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Sentient, Intelligent, or Human?

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#1 Otto Piechowski

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 04:23 PM

Recall the Klingon ambassador's daughter in Star Trek, The Undiscovered Country who responds to a comment about "inalienable human rights" as a racist comment because, I believe the implication was, only sentient beings from earth are human; whereas sentient beings from elsewhere are not human.

Well, I am of the opinion that whether the sentient and intelligent entity with self awareness, whether its from earth, a planet circling some star elsewhere in the galaxy, the product of a biological laboratory, or a machine/computing device that "wakes up"...I believe they would all properly be called human beings.

What do you think?

#2 EJN

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 04:45 PM

No

#3 Pess

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 05:58 PM

Pesse (I wouldn't call dolphins 'Hu-Mans' and they fit all your criteria.) Mist

#4 Otto Piechowski

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 06:25 PM

I was under the impression that the academic community is no where near consensus that dolphins have self-awareness. Also, I'm pretty sure most people would say dolphins do not freely choose; that their behaviors are constrained by instinctual patterns.

But I would be happy to be corrected and correctly informed on these matters.

Let's try this; let us say, dolphins become self-aware and make free choices. I would then say they are human.

What do y'all think?

#5 ColoHank

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 06:59 PM

Let's try this; let us say, dolphins become self-aware and make free choices. I would then say they are human.

What do y'all think?



A self-aware dolphin, if indeed there is such a thing, is not human. Conversely, a human who's an excellent swimmer is not a dolphin. Humans and dolphins are two distinct species.

#6 Otto Piechowski

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 07:47 PM

If a human being is nothing more that biological/evolutionary product called homo sapiens, then I must agree that humanness is unique to the biological species homo sapiens and that humanness will never be possessed by dolphins.

If the human being is solely the product of biology and evolution then I must necessarily agree that a human being and a dolphin are different things. If the dolphin is solely a product of biology and evolution, then even if the dolphin would develop self-awareness, free choice, intelligence it would then not be human; it would be a dolphin. This I must agree with to be logically consistent.


I believe biology and evolution is necessary for human existence. Within the universe as it is, within the human condition as it is, biology and evolution is a necessary substrate for humanness (self-awareness and intelligent free choice) to exist.


Though necessary for humanness, I do not believe biology and evolution are sufficient for humanness. I believe self-awareness, and the intelligence associated with making choices, require, in addition to a biological/evolutionary substrate, something other than biology and evolution. In my belief system, that something is spiritual.


Those who believe self-awareness and intelligent free choice are only a matter of biology and evolution, will necessarily reject my belief. Which is fine, of course. However, those who hold this position will have to deal with the philosophical issue that they believe in this position. What place does belief have in a being which is only the product of biology and evolution? How does one account for belief in a purely material being? How is belief defined in a purely material system? These philosophical questions would need to be addressed at some point.


My position has its own philosophical problem. If, as I stated, biology and evolution are a necessary substrate of humanness, what do I do with the self-aware machine whose substrate is silicon, the dolphin-having-become-aware as a result of a different evolutionary path, of the extra-terrestrial creature whose substrate is flourine based rather than oxygen based?

I see two tentative responses to this philosophical problem. The first is to assert that that particular biological evolutionary substrate called homo sapiens is the only one which will ever have humanness (self-awareness and intelligent free choice); that is, there is no self-awareness or intelligent free choice to be found anywhere else in the universe. I don't like this position, but it is logically possible from the premises having been stated.

The other tentative response to this philosophical problem is to take the position that a substrate is necessary for humanness, in addition to the spiritual component, but no particular material substrate. Tentatively, as long as the spiritual component has a substrate irregardless of what substrate it is, humanness exists once it reaches self-awareness and intelligent free choice.

As always, I would be delighted to hear responses and reactions.

Otto

#7 EJN

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 08:33 PM

Humans have developed the ability to play heavy-metal rock.
That makes them unique in the universe.

#8 Jay_Bird

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 08:43 PM

Post deleted by Jay_Bird

#9 jg3

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 08:55 PM

At least three things to avoid tangling up here:

1) identifying and understanding sentience, self-awareness, and intelligence, to the extent it exists in other species on Earth, and what may emerge, or be contacted or otherwise discovered, and helping them understand us,

2) what speakers of English (and other languages) might call such beings, ourselves, and "them and us" collectively,

3) ethics, rights, safety and protection, law, etc.

The easiest to make informed speculations on is the language side. Whenever new things or ideas emerge or are discovered, people come up with names for them, and one or a few get favored, generally understood, and memorialized in dictionaries. I tend to think "human" will stay reserved for Homo sapiens, and other distinguishing terms will emerge for specific other beings. If and when we need a term to collectively refer to "them" and "us", one might emerge, such as "sentient being". That also means potentially adjusting what we say or mean by "humanity" and similar terms, much as we have adjusted from a legacy of using "men" when meaning persons of both genders.

Star Trek's frequent extrapolation by analogy to human races likely stops way short of what humans (Homo sapiens) and other sentient beings and/or life forms are in for, both intellectually and ethically, if and when there's contact or emergence. Among races of humans, most of us finally recognize equality. Between dolphins and humans, most of us don't recognize equality, but can see this doesn't justify oppression or extermination.

#10 UND_astrophysics

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 09:07 PM

Although I have never watched one single episode of Star trek in entirety, it sounds like they at least speculate on intelligence
Darwin said there is fundamentally no difference in intelligence and thus our uniqueness. For example a certain mammal called H. Sapiens, much to the chagrin of the creationist crowd, He reasoned the difference is the DEGREE of intelligence in species, not a divine provenance. We measure this generally in the encephalization quotient with mammals, which seems fairly accurate except at extreme opposites of the scale.
I could tell you some stories involving Killer whales that you would absolutely think I was bonkers, that are documented and true. The primate closest to us is the Bonobo. We paint a red dot on his forehead, then present him a mirror. The Bonobo immediately reaches for the red paint spot on his forehead, and looks at his finger, then tastes the paint. You can surmise for yourselves the implications of this. This seems to be somewhat in line with jg3's reasoning, and I believe this is the correct path. In Anthropology we see varying degrees of concepts and use of lexicon that make the definition of "intelligence" a somewhat gray social construct. When considering these types of questions, I try to avoid anything related to science fiction, because it can impose boundaries and limits on critical thinking skills.

#11 Otto Piechowski

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 09:28 PM

Good stuff everybody.

More!

#12 Otto Piechowski

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 10:28 PM

You wrote, "The primate closest to us is the Bonobo. We paint a red dot on his forehead, then present him a mirror. The Bonobo immediately reaches for the red paint spot on his forehead, and looks at his finger, then tastes the paint. You can surmise for yourselves the implications of this."

I am interested, very interested to hear what you think the implications are of these behaviors.

Otto

#13 ColoHank

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 11:17 PM

Sunflowers are sentient; they sense sunlight and twist their stems so their heads follow its path across the sky. Shall we call them human?

#14 Joad

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Posted 21 June 2013 - 12:09 AM

Once again, Otto, you like to play with philosophy but do not understand the necessity of philosophical rigor in defining your terms. The key term here is "human." That is a polysemous word with many different meanings in different contexts.

In the context of biological evolution, the word "human" refers to a variety of simian species (including what we call the Neanderthals, after the name of the valley in which their bones were first identified), all of which are now extinct except for one: Homo Sapiens Sapiens. The word "human" in this context is an entirely biological marker, with nothing to do with philosophical speculation.

In the context of morality/ethics, the word "human" can refer to a certain standard of behavior, which, if breached, we call "inhuman." Ironically, human beings, in the biological sense, are the perpetrators of the most inhuman behavior (in the moral sense) of any other living being.

In the religious sense (which is always detectable as your subtext, as now), "human" refers to something that has a soul. This is why Dante, as a Catholic, had to place unbaptised babies (who, not having language or much actual intelligence yet, still have souls in the Catholic system) in Limbo because their souls have not been ritually prepared for salvation. Dante tried to make Limbo a comfortable place, but it is still in the Inferno.

By biological definition, any sentient, intelligent being from another planet, not sharing the biological evolution of Homo Sapiens Sapiens, is not a human being. We might treat such beings as human (which, given normal human behavior, would probably be with cruelty and injustice), but they would not be biologically human.

When biological humans are at their best (their most "human" or "humane" in the ethical sense), they (I, we) treat their pets as if they were humans (in the biological sense). This is sweet, and is a redeeming factor of our sorry species. But it doesn't make our pets human in the biological sense.

#15 llanitedave

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Posted 21 June 2013 - 12:44 AM

That's almost exactly the response I wanted to make, Joad. To try to define sentient as "human" implies that all intelligences would be the same. I seriously doubt that could be the case. Humans have evolved intelligence in a specific social and technical environment, and our intelligence is directed towards and limited to our particular sensory and reasoning abilities. I see no reason for an intelligent being evolved under different circumstances to have a very different mode of intelligence. Fiction writers have already played with some of these ideas.

As Joad says, Otto, you seem to try to redefine words to fit your preconcieved desired conclusions, without acknowledging that those words exist in multiple contexts, and you can't just mix and match to suit your fancy. You need to get better at defining your terms, and then making sure those definitions don't conflict with meanings for them that already exist.

#16 llanitedave

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Posted 21 June 2013 - 12:48 AM


Though necessary for humanness, I do not believe biology and evolution are sufficient for humanness. I believe self-awareness, and the intelligence associated with making choices, require, in addition to a biological/evolutionary substrate, something other than biology and evolution. In my belief system, that something is spiritual.


Does a stroke victim who has been intellectually incapacitated cease being human?

Do we cease to be human when we sleep?

#17 Mister T

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Posted 21 June 2013 - 05:27 AM

Sunflowers are sentient; they sense sunlight and twist their stems so their heads follow its path across the sky. Shall we call them human?


No need to start insulting flowers! :mad:

#18 Pess

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Posted 21 June 2013 - 06:59 AM

You wrote, "The primate closest to us is the Bonobo. We paint a red dot on his forehead, then present him a mirror. The Bonobo immediately reaches for the red paint spot on his forehead, and looks at his finger, then tastes the paint. You can surmise for yourselves the implications of this."

I am interested, very interested to hear what you think the implications are of these behaviors.

Otto


He was being straight forward and the conclusion is self evident. The animal recognized himself as 'self' in the mirror. The animal also recognized the Red paint as 'non-self'.

Contrast this with a Cat confronted with a mirror. My Cat looks behind the mirror for the other cat.

Pesse (end of message0 Mist

#19 dyslexic nam

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Posted 21 June 2013 - 07:58 AM

The conversations here tend to much more interesting than some of the other interest-based forums I monitor. I have yet to see these kinds of questions arise amongst air gun afficionados, footy fans, or free divers.

Somewhat on topic - I watched a pretty neat documentary on primates, and it really outlined some of the things that should disolve the hard demarcation between "us" and "them" WRT intelligence and self awareness. Some of the skills primates exhibit - whether developed on their own (multiple, coordinated tool use) or after beign trained (understanding multi-component linguistic requests) are pretty amazing. Couple that with the obviously non-feline :applause: kind of self-awareness, and it is pretty evident that intelligence/sentience/whatever should be viewed as a spectrum, rather than a strictly divisive tool. Sure, we may be an absolute outlier amongst known species, with a signfiicant gap between us and the next closest creature on the scale, but that doesn't mean that we aren't occupying the same head space as other creatures in some important ways. The problem with this line of thinking isn't in the reasoning, it is in the consequences - because there are some aspects of our species' interaction with others that may not stand up to rigorous ethical scrutiny once you start to accept alternate underlying premises to our evolved conceptions and behaviours.

As for the OP, semantic precision aside, I think the designation of human is most appropriately applied exclusively to our species. I see no need to anthropomorphize our biological designation onto other species simply because their capacities may match (or exceed) our own in some ways that we deem significant. Without meaning any offence, that seems somewhat arrogant.

#20 Otto Piechowski

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Posted 21 June 2013 - 09:15 AM

Hank,

Thank you for bringing up the issue that sentience has to do with sensing.

Sentience is often used as a synonym for intelligent. That struck me strange but I went with it because it seems to be a commonly accepted use.

One of the reasons I requested comments on the Opening Question is because I tire of using a number of words to describe that of which I speak; i.e. sentient, self-aware, intelligent; and was hoping it would be appropriate to simply speak of the beings which contain these things as human, regardless of where they are or what their material substrate is.

Otto

#21 Otto Piechowski

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Posted 21 June 2013 - 09:22 AM

I think those are very important questions which you ask, Dave; i.e. is the stroke victim human. Are we human when we sleep.

I was fascinated by the experience of anesthesia during a surgery. The drug used was demerol. I am in one room. A nurse turns a little spigot attached to a line through the drug flows into my arm. I feel warmth in my arm. I'm commenting about the warmth...and then my next conscious awareness is of being in another room three hours later.

The philosophical question that struck me was, "Where was Otto during those three hours?"

The first response which came to me was, "Otto was not during those three hours" because he had no sensation of existence."

The second response which came to me was, "But when the monitor is turned off on my desktop computer, the monitor, and more importantly "the computer" continue to exist. By analogy, the "mind" (harddrive/internet/web) continue to exist event thought the "brain/body" has no sense of itself.

In conclusion then, to your excellent questions, I think there is reason to believe the human person continues to exist even when it lacks self-awareness.

#22 Otto Piechowski

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Posted 21 June 2013 - 09:30 AM

I found your statment, "it is pretty evident that intelligence/sentience/whatever should be viewed as a spectrum" useful in two regards.

First, as I said to a post by Hank, I am seeking here to get at a simpler way to express that of which we are speaking when we are speaking of extra-terrestrial-intelligences. I.e. instead of some long drawn out phrase such as sentient-intelligent-self-aware, I was wondering and hoping it would be found acceptable to just say "human".

Second, I think you get at the essence of the discussion of whether or not it is appropriate to apply the word human to all forms of sentience-self awareness-intelligence when you speak of "spectrum". If humannness is nothing more than a place on a biological-evolutionary continuum, then I agree that the word human should not be applied to other species on that continuum. But if humanness is the continuum/spectrum plus some spiritual-other-thing, then one possibility is that humanness can be correctly applied to a wide range of biologically/mechanically different entities; i.e. dolphin, machine waking up, the thing on another planet around another star, the bonobo (sp?).

Otto

#23 Pess

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Posted 21 June 2013 - 09:50 AM

Not to take this thread too far off-topic, but the Bottlenose dolphins have passed what has come to be called 'The Mirror Test' for self-awareness.

They even use 'the best' reflective mirror available to inspect themselves.

Pesse (..sort of what my 5 blond sisters did when I was trying to use the bathroom to brush my teeth!) Mist

#24 Otto Piechowski

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Posted 21 June 2013 - 09:55 AM

Thank you for talking with me, Joad.

Please, be so kind, as to help me reach exactness in speech. It is my hope we can find a simpler and correct way, in future posts and threads to speak of all entities sentient/self-aware/intelligent, whether terrestrial or extra-terrestrial.

You wrote, "In the context of biological evolution, the word "human" refers to a variety of simian species (including what we call the Neanderthals, after the name of the valley in which their bones were first identified), all of which are now extinct except for one: Homo Sapiens Sapiens. The word "human" in this context is an entirely biological marker, with nothing to do with philosophical speculation."

I understand that many entities have had the biological term "homo" applied to them. Is it the accepted standard that all entities with the word homo in their biological assignation are also called human? e.g. homo habilis, homo erectus? If it is not the accepted standard that all homo groups are called human, what is the reason some homo groups are called human and other homo groups are not called human?

.................

Permit me to use a point in a previous discussion you and I had as grist to get at this topic. I am referring to what you chose to call "altruism" and to which I referred to as love in that greek sense of agape "love for the other for the others own sake".

Should all entities which are altruistic be called human or not?

By "are altruistic" I means actually possess a desire to do good for others; not just entities which are mechanically programmed to "ape" altruistic behaviors or those entities which instinctually mimic altruistic behaviors; nor by "are altruistic" do I mean those entities who have behaviors which appear to others to appear altruistic. I mean, to say it again and ask it again; should all beings which are altruistic, which act in ways in which their actual care for the other, for the others own sake, is evidenced, be called human?

#25 Otto Piechowski

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Posted 21 June 2013 - 10:08 AM

Pess,

You wrote, "He was being straight forward and the conclusion is self evident. The animal recognized himself as 'self' in the mirror. The animal also recognized the Red paint as 'non-self'"

I know you were speaking for the other gentleman, but, for discussion sake, let us assume you are of the opinion that the bonobo behavior indicates self-awareness.

Is it relevant to our discussion, in any important way, for us to acknowledge that the assignation of "self-aware" to the bonobo's behavior is being made by us (humans) who express and understand self-aware in a particular manner? Are we committing an act of anthropomorphisation in so defining the bonobo's behavior as "self aware"? If so, does this anthropomorphisation negate our judgement, or not?

Otto






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