The Library at Foundation University had just been rebuilt with new architecture. I went there to take some pictures, and I saw two girls engrossed in their books; so I shot this picture in passing and then forgot about it. But recently, while I was scanning through old files, it jumped out at me again, as if demanding my attention.
It’s just words on paper being read, little blobs of black ink on a white background that carry information and meaning to those who can read them, but it’s something unique to human beings, something only we can do.
Consider a dog, sitting beside this table, watching these girls read. No matter how smart or friendly this dog might be, or how many tricks he could be trained to do, he could never read a single word off this page, nor could he even understand what was going on here. Nor can any other animals, be they as huge as whales, or as smart as dolphins.
Gigantic stars burn by the millions in the depths of space, huge asteroids tumble darkly through our solar system where all the planets grind their heavy ways around the sun. Our own earth moves endlessly from day to night throughout recorded time, and fiery comets flash across our skies, seen and unseen.
But all these are silent, without thoughts, without speech.. As huge and awesome as the universe around us is, not one of the celestial objects in it can speak anything to us. No planet, no star in the sky, can read or write a single word.
As far as we know, in all creation only human beings have language; only human beings can form thoughts and feelings into words and put them down for others to read and understand. This is in fact what makes us human, what makes us more than animals, more than stars. Anyone who reads or writes a single sentence is doing something that nothing else can do.
The words on paper in this picture have power, the power to know, to understand, to have meaning, to form a life. This power is available to anyone who can read and write. The girls studying here are not just gathering information; they are recreating the world in their own minds, they are learning to be human.
The sun knows nothing, it only burns. But we can know the sun.