When my old friend Edoardo, who studies Ancient History at University College in London, bumped into my car, the first thing I told him was : “Edoardo, I still don’t understand why you’re studying History. What do you want to be in your life? And old man collecting boring stamps?”
My question was rude, but his answer really sounded weird to me.
“Mattia, I always told you. I want to be a humanist”.
He started a long reflection about the historical importance of humanism in Renaissance and all the outcomes that such a philosophy left to our modern society. After a thirty minutes-long speech, I interrupted him, as my mind was already blown up and I really couldn’t stand such a complex dialogue in the week after the exams: “I understand your point, but how do you you think your study is going to turn useful for you?” He turned to me immediately, took off his glasses and just said a few words, in a way I had never heard him speaking: “Mattia, I am seriously disappointed that you still don’t understand. How could you ask me something like that”. I started feeling guilty, so he just smiled and whispered: “I’m just looking for a perspective, aren’t you?”
We didn’t talk for the rest of the journey, then I got home and laid on the sofa for some minutes. I was realizing that I actually didn’t have a perspective, in the way my friend meant it. Of course I had plans for the future, expectations, programs, but I didn’t even know what a perspective really was.
When I googled “perspective”, I could finally understand why my friend stressed so much the importance of the concept of humanism. It turned out that the idea of perspective as a scientific technique, aimed to describe a geometrical object in the space given a specific point of view, was invented in Italy in the 15th century by Filippo Brunelleschi. Such an invention can be considered a fundamental pillar of humanist philosophy, and not only of architecture and drawing, as it allows to put the human person in the centre of a work of art. Every object in the space is rationally organized in a rational relation with respect to the observer.
Perspective is thus the symbol of the man who trusts his rationality and believes to be able to read the world in terms of his humanity. Humans are always in the centre.
As I was curious to know how such a technique could be applied in the everyday life, I called Edoardo and asked him to explain it better, and talk to me about his life in general and, of course, about his perspective. He gave me some examples on technology, arguing that our efforts should be aimed at shaping technological innovation in direction of the improvements of the quality of life of humans, and claimed that too often it is our own life that is shaped by technology, with no beneficial effect. His second sermon turned out to be much more interesting than our first conversation, and that’s how I decided, as a Global Governance student, that I wanted to be a humanist too.
I went back to the Academic Confirmation day and to the lesson of Professor Russell about artificial intelligence. The effects of such technology on human life will be enormous, and, in the age where artificial and human intelligence are going to get in touch and collaborate as they never did before, it will be important to keep in mind what being a human means. It will be necessary to adopt a perspective, that means a long term, rational view, that doesn’t pretend to prevent the change, but wants to govern it.
My new life as a humanist has brought some small radical change. I believe much more in my own abilities, in my reasoning, and I am probably better at looking inside myself and understand what I really want. Yesterday, for instance, my car engine broke and I was stuck with my mother on the side road, trying to understand what happened. After one hour there and different attempts, my mother claimed she would have called for help. I said no. I considered myself as a humanist, I profoundly believed in my knowledge and my means, and I knew I could figure it out.
When the tow truck arrived, about one hour and a half later, they called me loudly. I was under the vehicle, trying to look at the engine from below.
“Mattia, please, what are you doing down there!”
“ I am sorry Ma”, I answered, “I was just looking for a perspective.”