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.
Many people has the notion that enlightenment is one state. Many also believe that when it is attained, a person is forever in that state.
The following is not a definitive article on this subject. It is just an expression of my own thoughts.
My opinion is that enlightenment is not just one state but is a progressive and gradual establishing of states of consciousness.
I, myself have not reach the end of the road. But from years on a spiritual quest, I can safely say that enlightenment happens in a series or stages of self-realisations and self-discoveries.
Usually there is a difference between an initial awakening and a later stabilisation of that stage that happens through practice or experiences. The initial awakenings are new discoveries about the dynamics of consciousness, while the stabilisation is the assimilation of what is being discovered into one’s life experience. Sometimes, a new discovery can completely over-rule or modify upon an older one.
Almost all stages of enlightenment can be said to be associated with Presence. However, the enlightening Presence comes in various degrees of intensity and clarity. The degree of intensity is directly dependent on the level and depth of one’s clarity as well as one’s realisations/discoveries.
Also, as one progresses along, the relationship or connections of oneself to the universe and existence at large also becomes clearer.
Below very briefly illustrates the progressive and stage-based nature of enlightenment:
When one first begin meditating, one may first experience the all-pervading Presence. This Presence, is most often experienced when thoughts are momentarily suspended. This Presence which exists in the Eternal Present Moment is our true self.
However such an experience can only be classified as an awakening to the true self.. which is no-self. This is because, after the meditation, the Presence seems to have disappeared. One cannot understand and find the connection of presence to our everyday life. Therefore one will have difficulty re-acquiring the Presence. And it takes many stages and series of realisation to understand the relationship of Presence to our phenomenal world. It can be said that the prolonged sustaining of Presence is dependent on the stages and depth of realisation.
Also, during the earlier stages we may mistaken another state to be the pure presence. For example, we may mistaken ‘I AM’ for pure presence. This is because the thinking mind has created a reflective image of Pure Presence. This reflection of the absolute is ‘I AM’.
Usually, in order to pass through the ‘I AM’ stage, the person must move unto even deeper understandings. These understandings may include realising that one’s personality is not the doer of action. This stage may persist for a while before the person realises the illusion of subject-object division. This stage involves recognising the hypnotic impression of there being an observer and the being observed. Here is where one begins to see through the illusionary nature of our phenomenal world.
I cannot comment on the stages before me as they are beyond me. Nevertheless, one can still see from the above description that enlightenment is not so straight-forward after all.
For your necessary discernment. Thank you for reading.
The following article covers a topic that has recently moved to center stage–at least it seems that way. If you’ve been thinking you need to know more about unconditional love, here’s your opportunity.
When darkness turns to day, the sun moves over the horizon and touches everything in sight. This movement across the landscape brightens everything. Such an illumination awakens us all. We rise with energy moving in and through us allowing us to create a new day. A day unique from all the rest and creatively woven into our soul. This is the landscape of our soul. As you can see, nature has a way of showing us just how powerful we are. The same power that created the moon and the stars and the movement of all space and time lies within the human heart. It is the heart of creation itself, and perhaps, the heart of our Creator.
Human beings are fortunate to be able to be aware of our awareness. This awareness gives us an opportunity to reflect on our soul and find blessing in being alive. Our consciousness of a creative force inside us guiding us into this world, through it, and eventually to our eternal home allows us to fulfill a purpose on this earth. Such a purpose is beyond our own ability to really know. Yet, we can open our heart enough to allow our purpose to find us. This is done by recognizing that the things in life that really matter ARE the things in life that isn’t matter. Yes, it is our soul’s longing to fulfill the purpose for which we came to earth for. No one really knows how a baby is conceived totally. Science and human understanding still hasn’t been able to fully comprehend such a force of nature. We can only embrace what is beyond us and find a way to bring into being forces of nature such as a tiny child. When a child is born, we are in awe. The miracle of birth creates something inside us all. It is the remembrance that life does not come from us. Instead, life comes through us. As such, we are living in a dream come true. All of us are probably living our soul’s purpose more than we know, and even, can know. It is the mystery of all mysteries.
This does not explain why some of us find peace and other’s find pain. But, such a philosophy will enable us all to find grace in knowing our lives create in our world facets of ourselves we all are a part of. An understanding of such grace gives every one of us a chance to find mercy and grace and the same unconditional love we came into the world with when we were born.
Samuel Oliver, author of, “What the Dying Teach Us: Lessons on Living”
Watching the news the other day, it occurred to me that people who have “words to live by” often begin to attack and even kill others. I thought back to my own angry youth, when I could easily use words to justify violent thoughts which might have become violent actions. Words are tools, and yet it seems that they can be more dangerous than gunpowder.
Imagine two men facing each other, pointing past one another. One is pointing at a tornado that is coming, and the other at a raging fire headed towards them. Each sees their own truth and is angry at the sight of the other’s hand. Each feels that the other’s hand is “wrong.” This may seem silly, but replace the tornado and fire with any modern issues, and the hands with words, and this scene describes how we often try to communicate.
We point past each other with our words, arguing as though we are looking at the same facts and experiences. We want to prove our words are the right ones, instead of learning to look at what the other’s words are pointing at. Words are seductive, and for all their undeniable usefulness, they also can lead us away from understanding when we focus on them, when we make them more important than the truth they are meant to point at.
There Are No Words To Live By
This isn’t just about communication with others. We focus on, and get trapped in a net of words that we use to explain the world to ourselves. We call things “right” or “wrong” for example, according to how they compare to our “definitions.” Unlike mathematics, though, word formulas and definitions can never be so precise. They cannot encompass the whole truth of reality. For example, with the least effort, you can create a circumstance where “stealing” would be right, and “helping” someone wrong. This isn’t an argument against using language or logic. It is just that both only go so far. Like a car that takes you across the country or world, they are useful, but like a car, they are only useful in certain ways, and you have to get out of them when you arrive at your various destinations. Taking a car to the lake isn’t a problem, but taking it into the lake is. This is what we do when our words and logic take us to dangerous situations.
Can having words to live by be dangerous, though? Absolutely. I once heard an otherwise compassionate person say he was against animal cruelty laws because he couldn’t find a logical and defensible set of words to defend them. If he saw a new machine, would he refuse to believe it existed until he could explain it and describe it? Reality, and the reality of right and wrong exist outside of words – they are not the words themselves.
I watched a man say on the evening news that we have the right to drop a nuclear bomb on Iraq, and that we should. As he explained why, you could see that whatever compassionate impulses he had, they were over-ruled by his total allegiance to his words, logic, and where these take him. It never occurred to him that maybe there is truth outside of his words and logic. It’s great to have guidelines, like “don’t lie,” or “we have the right to defend ourselves.” It is even better to remember that these rules will someday fail us, and we will have to make new ones. Words are just tools. There are words to die by, but there are no words to live by.
There are many kinds of narratives and organizing principles. Science is driven by evidence gathered in experiments, and by the falsification of extant theories and their replacement with newer, asymptotically truer, ones. Other systems – religion, nationalism, paranoid ideation, or art – are based on personal experiences (faith, inspiration, paranoia, etc.).
Experiential narratives can and do interact with evidential narratives and vice versa. For instance: belief in God inspires some scientists who regard science as a method to “peek at God’s cards” and to get closer to Him. Another example: the pursuit of scientific endeavors enhances one’s national pride and is motivated by it. Science is often corrupted in order to support nationalistic and racist claims.
The basic units of all narratives are known by their effects on the environment. God, in this sense, is no different from electrons, quarks, and black holes. All four constructs cannot be directly observed, but the fact of their existence is derived from their effects.
Granted, God’s effects are discernible only in the social and psychological (or psychopathological) realms. But this observed constraint doesn’t render Him less “real”. The hypothesized existence of God parsimoniously explains a myriad ostensibly unrelated phenomena and, therefore, conforms to the rules governing the formulation of scientific theories.
The locus of God’s hypothesized existence is, clearly and exclusively, in the minds of believers. But this again does not make Him less real. The contents of our minds are as real as anything “out there”. Actually, the very distinction between epistemology and ontology is blurred.
But is God’s existence “true” – or is He just a figment of our neediness and imagination?
Truth is the measure of the ability of our models to describe phenomena and predict them. God’s existence (in people’s minds) succeeds to do both. For instance, assuming that God exists allows us to predict many of the behaviors of people who profess to believe in Him. The existence of God is, therefore, undoubtedly true (in this formal and strict sense).
But does God exist outside people’s minds? Is He an objective entity, independent of what people may or may not think about Him? After all, if all sentient beings were to perish in a horrible calamity, the Sun would still be there, revolving as it has done from time immemorial.
If all sentient beings were to perish in a horrible calamity, would God still exist? If all sentient beings, including all humans, stop believing that there is God – would He survive this renunciation? Does God “out there” inspire the belief in God in religious folks’ minds?
Known things are independent of the existence of observers (although the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics disputes this). Believed things are dependent on the existence of believers.
We know that the Sun exists. We don’t know that God exists. We believe that God exists – but we don’t and cannot know it, in the scientific sense of the word. We can design experiments to falsify (prove wrong) the existence of electrons, quarks, and black holes (and, thus, if all these experiments fail, prove that electrons, quarks, and black holes exist). We can also design experiments to prove that electrons, quarks, and black holes exist. But we cannot design even one experiment to falsify the existence of a God who is outside the minds of believers (and, thus, if the experiment fails, prove that God exists “out there”). Additionally, we cannot design even one experiment to prove that God exists outside the minds of believers. What about the “argument from design”? The universe is so complex and diverse that surely it entails the existence of a supreme intelligence, the world’s designer and creator, known by some as “God”. On the other hand, the world’s richness and variety can be fully accounted for using modern scientific theories such as evolution and the big bang. There is no need to introduce God into the equations.
Still, it is possible that God is responsible for it all. The problem is that we cannot design even one experiment to falsify this theory, that God created the Universe (and, thus, if the experiment fails, prove that God is, indeed, the world’s originator). Additionally, we cannot design even one experiment to prove that God created the world. We can, however, design numerous experiments to falsify the scientific theories that explain the creation of the Universe (and, thus, if these experiments fail, lend these theories substantial support). We can also design experiments to prove the scientific theories that explain the creation of the Universe. It does not mean that these theories are absolutely true and immutable. They are not. Our current scientific theories are partly true and are bound to change with new knowledge gained by experimentation. Our current scientific theories will be replaced by newer, truer theories. But any and all future scientific theories will be falsifiable and testable.
Knowledge and belief are like oil and water. They don’t mix. Knowledge doesn’t lead to belief and belief does not yield knowledge. Belief can yield conviction or strongly-felt opinions. But belief cannot result in knowledge.
Still, both known things and believed things exist. The former exist “out there” and the latter “in our minds” and only there. But they are no less real for that.