On Being Human
Are we human because of unique traits and attributes not shared with either animal or machine? The definition of "human" is circular: we are human by virtue of the properties that make us human (i.e., distinct from animal and machine). It is a definition by negation: that which separates us from animal and machine is our "human-ness".
We are human because we are not animal, nor machine. But such thinking has been rendered progressively less tenable by the advent of evolutionary and neo-evolutionary theories which postulate a continuum in nature between animals and Man.
Our uniqueness is partly quantitative and partly qualitative. Many animals are capable of cognitively manipulating symbols and using tools. Few are as adept at it as we are. These are easily quantifiable differences - two of many.
Qualitative differences are a lot more difficult to substantiate. In the absence of privileged access to the animal mind, we cannot and don't know if animals feel guilt, for instance. Do animals love? Do they have a concept of sin? What about object permanence, meaning, reasoning, self-awareness, critical thinking? Individuality? Emotions? Empathy? Is artificial intelligence (AI) an oxymoron? A machine that passes the Turing Test may well be described as "human". But is it really? And if it is not - why isn't it?
Literature is full of stories of monsters - Frankenstein, the Golem - and androids or anthropoids. Their behaviour is more "humane" than the humans around them. This, perhaps, is what really sets humans apart: their behavioural unpredictability. It is yielded by the interaction between Mankind's underlying immutable genetically-determined nature - and Man's kaleidoscopically changing environments.
The Constructivists even claim that Human Nature is a mere cultural artefact. Sociobiologists, on the other hand, are determinists. They believe that human nature - being the inevitable and inexorable outcome of our bestial ancestry - cannot be the subject of moral judgment.
An improved Turing Test would look for baffling and erratic patterns of misbehaviour to identify humans. Pico della Mirandola wrote in "Oration on the Dignity of Man" that Man was born without a form and can mould and transform - actually, create - himself at will. Existence precedes essence, said the Existentialists centuries later.
The one defining human characteristic may be our awareness of our mortality. The automatically triggered, "fight or flight", battle for survival is common to all living things (and to appropriately programmed machines). Not so the catalytic effects of imminent death. These are uniquely human. The appreciation of the fleeting translates into aesthetics, the uniqueness of our ephemeral life breeds morality, and the scarcity of time gives rise to ambition and creativity.
In an infinite life, everything materializes at one time or another, so the concept of choice is spurious. The realization of our finiteness forces us to choose among alternatives. This act of selection is predicated upon the existence of "free will". Animals and machines are thought to be devoid of choice, slaves to their genetic or human programming.
Yet, all these answers to the question: "What does it mean to be human" - are lacking.
The set of attributes we designate as human is subject to profound alteration. Drugs, neuroscience, introspection, and experience all cause irreversible changes in these traits and characteristics. The accumulation of these changes can lead, in principle, to the emergence of new properties, or to the abolition of old ones.
Animals and machines are not supposed to possess free will or exercise it. What, then, about fusions of machines and humans (bionics)? At which point does a human turn into a machine? And why should we assume that free will ceases to exist at that - rather arbitrary - point?
Introspection - the ability to construct self-referential and recursive models of the world - is supposed to be a uniquely human quality. What about introspective machines? Surely, say the critics, such machines are PROGRAMMED to introspect, as opposed to humans. To qualify as introspection, it must be WILLED, they continue. Yet, if introspection is willed - WHO wills it? Self-willed introspection leads to infinite regression and formal logical paradoxes.
Moreover, the notion - if not the formal concept - of "human" rests on many hidden assumptions and conventions.
Political correctness notwithstanding - why presume that men and women (or different races) are identically human? Aristotle thought they were not. A lot separates males from females - genetically (both genotype and phenotype) and environmentally (culturally). What is common to these two sub-species that makes them both "human"?
Can we conceive of a human without body (i.e., a Platonian Form, or soul)? Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas think not. A soul has no existence separate from the body. A machine-supported energy field with mental states similar to ours today - would it be considered human? What about someone in a state of coma - is he or she (or it) fully human?
Is a new born baby human - or, at least, fully human - and, if so, in which sense? What about a future human race - whose features would be unrecognizable to us? Machine-based intelligence - would it be thought of as human? If yes, when would it be considered human?
In all these deliberations, we may be confusing "human" with "person". The former is a private case of the latter. Locke's person is a moral agent, a being responsible for its actions. It is constituted by the continuity of its mental states accessible to introspection.
Locke's is a functional definition. It readily accommodates non-human persons (machines, energy matrices) if the functional conditions are satisfied. Thus, an android which meets the prescribed requirements is more human than a brain dead person.
Descartes' objection that one cannot specify conditions of singularity and identity over time for disembodied souls is right only if we assume that such "souls" possess no energy. A bodiless intelligent energy matrix which maintains its form and identity over time is conceivable. Certain AI and genetic software programs already do it.
Strawson is Cartesian and Kantian in his definition of a "person" as a "primitive". Both the corporeal predicates and those pertaining to mental states apply equally, simultaneously, and inseparably to all the individuals of that type of entity. Human beings are one such entity. Some, like Wiggins, limit the list of possible persons to animals - but this is far from rigorously necessary and is unduly restrictive.
The truth is probably in a synthesis:
A person is any type of fundamental and irreducible entity whose typical physical individuals (i.e., members) are capable of continuously experiencing a range of states of consciousness and permanently having a list of psychological attributes.
This definition allows for non-animal persons and recognizes the personhood of a brain damaged human ("capable of experiencing"). It also incorporates Locke's view of humans as possessing an ontological status similar to "clubs" or "nations" - their personal identity consists of a variety of interconnected psychological continuities.
About The Author
Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory Bellaonline, and Suite101 .
Until recently, he served as the Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com
Nessie, the Beast of the Loch
They were fierce hill tribes in what is now Scotland, and we called them Picts. The name seems to mean "The Painted People" for they were known to love bright body art and multi-coloured clothing. They were artists, prolific carvers of stone and from the carved standing stones still found in the region around Loch Ness, we can see that the Picts were fascinated by animals, carefully etching their likeness into the surface of the stone. And they left us a mystery.
The Original Nobility: Patricians and Knights
By "nobility" I refer to that class in society which once had hereditary political, financial and social privileges guaranteed by law. By "original nobility" I follow the German (and now internationally accepted) definition and refer to those families who were ennobled (or generally recognised as nobles) before the year 1400. With "patricians" I refer to those families who from time immemorial were recorded as local and regional leaders, and usually as a base for their power had vast landed properties. With "knight" I refer to the warrior class that emerged and developed during 900 - 1300 AD.
Masking European Animism
The ancient peoples of Europe were more fond of masks and religious ritual than youwould suspect if you saw Europeans today. Mask wearing and shamanism was partand parcel of everyday life in ancient Western European tradition, say researchers.
Flashes of memory stream into my consciousness. They take me back thirty years plus. I was a boy then, a newcomer to a poor and tough neighborhood. My parents, of moderate means and daring to a fault, had decided to move there after my father had accepted an editing job in the federal government. They had taken a lease on a low-rent brick house, which was also run-down, covered in filth, and littered with trash. I do not mince my words: Previous tenants had been pigs that got along with bugs and rats.
Return to Ouvea, New Caledonia
"Ouvea is everything you'd expect in a South Pacific island. Twenty kilometers of unbroken white sands border the lagoon on the west side of the island and extend far out from shore to give the water a turquoise hue. The wide western lagoon, protected by a string of coral islands and a barrier reef, is the only one of its kind in the Loyalties. On the ocean side are rocky cliffs, pounded by surf, but fine beaches may be found even here. At one point on this narrow atoll only 450 meters separates the two coasts. Traditional circular houses with pointed thatched roofs are still common in the villages".
Sir Francis Drake
FRANCIS DRAKE: - It is my perspective that history has had secrets which Royal Families like the Stuart Bees needed to keep close to their vest; and that these secrets are still kept by our supposed 'experts' in history, to this day. The English claim to ownership in the Americas has been made on the basis of John Cabot who may never have reached the area of Canada and that Venetian half witted mariner was laughing-stock among his contemporaries. If our history allows that other nations would have given credit and rights based on his story - then almost any kind of secret agreement can be imagined. It must have involved the Holy Alliance which continued in such later acts as The Treaty of Verona between the Romano-Bruttii of Rome and England in 1822.
Humans are not special, hate to break it to you
I hate to break it to you, but humans are not all that special really. I laugh at the self importance humans place on this species as if some how they are better, more evolved or the divine work and special project of a God. There is actually not a single piece of evidence for that. We see the same general characteristics we see in humans in house pets, primates, birds and even fish. Yes, indeed we have a larger brain and the point is? Few humans bother to use its potential. Now that I have offended every human on the planet, let me recommend a book to you:
Mexican Living: Somethings Got to be Done!
Mexico needs to do something about the behavior of Gringos who come to their country who are hell-bent on acting out the Ugly American Syndrome stereotype no matter what.
Many 'fabulous' personages and concepts are created by man. Some are attempts to make sense of a confusing array of real things man doesn't understand, others are created by those who would have us 'believe'. The art of making others 'believe' what you want them to, is an art that developed over millions of years even if man is only modern for the last hundred thousand years. 'As you believe so shall you do' and fables which set early modes of relating to our environment in nursery rhymes and other equally 'fabulous' or fantastic histories. Revisionist history was definitely begun in earnest during the Babylonian and early Greek era. By the time of Alexander he was so convinced this art was achievable that he declared himself a divine creature and no longer just used the 'descended from' divine or demi-god fiction. All knowledge was to become Hellenized or made to fit the needs of his Empire.
The Sterling Silver Story
Silver is the most common of the Precious Metals. It's working qualities are very similar to gold. Pure silver, which is seldom used for jewelry because it is too soft. Silver weighs about half as much as gold and has greater flexibility. Though silver is not as malleable as gold it can achieve a more brilliant polish. In fact, silver shines above all other metals in this respect.
Feng Shui Monsters Under Your Bed
Good feng shui often requires making wise decisions based on your specific circumstances, rather than blinding following an ideal rule. The feng shui rule for storing things under your bed is "don't do it." But for those who live in small homes every inch of possible storage space is precious. If you are faced with cluttering up some other area of your home with stuff that otherwise might be put under the bed, how do you decide what to do?
The Red Violin - Film Review
The film portrays the creation, fate, and redemption of a father's legacy to his unborn child: a violin. Nicola Bussoti, a master violin craftsman, has created the "most perfect acoustic machine," in hope of his unborn son to be a great musician. Anna, Bussoti's wife, seeks knowledge about her future through an old woman, and her ability to foresee her fate with Tarot cards. The old woman makes five predictions about Anna's future: she will travel, there will be mountains and forests; there will be sickness everywhere she goes; she will meet with a man: the devil itself; and finally the rebirth: she will be desired amongst people, where her journey will come to an end. Bussoti's wife dies, taking with her their unborn child. This event will move Nicola Bussoti to finish his creation, varnishing the violin with her wife's blood.
I, Ego, and Power
I: - A vowel that didn't appear in sacerdotal alphabets for which there is little, or should I say not one IOTA of, reason to hold up for personal glorification. The ego is man's greatest hindrance and his competitiveness possesses him like the demons he has created in his IGNORANCE!
Mars, the Mighty and Marvelous
Martius, the month of March, is named after him. So is the fourth planet from the sun and a bar of chocolate, but we know him mainly as the god of war.
Elvis Presley, Lifting Off
He seems to live forever. A network television movie about his life is scheduled for 2005.Three years ago,in 2002, the month of August was set aside for him. He was everywhere, as if he never died twenty-five years earlier. The old records reappeared as freshly minted CD's, he was seen shaking his hips on TV "news" clips and one CBS news piece revealed that an astounding forty two percent of the US population consider themselves to be Elvis Presley fans. His short life was looked at anew, re-examined and pontificated upon. Every day was accounted for, except that one day in January 1956 when he shot to stardom. Who could have known what would happen on that day? The biographers could not have been there but a handful of people did see what happened on that unusual and fascinating day. As a college student working as a weekend gofer in the CBS- TV studio, I was one of them. To fill in that gap in the Elvis Presley story, this is what happened on that remarkable day, January 26, 1956.
FABULOUS: - Many 'fabulous' personages and concepts are created by man. Some are attempts to make sense of a confusing array of real things he doesn't understand, others are created by those who would have us 'believe'. The art of making others 'believe' what you want them to, is an art that developed over millions of years even if man is only modern for the last hundred thousand years. 'As you believe so shall you do' and fables which set early modes of relating to our environment in nursery rhymes and other equally 'fabulous' or fantastic histories. Revisionist history was definitely begun in earnest during the Babylonian and early Greek era. By the time of Alexander he was so convinced this art was achievable that he declared himself a divine creature and no longer just used the descended from divine or demi-god fiction. All knowledge was to become Hellenized or made to fit the needs of his Empire.
Dreaming of Love and Peace
She dreams of touring Europe and the US to sing of love and peace. That is her 'big ambition.' A rising star amongst Egypt's singers, Rula Zaki tells us in her best known song that we live on an indivisible planet.
Astrologers Just Plain Stupid?
We live at an interesting time of scientific knowledge. Scientists say that you cannot gain an advantage over the Casino, since the odds are stacked against you. Scientists also say that Astrology does not seem feasible, since it does not fit in with known scientific laws. However, it is estimated that approximately 100 million people in the world either follow Astrology or see that there is some truth in it.
How I lost A million Dollars In A Bank Robbery
The Million dollars was my life-savings earmarked for prime the pump money for my biotech start-up. I am the Gerald Armstrong the owner of Gen Cells Cures?Gen Cells Cures is focused on private medical research for the individual. Searching for cures for incurable diseases and aging. Of course, with the best scientific technologies on the planet! With President Bush trying to ride the middle of the road on stem cell research and his rejection of therapeutic cloning. I packed my bags and went offshore. A great place to go, but leave your money at home. I transferred the money to a carribean island and the local banker stole every last penny.
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