General Question

Hobbes's avatar

Would you agree that all we truly need is air, water, food, sleep, warmth, and love?

Asked by Hobbes (7368points) March 19th, 2011

This is sort of a variation on a question I asked earlier, but I’m wondering what people think of this particular idea. I didn’t include medical care because I thought it would sound more poetic, though of course you do need it at times.

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63 Answers

Citychick8's avatar

Yes…and money

Berserker's avatar

I don’t know about love, but technically, we do need the rest of that to live. As for the rest that exists and that we use/partake in, well I’m not a scientist, philosopher or a shrink…I can’t say. Certainly comes with being human though.

Hobbes's avatar

@Citychick8 .

Well, what else would you really need money for, besides medical care, and to make sure the people you love also have those things?


By love I also meant familial love and companionship in general.

Berserker's avatar

@Hobbes Aaah. Then yeah, we probably need that. Humans are like pack animals, so I’m thinking it’s vital.

gondwanalon's avatar

If all I had to live on was “air, water, food, sleep, warmth, and love” I wouldn’t live more than a couple of months before going crazy. I got to do daily physical and mental exercise in order to maintain good health.

SavoirFaire's avatar

I suppose this is more or less correct, but it seems odd to give a six-item list and then say that its contents are “all” we need.

Coloma's avatar

Basically yes.

People often confuse wants with needs.

filmfann's avatar

Though it would ruin the poetry of your OP, I would add that we need some kind of mental stimulation.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

Where are your clothes and shelter?
And we really need mental stimulation as well.

gorillapaws's avatar

And the internet.

JmacOroni's avatar

@Symbeline yes, companionship is vital to our health. Loneliness is registered in the same part of the brain as physical pain, that is often what drives people in solitary confinement to snap.

Hobbes's avatar



Well, I was assuming that the love/companionship would provide mental and physical stimulation. I was also assuming that, provided with all these things, people would make art, play music, dance, conduct experiments, etc. Some of these things require additional materials beyond those I listed, but they aren’t “necessities”


Well, clothes are not, strictly speaking, a necessity. If they’re used to provide warmth in a cold environment, they are, but then that falls under “warmth” I think. Similarly, shelter’s main purpose is to provide warmth and a place to sleep, so I feel like those two cover it.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Hobbes And protection from the elements.

Hobbes's avatar


Good point, depending on the climate, some kind of shelter is probably necessary. Though, there are natural shelters, caves for instance, as well as effective shelters which don’t take much in the way of effort or materials to construct.

bob_'s avatar

Since there are too many of us, we also need industrial food production, which in turns need, you know, industrial stuff, like machinery and whatever.

We would also live shorter lives without modern medicine. See here.

Hobbes's avatar


Well, that’s something I’ve been arguing against in particular here. There are too many people on the planet, and the current exponential growth trend coupled with exponential greed on a finite planet can only end in disaster.

I did mention medicine as well, and I definitely agree that it is needed in many situations. I believe and hope there are ways to apply that knowledge without depending quite so heavily on the Industrial infrastructure, should that system degrade or collapse.

All that aside, I think the point I’m trying to make is that it’s possible to live very simply and not spend very much, and that with the right skills (such as how to grow your own food and how to build shelters) and a community, it would be possible to go almost completely “off the grid”.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Hobbes A lot of people who do that end up with other problems – like that the soil they grow in has some issues, so they end up ingesting high amounts of a certain chemical, which then gives them chronic illnesses. Not to mention that perhaps making your point on the internet tends to undermine said point.

Zaku's avatar

Education. Something to do.

Russell_D_SpacePoet's avatar

You can survive without love, but it is hard to thrive without it.

Hobbes's avatar


God, really? Aren’t there ways to test soil for such things? Also, I’m aware of the irony, but I can’t go off the grid because I don’t have the skills yet and because I still need that last one.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Hobbes Testing for basically everything under the sun is really expensive – and remember, it’s not just the regular things that will hurt you in small doses. It’s things that are fine in small doses, but when ingested every day for 20 years will create issues. And you just can’t find soil that has never been screwed around with by other humans. Plus, you have to find land that can grow lots of different things, which is much harder than finding an area that can grown a couple of things really well, but not enough to give you all the nutrients you need and be really diverse.

rooeytoo's avatar

I wouldn’t want to live with just those 6 things, I need them but I like the rest of the trappings in my life, my motor scooter, my dogs, my laptop (@hobbes, you seem to spend plenty of time on yours in fluther, do you want to give that up???) my fishing rod, my carving equipment and power tools. Should I continue? If all you have are those 6 things you mention, the population is going to increase at a much greater rate because what the hell else is there to do but procreate???

downtide's avatar

Those things are enough to survive, but they’re not enough to live.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

There’s a difference between surviving on the most basic level and thriving.

LostInParadise's avatar

According to Nietzsche, we are strongly powered by a need for recognition. He said that this need, more than materialism, is the cause of war. There is much of Nietzsche’s philosophy that I do not go along with, but I think there is something to this claim. You can look down on the idea of keeping up with the Joneses, but there is a competitive urge in us that cannot be easily dismissed.

pathfinder's avatar

It need litle bit of socializatione also

ragingloli's avatar

You forgot the most important one.

john65pennington's avatar

No, you left out one big item…........entertainment.

The cave man entertained himself by knocking a female in the head with a club. He also invented the wheel from a stone.

Entertainment, what price can you put on entertainment?

Anyone have a free club they are not using?

ragingloli's avatar

“The cave man entertained himself by knocking a female in the head with a club.”
You forgot to mention what followed the knockout :P

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

…that,and a good tailor. ;)

12Oaks's avatar

Love is optional. You could easily live without it. Salt is different, you NEED salt to live.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Add “some way to occupy your mind” and you’ve got it! : ))

CaptainHarley's avatar


I strongly disagree. Most people need to give and recieve love like they need to breathe in and out.

Scooby's avatar

And COFFEE!!! :-/

Scooby's avatar

TOILET PAPER, or it could get messy! :-/

rooeytoo's avatar

(@hobbes has been crafting a response since before I went to bed last night, must be a hell of a response, or else he found something more intriguing than the 6 things he mentioned to occupy his time!!!)

Scooby's avatar

Maybe Hobbes is stuck on the loo with no toilet paper to hand?? :-/ Oh dear…..

ragingloli's avatar

nah, he is busy making out with calvin

Roby's avatar

…........five out of six aint bad.

LostInParadise's avatar

@Hobbes gives a good description of the last man

rooeytoo's avatar

I think @Hobbes is trying to be the last man!

Hobbes's avatar

Sorry guys, I was making out with Calvin on the loo.

@Scooby – There are other ways to wipe without paper, water for example.

@MyNewtBoobs – I can’t believe that there are no clean patches of earth left. Are all those organic farmers slowly poisoning their customers? Besides, what about compost and other fertilization methods? Doesn’t that essentially create new soil after a while.

@LostInParadise – Just a thought, but perhaps that aggressive urge was once curbed by hunting? I don’t accept that war is the natural state.

“Nietzsche describes the undirected outcome of mankind as an inherently apathetic, gentle and social creature who indulges in work only as entertainment, who lives a long life and suffers only minimal conflict; the “last man.”

Here, Nietzsche describes the undirected outcome of mankind as an inherently apathetic, gentle and social creature who indulges in work only as entertainment, who lives a long life and suffers only minimal conflict; the “last man.”

“Here, Nietzsche describes the undirected outcome of mankind as an inherently apathetic, gentle and social creature who indulges in work only as entertainment, who lives a long life and suffers only minimal conflict; the ‘last man.’”

Yeah, I pretty much hold that as an ideal. What does Nietzsche have against long life, peace and prosperity, exactly?


“The cave man entertained himself by knocking a female in the head with a club”

And with dancing, music, games, stories, making things, talking, etc.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Hobbes Wow, your reply to @Scooby sounded a lot like that 30 Rock episode where Greenzo says “I bet you don’t even recycle your own feces!” Fertilization and compost really just add new ingredients – they don’t get rid of radioactive isotopes or all the DDT they sprayed back in the day. And you have to remember that if there is an unspoiled patch of land, the likelihood it will be in a developed country with things like freedom is pretty small. Most people aren’t looking to go off the grid in a genocide-ridden dictatorship where you aren’t allowed to grow enough food to support your family.

Hobbes's avatar


Well, a lot of people use bidets

So, if it’s true that this stuff is everywhere, you’re saying that all the food we eat from any source is slowly poisoning us? Are you also saying that it has permanently contaminated all the land in the US? Also, I think there are some midpoints between “The US” and “genocide-ridden dictatorships”.

Here’s a quote from the Wikipedia article “Soil in the United States”

“The United States, while having some of the most widespread soil contamination, has actually been a leader in defining and implementing standards for cleanup[1]. Each year thousands of sites complete soil contamination cleanup, some by using microbes that “eat up” toxic chemicals in soil[2], many others by simple excavation and others by more expensive high-tech soil vapor extraction or air stripping. Efforts proceed worldwide to identify new sites of soil contamination.”

This also seems to imply that not all land is contaminated and that the amount of contaminated land is decreasing (in the US at least).

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Hobbes I have never in my life come across a bidet. And I’ve been to a lot of really rich people’s houses. And I didn’t say US – I said free countries, including Europe and the like.

Hobbes's avatar


From Wikipedia:

“Bidets are common bathroom fixtures in many southern European countries (Italy, Spain, Portugal, Croatia, Slovenia and Greece), some American countries (especially in South America, the bidet is a standard feature of homes in Argentina and Uruguay), some of Africa (especially Egypt and Morocco) and some parts of Asia (particularly in Japan, Bangladesh, Thailand, India, and South Korea). Almost all houses in the Arab world (including Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates) are equipped with bidets. Although France is the country where the word bidet originated, not every house is equipped with one, especially the smaller or cheaper flats as well as recent constructions. Although they do occasionally appear in North America or the UK, they are much less common there than in Continental Europe, Central America and Asia.”

Anyway, the point was just that there are other sanitary and efficient ways of cleaning your bum than with paper.

Still, I think there are “free” countries without soil problems to the degree the US has. Any thoughts on my other points?

LostInParadise's avatar

The six requirements could be applied to domesticated dogs and slaves. Don’t you think there is something in being human that makes us yearn for more?

Scooby's avatar


My approach to a bidet would be pretty much the same as Crocodile Dundee’s in that scene in the bathroom where I think he washes his socks in it :-/
Glad you made it off the Loo Hobbes, in one piece…. Must have been some outpouring of organic fertilizer! ;-)

Hobbes's avatar


Well, I was making a list of the material things people need. I extended it to love, and would extend it to art, music, and freedom, too. There are non-material things which make life worth living, but I think my point was that our material needs are actually quite modest and not that hard to supply, and most of the other things we need also don’t really require very much. Things like slavery arose because people were so greedy for material wealth that they were willing to kidnap other people and force them to work in order to create it.


Yeah, it was pretty intense. A bidet is pretty intuitive, though.

incendiary_dan's avatar

I haven’t read through all of the comments yet, but skimmed. Bear with me.

Okay, so some of you guys know I’m a wilderness skills instructor and something of a survivalist. I’m also involved in a cultural movement/rennaissance that seeks to create healthy cultures. I think this short list is pretty good, but would change warmth to shelter (understanding that clothes are also shelter) and add entertainment. Indigenous societies tend to overlap the entertainment one with the others, since subsistence activities are approached in a playful way. This shouldn’t be surprising, because they’re things people do for fun in our culture: hunting, fishing, foraging, etc. On top of that, humans are designed to have a fair amount of leisure time, and in indigenous societies it’s commonly observed that a lot of time is spent in play, often with games of chance and skill, as well as lots and lots of socializing, which I think can count as both entertainment and companionship.

Money isn’t a necessity, just a means to get necessities.

And you guys talking about toilets and bidets should check out the Humanure Handbook.

As for soil contamination, it’s rarely any worse than the chemicals that get into industrially produced food. But there are some neat ways to bioremediate contamination, mostly through fungi. Many are easily incorporated into permaculture systems.

Salt is present in sufficient qualities in wild food to meet our dietary needs. Much of that is in meat and blood. And of course, it could be distilled out of seawater. Anyway, that counts as food.

And @Hobbes is right about war not being humanity’s natural inclination. Before the rise of empires, the closest thing we could refer to as warfare was, in essence, nonviolent. It was more a posturing of badassery. In many societies we see that the warfare would end for the day if anyone got hurt.

@john65pennington Do I really need to go into another diatribe about stone age stereotypes?

rooeytoo's avatar

Okay while y’all are out there doing the minimalist thing, you can find me at the nearest luxury hotel (and keep in mind I worked hard to be able to afford the tariff) probably with my lappy fluthering on the high speed internet provided by the hotel. After a swim I will have a light lunch and a nap. That encompasses the necessities of life my way.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Oh, and to @bob_‘s comment about industrial food production: industrial farming is one of the most inefficient ways to grow food in terms of land used compared to food produced. Polycrops made mostly of perennials can produce many times more food while building soil.

Scooby's avatar

@Hobbes “A bidet is pretty intuitive, though”.

That depends on what neck of the woods you come from… :-/

Hobbes's avatar


Thanks for that. I was particularly worried about the soil contamination problem.


Well, you just spray the water on your butt. There isn’t much to it. Anyway, the point is that I imagine many ancient people used water to clean with. If you stood in a stream facing down current, that would do the job just fine.

Scooby's avatar


Yes I know what a bidet is. I was just being a little impudent in my crocodile dundee reply,
sorry!...I used to sell them once upon a time, bidets that is….. As for washing my arris in a stream, not bloody likely! Have you not heard of those fish that swim up your willy & lodge themselves there :-/ ARRRGGHHHH……………..
Africa I think but they may have distant cousins for all I know! :-/

LostInParadise's avatar

If we accept a need for recognition then it is not hard to see how this leads to competition and appropriation of resources.

@incendiary_dan , War seems to be natural to us. Hunter/gatherer societies engage in perpetual warfare against neighboring tribes and tend to have high homicide rates. Aggression is also a is found among many other primates, including chimpanzees.

Hobbes's avatar

“Hunter/gatherer societies engage in perpetual warfare against neighboring tribes and tend to have high homicide rates.”

Some, not all, hunter-gatherer societies fight neighboring tribes. I don’t think I would call this “warfare” because it is really a series of skirmishes usually based on scarcity of the resources I listed (today often caused by tribes being pushed closer together due to colonial pressures) or personal vendettas. There was no organized violence based on dominance hierarchies. Moreover, the presence of violence and aggression does not mean that perpetual war is the natural state of human affairs.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@LostInParadise Yea, that’s just entirely not true, but I don’t feel like making this an anthropology lesson, because nobody is paying me. If you want the substantive stuff, I believe I’ve posted it on at least one other of @Hobbes’ questions.

@Hobbes Washing your butt that way sounds like a good way to contamination your water supply. Or your neighbor’s downstream. I’ve had a handful of people tell me that when they eat paleo and squat instead of sitting, they don’t really need to wipe. Weird.

Hobbes's avatar


Would it really? I guess it depends on how much water there is and how fast it’s moving. I mean, I’m not talking about pooping in the stream, just letting it take care of the “residue”.

LostInParadise's avatar

@incendiary_dan , Not to open up a whole new issue, but there are many who cast doubt on the noble savage idea. Here is an article from the Economist that brings up recent research.

There is something in us that desires more than simple comforts. I am not saying that violence is necessary, only that pre-agricultural societies do not provide a model for achieving peace. Universal peace would be something brand new in the world. I would like to believe that it is achievable.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@LostInParadise And it’s exactly that article that was the basis for my friend’s rebuttal, which is one of the things I posted previously, in fact I think in response to your posting of that article.

On top of that, the term and idea of “Noble Savage” has never been a real concept in scholarly circles, but has always been a straw man used to “debunk” a position that doesn’t exist. In reality, it’s a way to affirm the myths of progress. And it is telling that the term itself comes from a European explorer noting that most of the indigenous of North America lived like nobles did back in Europe.

Don’t think you can just cry “noble savage” and think it’s a substantive argument.

Also, if you’d bothered to read my responses above, you can see that I don’t (nor does anyone else, it seems) argue that we desire only “simple comforts”. We all talked about entertainment and socialization.

Nor have I said, nor has @Hobbes or anyone else to my knowledge, that hunter gatherers were non-violent. But they are characteristically much less violent. That I can say for certain.

And seriously, the Economist is not a scholarly publication by any means.

Hobbes's avatar

Also, I think that whatever violence occurred happened mainly because the people involved were angry or desperate for specific reasons. They didn’t kill because they were ordered to, and I think this kind of violence, instigated and enacted between specific people for individual reasons, is very different from the sort of institutionalized, depersonalized, organized violence we are used to. Not only that, but the sort of violence which occurred in tribal societies still happens today, often for similar reasons. We call it “murder” whereas we call institutional violence “collateral damage”, but that doesn’t really change a thing. Violence is still violence, pain is still pain, and both are still terrible, but violence is not the same as war, and if I had a choice between the countless atrocities, the wave of butchery which is the last ten thousand years and the occasional skirmish over water rights or fight between jealous lovers, there wouldn’t be a contest.

LostInParadise's avatar

@incendiary_dan , Sorry that I missed the rebuttal. The article makes some good points, but I think it is a bit over the top to equate the enforcement of law with implied violence. As to the homicide rate of hunter-gatherers, it seems that I will have to look into the original sources.

When I spoke of the need for something other than creature comforts, I was thinking of the possibility of zero sum needs like recognition.

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