No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. - John Donne
There is no they, only us - bumper sticker
I is another. - Arthur Rimbaud
Me. We. Muhammad Ali
It is clear to me that I is others and others am me. The idea that others are different from me is an illusion; I am irredeemably the same as them. I, you, us: we are transitory manifestations of the cumulative effect of a glorious, constantly evolving genetic and cultural pool. Biology says it, anthropology says it, religion says it, but we generally forget.
I know I am a we.
Conjoined twins, we get in each other's way as we hobble forward.
Many heads, twice as many feet and hands, multiple consciousnesses, one heart. One infinite reality.
Triplets. Sextuplets. N-uplets.
We are willows stretching, competing for light, all dependent on the same roots.
We are unalike, my soul mate-burdens and me
Few are male, white or old. But we all are me.
Each me unknowable except for the melodious songs and the malodorous shit we produce.
We are a united tribe of squabbling, leaderless, lost, interlocked strangers,
A transcending humanity.
We are each one of 86 billion interacting, interdependent neurons, each a retinal cell contributing a pixel.
I know I'm a we.
I pray to the only god I can know, the we-god, created by us in our own image.
I pray to be more than always solitary near to others, to always be alone together.
We are the massive indivisible invisible mycelial mat, there are no independent mushrooms.
I pray for my muses, all intent on their own lives. Even if my muses will not nurture me, I long to care for them. Their inattention is my inspiration. My prayer is for them, my muses. I know I'm a we.
I know I am a we.
Will we miss me when I'm gone?
'Un pedacito de nosotros' is a compelling and appealing literary and philosophical concept. But this phrase has special power when seen through the lens of evolutionary biologists. I am the result of millions of reproductively successful individuals who have preceded me. While what I am is circumscribed by this surviving collection of accidents, I am much more than my genetic/epigenetic code. I am intimately related to and dependent on all my nearly genetically identical contemporaries. And the culture that has resulted from the intergenerational contributions and interactions of millions of previous cousins gives each of us shared identities and possibilities.
The concept of pedacito de nosotros is consistent with a definition of humans as social primates who are interrelated, interdependent tribal individuals, part of a constantly evolving gene pool and the creators and consequences of a shared culture. It is not consistent with the concept of humans as independent, solitary, rational, selfish entities. The currently dominant sociopolitical philosophy that has exalted individualism - while crucial to liberate us from the imposed regimentation and authoritarian control of the past - debilitates us through isolation and makes it impossible for us to become fully-human-in-union.
My mind is not in my brain. My brain is part of a shared mind. I access and I depend on that shared mind. And my brain contributes to that evolving, expanding mind. Everything I think is what I have heard, learned and received from others reconfigured by me.
The scientist is truly a 'pedacito de nosotros'. Science works because it is based on the model of the collective mind. It presupposes and requires checks and balances, and synergies. Art, too, advances collectively even if artists refuse to acknowledge that the group's progress overshadows the importance of individual genius or authenticity.
We are told to look inward to find our deepest answers. I am not convinced. I prefer to look to us for answers. It is in the collective construction of meaning that I come to something better than I can get by myself. It is in interaction with others, playing off their thoughts and reactions that I discover my (and really our) real ideas, needs and understanding. Point-counterpoint, harmony, call and response; it is us, not me. It is in speaking AND listening to others with an open and inquisitive mind that I find what is really authentic in me.