Oh, The Humanity

Friday, May 30, 2008

What does it mean to be human? Does it describe our biology, our conscious intelligence, our ethics or our morality? Or is it something else entirely? This Saturday, as part of the inaugural World Science Festival in New York, a distinguished panel of scientists and scholars will debate the issue. Nobel Prize-winning biologist Paul Nurse and neuroethicist Patricia Churchland are participating in a sold-out event as part of the festival; they offer their views.

What do you think it means to be human? Comment below!


Patricia Churchland and Paul Nurse

Comments [17]


What differentiates us from animals is our sophiscated form of communication-speech. Other than that we're one and the same all the same! We all love, we all hurt, we all smile, we all die...

May. 30 2008 12:24 PM
hjs from 11211

any one can predict. BUT who has to best facts

May. 30 2008 11:52 AM
beans from NYC

I should say "its highly IMPROBABLE" to predict the motion of a single molecule in the Pacific Ocean". The day there is a computer to simulate the entire events of the universe and maps and accounts for human nature to predict human action is the day predetermination actually matters.

May. 30 2008 11:44 AM
beans from NYC

Predetermination can only be partially true. You can know all properties of a water molecule. Yet its impossible to predict the motion of a single molecule in the Pacific Ocean, a motion affected by winds, sea creatures, gravity, the moon and the trillions of trillions of other water molecules. Humans, like water molecules, may arguably be reducible, but interconnectedness with other bodies make predetermination, non-existent or negligible at best.

May. 30 2008 11:37 AM
Albert from Greenwich, CT

May. 30 2008 11:36 AM
Albert from Greenwich, CT

This documentary gave me a pretty good idea of what it means to be human. I urge everyone to check it out.

May. 30 2008 11:34 AM
Chris O from New York City

human = willingness to do good

May. 30 2008 11:30 AM
Trevor from lic

Basically, the more $$$$ you make, the more human you are. That's why the rich can have designer babies that will be better looking, more intelligent, and probably feature laser-shooting eyes if they want. That's the future. Don't believe me? Check it out:

May. 30 2008 11:28 AM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

I think my generation could live into their 150's. Will we want to? That's a whole other matter.

May. 30 2008 11:28 AM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn

What a shame that Patricia Churchland is not available. She could (and I'm sure would) speak directly to some of the vaguely reductionist claims of Paul Nurse.

He is evidently not the radical reductionist that E. O. Wilson (Ed Wilson) is, but hard scientists tend to adopt this reductionist line which is not even particularly well-supported by the facts.

By the way, if any humans are entertaining ideas of living forever, they may want to attend to the issue of what to do about the sun, which won't.

May. 30 2008 11:28 AM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

ab: Agreed.

May. 30 2008 11:27 AM
hc from new york city

I think the duality (free will/determinism) sets up a structure of the world that itself is deterministic. The idea that it has to be either/or is a dogmatic determination, typically coming from a scientist.

May. 30 2008 11:26 AM

#2 More romanticism about the sixties. There was a lot of violence and aggression during that era....

May. 30 2008 11:23 AM
hjs from 11211

human = willingness to do evil...

May. 30 2008 11:22 AM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

It's hard to define humanity because we are not even certain what is exclusively human. Many of the noble qualities we appreciate we call HUMAN and many that we find dispicable within ourselves, we call INHUMAN. I can talk about intelligence, love, consciousness, but I don't know that these are not found in other species on Earth or species on other worlds if they should happen to exist. So is our humanity the combined sum of these qualities even if they are not found only in us? Or are we only interested in things that cannot possibly be found elsewhere?

The definition of Homo sapien is much more clear but probably less romantic.

May. 30 2008 11:06 AM
Libby from Upper West Side, NYC

Being human is having love and empathy for one's fellow beings. It is sad that there is such a lack of humanity in our world today. The preponderance of aggression is a far cry from the Age of Aquarius and the peace and love of the sixties. O tempora, o mores!

May. 30 2008 10:42 AM
Jeffrey Slott from East Elmhurst

We're slightly more intelligent than most other animals. Otherwise we are no more intrinsically better than dogs, chimps, worms or rose bushes. The only problem is that our so-called bigger intelligence also provides with an incredible inflated ego and therefore an inflated evaluation of our being. This allows us to cause more destruction to ourselves, our planet and to all other life-forms than all the other animals combined.

May. 30 2008 10:11 AM

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