Rubric One: What does it mean to be human?

"At a time when the need to celebrate both our shared humanity and our meaningful differences is all the more painfully evident, the question of what makes us human becomes not one of philosophy alone but also of politics, justice, identity, and every fiber of existence that lies between." –Maria Popova 

The question of what it means to be human has been examined for centuries, by many people from many cultures, through the lens of philosophy, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, religion, and the arts, but the question has never been definitively resolved.

1. What do you think it means to be human?

2. Consider this quotation by civil rights activist Desmond Tutu"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be 

human together."  How do you interpret Tutu's statement? Do you agree? Why or why not?

Required viewing
Cave of Forgotten Dreams: Werner Herzog, director

"Use Art to Turn the World Inside Out": TedTalk by JR Artist

Principle concepts discussed in Rubrics One and Two

Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams: Post-viewing discussion questions

1. Were you familiar with the Chauvet caves, or other famous caves that are full of paintings created by humans?

2. Why are the Chauvet caves in the film so important to all the scientists interviewed, and even to the French government?

3. Why does the French government restrict access to the Chauvet caves?

4. Werner Herzog’s film can be considered as an anthropological study of humankind. What new discoveries were the 

scientists who work at the caves making? How were they able to speculate about the possible lives of the original painters?

5. Throughout the film, the concept of the vast scope of time and human existence is a recurring theme. The Chauvet cave 

paintings were created nearly 30,000 years ago. Think about the average lifespan today, then think about how much time 

and how many generations of humans have lived and passed on since the creation of the cave paintings. What is your 

reaction to the enormous contrast between the span of time each of us is inhabits this world and the span of time human 

beings have lived in this world?

6. Is the movie just about cave paintings? (No!) Identify and discuss some of the other themes.

7. At one point in the documentary, Herzog suggests that perhaps the cave paintings reflect the beginning of the human 

soul, as visual art and music became essential parts of the human experience. What do YOU think the relationship is between

art and the essence of being human?

Below: drawing from Chauvet Cave


Ten Ways to Fight Hate, from the Southern Poverty Law Center

What makes us human?: short video from the Leakey Foundation 

Introduction to Prehistoric Art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met)


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