At the end of the June PIRG session we decided to collectively reflect on the question, what it means to be human. Here are the responses given by the PIRG members.
Being human is a mixed bag. The negatives of being human; sadness, anger, hatred, conflict, violence, disease, physical pain, the emotional pain in the hurt of rejection, isolation, depression, and death are very difficult. It is these negatives which the roboticists quote when suggesting human beings are worthless and that androids, with none of the above are preferred. I consider the positives of being human; caring, empathy, love, peace, compassion, comradeship, original thought, creativity, the ability to imagine, to abstract, to feel joy, excitement, fun, happiness, as gifts within humans and that man/ woman/ people / humankind is very worthwhile. I understand the horror of wars, the power struggles and greed that humans can invest in, however rather than wiping out the human race I find it preferable to engage with the gifts, and to alter the humans seeking conflict and power through the benefits of the better human qualities, by means of developing a society of posthuman subjects through Distributed Cognition held so dear by the Roboticists.…
Bringing together all information with
1) humans who bring together all the data from the across members of a social group,
2) co-ordination between internal and external (material or environment structures) data through time in such a way that the products of earlier events can transform the nature of later events;
3) the coming together of information from different sources.
(E. Hutchins. Distributed Cognition, online. Pub University of California)
Being human, for me, means experiencing inner conflicts, however the prize in being the best of human can take us creatively into the future maintaining a caring and exciting society.
What is being human is a big question. But thinking back the discussion, I believe instead to make a distinction between human and non-human. I am more interested in how to 'harmony' with nature, which means finding the centre of oneself and following the flow of the universe. However, what we discussed do help us to 'reflect' ourself within 'awareness' the surrounding.
Therefore, in the question of what is 'being' human, being is practised. On the other hand, the issues that we see today are what we made. Instead to blames others, 'how' to live with others, perhaps is the way to address the issues. The values of becoming empathy/sympathy, sensitive and awareness are what this section address.
P.S. The idea of nature could discuss further on by studying Daoist theory and Martin Heidegger's writings. As well as, the idea of flow and living together could link with Roland Barthes' writing on How to Live Together (2012).
Also see image below.
I think the drawing echoes the topic of empathy. It is a drawing while I visited England last year. I saw two of the ladies hugged. One shows empathy of the other. I also show my empathy for the lady by drawing the view.
As far as I concerned, empathy is divided into two aspects.
1. Feeling aspect, empathy is the fundamental emotion for people. I took the example, when we were child, we learn”empathy” from parents, peers or others. And then when we grow up, we have built up the certain “empathy” and then delivery it to our child or people around me. So I reckon empathy has the quality of delivery between human beings. This character allows me to recall that book I recommended.
2. Due to this character it is not hard to find that there is an “empathy” within the art practice. I take the example, briefly, when artists see the objects, the phenomenon of empathy happens, they will take the images that has already been “empathy-ed“ via experience, memories and abstract thinking onto the painting and other art forms, which is the one kind of empathy for artists.
And then viewers see the images that has been processed by artists thinking(experience, memories and abstract thinking). The viewers will begin to guess what happened in this image in terms of experience, memories etc. in here, empathy has already occurred. Such as sadness happiness, and other information about this images. But, to some degree, there will be some difference between artists and viewers because of different experience, which is similar to the story of Hamlet.
What does it mean to be human? This is such a complex question. Are we distinguishing ‘human’ as opposed to animals or plants? As science allows us to learn more about how these develop and communicate, we become aware of similarities (ie animals using tools, the co-operation of trees, the flower dance of bees). Does the category ‘human’ rely on the development of the brain or the upright body with articulated fingers, or the development of human culture? Or do we define human as experiencing feeling, emotions? If you live closely with animals you know they all have different personalities; if they lose one of their ‘family’, they demonstrate behaviours akin to mourning. What apparently distinguishes humans is self-awareness, the ability to think about thinking. Perhaps it is through our facility for empathy – seeing the world from another’s point of view – that we can learn to live with the other occupants of our planet before we destroy them – and ourselves.
“We are bodies that think” Damasio.
Human(beings)have an intricate ability to reason and solve complex and introspection problems. This ability is processed and developed in the brain through thoughts and feelings. Our emotions and feelings allow us to have the mental capacity to react, translate, and communicate these physical reactions. We communicate with advanced skills, using language, as a cognitive ability. We make choices, using morality and cultural experiences, with applied ethics and laws.
We could argue that there are other species that have similar patterns of emotions, feelings and ability to communicate choices. Other animals but also bacteria, in which has the capacity to find their own groups to move and respond (attack) within the ‘body’.
However, humans and their dependence on technology are increasingly growing and developing to the point that these machines are being advanced and created to own human’s image. Consequently, a new and valid argument raises: can these artificial intelligent (AI) machines/ androids replace humans?
 Damasio, A. (2017). The strange order of thing.
I am reading a wonderful book called Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. She not only writes beautifully but she also makes you think about what it means to be human. Here is a list that I have started to compile that defines how we can live as humans:
the list carries on…
click on the file below