Are You Sure You Are Human?

Uploaded 4/11/2023, approx. 21 minute read

I am not quite sure that I am the best qualified to deal with the topic of this lecture, but I will do my best as a disinterested observer.

Today's lecture is about humanity.

What is it to be human? What qualifies you as human?

And so is there any rigorous philosophical definition or theory or hypothesis or anything which would tell us what makes us human and what sets us apart from other life forms?

Are we human because of unique traits and attributes which are not shared with animals or with machines, artificial intelligence, for example?

The definition of human is circular and that's a problem.

When someone asks you, why are you human? What qualifies you as human?

You say, I'm human by virtue of the properties that make me human.

Not a very strong definition.

You say, I'm human because I am not like animals.

I'm human because I am not like artificial intelligence computers.

It is a definition by negation.

That which separates us from animal, that which sets us apart from machine is our humanness.

And now is the time to increase the font because I am not as young as I used to be, luckily for some people.

So let me see, let me select and then increase the font and we are good to go.

Coming back to the topic.

We are human because we are not animals.

We are humans because we are not machines.

But such thinking has been rendered progressively less tenable by the advent of evolutionary and neo-evolutionary theories which postulate a continuum in nature between animals and men.

Another development, another type of development is artificial intelligence, sentience.

Well at some point artificial intelligence will come to resemble human beings to the point that they would not be able to tell apart.

So the Turing test will be fulfilled. This will be indistinguishable from humans.

And so this answer, we are human because we are not animals.

We are human by virtue of what makes us not machines.

This answer is no longer tenable.

Our uniqueness is partly quantitative and partly qualitative.

Many animals are capable of cognitively manipulating symbols, using tools, I don't know, even language. New animals are as adept as we are at these tasks.

But they still can do the very same things. And see, these are quantifiable differences but not qualitative ones.

Qualitative differences are a lot more difficult to substantiate.

In the absence of privileged access to the animal mind or for that matter to any other human's mind, we cannot and we do not know if animals, for example, feel guilt, if they suffer. Do animals laugh? Do they have a concept of sin or transgression? What about object permanence? Meaning, reasoning, self-awareness, critical thinking, individuality, emotions, empathy?

Is artificial intelligence on the other end of the spectrum? Is artificial intelligence an oxymoron? A machine that passes the Turing test may well be described as human.

At least it cannot be told apart from humans.

But is it really human?

And if the machine is not human, why is it not human?

What's the good answer for that?

Literature is full of stories of monsters, Frankenstein, the Golem, and androids, Blade Runner and Anthropoids and so on and so forth. Science fiction, bursting at the seams with human-like contraptions. Their behavior is more humane than the humans around them.

This perhaps is what really sets humans apart, their behavioral unpredictability. It is yielded by the interaction between mankind's underlying immutable genetically determined nature and man's kaleidoscopically changing environments.

The constructivists even claim that human nature is a mere cultural artifact. Sociobiologistson the other handare determinist. They believe that human nature, being the inevitable and inexorable outcome of our bestial ancestry, human nature cannot be the subject of moral judgment.

An improved Turing test would look for baffling and erratic patterns of misbehavior to identify human beings.

Pico de la Megonola wrote in Oration on the Dignity of Men that men was born without a form and can mold and transform, actually create himself at will.

"The humans' precise essence," said the existentialist centuries later.

The one defining human characteristic may be our awareness of our mortality.

The automatically triggered fight of flight, battle for survival, is common to all living things and to appropriately programmed machines.

But not so, the catalytic effects of imminent death, these are uniquely human.

The appreciation of the fleeting translates into aesthetics.

The uniqueness of our ephemeral life breeds morality.

The scarcity of time gives rise to ambition and creativity.

In an infinite life, everything materializes at one time or another.

So the concept of choice is spurious.

The realization of our finiteness forces us to choose among alternatives.

And this act of selection is predicated upon the existence of free will.

Animals and machines are thought to be devoid of choice, slaves to their genetic or human programming.

So we already have two qualifiers, two things that set us apart from animals and machines.

Total unpredictability, behaviorally speaking.

Misbehavior, transgressions, sins, self-destructive behavior.

This is uniquely human.

And awareness of death.

Awareness of death that informs our lives.

So these two things are uniquely human.

And yet all the answers to the question, what does it mean to be human, are lacking.

They're simply not good enough.

The set of attributes that we designate as human is subject to profound alterations.

Drugs, neuroscience, introspection, experience, they all cause irreversible changes in these traits and characteristics.

The accumulation of these changes can lead in principle to the emergence of new properties or to the abolition of old qualities.

Animals and machines are not supposed to possess free will.

They are not destined to exercise free will.

What then about fusions of machines and humans, bionics?

At which point does a human turn into a machine?

60%, 40%?

And why should we assume the free will ceases to exist at that rather arbitrary point?

Introspection, the ability to construct self-referential and recursive models of the world with us in it. Introspection is supposed to be a uniquely human quality.

What about introspective machines?

Surely say the critics, such machines are programmed to introspect as opposed to humans who just introspect.

But to qualify this introspection, introspection must be willed.

There is no will involved.

Is it really introspection or mere automatic dumbness?

And yet if introspection is willed, who is the one doing the willing? Who wills it?

Self-willed introspection leads to infinite regression and formal logical paradoxes.

Moreover, the notion, if not the formal concept of human, rests on many hidden assumptions and conventions.

Political correctness notwithstanding, why presume that men and women or different races, which are artificial constructs, why presume that these are identical humans?

Aristotle thought that men and women are not identical. A lot separates males from femalesgenetically, both genotype and phenotype, environmentally, culturally.

What is common to these two subspecies that makes them both human?

At some point the differences are so enormous. Can we make an argument that one is human and one is not?

I know. Don't quote me. It might be illegal.

Can we conceive of a human without a body, for example?

A platonic form or soul?

Aristotleists and pharmaceuticals think not.

There is no human without a body.

A soul has no existence separate from the body.

A machine-supported energy field with mental states, similar to ours today, would it be considered human, therefore?

Imagine that we can create a field of energy and it has substates and mental states, and it's able to express itself somehow and so on.

We get to know about these mental states. These mental states are indistinguishable, identical, 100% to ours, to our mental states.

They are mappable to our mental state.

Is this energy field human?

What about someone in a state of coma or vegetative state? Is he/she fully human?

Or maybe it's it?

Is a newborn baby human? Or at least is it fully human or is it not?

If it is human, in which sense is it human?

What about a future human race whose features would be unrecognizable to us, at least externally? What about machine-based intelligence? Would it be thought of as human at any point in principle?

And if yes, when would it be considered human?

What are the criteria?

In all these deliberations, we may be confusing human with person, humanness with personhood.

The former being human is a private case of the latter being a person.

Locke's person is a moral agent, a being responsible for his or her actions. It is constituted by the continuity of its mental states, accessible to introspection.

Locke's is a functional definition. It readily accommodates non-human persons, machines, energy matrices.

If the functional conditions are satisfied, it's human regardless of its form, composition, carbon, silicon, and function.

And so an android which meets the prescribed requirements is more human than a brain-dead person.

The Cartesian objection that one cannot specify conditions of singularity and identify over time for disembodied souls, this objection is right, but only under certain conditions.

The Cartesian said, "We cannot specify conditions of uniqueness. We cannot specify conditions of identity if we're dealing with disembodied souls, not bodies."

But this is true only if we assume that such souls possess no energy.

A bodyless intelligent energy matrix which maintains its form and its identity over time is conceivable.

Certain artificial intelligence and genetic software programs already do that actually, evolutionary programming.

Chaucer is Cartesian and Kantian in his definition of a person as a primitive.

Both the corporeal predicates and those pertaining to mental states apply equally, simultaneously, and inseparably to all the individuals of that type of entity.

Human beings are one such entity.

Some other scholars, like Wiggins, limit the list of possible persons to animals, but this is far from rigorously necessary and it's unduly restrictive and can't really be defended.

The truth is probably a synthesis.

A person is any type of fundamental and irreducible entity whose typical physical individuals, typical members, are capable of continuously experiencing a range of states of consciousness and permanently having a list of psychological attributes.

This definition allows for non-animal persons.

It recognizes the personhood of a brain-damaged human because he is capable of experiencing.

It also incorporates Locke's view of humans as possessing an ontological status similar to clubs or nations.

Their personal identity consists of a variety of interconnected psychological continuities, however abstract.

The problem, the very reason we're even debating this, because to be human should come to us intuitively.

The answer to this question should come to us intuitively.

Why are we having these analytic and then synthetic arguments?

Because of the dethroning of men in the Western worldview.

Whatever its faults, religion is anthropocentric, while science is not.

Yes, I know, for public relations purposes, science claims to be human, but science is not human.

Science deals with objects.

And so when the Copernican Revolution dethroned Earth and men as the twin centers of God's universe, it also dispensed with the individual as an organizing principle and exegete lens.

This was only the first step in a long march and it was followed by similar developments in a variety of fields of human knowledge and endeavor.

Consider technology, for instance. Mass industrial production helped rid the world of goods customized by artisans to the idiosyncratic specifications of their clients.

To give rise to impersonal multinationals, rendering their individual employees, suppliers and customers mere cogs in the machine.

Yes, not stakeholders, just cogs. These oversized behemoths of finance, manufacturing and commerce dictated the terms of the marketplace by aggregating demand and supply, trampling over cultural, social and personal differences, values and preferences in the process.

Men was taken out of the economic equation, out of the economic game. His relationship with other actors were irreparably severed and vitiated. We became atomized, self-sufficient to the point of dehumanization and objectification, monetized eyeballs.

Science provided the justification for such a normative conduct by pitting objective facts versus subjective observers.

Objective facts were good, they were valuable. Subjective observers were summarily dispensed with, lest they contaminate the data by introducing prejudice and bias into the scientific method.

Men was no longer allowed into the halls of science, its laboratories and its shrines and its universities.

The humanities and social sciences felt compelled to follow suit and imitate and emulate the exact sciences because that's where the money was easy.

In research grants and because these branches of human inquiry were more prestigious.

The dismal science, economics, real-life men replete with emotions and irrational expectations and choices, was replaced by a figmentary concoction, the rational men, a bloodless, lifeless, faceless, so-called person who maximizes profits and optimizes utility and has no feelings or emotions either negative or positive.

Men's behavior, men's predilections, men's tendency to err, to misjudge, to prejudge and to distort reality were all summarily dismissed, ignored to the detriment of economists and dirt lines alike and the situation is even much worse in the pseudoscience known as psychology.

Similarlyhistorians switched from the agglomeration and recounting of the stories of individuals to the study of impersonal historical forces akin to physics natural forces.

Even individual change agents and leaders were treated as inevitable products of the armillier, the ineluctable outcomes of some divine historical forces and so completely predictable, completely interchangeable, fungible and replaceable.

In politics, history's immature sister, mass movements culminating in oclockracies, mobo, nanny states, authoritarian regimes or even democracies, they've all rendered the individual invisible, countable, immaterial, a kind of raw commodity at the service of larger, overwhelming and more important social, cultural and political processes.

Going back to psychology, psychology stepped in and provided mechanistic models of personality in human behaviors that suspiciously resembled the tenets and constructs of reductionism in the natural sciences.

From psychoanalysis to behaviorism, men has been transformed into a mere lab animal, a statistic, a guinea pig and later on a variety of personality traits, predispositions and propensities were pathologized and medicalized in the science of psychiatry.

Men was reduced to a heap of biochemicals coupled with a list of diagnoses.

This followed in the footsteps of modern medicine, which regards its patients not as distinct, unique holistic entities, but as diffuse bundles of organs, disrupted processes and disordered bodies.

The first signs of backlash against the elimination of men from the West's worldview appeared in the early 20th century.

On the one hand, revival of the occult and the esoteric and on the other hand, quantum mechanics and its counterintuitive universe.

The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics suggested that the observer, yes, the human observer, actually creates the universe by making decisions at the micro level of reality.

This came close to dispensing with science's false duality, the distinction between observer and observed Cartesian.

Still, physicists recoiled and they introduced alternative interpretations of the world which, though outlandish, multiverses, strings, and though unfalsifiable, had the advantage of removing men and his consciousness from the scientific picture of the world and of restoring this way scientific objectivity.

So physics traded the presence of men in its theories for mysticism. It became metaphysics just in order to remove men, humans, from the equations or from the interpretation of the equations.

At the same time, artists throughout the world rebelled and transited from an observer-less human free realism or naturalism to highly subjective and personalized modes of expression.

In this new environment, the artist's inner landscape and private language outweighed any need for scientific exactitude and authenticity.

Pseudonimia, surrealism, expressionism, and the abstract schools, they all emphasized the individual creator, the human, at the art of the creative act.

Art in all its forms strove to represent and capture the mind and soul and psyche of the artist himself or herself.

In economics, the rise of the behavioral school heralded the return of men to the center of attention, concern, and study.

The men of behavioral economics is far closer to its namesake in the real world.

He is gullible, biased, irrational, greedy, panicky, easily influenced, sinful, and altruistic.

In short, he is you.

Precio has also undergone a change of heart.

Evangelical revivalists emphasize the one-on-one personal connection between the faithful and their God, even as Islamic militants encourage martyrdom as a form of self-assertion.

Religions are gradually shedding institutional rigidities and hyperstructures and leveraging technology to communicate directly with their flocks and parishes and congregations.

The individual is once more celebrated at the heart of institutionalized religion.

But it was technology that gave rise to the greatest hope for the restoration of men to his rightful place at the center of creation.

The Internet is a manifestation of this rebellious reformation.

The Internet empowers users. It allows them to fully express their individuality in full sight of the entire world. It removes layers of agents, intermediaries, and gatekeepers.

And it encourages the little man to dream and to act on his or her dreams.

This decentralized technology of the network and later on cryptocurrencies and crypto assets, the invention of the hyperlink, all of these allow users to wield the kind of power either to observe or reserve only to those who sought to disenfranchise, neutralize, manipulate, interpolate and subjugate people.

Regrettably, social media and the onslaught of the forthcoming metaverse may reverse this yet again by commoditizing people in the attention economy.

It seems that there is a pendulum, a pendulum that moves between the removal of men and the reintroduction of men, the removal of men and the introduction of men.

We can't seem to make up our minds whether men should be the center or whether men's products should be the center.

But I think the reason is we still disagree as to what is human, what constitutes humanness and how can we tell apart humans from other forms of life and intelligence, natural and so-called artificial.


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