Paradox Is at the Heart of Human Nature

Part of the I, ROBOT series

In his previous work, leading Existential Psychologist Kirk Schneider has put the experience of “awe” at the center of human psychology. Without experiencing awe, life tends to become flat, mechanical, and unhealthy — a prison to be broken out of, rather than a possibility to grow into.

In his new book, The Spirituality of Awe:  Challenges to the Robotic Revolution, Schneider points out that awe itself is paradoxical: it generates fear and hope, a sense of grandeur and insignificance, of strength and weakness, the imminent and the transcendent … not one right after the other, but all at once. And it is our ability to have these simultaneous experiences, these experiential paradoxes that cannot be resolved rationally, and be present to them, and integrate them into our lives, that is the essence of our humanity.

He also writes that the danger we face is that new automation technologies, artificial intelligence, and new brain advances are all being designed to eliminate the paradox from our lives. As a result “High tech fulfills many needs, most of them physical, informational, and commercial. What it tends not to fulfill are ‘existential needs’ — purpose, connection, awe for life.”

As a result, Schneider renews Thomas Mann’s call for a new humanism:

“Distinct in complexion and fundamental temper from its predecessors. It will not flatter mankind, looking at him through rose-colored glasses, for it will have had experience of which the others knew not. It will have stout-hearted knowledge of mankind’s dark, demonic, radically ‘natural’ side, united with reverence for him super-biological spiritual worth. The new humanism will be universal, and it will have the artist’s attitude; that is, it will recognize that the immense value and beauty of the human being lies precisely in the fact that he belongs to the two kingdoms of nature and spirit. It will realize that no romantic conflict or tragic dualism is inherent in the fact, but rather a fruitful and engaging combination of determinism and free choice. Upon that it will base a love for humanity in which its pessimism and optimism will cancel each other.”

We talk with Dr. Kirk Schneider about the paradox of human nature and how to find purpose in a high-tech society, in this podcast of the Burning Man Philosophical Center.

Cover Photo by Juan P. Zapata

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

One comment on “Paradox Is at the Heart of Human Nature

  • Kirk, I like the points you bring up in the interview, notably your comments about praciticing being human… I am a poet composer exploring these realms both in theory and practice and would be interested in discussing such matters with you, somehow…
    Cordial salutations from France,
    Antony Hequet

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