Tuesday, January 22, 2013


I'm still trying to catch up with a conversation, that I dropped in on between Angela and Ary in our EDC MOOC.  Ary posted a brilliant piece on the construct of being Post Human and even without properly reading the references she gave, I've been thinking about it. I think it's a bit like worrying about e-learning and course design. Really, the principles of Instructional Design don't change and I think the principles of what makes us human don't change. The question remains, can we replicate all that makes us human, in a digital model?
Here's some of my thinking today ...

From what I gather, there is a line of thought that says that the level of accessibility of digital technology is now infact creating a new order of humans, the "Post-Human". The creation of Artifical Intelligence now raises the question of whether we are able to create a digital human?
Even without reading all the materials, I'm going to say No. Without getting into the area of religion and spirituality, I think we still have not fully discovered what makes humans, human.
The questions I need to investigate are
What is the agreed current definition of a human?
Is there a soul?
The two gigantic questions of all time (leaving out the third one - Is there anyone else out there?)

Doing some reseach on the internet I came across this classic (religious) discussion on the Institue of Creation Research which argues that one of the things that distinguishes us as human rather than animal, is as follows:
*Man was created to serve. Human ambition for the purpose of serving oneself certainly cannot provide anyone with the fulfillment they are seeking. There are many examples of people who became famous and wealthy, only to find there is no fulfillment in personal ambition. The resulting disappointment in reaching personal goals and not finding fulfillment in them frequently leads to that individual's despair or eventual suicide. King Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes, described human ambition as "vanity" and "a chasing after the wind," concluding that man's only duty was to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Certainly, a life spent not functioning as it was designed to leads only to frustration and misery. The role for man as a servant can be seen from the beginning of his creation. Adam was created and placed in the Garden of Eden "to dress it and to keep it" (Genesis 2:15). The first recorded task man was given was to serve his Creator by caring for the Garden that He had planted. Christ emphasized the importance of the role of a servant many times to His disciples, teaching them that, "he that shall humble himself shall be exalted" (Matthew 23:12). He consistently used the concept of a servant as a synonym to describe those who would be His followers (Matthew 24:25; 25:21; John 12:26). Christ responded to the question of, "which is the great[est] commandment" by saying, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matthew 22:37,39). It may be easy to see that loving God with all your heart reflects a servant's attitude, but sometimes what it takes to love your neighbor as yourself is not as clear. When questioned about, "Who is my neighbor?" Christ gave the parable of the Good Samaritan, who at his own expense served the needs of a crime victim from an ethnic group that was normally hostile to Samaritans. This human behavior contrasts with a recent study of chimpanzee behavior revealing that chimpanzees are oblivious to the needs of others who are not related to them.1 In their book, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey reported anthropologist Margaret Mead as saying, evidence for civilization is when a healed femur is found. It shows that someone must have cared for the injured person. Someone was a servant, evidence of "what makes us human."*

I think I would rather focus on the need for fulfillment! Do animals have a need for fulfillment? I don't think so. I don't think my chooks wake up each day  seeking fulfillment by laying the best eggs ever.
So. I think that a need for fulfillment is a defining Human characteristic. Well then, I need to ask what is `Fulfillment'?

I like the Webster Dictionary's version

Webster Dictionary

  1. Fulfillment(noun)
    the act of fulfilling; accomplishment; completion; as, the fulfillment of prophecy
  2. Fulfillment(noun)
    execution; performance; as, the fulfillment of a promise 

"fulfillment." Definitions.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2013. Web. 22 Jan. 2013. <http://www.definitions.net/definition/fulfillment>.

However the definitions of fulfillment seem to suggest that it is linked to an emotion, the emotion of Desire.

So now to the other piece that troubles me - the soul. If we are to develop Post-Human digital humans, what happens to that perculiar characterisitc attributed to humans only, the soul?

Definition from http://education.yahoo.com/reference/dictionary/entry/soul

1. The animating and vital principle in humans, credited with the faculties of thought, action, and emotion and often conceived as an immaterial entity.
2. The spiritual nature of humans, regarded as immortal, separable from the body at death, and susceptible to happiness or misery in a future state.
3. The disembodied spirit of a dead human.
4. A human: "the homes of some nine hundred souls" (Garrison Keillor).
5. The central or integral part; the vital core: "It saddens me that this network ... may lose its soul, which is after all the quest for news" (Marvin Kalb).
6. A person considered as the perfect embodiment of an intangible quality; a personification: I am the very soul of discretion.
7. A person's emotional or moral nature: "An actor is ... often a soul which wishes to reveal itself to the world but dare not" (Alec Guinness).
8. A sense of ethnic pride among Black people and especially African Americans, expressed in areas such as language, social customs, religion, and music.
9. A strong, deeply felt emotion conveyed by a speaker, a performer, or an artist.
10. Soul music.

Taking just the first 2 definitions and disregarding the rest, it seems that Soul is linked to emotion. Now I know that dogs, cats and horses I have had in my life, experience emotions. However I think that having a soul is far more closely connected with that emotional need for fulfillment that I spoke of earlier. I don't believe that even higher order primates actively think about or seek fulfillment.

If you disregard the religious connotations, most of the historical writings on the soul discuss it in terms of what we would today recognise as functions of the mind, ie: thought, emotions, desire, personality. Tibetian Buddhists have an interseting conception of mind, they believe in 3 levels of mind;
*In some schools, particularly Tibetan Buddhism, the view is that there are three minds: very subtle mind, which does not disintegrate in death; subtle mind, which disintegrates in death and which is "dreaming mind" or "unconscious mind"; and gross mind, which does not exist when one is sleeping. Therefore, gross mind less permanent than subtle mind, which does not exist in death. Very subtle mind, however, does continue, and when it "catches on", or coincides with phenomena, again, a new subtle mind emerges, with its own personality/assumptions/habits, and that entity experiences karma in the current continuum.*

All up , I'm not entirey convinced about the existence of soul, rather I think that humans have simply evolved much higher `states of being' than other animals, including primates.

Science and the mapping of the human genome are also providing some answers, this article is from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/3346580/What-makes-us-human.html  by Dr Armand Leroi, of Imperial College London. The article is discussing the genetic condition known as microcephaly or small brain.

*Therein lies the importance of microcephaly. The discovery of genes that control the growth of the brain immediately suggested that these genes might also have changed in the last six million years since we last shared an ancestor with chimps. And so it proved: of the four microcephaly genes that have been found, three bear the hallmarks of rapid evolution. To be sure, chimps have versions of these genes, but the human version is different. So different, in fact, that their evolution must have been driven by natural selection.
It is hard to understate the beauty of this result. Ever since Aristotle, philosophers have wondered: what makes us different from the beasts? What makes us human? The answers that they have supplied: that man is a political animal, a thinking animal, a naked animal, a tool-making, tool-using animal - answers that, for all the aphoristic pleasure they provide, are essentially meaningless if not blatantly false, can now be discarded.
Now, when we ask: "What makes us human?" we can answer: this gene and that one... and that one. We can write the recipe for making a human being. Or, at least, we can begin to.*

Whether we can replicate all of these genetic differences that lead to the state of being human, digitally, is another matter.