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Harnsowl Ko

Student - B.E - Chemical Engineering, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

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Where does our identity as being "human" come from?

This week in my Bioelectricity class we discussed electrical stimulation. Research on electrical stimulation often focuses on the manipulation the electrical fields and currents. An example of this manipulation can be seen in Bill Doyle's TED talk, which deals with orienting cancer cells along an electric field in order to disrupt their replication. Electrical stimulation can also be used in devices such as pacemakers or neuroprosthetics for injury recovery. As technology begins to expand, the concept of prosthetics replacing major body parts is not far off. Thus, the question becomes does a person lose their given identity because they are not 100% “human”? But before you answer, keep in mind that the bacteria in your gut outnumber the number of cells in your entire body by a factor of 10!

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    Mar 1 2012: The human being identifies with the sensory input an the information it contains.
    The information about family, locality and social group builds up to a personal profile that is conceived of as me.
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      Mar 1 2012: Hey Frans,

      I agree with the definition you have laid out. However, I would add onto it that our reactions and responses to this information also shape our identity. To take a step even further back, I'd like to relate this to Adriann's comment above. Our reactions and responses are results of the human mind and its complexity.

      For a class on the human mind that I was enrolled in last semester, I read an article titled "Minds, Brains and Programs," by John Searle. In it, he discusses that it is really the mere presence of our brains that makes us human. In what other species/technology is there something so sophisticated as our own brain? Here's another question that we struggled with in the class: if we could replicate the brain exactly, and put it inside a robot, it would theoretically think, feel, move, and do everything exactly as we do. Given these circumstances, do you think we could consider the robot as having a human identity?
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        Mar 2 2012: I don't think our brain is much special compared to that of any animal. It can reflect on the world, delay and choose any action by a special use of memory. The brain can't be seen apart from the body because most of the capacity it has is to control and drive that body. Robots don't feel, not with nor without a brain.
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        Mar 6 2012: Hi Andrew,
        No I don't think we could consider the robot to be human, but for different reasons than ariel's. I don't think our bodies or biological development are as important as our consciousness. To be human, we must have a sense of self. We must be aware of our existence and aware of the idea of communication. Since I believe our bodies are secondary to consciousness, I do not think things like neuroprosthetics or probiotics make us any less human.
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      Mar 2 2012: But what if you weren't able to communicate those characteristics? What if you had all the information of your family, yourself and your life, and your conscious brain was working, but you had an injury that meant you couldn't speak, or even indicate that you still are the same person?
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        Mar 3 2012: What if? You would be imprisoned within your own body and other people will take you for what they see.
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        Mar 6 2012: If we had a scenario like Sophie described above and the technology was available to move the paralyzed person’s brain into a complete robot body, I would say indeed that the equipment we saw a second ago as just an assemblage of parts, is now a human being. Consciousness is intimately tied into what we consider human. And truly, there is no way that we know at present to quantify it. I saw a video a couple of weeks ago (a BBC documentary on consciousness called The Secret You) which builds-up gradually, from 'yeah, I knew this!' to much more relevant questions that bridge science and philosophy.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Biv_8xjj8E
        One of the research experiments shown in the video actually does show us that we can just as easily assume the body we are in as ours, as we can for another complete stranger’s body. Literally, the person’s consciousness jumped across space. Our brain is truly amazing but I don’t think that we can solely be defined by the physical connections in our brain. That is only the beginning.

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