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How would you define being "human"?

This question was sparked by a fellow classmate during Theory of Knowledge. He gave some clarifying examples or lead-ins, which may help you guys understand what I'm asking and guide your answers (not toward one answer hopefully).

My classmate said that there was a kid who had lost part of her brain function, due to an accident. Apparently, they put in some sort of device that simulated that area of her brain that was lost. Broadening this concept, if someone's entire brain was replaced with something inorganic and programmed to such an extent that it was indistinguishable from before the surgery, is that person still human? This naturally leads to the subquestion: are a person's traits, emotions, and opinions the only aspect of his humanity or humanness?
After thinking about your response to that situation, what if we flipped the situation? Now we have an inorganic body, but an organic brain. Would you still consider this entity to be 'human'? What if the inorganic body had a non-human shape, such as a triangle? This should all lead to the subquestion: how does an entity's appearance affect its humanness?
Now, the last combination of brain and body: a totally inorganic entity that is seems completely human. This obviously would require a bunch of programming and robotics, but I wouldn't say it's outside of the realm of possibilities (and even if it was, it seems like a good thought experiment to narrow down how you would define humanity). This leads to my last subquestion (for now :)): how does an entity's organic nature (was it born or manufactured) affect its humanity?

I have some ideas currently, but am sure I will have to add on, edit, or completely change my theory after I see your guys' responses! As always, feel free to ask clarifying questions.

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    Nov 18 2013: Our intellect or mind would seem to reside in our brains. A small change to the brain can have a dramatic effect on who we are; however even a large change to our bodies does not necessarily result in a change to who we are. So I would think that an organic mind in an inorganic shell, regardless of the shape would still be human. Take Stephen Hawking for instance, his body is little more than a shell at this time and yet is still one of the most brilliant people of our time. Regardless of the degeneration of his body he is no less human today.

    Leaving our souls out of the discussion let’s assume that we are the sum or our experiences from birth until now and that. It is our experiences and interactions that make us human. So an organic mind placed into any vessel would still be human. Then an inorganic mind placed in a human body, able to experience and interact could quite possible be human.

    In short I believe it is what we've done and what we do that defines us not what we are.
    • Nov 18 2013: Jason,

      By that definition, a robot that learns and changes its actions depending upon what it learns would be a human being. Is that what you meant or am i misreading your comment?
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        Nov 19 2013: Not exactly. Many animals learn; a parrot learns to mimic words but still does not speak. We are so much more than the ability to learn; we are hopeful, empathetic, selfish and cruel. Just because something has a human trait does not make it human. There may come a day where something exists that does not match our preconceived outward definition of "human" but may on the inside exhibit all the human traits.
        My point was that we should keep an open mind, and not be too quick to judge.
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    Nov 30 2013: Human is a word, label, etc and has no meaning whatsoever apart from the meaning you attach to it. We all attach different meanings, but first of all, we inherit meaning from our culture. And we personalise it through our experiences.
    That is why sometimes people argue about definitions, because their meaning and way of interpreting the word is different. Even dictionaries do not always agree on definitions.
  • Nov 28 2013: Human is being able to ask the question, "What is human?" Future androids will be more intelligent overall e.g. they can be programmed to speak any language. Can humans communicate this well? The perception of dealing with more than what we see around us---spirituality as well as consciousness are, perhaps, signs of humanity. Do other animals contemplate the questions, "Why are we here? Where are we going?"

    Advanced animals have emotions and can reason, so this is not uniquely human. To many people machinations of the mind are what makes us human, so it should be viewed with considerable alarm when we are told that soon nano tubes can be inserted in our brain and we will become part of a network of other intelligent beings i.e. the Borg.
  • Nov 18 2013: You have created a lot of sub questions

    what is free will?
    what do we mean by the soul?

    and probably more.

    I would suggest that the unpredictability makes us human. Watson, Eliza (1960's), etc are all predictable.
  • Nov 18 2013: So Kai, is it easier to get TED to do your homework from class than researching by yourself? And while I'm asking questions who is that long haired hippie you have as a ICON, he looks a little pale, like he has been drinking way to much milk, is that really you?
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      Nov 18 2013: Haha, no. But this wasn't my homework. We just talked about it and I wanted to see what you guys thought.
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      Nov 18 2013: I think he looks like that guy... the one that said the thing about the whatsit back you know... when.
  • Nov 18 2013: I feel that a human entity would require the entity to be able to think, choose, and show emotion. I immediately thought of RoboCop when I finished reading the question. My memory may be a bit hazy but a human cop was almost literally destroyed but they used the remains of that person to create a robotic human (cyborg?) super police officer. Near the end, RoboCop remembers who his partner in the force was.

    I would say that RoboCop was able to act like a human but was simply a shell of his human form. Although he was not exactly able to create emotions, he was able to make choices, although they were based on computer coding that told him what was "right and wrong". I believe that something like memory is a total human trait and we would be able to say that RoboCop was in fact, a human entity. And then I remember that it required him to be human before he became a cyborg to again, become human.
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    Nov 17 2013: Being "human" simply refers to membership in the genus homo sapien or simply related to the grouping more commonly called people. We have tagged another sapien to that genus to form homo sapien sapien or wise wise. Of course lots of other connotations have been attached to 'human' as well, but they are secondary to the classification.

    So it would seem that to be deemed human one would have to not just be wise, but to be the wisest of the wise. However, I know that O - along with many others - have a lot of trouble calling us 'wise' and will settle for intelligent' instead to aid in the classification of human. Albeit with the caveat that intelligent is a far cry from wise.

    Then all that remains is to determine if the remaining physiology namely the brain is still intelligent then sure its still a member of the genus human. And I suspect it would be a heck of a lot more comfortable on a long plane flight too :)
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      Nov 18 2013: I thought about just saying that humans are homo sapiens, but I have since changed my thinking. I'm not quite sure how they classify animals, but I'm assuming they wouldn't classify as homo sapien a robot that looks, thinks, senses, and expresses the same way a human does. Would you consider this robot, that is indistinguishable from a human besides its inorganic make-up, a human? This entity would have feelings, opinions, and bias just as you would.
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        Nov 18 2013: it matters not what components are added, we already have pace makers, artificial hearts, artificial limbs and plastic blood is now on the horizon. It seems to traditional means of classifying a homo sapien/human being is the intelligence aspect of that animal and your robotic parts still include an organic brain that most likely still fits that distinction of being intelligent.

        A dog with wheels instead of legs is still a dog and a homo sapiens brain in a mechanical body should then still be a human being.
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          Nov 18 2013: I'm sorry I didn't make it clear, but this hypothetical robot's brain is entirely inorganic. It's been programmed to be human (this level of programming would be much more than just input-output). I do agree with you to some extent that the parts of a human don't affect its humanness.
          Basically, if intelligence can be programmed, would the entity then become human (even if it didn't have an organic brain)?
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        Nov 18 2013: I see. I was responding only to the part about the organic brain and non-organic body. My apologies as well.

        In the case you present I would say they no longer fit the homo sapien label because they would lack the pimate's genetic tags. Granted, they may well be intelligent but it takes both the genes and the intelligence to qualify for homo sapien.

        But I would suggest it is the intelligence and the use of language that matters in any species, organic or other because it is the ability to communicate that will be our bridge of understanding and communion.
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          Nov 18 2013: Wow. During my participation in the class discussion, I also likened the ability to communicate to a bridge. It's like our brains just high-fived :)
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        Nov 18 2013: I am going to lay down now
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    Nov 17 2013: Chemical. If there is no chemical then it is powered.Powered requires power, organic doesn't. Until the day they design a system that mimics us in every way it is just inorganic but then better to enhance the system we have now rather than add something that needs power.
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    Nov 17 2013: I would define something as essentially human if is fallible and capable of learning from it. I doubt if consciousness is sole territory of humanity.
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      Nov 18 2013: Can't other animals make errors and learn from them? For example, if a cat tries paw a porcupine and immidiately feels pain after doing so, the cat does not paw that porcupine again.
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        Nov 18 2013: I am talking about reasoned learning Kai. Do you think animals can do that? Do you think a cat can learn that one of its paw should be allowed to be removed for preservation of its life?
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    Nov 17 2013: Human has soul (as well as consciousness and will).
    If soul was put in a wolf, wolf would become human.
    If soul was put in a robot, robot would become human.

    Brain -- is just an organ like hand or leg or liver. Brain has its specific function. But it is just a part of the body, which is the suit for the soul (or consciousness).

    An interesting remark is that in Russia it is traditional to count people in souls (a common speech phrase). While the animals are being counted in heads (the dead are being counted in bodies).

    PS BTW, there are people who are living unconsciously. Furthermore there is an ancient Russian proverb "we all are people, but not every of us is a human".

    Also there is a story of Diogenes of Sinope (a Greek philosopher). He became notorious for his philosophical stunts. He used to stroll about in full daylight with a lamp; when asked what he was doing, he would answer, "I am just looking for a human being."
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    Nov 16 2013: This question was addressed by Robert Sapolski in these lectures.

    Robert Sapolsky: Are Humans Just Another Primate?
    Robert Sapolsky, Ph.D: Humans are Unique Among Living Creatures
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      Nov 18 2013: To clarify, you are saying that having a large amount of free will makes something human?

      I'd agree with you that we are generally more freely willed than other animals, but I think we do have some moral contraints at the very least.
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          Nov 18 2013: I see what you mean, but don't quite agree. I currently think that morality is all based off the most fundamental instinct to not kill other humans. This evolves into not harming others, then not harming them financially, and so on. Now the extent to which we extend this line from the basic instinct depends on the person, but the basic instinct is the same for all humans (and for most of the entities (for lack of a better word) that are able to make choices).

          But besides the above discussion, don't you have contraints in what you do (even if they aren't the same as mine)?
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          Nov 18 2013: That was quite a complex definition of a human :)
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    Nov 16 2013: Your question and introduction focusses on matters of form. Perhaps our humanity is more essentially determined by "consciousness" (or even "spirit"), who are currently doing time in the earth-school world of form and matter.
    So an ontologically prior question would be to ask: can the consciousness (or spirit) that makes us human be denuded in any way by roboticising parts of the body?
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      Nov 16 2013: Here's an interesting take on consciousness I just found: . He pretty much theorizes that consciousness is an inherent trait in complex information-processing systems.
      About the spirit (assuming we have one), are you using that term as synonymous as consciousness or a more inclusive term that contains our emotions, opinions, and other unique traits?
      • Nov 16 2013: Are We a mind-body with a soul?
        Or, are we souls inhabiting a mind-body?
        Is it possible to transcend these dueling beliefs?

        Are we 'packets' consciousness?
        Or, are we 'waves' of one consciousness?

        Answer: I do not know. But it is easy to see the prevailing belief in society and the violent consequences of the belief.

        I cannot help but question the belief. I cannot help but doubt it. Have faith in doubt.

        Deep thankin Kai. I dig it. Great day
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        Nov 19 2013: Hello Kai,
        Thanks for the link. Of course it is written from the perspective of (Koch's) scientific materialism.
        I'm never quite sure why this (scientific materialism) is always the "taken-as-given" standpoint which is taken as true until proved wrong; especially when the history of science is the story one failed theory after another.

        Consciousness happens - and at the same time brain activity is happening; who's to say that it's brain activity that causes consciousness? To my mind it doesn't take much of a leap of imagination to consider it could be the other way round.
        Also, if consciousness depends on brain activity, then that implies that once we are dead and the brain starts its disintegrating journey of 'dust-to-dust', then that's the end of consciousness too.
        The TED talk by Simon Lewis sheds some light on the existence of consciousness even though he was in the deepest state of coma possible (before being declared totally "brain-dead"). His book "Rise and Shine" gives some fascinating insights on this topic, as well as charting his incredible story of recovery.

        As for "spirit", I'm probably out of my depth here - better left out of the conversation.