TED Conversations

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 6 2012: I read a while back that we have more circuits in our brain than there are particles in the universe. When you think of how staggering the size of the universe really is, that puts our brains in a truly unique category of things. It is usually hard to imagine how consciousness could arise within a mere material thing. It is only when we contemplate the staggering and unique complexity of our brains, that there is a glimmerring of how that might be possible.

    But still, is the human brain our "identity". Not if what we mean by "identity" is that within us which never changes and thereby quaifies one as always being the same person even though all other aspects of our selves do change. The brain always changes, so it is not something that is permanently identical with itself.

    I have suggested below that our identity is not what remains the same within us, but the unity of our stories, which unity arises out of, and is recognized because of, our concern for ourselves and for each other.
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      Mar 6 2012: Lovely wording...just lovely.

      Thank you.
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      Mar 6 2012: Thank you for your comment. It really is a wonder, how small we are in comparison to the universe we live in. It puts into perspective how our identities as humans can constantly change depending on individual experiences. We still have much to learn even with all the consistent advances we have made as human beings.
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      Mar 7 2012: You completely hit the exact opinion that I have pondering. I feel our identity as humans is best described by John Locke in "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding." Identity lies in our consciousness and not in our substance. A human is characterized by its continuous stream of consciousness or life, the stories or memories that are stored and remembered, rather than our physical parts and functions. Thus, our personal identity is unique and provided we preserve a continued consciousness which we can recall at any time, our identity as humans can exist in any form, shape, or body.

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