I was engaged in a protracted discussion recently which somehow became about how much a human is predestined to embody a certain character as a result of their genetics, upbringing, acculturation, socialization, etc. They and I had very different perspectives about this.
Does “humanity” connote to you a kind of existence with its own distinctive character? If so, how would you describe that character?
How about the “transhuman”? Is the label a moving target? Is “human” only contemporaneous, or are earlier and later hominids included also?
Is human society singular, or plural?
If humans use technology to achieve the tangibly inhuman, might it be that they can also embody inhuman types of conceptuality? If so, would these expand what it means to be human, or exist apart from humanity?
Can algorithms be used to overcome human biases by means of mediation and the use of randomness, probabilities, etc?
Definitions of alive, sentient, and human seem to all depend upon where one draws the boundaries. Is a human town sentient? Is a human liver sentient?
That’s what many tell me, I have no conclusive data. I was able to reproduce, but that only suggests that my mate was the same species that I am. I don’t understand why people on the one hand insist that there is some definitive human nature which characterizes the species - yet it seems important to identify with and have pride in one’s humanity. Honestly, I cannot conceive of why it would possibly matter either way. I am not very invested in personal identity, and certainly not invested in human identity.
There is a definitive human, identified with your DNA and confirmed by your ability to yes, produce human offspring.
You self-identify as a nothing, which is your prerogative but you are understood and present consciousness to others as a human being, not a singularity.
You posess flesh and were you to not do so, you would cease to exist.
Is brain-in-a-vat your intention? I dont grok the desire beyond your “social experiments”.
Transgender I try to understand, as with agender individuals, but transhumanists as generally used is more human than human. Not biological human who identifies as a nothing that takes up space and believes it is a nonentity.
But most DNA in humans is not human at all. Most DNA in a human is microbial. And even of the DNA which produces human cells, extensive parts of it are from other organisms, and not either not unique to humans, or even expressed in humans.
No, again, you are trying to paraphrase me. To what extent I identify as anything, I would say that I am a sort of network node. A network of genes, cultures, ideas, relationships, events, etc. But,as I have said, I dispute the significance of trying to affix a static identity. I also dispute to what extent others are able to identify me as human, when they have even less complete definitions of what it means to be human even than I do. If a geneticist or cognitive scientist wants to comment upon what it means to be human, I am more likely to decide that they have done some requisite work than somebody who simply notice that I resemble a hairless ape, or use the English language.
I am not “presenting” as human, that is a concept which others choose to apply to me, an which they need to accept their own responsibility for so doing. Like it or not, if you ask a hundred different people in different disciplines what a “human” is, you will get a variety of different answers. But again, you seem to like to operate as if you have a universal definition which encompasses all.
That’s just the thing, I don’t always exist. Ten years ago I was different flesh with a similar pattern. Fifty years ago I was only potential in the flesh of other people. Decades from now I will be nutrients in the flesh of other organisms. Sometimes the personality this flesh constructs is not online, and this discursive mind ceases to function. Only to be replaced by another which perceives some vague continuity. There is flesh here now, but if there is anything which characterizes me, I would say it is flux.
If only! I can feel that my brain is, for better or worse, ageing along with the rest of me. But my so-called social experiments are not some mere conceptual exercise, they are the process of actually creating societies, just like all people do. No, as you say, it is not particularly special or unique. But I think that most people internalize mechanisms for doing this unconsciously.
How can anyone transcend the limits of a category which they do not first define? Many perspectives of what it means to be transhuman are some corny business! Simply embracing a superficial augmentation or two here or there does not fundamentally change what it means to be human. But part of the concept of transhumanism subverts people’s category of “human” as a static label. Whatever you think human means now, it has not always historically meant that. Much of the “extropian” style transhumanism of just a few decades ago was ignorant of the microbiome, and still posited the human as a single organism, and more interested in embedded obsolete hardware into bodies than conceiving of the organism as both hardware and software.
I can and do identify, at times, but identity is transitory. Sure, there is a human body involved, but how much of that is what defines me? Most people seem to accept that their identity is somewhat compartmentalized: I am a parent, an artist, a neighbor, a student. The trick is that they then make the leap of deciding that their memory and ego give these selves a cohesive central identity, while I think this is actually less accurate. And there is not a lot of consensus about this. In psychiatry, I am sure that it would be classified as a dissociative personality disorder. But in cognitive science, it would be a more accurate map of the mind. In any case, whoever a given person fancies themselves to be, it is both an incomplete model, as well as changing over time. There is the whole semantic/ontological layer, which is that whatever your identities may be, applied from without or within, those are simply labels or models of convenience. As one does not exist objectively as their identity.
Okay, this is a difficult one, but one I’ve thought a lot about.
Obviously, this is entirely my own opinion.
I think Terry Pratchett had it right when he said that a better name for homo sapiens (the wise human) would be pan narrans (the storytelling chimpanzee). That which makes us distinct from other animals isn’t how we behave, or how we socialize, it’s the stories that we tell. Our brains have not changed much from 30,000 years ago, but the synonym for “uncivilized” (not living in cities) is “barbaric,” which contains connotations of being not-quite-human. The reason we’re different now than we were then is that we tell different stories about ourselves.
Since culture has changed, it’s obvious that a society’s culture can change — you just need to change the stories being told. You have to tell the stories when they’re young, though: once a child has an idea of the shape of the world, from the stories that they’ve been told, they will perceive that world as fitting that shape for the rest of their life, unless they can take it upon themselves to test how well the shape that they perceive fits the reality it’s trying to describe.
If there is a unified character of humanity, I would say that it’s “trying to describe the world around them in a way that makes it all make sense.” Mythology, religion, science, history, fiction, news, biography… It all seems part of the same unified quest. Beyond the goal of that quest, humanity is as diverse as the paths they take on that quest, which are in turn as diverse as the stories in each person’s head.
I would consider the label “transhuman” to describe a being descended from human parents, somehow modified to be capable of tasks that an unmodified being of the species homo sapiens sapiens (as much as I disagree with the name) is not. Usain Bolt is human, despite (probably) being able to run 100m at a faster pace than anyone else on the planet (9.63s). Someone modified to be able to run 100m in five seconds would probably qualify for the label “transhuman.”
I interpret the prefix “trans” (in this context) to mean “between” or “straddling,” in the sense that a you transport something from one place to another. In that sense, until there is genetic incompatibility with homo sapiens sapiens, they will be human and “transhuman” — perhaps a different subspecies, but still human. Once that incompatibility happens, they will no longer be human or transhuman, but another species entirely.
Homo sapiens idaltu would be human, by my definition; homo erectus would not. I couldn’t tell you anything about either’s storytelling ability.
Plural, most definitely.
I don’t understand what you mean by “tangibly inhuman.”
For a nice story about randomness and probabilities, I’m going to paraphrase a bit from Neal Stephenson.
There is a very secure way of communicating called a “one-time pad.” These are pages and pages of randomly-chosen letters, and each pad is only used once. They’re theoretically unbreakable, because a message of a given length can be decrypted to absolutely any other message of the same length, depending on the pad which is used as the key. However, this is only true if the letters are actually chosen randomly.
In the book Cryptonomicon, the Allies have their codes broken by a German cryptanalyst (thankfully, one whose sympathies do not lie with the Nazis), because the woman who is supposed to be picking the letters for the one-time pads at random wasn’t quite doing so. Because a truly random selection would have 1/26 letters be “X” and another 1/26 be “Z,” etc., which is at odds with the normal letter distribution of the English language and thus aesthetically displeasing, she would discard most of the uncommon letters and run the random process again, which would select a more common letter. The supposedly “random” one-time pads had an aesthetically pleasing letter distribution similar to the distribution of letters in the English language, which presented a cryptographic weakness that allowed the German guy to decode the messages.
True randomness feels wrong. And getting people to subscribe to something that feels as wrong as randomness does would be incredibly difficult.
Besides, implementing an algorithm that chooses between n discrete options limits you by eliminating any choices that are not one of those n. If , say, you want to flip a fair coin in order to decide whether to vote Democrat or to vote Republican, you’re eliminating at least dozens of choices that do not correspond to either side of the coin. When you’re making a one-time pad, you want to limit yourself to the 26 letters of the English alphabet, because while A+A=B is obvious, what does A+π=? When you’re choosing, for instance, what to post on a BBS… I don’t think this exact post would have ever been something that I would have programmed into an algorithm.
Personally, I think that the only thing that can overcome human biases is rational reflection on your own thoughts and actions and actively trying to find evidence of bias within yourself. But then, that idea might be a product of my own biases.
And here, appropriate for my handle, you run into woo-woo pseudoscience.
Identity is a subjective thing, gender is independent, humanity is not subjective. Even as you believe you are outside, I do not see how it would be inhuman to view yourself disconnected from your body.
I see that as a very human curiosity, and certainly not a new question.
I mean that human intentions can be exteriorized to realize real-world results which they are biologically incapable of. Many I speak to who claim to be invested in the notion of “human nature” don’t find it controversial that they can transcend exterior limits, but vehemently deny any possibility of doing anything similar in the cognitive domain.
Human intentions have been exteriorized to create, say, the pyramids, each made of stones that are too large for a person to lift. We are biologically incapable of making the pyramids. However, using cooperation and tools, we did make the pyramids. I wouldn’t consider them a transhuman achievement.
If you’re asking “if we change ourselves biologically, can we also change our cognitive function while we’re at it?” then I think the answer is not just obvious but redundant: by changing the way our bodies work we would have to be changing how our brains work, as our brains would need to define new cognitive paths to control the new capabilities.
I don’t think that’s what you’re asking, though, so if it’s not building pyramids, and it’s not changing our bodies’ capabilities, then what is “using technology to achieve the tangibly inhuman?”
When I said “exteriorization” I basically meant the entire field of technology. If it can enable one to move a load or process a material which is not possible by human biology alone. By contrast, many insist to me that an analogous process with regards to human conceptuality would be impossible - or perhaps “unthinkable”.
Many things are possible. I am not very concerned about the definitions of human, that’s something which other people are always trying to impress me with the importance of. I tend to be of the opinion that the definitions I am confronted with are too limited. My operative definition is process - anything is what it does.