The notion of a self alone is popular but individuality is more of an
illusion than a fact. A sense of a common or shared consciousness pervades
individual consciousness. Each human is born with a deeply imbedded sense of
social involvement. Each human will bond to parents, siblings and a few other
individuals. Each human will seek affiliation with other humans and will select
a few among many to be intimates and close associates. Each human will exploit,
avoid or reject others who are not close associates.
Human tendencies were not invented by society and are not going to change
until the construction of the human brain changes. The mind of each human is
mapped into the minds of other humans and the dominant experiences of each human
are observing others, desiring the company of others, working with others,
playing with others, feeling others, talking to others, thinking about others,
dreaming about others, strategizing about others, conflicting with others,
loving and hating others, making love to others, missing others when they are
The challenge of really understanding how humans operate has been taken up by
numerous individuals and
many modern disciplines. No idea of human society can be correct if it ignores
human social continuity with all other living creatures. Modern humans tend to
emphasize individual thought and expression; however, thinking is a group
activity. Speech connects individuals in to “thinking” groups. Written
publications link large numbers of humans in common patterns of
language-dependent thinking. Movies and television link even larger numbers of
people in visual action sequences that simulate real experiences. Electronic
media collect individuals into a “global village,” offering a variety of human
expressions than they would not encounter in their local village. The new
interplay between local and global references is a novel determinant of human
An individual often has the impression that he or she is acting alone, and
may incorrectly take credit for the knowledge he or she obtains from literature,
radio, television, movies and public discourse. While speech and written
language can facilitate, enhance and accelerate group thinking, language comes
complete with assumptions that are often wrong and descriptions of events that
may be inaccurate and misleading.
The human tendency is to suffer loneliness and to become despondent or
suspicious and hostile when alone for extended periods. Paradoxically, the path
to enlightenment involves going beyond this innate need for others to pass
though states of declining dependency toward a healthy and sane independence.
One of the main struggles of human existence is between self-interest and
group interest; between bonding, belonging and being a free independent spirit.
There is no final resting-place for humans because this dialectical struggle
between alone and together is a tense interaction that dominates the human
experience everyday of every life.
Humans are social animals and generally depend on each other to provide
context and meaning. "Thinking" is largely talking, a social activity. Isolated
individuals with talk to themselves and will tend to lose track of what is
important and real without interactions with others. Humans interact
continuously and although they may not agree with one another, still seek and
require consensus about what is real and true.
Humans build a culture from sharing experiences and reporting conscious
experiences. Culture has simple roots - the interaction of humans in small
groups and the interaction of groups. The complexity grows as the numbers and
variety of groups proliferate, the rules of conduct multiply. In a modern urban
society, access to life’s essentials involves increasingly complex interactions
with others. Humans have a deep tendency to form groups, to develop and defend
boundaries and to treat outsiders as enemies. All groups have interests,
privileges and costs of membership. All groups have hierarchies and competition
for privilege and prestige. Membership in a group is a high priority for every
human and isolation from a group is aberrant or symptomatic of psychopathology.
Loneliness is suffering, and remedies for loneliness are highly valued.
Although there is a strong drive in humans to feel free and independent, freedom
usually means loneliness and the drive to be accepted into a group is stronger
than the drive to be free. A human tendency is to suffer when alone and to
become suspicious and hostile when alone for extended periods. The strongest
drive is to have a deep bond with one person, the soul mate, lover and
custodian. Devotion frees.
The dialogue between good and bad in human affairs is constant, predictable
and universal. Moral behavior turns out to be as innate as immoral behavior.
Religious, political and legal organizations assume moral authority to proscribe
those attitudes and behaviors, which are innate but undesirable. Rules are often
arbitrary and enforcement requires punishment for breaking the rules. The
essential task is to encourage members not to harm other members of the group.
There are different levels of harmful consequence from attacking a person’s
social status and pride to killing them.
The ideals of unconditional love and perfect tolerance professed by some
religious organizations are difficult to achieve and are associated, in
practice, with contradictory results. Religious groups routinely generate
prejudice, discrimination and harmful behaviors. Faith is commitment to the
beliefs of one group only. Members of other groups who do not share your faith
are aliens and usually become enemies. Enemies are outsiders who threaten the
security and well being of group members. People with a strong sense of group
membership will exaggerate the value and relevance of faith and tests of faith
are used by religious groups to separate true members from impostors. Faith is
often described as desirable and virtuous by group leaders, but the faith of one
group will often lead to the death and destruction of another group.
- The book, I and Thou, focuses on intimate relationships. Innate tendencies are hard at
work when people meet, become lovers and end with arguments and fighting. The
same tendencies determine how family members interact and explain why so many
families are “dysfunctional.” When lovers form an enduring pair bond, they often
become parents and everything changes. Humans seek bonding with others and are
distressed when they become isolated. Humans bond to each other in several ways.
The most enduring bonds are kin-related, based on closely shared genes. The
deepest bonding occurs when mother and infant are together continuously from
birth and mother breast-feeds the infant. Bonds among family members are the
most enduring. Bonds to friends, lovers and spouses are the next most
significant. Bonds to colleagues, neighbors and even strangers that are admired
from a distance are next. Friendships are often temporary bonds, based on the
need to affiliate with others for protection, social status, feeding, sex and
- I and Thou is available in a print and an eBook edition for
download. 199 Pages.
I and Thou eBook
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exchange rate. The author is
Stephen Gislason MD
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