How "Human" Are We?
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of life are entirely possible — not only extraterrestrial
life but also artificial life. Robots and computer viruses
are only two possible examples."
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.