What is a human #EDCMooc

Having watched Steve Fuller I see that there are a lot of ways you can categorise a human. So here I am trying to elaborate what I think it is to be human

Functional – A human is a tool creating, social/collaborative, being with linguistic capabilities.

Which is good as far as it goes but is not specific enough, there are a number of other species on this planet (most notably the Great Apes) that fit that definition and there may well be species on other planets that also fit.

So biological – a human being is something that has some % of DNA in common with (which human do we choose?) and is able to breed with other humans.  This is again problematic choose too low a % and we are including other species that some might be uncomfortable calling human, too high a % and we might rule out some current groups or some human descendants in a number of generations.  There are other problems with the biological but I will come back to those.

Cultural – a human is someone who is part of a community of other human beings (and has been raised in a human community?). Is what makes us human other people?

I like the cultural definition, it appeals to me that it is by our daily interactions with others that we define what is and what is not acceptable “Human” behaviour, and it ties into a pet theory of mine that the reason why some of the rich and famous go a bit “unusual” is that they don’t have the normal checks on their behaviour, when you are really powerful, people tend to not to say “No you are wrong, thats stupid” even when what you are saying is really stupid.

However the cultural one again could be problematic – if an alien crashed to earth and was raised by humans (Superman!) does that make him a human?  If we do create AI they will have been raised in a human culture so are they also human?

Hopping back to the biological definition – it is likely to be problematic in the future due to 2 changes, we will be able to alter the DNA of our descendants and we might reach a stage where people that were once human have replaced so much that they are mainly machine (read bi-centennial man) or have uploaded completely.

In conclusion – I would like to make the case that anything that can meet the Functional and Cultural requirements should be considered a human being.  I am aware that there are some “Humans” that might be uncomfortable with such a wide definition of Human, however I have always been an inclusive type of being and would be proud to shake the hand/grasping mechanism/flipper/pseudopod of those that would call themselves human.

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7 thoughts on “What is a human #EDCMooc

  1. jntkwk

    Hi Joe
    Haha – I would have stuck with the biological definition, being a biologist. Maybe our society will outgrow the word “human”, and we will have to invent a new sociological term for beings/machines that are able to interact culturally?
    Janet Kwok

    1. Ryan Tracey

      But what is the biological definition, Janet? I don’t think there is a specific set of DNA that officially defines a “human”… or is there…?

  2. Cindy McKee

    I thought along the same lines! But I’m bogged down in the functional requirements. A human who is in a vegetative state vs. sophisticated AI somehow integrated into the body of a cat. Who is more human?

    1. josephgliddon Post author

      Well if you applied my criteria
      Person in vegetative state fits functional criteria – they are capable of making tools and have linguistic ability – they are just not currently able
      Also meets cultural criteria
      So is human
      AI in Cat – depends on the level of AI.
      If has the same mental capacities as a cat then
      Fails functional requirements – no creation of tools, no linguistic ability
      Probably fails cultural criteria – doesnt interact at a human level of cognition
      Is not human
      If it has the same or greater mental capacities as me (to take a person at random) then it could create tools (cat paws would not be a great help) and would be able to communicate (again typing with cat paws – not great) – possibly it would have wifi connection and so could “Think” its info onto other computers with display screens.
      It would also pass the cultural criteria
      So is human

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