Tuesday, January 29, 2019

What is Human?

    A recent hike poses here as metaphor as we humans trek further into the unknown. 
     Reputable science tells us children born today could easily live into their 100's.
     Please allow a brief scenario. Were I to experience cognitive issues and if a chip or device was available to correct the malfunction, I'd be in for it. Artificial or transplanted organs are real and medical science is thresholding new realities. Immunotherapy is getting more precise, our manipulation of DNA offers both hopeful and fearful potential. Our influence on life, longevity and denial of death is surging exponentially. 
     Imagine it is 2040 and for any number of reasons air quality has degraded so as to threaten lung function, so medical science responds with perhaps adapter kits or even newly engineered lungs to accommodate rotten air. 
      Despite that this current era of the human epic has a sizable percentage of foodies and others who love to eat, what if bio engineering finds a way to produce our "food" without all of the resource drain. We might waste less water and energy by producing a new kind of nutrition product. We learn that our digestive system is less important than it used to be. Our hip and knee replacement become even more amazing with outcomes that turn us into unbreakable people. Hearts, livers, kidneys, vascular systems all morph and change as we humans trend toward what science fiction identified as cyborgs.
      On an assignment years ago I sat on cybex machine next to NBA star Len Elmore. He joked that someday athletes would be mechanically enhanced and not have to nurse knee injuries. 
      Efficiency, durability, algorithmic actuarial analysis, expanded life ranges, medical discovery, scientific adaptability, and a quest for immortality collude and we find ourselves "evolving" in ways the human animal never danced to the Darwinian waltz.
       are there dangers on this path

     I think we are on that inevitable journey, because if we can, we will. If science and medicine can fix us and slake our fears, we will take that path. 
    We are slowly ebbing into a new kind of human, already. High Tech billionaires just up the California highway from my quiet village are investing millions in medical research labs to find ways of beating death. Steve Job's illness and death sent a message to the creators of the communications technologies that have changed human behavior, that despite all the wonders of their creations, and all the money they amass, humans still die. Even the rich and famous. 
    I don't run wildly into the future screaming for death's embrace and I don't know anyone who does. If you were a billionaire with every human comfort you can imagine it is understandable why you would want to hang on to it for as long as possible, maybe even forever. And with a billion or a few, you can spend on targeted research to help you find the new fountain of youth. All of us reap the sewing of those seeds of desire for a more perfect human and longer existence.
choosing the path
    So perhaps more scientifically wise than we have ever been and now augmented by artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the golden age of medical research we humans  are capable of making decisions that we once described as "playing God."  Though I think that was ever so, we have  tools now that are more powerful and change inducing than ever. 
    We are at an interesting juncture in the path of human evolution. And when some of our brightest and most influential set goals of expanding life to new horizons and seriously aspire to immortality, and when we point our technology and inventions to those outcomes, there is something else to put on the agenda.
    It's my two cents worth that now is a time to consider what does it mean to be a human? What makes us human? What are the intrinsic characteristics of a human being? 
     I know of no place where that is registered, certified nor even understood. There has been no reason to do so. 
     Now, as we can see a future where technology and science can extend and change our lives in historic metrics, should we not consider what that means? How synthetic, or artificial or chipped do we become before we cease to be the creature we have been when flesh and blood were the arbiters of life and humanity. How "human made" do we become before we cease to be human?
    If death were to be eliminated or at least deferred for ranges previously unimaginable, and if we did not need our biological bodies, or significant portions of them, how do we change? And how do we know we are changed or changing?
      Interesting questions I think. Implications I believe. Millions of we bipeds also owe a measure of our humanity to an understanding that human life also frames a spiritual dimension. How would that be affected?

      See you down the trail


  1. I often hear and read your question "What does it mean to be a human." For me, the only relevance of the question, in the context you are raising it, is to what extent the pursuit of extended life or immortality impacts our ability to be moral beings. For example, as life expectancy increases does the resulting increased demand on resources have a negative effect on the lives of others? Answer: almost certainly yes. Further example, would much of the resources spent on the quest for immortality be better spent in other ways to decrease human suffering? Having said that, one can be sure that
    the quest for immortality will never stop until life becomes too painful for everyone.

    1. Rick,
      The relevance of such questions to your thought about being moral may be the most important of considerations. Your ethical concerns are indeed significant to the proposition of extended life. I like that you raise morality as a foundational aspect of being human. Cheers!

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with the comments by Mr. Hoppe.

    1. Dear Bruce, in this situation you run in good company.

  3. I'll 2nd that.
    One of the most profound moments I've had was when my Muslim friend wished me Merry Cbristmas. I was surprised. Then he said "We are all the children of Abraham." That's being buman.

    1. And Bob, you strengthen the chorus with your second. And your illustration is epic.
      As augmented and synthesized how may our spiritual being be affected. Paraphrasing a Philip K Dick premise-Do AI augmented and engineered human constructs have a soul?

  4. Tom
    I think as Mr. Hoppe stated well, that we will as a species strive towards longer and longer lifespan. I think we are at the very least, decades away from any human alteration of genetic structure (dna modification) on any scale. We will have 'rogue' scientists like the one in China that will try, but will be stopped.
    What will happen is what is currently occurring, better diet, better routine health care, improving surgical techniques, better drugs, etc. that will extend life. Increments, occurring over a 100 or so years, will extend 'usual' lifespan by 10-15 years. The human body has a built-in expiration date, and is not built for immortality.
    To me, this is a comfort.

    1. Mike-Thanks. I guess what intrigues and concerns me is at what point do we as humans decide the old biologic model has such limitations that we begin to augment with gee whiz technology and synthesized implants and alterations that indeed we are no longer restrained by biological concepts of life and death. I may be seeing a specter that does not exist, but my gut leads me to suspect that a time is coming where we cross a philosophical/ethical/moral/medical rubicon. I just think we need to understand how such significant passages in human evolution happen and it's my hope we can be intentional about our decisions rather than simply back into in the name of expediency or in this case longevity. There are implications of course. Thanks again, Cheers