Humans and Their Reality
It’s not the first time that the subject of the relation between humans and nature appears in Roman Ingarden’s creativity. Ingarden notes that human beings mastered nature more skillfully than different species of animals. In this case, we think of a human being as a homo faber who struggles with nature in everyday life. A great example of a homo faber is a farmer in Australia in Tom Roberts’ painting.
To clarify, we can ask: what does it mean that humans managed nature? It means that, in opposition to animals, they became independent of changes in the natural world. But, in light of contemporary events, is it true?
For example, we are witnesses of dramatic changes in climate. Some say that these changes appear from time to time, and it is a normal, natural event. Although humans try to run away from the thought about unavoidable destruction of the natural world, it turns out to be our terrible reality. Unfortunately, current research confirms the worst prediction.
According to Ingarden, the domination of nature is not the most important phenomenon of human nature. Although humans manage the natural world more than other animals and adjust it to their own expectations, it doesn’t decide about their humanity. To clarify, a crucial meaning has quasi-reality.
What is quasi-reality in Ingarden’s philosophy? Humans create the surrounding world. One creates objects, which become the world’s permanent elements, like the invention of the wheel. Humans cultivate plants and raise animals, but also build roads, houses, and even change the course of the river. But it is the domain of some animals too, such as beavers or termites. In fact, they are less advanced technologically than people but are a source of inspiration for them nevertheless.
In addition, the greatest human achievement is what we can call the effects of spiritual and intellectual activity. On the one hand, one creates a piece of art, scientific theory, metaphysics and theology, language. On the other hand, the effects of human activity are public institutions, banks, companies, law, and money. In other words, all these civilization achievements make one a more sophisticated and more distant being to one’s animal ancestors.
Furthermore, humankind transfers knowledge about their own history and achievements of their ancestors. Thanks to it, the life of the current generation is combined into a course of the previous historical events and processes. In this sense, every human being has their own place in the history of humankind.
Human as Conqueror
Being a creature that dominates the natural world is a fact. It helps humans to develop civilization. Because some animal species threatened humans, they had to fight with them. For this reason, they started making tools. Ingarden notices: In any case, the created tool became the decisive moment in the fight between man and animal (Ingarden, 31). Why is it so unique? Using created tools was something new in the animal world. It is worth adding that some animals, like apes, use simple tools. But they are part of the environment not produced by them.
In time, humans learned to produce more complex tools and even appliances. People started using them to produce more precision tools that made it impossible only by hand. In this way, humans deviated more and more from nature. Nature is still an inspiration for many discoveries, but, generally, human reality is completely non-adjustable to the natural world. It is more and more noticeable in our time. So, is human domination over nature really a victory?
Uselessness and Human World
Even though making tools for the production of tools is in human nature, the need for creativity is more unique. In fact, it is something useless from a point of view of humans’ physical and biological needs. Creativity results from mental needs as an expression of spirituality. Creativity, such as a cave painting, enriches human reality.
Rock art was created in prehistory by a human a long time before the first civilization. It means that creativity is something just as basic as the need for domination over nature. We can say that it is the second face of humanity. To clarify, humans need not only something that is useful or favorable but also something that is a denial of it. It is surprising, isn’t it?
In Ingarden’s opinion, it is not important that products of human activity are not real in the same sense that the surrounding natural world is. There is a similar attitude of humans towards useful objects. They exist in the same way as nature. To demonstrate, a house is a useful object as a shelter and an assembly point for a family. But, a piece of art, a law or an intellectual theory is useless from a biological point of view.
We can get the impression that there are still more and more objects, useless in the past, but useful now. Specifically, in this context, I think of virtual reality. What category of objects do I consider here? For example, virtual money, virtual transaction, or even virtual date or game which is a stimulation of entertainment.
On the other hand, in crisis, humans come back to the most simple needs, such as food supplies, water, or shelter. At this moment, the achievements of civilization lose their meaning. The most drastic situation is when people ignore law and ethics to gain their goals.
Usefulness of Quasi-Reality
At first glance, quasi-reality is something luxurious that overcomes everyday needs. But, if we assume that this reality does not exist, we can lose motivation in the moral life.
We would not do anything that plays such a decisive role in our lives, because within the range of our experience it would not be – according to the assumption of all these objects to which our actions could turn. They would all disappear from our horizon and with it all that would be good, beautiful, sublime and true (Ingarden, 33).
Quasi-reality is the base of our culture. Without it, art, law or values don’t make sense, just as patriotism. Ingarden emphasizes that pleasure and comfort are not enough to deal with suffering and hardships of life. All of these are things and events that do not appear in nature. After all, a lack of quasi-reality deprives the human life of meaning.
Quasi-Reality and Human Nature
Thanks to quasi-reality humans change their character, habits, and likes. They are shaped in their soul and body, their thoughts, feelings, and desires (Ingarden) by this alternative reality, and vice versa. In the process of development, quasi-reality is shaped by humans. In other words, quasi-reality is the ground of our spiritual world, which works in us.
A power of quasi-reality as a factor that changes mentality permanently:
Not only our works are our descendants, but to some extent, we also become like the descendants of our works – once we have created them and interacted with them – we can no longer live and be as we were when they were not yet (Ingarden, 35-36).
In this sense, human civilization works to transform us in a physical and mental sense. What does it mean? We have another habit unknown for our ancestors. For example, for a contemporary human, a microscope view of the virus is a part of the common knowledge. But for our grandparents, the same view is something strange and ununderstandable.
Works that are a part of quasi-reality can be on a high or low level, such as Frederic Chopin’s music and sound of catarrh. Quasi-reality as phenomena has a strong power of suggestion. For this reason, high art can enrich our mentality, making us more sophisticated and wiser. In opposition, art at a low level infects our mentality with evil, ugliness, or madness. In this way, we can say that artists and intellectualists are responsible in a moral sense for their work. We can find this thought in the book Psychotherapy for everyone. The author of this book is Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), one of the leaders of humanistic psychology.
Ingarden’s ideas reflect Kazimierz Dąbrowski’s theory. Common elements here are: different levels of human creativity, the meaning of values, and the influence of the human activity on their mental and spiritual condition.
Quasi-Reality and Degeneration
When there appears a new tendency in art, philosophy or science in the surrounding world, a reaction of the milieu is often negative. For example, the way the impressionists struggled for acceptance at the turn of XIX and the XX century. New ideas were shocking, strange, and non-understandable for a society that was brought up in different aesthetical and intellectual standards. Although these new ideas meet great resistance at the beginning, in time they are accepted. This reaction of the society repeats so often in different historical times that we can reckon that it is a normal reaction for newness, isn’t it?
In this case, Ingarden opens up a new perspective for us:
And when our own works – to which domain of human reality they belong – we cannot for some reason properly comprehend and give them justice in our experience, when we do not grow to their subtlety or tension, such or other perfection, then we feel how we inevitably fall below our own level, our power, our deepest being; We stop being the people who made them and who were worthy of them. We feel humiliated, degenerated, and we convert to some extent towards the border where the differences between us and animals have blurred (Ingarden, 36).
It is just like showing a shadow that we avoid to see in everyday life. Every person has some range of tolerance for newness. It means that every person in the same situation can feel deprived by the limits of their own tolerance. To avoid this awful confrontation with oneself, most of the people concentrate on attacking people of new ideas.
However, another way of dealing with this situation is possible. Sometimes, humans become very open to new ideas. On one hand, it could be inspirational for many, but on the second hand, this lack of a critical approach can cause intellectual and aesthetical chaos.
Luxury of Quasi-Reality
In Ingarden’s opinion, nature is an unnecessary base of human reality. At the ground of our quasi-reality, everything that humans lost or gained lays in the process of development of their civilization. It is an enigmatic statement, isn’t it? Let’s try to consider what could be lost by humans? In light of contemporary events, it will be a purity of the natural world or contact with nature.
To define the essence of humanity is living beyond one’s means. To clarify, everything that human beings overcome above their physical needs is a luxury activity. The animals, our evolutionary ancestors realize only these needs, and nothing more. This exceeding physical need for human activity is connected to their sense of an internal dignity of humans without which it is impossible to live. Moreover, Ingarden says: We are people because we surpass the biological conditions in which we find ourselves and that we build a new, different world on their basis (Ingarden, 37).
This new human reality – quasi-reality is associated with values such as beauty, good, justice, or truth. Human life embodies these values. In this sense, this new reality is a hyper-reality that is created with the biggest human effort and because of their genius.
One’s efforts are concentrated on how to organize comfortable conditions of spiritual existence. The comfort of existence is useful, but it is not crucial for human beings. Although human activity overcomes one’s basic needs, it does not mean that one self-realizes in one’s ideal.
To illustrate, living in excellent living conditions with a well-organized world doesn’t influence the essence of humanity. For this reason, being an owner of a big successful company does not make a person more valuable. In other words, having excellent conditions for development does not make one developed yet.
Human Mission and Quasi-Reality
On the contrary, one achieves own ideal by realizing values in one’s life. According to Ingarden, only in this way, a human can gain one’s humanity. This view of humanity is one’s mission. Furthermore, the human becomes an intermediary between nature and the world of values (Ingarden, 38).
On the edge of two worlds; one from which one grows up and which surpasses the greatest effort of one’s spirit, and the other which one approaches in one’s most valuable creations, stands a human who is really “at home“ in none of them (Ingarden, 38).
It is a drama of a human being who feels inadequate to the natural world and has to create a new reality and a new perspective of one’s own existence. In the process of growth, the human starts to be aware that the natural world is much richer and variable than one expected before. Paradoxically, nature even exceeds human cognitive abilities.
To clarify, we have more and more evidence today that many species have a much better-organized community than we expected before and can help each other, for example, whales or orcs.
In this sense, human life is a tragic struggle for self-realization, full of failures and winnings only from time to time. Self-confident humans try to shape and use nature, but in fact, they cause damage by their ignorance and expansiveness.
Frankl V. (1978). Psychoterapia dla każdego [Psychotherapy for everyone], Warszawa: PAX,
Ingarden R. (1987). Mała Książeczka o człowieku [ The Little Book About Human], Kraków: Wyd. Literackie,