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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 5 2012: Being human, merely differentiates us from machines, animals, plants, aliens, or God for that matter. We are a race that belongs to the genus Homo.
    Although evolution is occurring all the time, we are less likely to be shocked by what we evolve into than by what we do to change our own lives.
    By nature humans are selfish, and at an even deeper level there is the selfish gene theory. We will always be striving to improve our lifestyles. Recently we have realised that our lifestyles may change drastically if we pollute the earth, our habitat, yet at the same time we buy cheaper goods that we dispose of in record time. The increasing landfill requirements must be mind boggling.
    Whether we destroy our planet or solve the problems of increasing population we will still be human. Some actions are considered sub-human and there are many misfits in the world, yet they are all termed human.
    Obviously a unit with 0% human content would not be human. I believe that a prosthetic body with a human brain would be human (albeit with incredible self-image issues to overcome), but a prosthetic brain in a human body would not be a human.
    Humans have the "capacity" for feelings. Not all of them display feelings, or display all feelings, but they have that capacity. It translates into emotions, rational and non-rational thoughts and actions and achievement against the odds. It also allows us to generate ideas from mere thought, to nurture them with observation, and possibly to disseminate them with actions or by communication.
    Solving medical issues does not make us less human. It is the moral issues that will determine where we go as a race. Questions like; Should children be allowed to be born to two dead parents, do we pull out all stops to save the life of a criminal, are animal parts permissible to save human lives, can we accept anything a human can conceive of as "human" and allowable, should we engineer the genes of new lives? These sorts of questions.
    • Mar 6 2012: Hello Jeremy,

      I enjoyed reading your comment; it’s definitely thought provoking. I especially agree that as far as prosthetics go, it matters which body part or organ is replaced. There is definitely something special about the brain. The brain is an incredibly complex structure; I doubt scientists will ever be able to replicate it exactly in the laboratory. That is, a brain grown in a lab will never exactly match the human brain. What does it even mean for a lab-grown brain to “match” the human brain? Everyone sees the world differently and has different feelings and perceptions. And, if everyone’s brain is different, how can a “standardized” brain be cultivated in the laboratory? Hence, I do agree that a being with a lab-grown brain cannot necessarily be considered human. In contrast, I don’t think that replacing any body part other than the brain by a lab-grown prosthetic makes the recipient of the transplant any less “human.” Perhaps, this has to do with the fact that body parts other than the brain are not as radically different from one person to the next.

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