What makes us human?
This post is in response to the question asked by Frank Polster in his post about the conversation between Stephen Downes and George Siemens. I found the question via Jenny Mackness’ post. The basic question was What are the core qualities that make us human?
Here’s what my gut says:
Primitive machines were reactionary. They performed functions. We perform functions too (and are often reactionary), but, as a human I have the synthesis of agency, vision, and drive in self-efficacy. Put super-simply: my belief that I can do something. There’s a lot in there.
That encompasses a host of elements around vision, reflection, dreams, desire, having a self at all, and belief. Perhaps for the machine the drive is simply the power source, but I do not think the actions of the machine are to preserve the power source whereas we do take actions to preserve our lives.
To me this also points to perception, consciousness, and the capabilities to communicate about experience with others. There is an element of uniqueness about living: Nobody, nothing has lived my life, has lived this moment, has tasted that sip of drink, that smell of autumn leaves, that warmth of nearly winter sun on my skin, the feeling when I hear a familiar voice. I experience. That, to me, is human.
Like Jenny said about ‘embodied engagement’ and the keen awareness of others, their needs, and I’ll add the idea that we might put others before ourselves.
Do I mean morality? Or values?
(as an aside, at this point I looked up ‘essence of humanity’ to find resources, forgot to look in any specific database, and got great skincare websites 😉 )
What did I find? Articles on creating computers as ‘believe agents’ by crafting a personality revealing emotion through thought processes, the importance of empathy, and then I stumbled upon a definition! (I don’t suggest this as the answer, but it makes a thoughtful point)
In the Oxford Handbook of the Human Essence, at the end of the chapter titled ‘Talking about humanness: Is human essence talk a human essence?’ By Yoshihisa Kashima, p203, (most of the chapter is here) he says:
‘What does it mean to be human?’ requires us to continue to talk about humans. Given our penchant for talking about people, we will probably continue to do so. As we engage in our everyday conversation about people, we construct our mutual understandings about them for the purpose that prevails in the conversational context. As we ground those mutual understandings, we cumulate in our common ground our tentative answers to the question, what it means to be human. We nonetheless act on these tentative answers in our daily activities. These are tentative answers- they can, and are most likely to, be revised, modified, or even radically transformed in light of future developments and contingencies. In this sense, talking about humans is a social activity open to future. This continuous striving to answer the question of what it means to be human and to act on the tentative answers at a given point in time is perhaps itself what it means to be human.
Is this it now? Are we doing human?
The featured image (CC BY-SA by Stuart Richards) made me think of sharing, and putting the other before the self. The image is titled ‘Human Snowman’, which adds an imaginative spin to it.