As individuals we’re vulnerable to the world.
We can be killed in numerous ways. Ever since our species has existed we’ve had to find ways to make the world around us less dangerous, less scary.
Think of it linguistically. Words like.
- dis·o·ri·ent·ed [dis-awr-ee-en-tid, -ohr-] adjective
- confused as to time or place; out of touch: therapy for disoriented patients.
- Synonyms: distracted, mixed up, unstable, unhinged.
- dis·o·ri·ent [dis-awr-ee-ent, -ohr-] verb (used with object)
- to cause to lose one’s way: The strange streets disoriented him.
- to confuse by removing or obscuring something that has guided a person, group, or culture, as customs, moral standards, etc.: Society has been disoriented by changing values.
- be·wil·dered [bih-wil-derd] adjective 
- completely puzzled or confused; perplexed.
- be·wil·der [bih-wil-der] verb (used with object)
- to confuse or puzzle completely; perplex: These shifting attitudes bewilder me.
What that means is you’re in a landscape that’s unfamiliar. You can’t count on much or any of your knowledge to help you.
You have been removed from the familiar places and habits and now you can’t locate yourself on the map, even if you had one.
The most obvious example of this is when you are travelling around in a foreign country. Without signposts, you would have no way to find out where you are. It’s why tourists are always looking around, to locate themselves on a map they carry.
When you go on holiday to an unfamiliar place. At first, it’s all foreign, overwhelming.
But once you’re there you start to write stories and create maps. You refer back to them, the restaurant where you ate, the sights you saw, here you were chased by a cow, there you were drenched by a sudden downpour.
You write meaning into existence by being there. Weaving stories into the reality before us so it becomes familiar.
Like the ancient mariners, we create knowledge to help us navigate and this also has the effect of making the world seem less threatening.
Making maps allows us to place ourselves in them, and gives us the feeling of certainty and safety that comes from knowing where you are.
This is just one example of our Nesting Instinct.
Our Nesting Instinct
Just like birds craft their nests or some mammals create burrows, we have evolved to find ways of creating comfort and safety for ourselves.
These bodies of ideas, values, beliefs can be seen as Landscapes of belonging, or our nest.
I believe that culture is personal psychology writ large. Our own fears and hopes are collect together to form the fads, fashions, and building projects we see.
Henry David Thoreau wrote the ‘men live lives of quiet desperation.’, but I digress, our desperation is written into the world, the plastic, pollution is for products we consume to make us feel safe, to tear down the wilderness because it’s untamed and dangerous.
Our insecurities are the scars in the landscapes, the building we erect, the groups and institutions we organise.
Familiarity is what helps us feel safe. So we name things, connect things together creating a map. Religion, science, art, language, society, beliefs, and so on are man-made endeavours. A landscape or body of ideas that allow us to make sense of the world and ourselves.
Our self-identity is a bundle of these ideas that we appropriate from outside.
We describe ourselves in terms of our job, the clothes we wear, the things we own, the friends we have. Our dreams values, fears and so much more.
In this respect religion, philosophy and science have the same purpose. To allow ourselves to create our own identity and a sense of belonging.
The sciences tell us how the world works, and in so doing make us feel safe by giving us the idea we know whats going on and we are in control. (Even though it’s largely an illusion).
The humanities (philosophy, religion, anthropology, sociology etc) tells us how we work. These Ideas reassure us that we know who we are, and what to do. Or in the case of the art provide an escape from our finite and vulnerable lives, making us feel less alone.
Humanity’s existence, the work we do and what we create is driven by a need to belong, to feel safe and secure. You could call it the Grand Project of Humanity.
Here are some ways we gather our nests to find security.
Bodies of language so we can communicate and herd together through shared values. Words, but also art, imagery and metaphor help us describe and clarify, so language helps define ourselves and our place in this world.
I’m not just talking about our physical safety. Having a home with heating, air conditioning, shelter from the elements etc.
In communities, it takes place through laws, codes of behaviour, and punishments to prosecute those who break them.
There’s also an intellectual aspect. We read books, gain knowledge about the world in order to avoid making a mistake that could cost us.
In society it’s the same, we conduct science to learn and spread ideas around.
All in an attempt to convince ourselves that we have a good handle on the world, so we’re less surprised by the unexpected.
Science can’t tell us why we’re here or what we should do with it lives.
So here we invent religions, spiritual and philosophical traditions to help us live in a cosmos that we don’t fully understand. These beliefs give us meaning and provide guidance.
They comfort us by telling us that we’re important special, that we matter.
There are also moralistic landscapes, what is right and wrong, what to value what to aim for.
Defined jobs with rules and routines giving us the safety of a regular income.
Sometimes as an escape, but also to transmit ideas and meaning.
Even our bodies can be seen as keeping us safe through protection, immune system for example. Our minds give us emotions to keep us safe, disgust, anger, fear
In each case, the purpose of these possessions (ideas, values, beliefs, job etc) is that it helps insulate us from the vicissitudes of life. Helping us cope with the uncertainty we face.
If we look at humanity as a whole, what is it that unites us?
It’s hard to find an answer, but we all share in our fate that life is uncertain and ambiguous. Because of this, we all have the desperate desire to feel safe and secure.
We often think this desire to feel safe is hidden, but I see it all around me.
Looking at humanity as a whole you can see that so much of what we do is about our safety and security.
We wrap around ourselves these comfort blankets of beliefs, knowledge, and society through trust. Because facing the storm alone is difficult even impossible without them.
The Illusion of certainty
However, there’s a problem. It only works up to a point.Certainty remains elusive because we can never be sure about what we know and believe.
We can feel safer, but the basis for that safety, upon closer examination becomes suspect.We can’t really know reality beyond our ideas of it. We can’t predict the future so our fate is unknown.
A further point is change takes place. We have to change as well. To continue to grow and adapt in order to remain safe in our nest. Knowledge changes, old ideas are lost new ideas emerge. Adaptation is the method.
So all we can do is keep building these nests to gives them the appearance of safety, even as they fall apart beneath us.
To make the wilderness appear a little less wild.
All the knowledge, the work, the ideas. The striving, searching, creating, building is one big effort to feel safe and find meaning. We like to know who we are and what’s going on. This endeavour seems to involve every facet of human existence, which is why I call it the Grand Project of Humanity.
 disorientate. Dictionary.com. Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/disoriented (accessed: August 09, 2014).
 bewilder. Dictionary.com. Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/bewilder (accessed: August 09, 2014).