Are we human because of unique characteristics and attributes not shared with animals or machines?
The definition of “individual” is circular: we are rational under the properties that make us human (distinct from animal and machine)?
It is a definition by negation: separating ourselves from animals and robots is our “humanity.”
We are human because we are not animals or computers. But such thinking has become progressively less sustainable with the advent of evolutionary and neo-evolutionary theories that postulate a continuum in nature between animals and man.
Our uniqueness is partly quantitative and partly qualitative.
Many animals can handle symbols and use tools cognitively.
Few are as adept at it as we are. These are easily quantifiable contrasts — two of many.
Qualitative differences are much more challenging to verify.
In the absence of privileged access to the animal instinct, we cannot and do not know whether animals feel guilt, for example.
Do animals love? Do they have a concept of sin? What about the dependability of the intention, meaning, reasoning, self-awareness, critical thinking? Character? Emotions? Empathy? Is artificial intelligence an oxymoron?
A machine that passes the Turing Test may well be described as “human.”
But that’s it? And if not — why not?
Literature is full of stories of monsters.
Their behavior is more “human” than the people around them. This, perhaps, is what differentiates humans: their behavioral unpredictability.
It is produced by the interaction between humanity’s underlying genetically delimited immutable nature — and man’s kaleidoscopically varying conditions.
Constructivists even claim that human nature is a mere cultural artifact. Sociobiologists, on the other hand, are deterministic.
They believe that human nature — being the inevitable and inexorable result of our bestial ancestry — cannot be the object of moral evaluation.
An improved Turing Test would look for confusing and irregular patterns of misbehavior to recognize humans.
Pico Della Mirandola wrote in “Prayer on the Dignity of Man” that Man was born without form and can be shaped and molded at will.
Existence precedes reality; existentialists said centuries later.
The only defining characteristic of humanity may be the consciousness of our mortality.
The “fight or flight” battle sparked automatically by survival is common to all living things (and properly programmed machines). The same is not true of the catalytic effects of impending death.
These are exclusively human.
The appreciation of the fleeting translates into aesthetics, the uniqueness of our transient life fuels morality, and the scarcity of time gives rise to purpose and creativity.
In an infinite life, everything materializes at one time or another, so the concept of choice is artificial.
The realization of our finitude forces us to choose between alternatives. This act of selection is based on the existence of “free will.” Animals and machines are considered to have no choice, slaves to their genetic and rational programming.
However, all of these answers to the question, “What does it mean to be human” — are missing-the set of attributes that we designate as a person is subject to profound changes.
Drugs, neuroscience, self-analysis, and knowledge cause irreversible changes in these traits and characteristics.
The accumulation of these changes can lead, in principle, to the development of new properties or the abolition of old ones.
Animals and machines must not have free will or exercise it. What, then, about the machine and human mergers? At what point does a human become a machine?
And why should we suppose that free will ceases to exist at that point — somewhat arbitrary?
Introspection — the ability to build self-referential and recursive representations of the world — is considered exclusively human. What about introspective machines?
Critics say such devices are PROGRAMMED for self-examination, as opposed to humans.
To qualify as thought, it must be WILD, they continue.
Stubborn consideration leads to infinite regression and formal logical paradoxes.
Furthermore, the notion — if not the formal concept — of “human” is based on many hidden assumptions and conventions. Despite political correctness — why assume that men and women are identically human?
Aristotle thought not. What is common about these two subspecies that makes them “human”?
Can we conceive a human being without the body (that is, a Platonic form or soul)?
Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas think not. A soul has no occurrence without a body.
An energy field supported by a machine with mental states similar to ours today — would it be considered human?
How about someone in a coma — are we adequately human?
How about a future human race — whose characteristics would be unrecognizable to us?
Machine-based intelligence — would it be considered human?
If so, when would you be considered human? In all of these deliberations, we may be confusing “human” with “personality.”
The former is a particular case of the latter.
Locke’s person is a moral agent, a being responsible for his actions.
It consists of the continuity of their mental states accessible to introspection.
Locke’s definition is practical. It readily accommodates non-human people (machines, energy arrays) if the applicable conditions are met.
Therefore, an android that meets the prescribed requirements is more human than a person with brain death.
Descartes’ objection that conditions of uniqueness and identity cannot be specified over time for disembodied souls, is correct only if we assume that such “souls” have no energy. An intelligent energy matrix without form that maintains its identity over time is conceivable.
Specific AI programs and genetic software already do this. is Cartesian and in his definition of a “person” as a “rudimentary.”
Both bodily predicates and those related to mental states apply equally, simultaneously, and inseparably to all individuals of this type of entity.
Human beings are one of those entities.
Some, like Wiggins, limit the list of possible people to animals — but this is far from being strictly necessary and is overly restrictive.
The truth is probably in a synthesis: a person is any fundamental and irreducible entity whose typical physical individuals can continually experience a variety of states of consciousness and to have a list of psychological traits permanently.
This definition allows people who are not animals and recognizes a human being with brain damage “able to experience”.
It also incorporates Locke’s view that humans have an ontological status similar to “organizations” or “communities” — their identity consists of a variety of interconnected psychological continuities.
Originally published at https://www.designyourworld.space on September 20, 2020.