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UCLA Magazine Fall 2004
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Fall 2004
How "Human" Are We?
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Illustration of a Double Helix DNA Strand
"Other forms of life are entirely possible — not only extraterrestrial life but also artificial life. Robots and computer viruses are only two possible examples."
—Charles Taylor

by Charles Taylor
Portraits by Stephanie Diani

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE HUMAN? This question that most of us struggle with at one time or another has undergone radical revision in each of the last two centuries because of modern science. Darwinian evolution revolutionized our conceptions of ourselves in the 19th century, and molecular biology has produced an equally important revision during the last half of the 20th century. As we enter the 21st century, I believe that we are in the process of another radical revision as a result of recent work in robotics and artificial life.

The Darwinian revolution changed the view of humans in relation to other species. No longer is it reasonable to view ourselves as the products of a special creation “in a 24-hour day.” Rather, the current human species is a transitory state in an ongoing process of natural selection dating back several billions of years and continuing into the future. Darwinism is fully accepted by the scientific community. Nonetheless, we often feel that humans are in some way different from other animals. This difference must be quantitative, of course, but is often regarded as so great as to be effectively qualitative. Postulated differences that make humans different from other animals include assertions that humans are biologically distinct; only humans have consciousness; only humans have language; and only humans have special rights.

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