Anyways, for those of you who have looked at my about page* you know that I have acknowledged being a bit of a prick on occasion. But I also tend to be a bit optimistic about humanity. So while I may, or may not, believe in a deity** I do have my own little bit of irrationality. I think humanity is better than it really is every now and then, so there is my faith-based practice for ya. When in these moods I occasionally think thoughts about man, today is no different.
What does it mean to be human, how does one posses humanity?
There are of course a number of possible interpretations to this questions.
- Genetically: we know organisms change over time, we also know that even within identical twins there are measurable differences in their genetic code. So knowing these two things under what range of genetic variance is something still human? What do we call something that is born of humans and moves beyond this accepted range? This may seem a question for to distant of a future, but we don’t know that, we hope that. It allows us to avoid answering that question. Would such an entity have any rights? Would it be an animal***? For these reasons I do not think we can rely on this to define humanity in any sense other than the most literal, and that isn’t the goal.
- Intellectually: I at first considered bringing up the Turing test, but come on, that has been played to death. People seem to agree that a five-year old is a human being, so what if we devised a way to communicate with what is normally termed an animal and found it to have the intellect of a five-year old? Would that mean we give animals the same level of respect and care we would give a five-year old, or that we start treating five-year olds like animals? In fact, is intellect alone enough to be considered human, what about when our machines reach this level, will they be human? I doubt we can rely only on intellect to determine what it means to be human.
- Emotionally: If a species appeared that did not meet either of the first two examples appear, but that did have the same wealth of emotional capacity as we believe humans possess should they be considered human? Isn’t it our capacity for feeling that people refer to when they discuss humanity, in short isn’t empathy that which most defines humanity? That acting as if on has no sense of, or in direct violation of ones empathy is inhuman? That we accuse researchers of humanizing their subjects not when they say they show intelligence, but when they subscribe to a belief that they are experiencing some type of emotional reaction? If this is the answer though what do we do if we meet a species that is devoid of emotion? After all, do we need emotion? If we followed a rational existence devoid of emotion isn’t it just as likely we may have built society structure given how we find it is the irrational that so often causes our rational minded models to fail us in predicting behavior?
In short I would say that one of these things can define the condition of being human. I think it is like two sliding scales of intellect and emotion. Each scored from one to ninety-nine, between them one would have to score at least one-hundred. That no matter how empathic, reason is a part of being human, and no matter how intelligent, without at least a spark of emotion humanity simply isn’t there.
Now, in my humble opinion, these are mostly hypothetical questions, but shouldn’t we as a species be prepared to answer them before the need arises. Ethically, can we justify not having sought out answers to these questions?
For those of you so inclined tell me what you think, after all, if I am because I think then you can’t be unless you do.
* I know some of you are out there as I have seen I have had a few page views, not many, but a few, and I know they are not from relatives as I have not given out the address.
**would that be any of your business anyway?
*** as animal is commonly meant to convey, not simply the scientific definition, oh which humans obviously fall within