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 7 2012: One would have to look further at the nature of identity, and possibly human consciousness itself, to answer this question.

    But to remain concise, identity is ideally dynamic and fluid within a living culture - when one's identity becomes rigid and fixed then perhaps we would say that the culture is no longer allowed to grow and express itself in the way that is a best fit to its environment (internally and externally).

    Gender Identity is a prime example - what would you describe as masculine and feminine and are these potentially different from male and female?

    But to remain on the topic of human identity - we must choose (in my opinion) how we will express our humanity, through social discourses, through culture, through our ability to generate knowledge and technology even.

    Finally though, the point was raised that more bacterial cells inhabit a human body than human cells, which is fascinating - but unless these bacteria had some sort of social consciousness or identity, I would not identify myself as a bacteria colony. Nor would I call myself a machine simply because I use one.

    Question answered?

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