved: Science is the best means for understanding the human condition. This was an especially exciting debate as many of the Society’s alumni returned to contribute to the dialogue.

The Society’s resident physicist Ms. Catherine Murphy (COL ’13) of Virginia began by setting the grounds for the debate, explaining that “the human condition” refers to the fact that we are “rational entities concerned with our own existence by asking questions and seeking to know answers” and “science” refers to “the scientific method, or testing falsifiable hypotheses to draw conclusions.” Ms. Murphy argued that humans invented science to develop theories about the world, so science is an inextricable part of the human condition. Moreover, science gives us increasingly more refined, universal explanations of the world that inches ever closer to the truth — whereas competing explanations driven by theology, philosophy, phrenology, and other disciplines all fall short.

Mr. Jonathan Askonas (SFS ’13) of Illinois said he agreed with everything Ms. Murphy said — but she only presented half of the picture. He contended that the shortcomings of science prevent it from standing as the best means for understanding the human condition: “Science can blind us by excluding fundamental aspects of human engagement from its rational calculations and methodologies.” He contended that the driving force behind our inquisitive nature was passion, i.e., the fact that we care. Understanding the human condition is an activity motivated by the passion we have for knowing humanity through obtaining meaningful answers. Mr. Askonas closed with the voice of his inner poet, proclaiming, “The scientific method cannot appreciate the beauty in a rose because beauty is not repeatable, measurable, or universal. The diametric opposite of science is poetry.”

Mr. Colin Soper (COL ’12) asserted that “the scientific method is about asking questions until you can’t fool yourself into thinking that something false is true,” explaining how people must remove themselves from the context to ask questions about what’s actually there. Ms. Wynter (COL ’14) said that understanding the human condition is appreciating how there’s something more behind the person than just what’s falsifiable or provable through science. “The human condition is more of an enchantment that requires a dialogue, not just monologue, to access,” she stated. Also standing on the negation, Mr. Nicholas Meyers (SFS ’11) argued that love is inseparable from the human condition, and a key element that cannot be explained through science. “What is love? Love is a feeling for a significant other that you can’t define or prove rationally, yet it’s essential to the human condition,” he stated. Mr. Zipperer (COL ’13) challenged the notion of using science to establish indisputable truths: “You can’t prove anything in science. Once you introduce empirical content, you introduce uncertainty.” Mr. Desnick (COL ’13) agreed, obligating everyone to negate because science isn’t supposed to have answers. “Science inherently can’t answer the question of the human condition,” he stated. Mr. Richard Sassoon (COL ’11) contended that the nature of humanity is to build upon ourselves, so science alone is insufficient to explain the human condition.

Mr. Bade (SFS ’14) expanded the discussion to include everyone in the world, arguing that the human condition must include the practicalities of life and be relatable to everyone. Because of the incredible diversity that exists, science is the best means to understand the entire human condition. He added, “Science has brought us to the point today where more of us can ask these essential philosophical questions about the human existence.” President Prindiville (SFS ’14) doubted whether there could be a single best means for understanding the totality of the human condition. Even the two most basic questions to any human — “Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life?” — cannot be probed by science. Mr. Monod (COL ’14) argued that it’s impossible to answer great questions in any discipline without recognizing our common humanity, or the fact that “we’re all made of the same fundamental building blocks.” Without the practical solutions that science offers, we won’t be getting anywhere. As a biology major, Caroline Egan (COL ’15) accused the Society of artificially limiting the concept of science: “Science is a verb, a whole way of approaching the world. Like a microscope, it brings together a combination of lenses to allow us to see better. It is not just one lens.” Patrick Musgrave (COL ’16) also credited science with being able to provide explanations for seemingly subjective concepts, saying that there are even universal standards of beauty that can predict how we tend to judge people and make decisions. Mr. William Downes (COL ’11) posed an interesting question: If science were to stop, would that be bad? He went on to state that embedded within science is the idea that knowledge-seeking must continue, as it is “better to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield to the inevitability of the human condition.” Chancellor Marsh (COL ’13) disputed the idea that it’s always better to know: “The world seems pretty abysmal most of the time, honestly. The human condition is a chaotic mix of insatiable feelings, searching for something but never knowing why.” Mr. Snow (COL ’13) said that the hope for an answer to a universal question is precisely what makes science superior. “Science allows us to compare explanations and stumble through a winding path to the truth,” he said.

Mr. Askonas closed by emphasizing that science cannot tell us why we care about things enough to ask questions about them. There is an essential passion to human nature that science cannot hope to take into account. “Home is fundamentally where the house is. The negation’s point is about your home and the way you find meaning in the world,” he expressed. Ms. Murphy said that even if it’s true science can’t answer questions that are universal or personal, there isn’t another means to answer those questions. Moreover, science gives you a basis and the hope for finding an answer to any question, which is more than what other disciplines can provide. Thus, she concluded that science is the best metric for asking questions about the world: “Your definition of identity and consciousness is its own sort of truth. Science is humans asking the right questions about themselves, but borrowing from universal tools to come up with the best answers,” she concluded.

The Society voted 22-4-29 to negate.

Merrick Points
Mr. Askonas: 5
Mr. Dulik: 4
Mr. Spagnuolo: 4
Mr. Petallides: 2
Ms. Wynter: 1
Mr. Snow: 1

Merrick Totals
Mr. Dulik: 20
Mr. Spagnuolo: 19
Mr. Petallides: 13
Mr. Snow: 12
Mr. Askonas: 8
Mr. Donovan: 8
Mr. Berryman: 6
Ms. Wynter: 6
Ms. Wood: 5
Mr. Wilson: 5
Ms. Ringwald: 3
Mr. Ahmed: 3
Mr. Dinneen: 1
Mr. Quinn: 1


Chloe J. Krawczyk

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