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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 2 2012: From our parents? They were human..........verses being monkeys, or pigs.

    I know of no other way to answer this question.
    • Mar 6 2012: I agree that trying to explain our identity as humans is difficult and also turn to thinking about how I was brought into the world. Being born from humans and growing up to look like a human seems like it would make me a human. I remember one of my professors talking about facial recognition and how most human faces can be approximated using a combination of standard faces called eigenfaces.
      Looking at what humans have done through history, I observe that we create technology, explore the world and our universe, and consider a vast range of topics within our brain. Perhaps animals engage in these activities also on a smaller scale, so does effecting the world on a larger scale makes us human? Are we human because of our physical composition or because of the actions we take? Maybe a mix of both? I don't know.
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        Mar 6 2012: Hi Andrew....Well here is some food-for-thought...you can tell me what you think.
        Keep in mind that I have only had one cup of coffee, and that my answer is not scientific,
        but I think it is sensible.

        We are humans because we can have this conversation on-line.

        As humans we ask thought provoking questions.....why are we here? Where does my identity of being a human come from?

        A dog, sitting under a shady tree with his tongue out panting is not thinking..."why I'm I a dog? let me ask around to see if somebody can answer this question for me"......

        And so, in my honest opinion, our identity to being human is innate in us. We are born human.

        That some humans choose to act inhumane, and that we have to resort to human right groups and human right courts is not because we have an identity problem. It is that we have chosen not to be kind, and to love our fellow human......we have free will.

        So where does our identity as being human come from? What do you think?
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          Mar 6 2012: I think that our identity as being human comes from the shared experiences we all share, and ironically enough, that includes our experiences with technology. Our identity as humans cannot be looked at within a bubble; there is so much that goes on in our lives. Our identity includes so many different aspects that cannot be pinned down to simply one thing. Maybe centuries ago, the perception of identity would have been very different. Granted, we are born with the innate foundations of our human identity. However, the things that surround us mold these foundations and continue to do so for the remainder of our lives.
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          Mar 6 2012: HI, Mary,
          I think "We are humans because we can have this conversation on-line." is a killer quote. Good job. I think its the brain made us human. Luckily, we are smart enough to think about other things rather than just basic survivals which is true in most animals. The ability to think and comes up with ideas separate us from animals. Another reason is curiosity, people are curious about a lot of stuff, and one of course is questioning ones identity. I will say the process of thinking about replying to the post itself is already an answer to the post
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          Mar 6 2012: Mary, Harnsowl, Yu-an, and Adriaan,

          I think these you have all made some very insightful comments. I would like to add a few things--not so much in opposition, but from perhaps a different perspective.

          Many humans cannot have this conversation online.

          You don't know what animals are or are not thinking. Particularly mammals, with brains not so dissimilar from humans. Apes can speak sign-language, after all.

          What is it about the way we are born that makes it a human birth? Our DNA? The way we look? Being carried in the womb? Wording this carefully, I think some people might consider in-vitro fertilization to be something other than human since it is a substitute for a process that is, for lack of better words, more natural, but it certainly produces humans.

          And as for human interaction, does a recluse lose his human identity? Is a child raised by a wolf not a human, but a wolf?

          I submit one possible answer to these questions: It's an ensemble of the above categories that makes up our human identity. Our human identity is a multi-dimensional spectrum, not a binary yes or no. What do you all think?
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          Mar 7 2012: Mary,
          I have to agree with your statement that it is the thought provoking questions that make us human. Science may eventually bring us to the point where could entirely replicate the brain's functions and responses, but being human is more than that. It's having a self aware conscienceless that makes decisions, has a sense of morality, and has the capacity to imagine.
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          Mar 7 2012: Andrew,
          I agree that this is definitely more complicated than just a yes or no question. Just quickly if we take a look at when we consider a human being dead in medical and legal terms, it used to be when a major system failed. Now however, with advanced life support this is no longer the case. Instead we have transitioned, I believe correctly, to brain functioning as an indicator for what is considered a human life. If one considers what is different between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom as well as the rest of life on earth is the fact that we unlike all other species have the ability and capacity to question our existence, how we got here, what the meaning of life is. While monkeys may be able to sign you don't see monkey's with organized religions. Thus the brain of the human while similar in many of its anatomical features to those of other species is, due to its capacity for higher learning and complicated thought processing, human. If we lose this capability we are no longer considered to possess human life and therefore either brainstem death or full brain death is considered the actual legal indicator of death.
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        Mar 6 2012: @ Harnsowl, Yu-an, Adriaan, and Andrew...

        Thank you very much for your insightful replies.

        Harnsowl, you said "I think that our identity as being human comes from the shared experiences we all share, and ironically enough, that includes our experiences with technology." I very much agree with you. The shared experiences is a big part.......I never thought, in a million years, I would be sitting in my own office enjoying a conversation with people from all walks of life and all countries simultaneously, and with so much insight. My life has changed. I feel more....dare I say..."human". Thank you Harnsowl.

        Yu-An, I collect quotes....and being told that what I said is a "killer quote", well, that's just about as nice a complement as I can receive. Thank you. And yes, our curiosity about life is also part of what makes us human....and that curiosity has brought us to where we are today.

        Yu-An if you want to know where the curiosity can take us.......go to the conversation on favorite quotes, and then click on a link someone provided to youtube......it is short, but meaningful....talk about a killer quote!!!

        Adriaan, what can I say......thank you very much. I'm glad that my small simple contribution was worthy of your reply.

        Andrew, What do I think? I think you, are very insightful. I love your illustrations, and your many questions to reflect on. Yes, our human identity is made up of an ensemble of things....it is multidimensional.........There is no one answer that would totally satisfiy our complex brain.

        Here is a favorite quote of mine: "The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of new ideas, never returns to it's original size". Oliver W Holmes.

        I want to say to all of you.....my mind has grown quite a bit since this morning...thank you all!!
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        Mar 7 2012: Nicolette,

        Your statement, "It's having a self aware conscienceless that makes decisions, has a sense of morality, and has the capacity to imagine" is very concise and very true.

        Some 18 years ago I was having a conversation with a young man about being human verses animals. He said we are just like the animals. He said he was the same as a dog. No matter what I said, he still insisted we are all animals, and therefore he had no need to believe in God or the Bible.

        I was so shocked at that level of reasoning that I was left speechless. Of course, my brain at the time did not have all the accurate knowledge and understanding it does now, and my ability to make my point was not all it is today.

        Still, now, some 17 years later I still remember the conversation.

        Just the fact that I can sit at a computer and type away, and hit backspace and reword something I'm not too happy with is part of that wonderful "human" factor.

        And yes, because we have a wonderful brain. Nothing else on Earth even comes close to it. We are marvelously made...my soul is very well aware.

        Thank you Nicolette. Our ability to imagine also is important as you mentioned. Here is a beautiful quote on our imagination: "Imagination is the highest kite one can fly".
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        Mar 7 2012: Andrew!!!! I'm so sorry to have to highjack your reply button again.


        Your words express what I was thinking. Thank you for expounding on the brain.

        One of our neighbors fell three years ago and Lou Gehrits disease set on.....she is now in ICU in the last stages all intubated. She manages to open her eyes and look around, but cannot do much of anything else. Still, each time we run our hands through her hair and massage her feet and legs and arms, she will fix her eyes on the one doing the massaging. I know she is there. Her life is so precious to all of us that know her. She IS HUMAN, even though she cannot do anything I do anymore. It is the beating of her heart and her brain function that still keep her alive, and I truly feel she has the sheer will to live......somehow I sense it......I may be wrong.

        But I know it will come down to her brain........we are not looking forward to that moment. I know her husband is besides himself with agony.

        I wanted to share this story to make this conversation even more HUMAN.....I was inspired by yesterday's TED talk from the PIXAR speaker. Take the time to watch it if you haven't done so yet.

        Be Well.

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