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Author Topic: When is it human?  (Read 3989 times)

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Offline Shjade

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #25 on: March 15, 2012, 09:06:17 PM »
1) Is joke.

2) Applies to those animals as well: I doubt newborn/newly hatched chimps/crows/elephants use tools.

3) What other animals can or can't do is irrelevant to the point at which a newborn homo sapien begins attempting to use tools.

4) Is joke.

Offline DeMalachine

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #26 on: March 15, 2012, 09:26:39 PM »
^ Apologies. Missed the joke. Tired.

But an interesting point does get raised by this, in that if we're talking 'human' not in its literal sense, but by which characteristics inspire another human to consider 'it' as human, then it's clear that these characteristics are highly subjective and often nebulous. It seems pretty obvious to me that there's no clear demarkation point in this, so who should be the arbiter of what or what isn't representative of fully human characteristics?

Okay, I'll throw this one in here: when an 'it' acquires such characteristics that they inspire another human to consider it a human being, then we can consider 'it' a human being. And prior to 'it' being born - after which many other parties will likely consider 'it' a human being - who would be a better judge of this than the human who is closest to 'it' from the very outset, right from the moment she discovers she is pregnant?

Offline Will

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #27 on: March 15, 2012, 11:55:51 PM »
No. Politicians start with convictions (well, that may be giving them too much credit), and then order them to suit reality (which, in our semi-democracy, means whatever it takes to win elections; witness Mitt Romney).

Actually, altering convictions to suit reality is not such a bad formula. If scientists didn't order their ideas to suit reality, we'd still be trying to cure fevers with leaches. It's generally the faithful who try to force reality's square pegs into dogma's round holes.

I was being sarcastic.  I'll include a /sarcasm next time.

I really wish more people would alter their convictions to suit reality.  It seems like too many people want to try and bend over backward and poke their head through their fucking legs just to try and find an interpretation of the facts that is in line with the principles they already hold.  For whatever reason, be it faith or upbringing or social peer pressure or whatever it is.  Right wing or left.  I think we're all guilty of it to some degree, and I include myself in that statement; it seems to be human nature to interpret the world based on one's preconceived notions.  But is that a good thing?  Shouldn't we try and correct ourselves from that behavior and make an effort to rise above it?  Most people seem to embrace it instead.

So, whatever your stance on abortion, go ahead and decide when life begins based on that.  Even though you may not be a health care professional, or a scientist, or anything that might qualify you to make such an assumption.  It's human nature, after all. :P  /sarcasm

Offline AndyZTopic starter

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #28 on: March 16, 2012, 03:52:01 AM »
When I started this thread, I was (obviously) hoping to be able to compare things like abortion.  If one could prove that this is where human life begins, then it'd be so much simpler to say whether or not a fetus is a human.

Right now, there doesn't seem to be any possible way.  I find myself decrying consensus for being inconsistent, but when I want to debunk a point, I have little choice but to point to consensus as a means to refute an argument.

It's actually a little worrying when I try to think about it logically.  What logical reason is there not to murder someone, other than law enforcement?  The question is a moral one, that we all know that it's wrong to murder, but I don't know much of a logical argument.

     Trying to catch up here a bit...  I missed this part upon hopping through.

     Logically, you can argue that I guess.  In terms of implementation, I'm not sure that is how American culture (Western culture? more?) actually operates.  I suspect that more often, the law may inlcude something like "human rights" and make references to living beings along with that.  However, it doesn't necessarily follow that human rights are gained simply by virtue of having sentient thought. 

     When it comes down to a courtroom, some people will argue that the spirit of those laws has been conventionally interpreted to apply only to certain types of being.  If "manufactured beings" or "constructs" for example, are not within the original intent of the law or its historical application, then those categories might be excluded. 

     (Hmm, this sounds rather like some of these games on E about androids, etc. that are treated as slaves...)  ::)


I really don't like the prospect of trying to pick and choose what is human without at least trying to develop some set of criteria.  I also think it's best to develop such criteria before artificial intelligence is created, so that we're not left with the major split that will inherently develop at that point.

I think there needs to be a point of order on the use of 'human' as a noun - as it is completely synonymous with a lifeform bearing the DNA that makes it member of the Genus Homo and species sapiens. To ask 'when does it become human' is kind of redundant, as it suggests that prior to being an embryo, being born, acquiring self-awareness (or whatever criteria one might choose), a human being must be of some other species entirely.

I see your point, and I struggled with this as I initially wrote up the post.  However, human can be an adjective, and the phrases "It's a boy" and "It's a girl" are common and accepted.  Saying "He's a boy" and "She's a girl" would be far less oxymoronic, but I think that it allows for a transition, where the baby was always talked about as "it" because nobody knew the gender, but you know by the end of the sentence.

Also, if it's not human before that point, then it's not a species at all.

If you have something you want me to change the title to, though, I have little objection.

I'm far more interested in why humanity would matter.

Pre-supposing an importance to humanity, apart from the self-interest of belonging to that category, is a notion without basis. It is a complete failure to confront the route that has taken us to this state at this point in time (and that which will inevitably move us away from it) in favor of saying "Humans must be special because I happen to be human and I want to feel special". It's this relic of an idea that humans are somehow separate or higher. Putting a barrier up between 'humanity' and 'nature' is a persistent piece of outmoded thinking that blights our society. Legal rights are granted at the whim of social order regardless of whether or not they conform with the actual good in itself or even a principle of right action (were that the case governments would not have been granting and stripping them since time immemorial). They are nothing more.

This doesn't mean that there is not objective good or a course of right action, merely that humans need to get over themselves and realize that their feelings of special snowflake-ness have no bearing on morality.

Also, for anyone that buys that DNA argument, I have about 400 transgenic mice who will be wanting their 'human rights' please  :P

We could go by nature's rules, where it's perfectly acceptable to rape and murder another of one's species or of any other species.  Certainly there are a number of people who attempt to defy the natural order of how people are clearly omnivores and choose to live as herbivores.  However, I would rather leave nature's laws for anything that only fits with nature, and develop a set of laws for humans dealing with humans.  I don't want to try to stop carnivores from eating herbivores; it opens up a door of pure madness.

Oh, and the DNA was already addressed and refuted.  I was hoping that the person who refuted it would offer their own possible criteria and help keep the ball rolling, but that was back when I thought this would be a simpler task than it is.

^ Apologies. Missed the joke. Tired.

But an interesting point does get raised by this, in that if we're talking 'human' not in its literal sense, but by which characteristics inspire another human to consider 'it' as human, then it's clear that these characteristics are highly subjective and often nebulous. It seems pretty obvious to me that there's no clear demarkation point in this, so who should be the arbiter of what or what isn't representative of fully human characteristics?

Okay, I'll throw this one in here: when an 'it' acquires such characteristics that they inspire another human to consider it a human being, then we can consider 'it' a human being. And prior to 'it' being born - after which many other parties will likely consider 'it' a human being - who would be a better judge of this than the human who is closest to 'it' from the very outset, right from the moment she discovers she is pregnant?

The effort is appreciated.  We have too many people who are trying to just mock the thread and point out how politics doesn't handle things that way, and miss the irony that they're working against those who want to handle it another way.

This criteria doesn't really solve the "subjective" problem, but actually amplifies it.  Without some sort of rules, we must point to consensus, but in your suggestion, consensus cannot exist because we're choosing individual judges to the task.

So, whatever your stance on abortion, go ahead and decide when life begins based on that.  Even though you may not be a health care professional, or a scientist, or anything that might qualify you to make such an assumption.  It's human nature, after all. :P  /sarcasm

I would absolutely adore if you can get a health care professional, a scientist, or anything of that nature to provide a definitive answer.  That was actually the point of the thread, trying to determine this.

Offline Merah

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #29 on: March 16, 2012, 05:10:03 AM »
Here's my humble attempt at clearing this up (or at least showing where the 'murk' will always be):

A fetus is 'human'. So is a fingernail clipping. So is someone's corpse. 'Human' is simply the species of the thing we are talking about (defined by its DNA); this has NOTHING to do with we consider it a 'human being', key word 'being' - implying some sort of conscious individual for which it is difficult to give an exact definition.

So from here on out, I thing it would be more useful to ask "When is it a human being?" or "What makes it a human being" or perhaps "What defines a human being?"

As we've established, the criteria clearly cannot be DNA. Viability is a bit more tricky. But is not 'viability' just saying that it 'could become a human being'? If so, that clearly does not make it a human being yet (you could still argue that we should give rights to 'viable potential human beings', but it is clearly a weaker argument).

Ultimately, the criteria has to be in some definition of conscious thought/awareness. Where do we draw 'the line' in defining conscious thought? I'm no expert, but all the research I've done seems to indicate that there is no 'line', whether in the sense of a clearly delineated 'birth' of consciousness for a human fetus/infant or clearly delineated level/critical mass of consciousness for other intelligent animals, previous hominid species, or mentally impaired humans. There is only a continuum.

Thus, if you want a 'line' to make your definition neat and clean (a very practical reason being for the laws we humans have to make), the only way forward is to establish a consensus as to at what level/definition of conscious thought we choose to grant the rights of a 'human being' (an abstract, subjective concept). There are certainly some unreasonable, impractical, and irrational definitions of conscious thought to which we might come, but the sad truth is that there is no 'right' definition of conscious thought/awareness, only unreasonable and reasonable definitions along with everything in-between and to the sides of those. Again, consciousness IS a subjective and nebulous concept; this is the nature of the world we live in - it isn't always neat, tidy, and pretty just because we've arrived on-scene and we want it to be. Tell me, was there some point along the evolutionary line of descent when there was a father who was completely non-human (in the sense of 'human being') and a son who was completely human?

...and next someone will say that yes, that's exactly what it was: God came down and gave the first human a 'soul'. At which point we ask what a 'soul' is and they reply that it is what makes someone human. So what makes them human is what makes them human, and it is whatever and whenever your personal, unverifiable beliefs say it is? :P Obviously we can discredit this as a serious logical argument, leaving us only with the above conclusions.
« Last Edit: March 16, 2012, 05:53:31 AM by Merah »

Offline AndyZTopic starter

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #30 on: March 16, 2012, 05:55:50 AM »
Other than that I'm not sure conscious thought/awareness is the deciding factor, this is very well stated to pretty much show the impossibility of my attempt.  Thank you ^_^  I think you even solved the chicken and the egg problem there.

I would lock this, but I want people to get the chance to get in any last words, responses and the like.  I feel like I've learned a lot here on the nature of debate but I'm not sure I could put it into words.

Offline vtboy

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #31 on: March 16, 2012, 06:05:37 AM »
I was being sarcastic.  I'll include a /sarcasm next time.

I really wish more people would alter their convictions to suit reality.  It seems like too many people want to try and bend over backward and poke their head through their fucking legs just to try and find an interpretation of the facts that is in line with the principles they already hold.  For whatever reason, be it faith or upbringing or social peer pressure or whatever it is.  Right wing or left.  I think we're all guilty of it to some degree, and I include myself in that statement; it seems to be human nature to interpret the world based on one's preconceived notions.  But is that a good thing?  Shouldn't we try and correct ourselves from that behavior and make an effort to rise above it?  Most people seem to embrace it instead.

So, whatever your stance on abortion, go ahead and decide when life begins based on that.  Even though you may not be a health care professional, or a scientist, or anything that might qualify you to make such an assumption.  It's human nature, after all. :P  /sarcasm

Sorry for being a little slow on the uptake. I am generally appreciative of sarcasm but, unless one knows the speaker, it is sometimes difficult to pick it up from the cold page or screen.

As to the rest, we are of like mind.

Offline vtboy

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #32 on: March 16, 2012, 06:46:24 AM »
I'm far more interested in why humanity would matter.

Pre-supposing an importance to humanity, apart from the self-interest of belonging to that category, is a notion without basis. It is a complete failure to confront the route that has taken us to this state at this point in time (and that which will inevitably move us away from it) in favor of saying "Humans must be special because I happen to be human and I want to feel special". It's this relic of an idea that humans are somehow separate or higher. Putting a barrier up between 'humanity' and 'nature' is a persistent piece of outmoded thinking that blights our society. Legal rights are granted at the whim of social order regardless of whether or not they conform with the actual good in itself or even a principle of right action (were that the case governments would not have been granting and stripping them since time immemorial). They are nothing more.

This doesn't mean that there is not objective good or a course of right action, merely that humans need to get over themselves and realize that their feelings of special snowflake-ness have no bearing on morality.

Also, for anyone that buys that DNA argument, I have about 400 transgenic mice who will be wanting their 'human rights' please  :P

There is something of a paradox here.

True, there is nothing objectively "higher' about human capacities than those of, say, bees or rats. And, I think the debunking of the position of man (and serially of the earth, the solar system, the Milky Way, and maybe even what we call the "universe") as the centerpiece of creation has been one of the great achievements of science over the last 500 or so years. But, as bees are wired to make honey, and rats to do rat things, human behavior is likewise dictated by our nature. In this respect, our propensity to act as though we are a special case, notwithstanding the contrary conclusions of reason, seems to be something nature has just wired us to do and is likely unavoidable.

Moreover, that humans are not "special" in the sense of being better than other things in existence, does not mean humans are not "special" in the simpler sense of being different from other things. The ability to construct and to operate large hadron particle colliders may not be "better" talents than making honey, but they are different talents and, to my knowledge, in this world at least, possessed only by humans. Similarly, the ability to classify things, and to prescribe different ways of treating each class, seem to be uniquely human traits (I understand that all learning, to some degree, involves generalization and discrimination, and thus some form of classification, but the greater facility and abstraction with which humans are able to perform  these functions would seem a difference from other animals that is more than merely quantitative). And these, I suppose, are the traits that have brought us to the present question: when is it human (which I understand to mean, what things do we wish to classify as being entitled to certain types of treatment)?

Finally, assuming humans are eventually able to get over their "snowflake-ness" (I truly love that term; did you coin it?), what benchmark would you propose, in place of the species' own welfare, to guide it in the search for that which is objectively right?
« Last Edit: March 16, 2012, 11:16:06 AM by vtboy »

Offline Ortega Maximo

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #33 on: March 16, 2012, 02:06:03 PM »
[snark] When it turns 18, and even then it's a probationary status. [/snark]

Offline Violence

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Re: When is it human?
« Reply #34 on: March 16, 2012, 02:37:37 PM »
Other than that I'm not sure conscious thought/awareness is the deciding factor, this is very well stated to pretty much show the impossibility of my attempt.  Thank you ^_^  I think you even solved the chicken and the egg problem there.

I would lock this, but I want people to get the chance to get in any last words, responses and the like.  I feel like I've learned a lot here on the nature of debate but I'm not sure I could put it into words.

I don't think what you were trying to answer is "impossible", really.  From what I noticed, there just seemed to be a lot of focus on the question of "when something becomes a human being" as opposed to "what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a being to be human".  Meaning what conditions do you need, and what conditions are enough that, when you have them all, you are guaranteed to have a human being.  Asking "when something becomes human" means people are looking for one single factor to be sufficient, when usually things have multiple factors that make something what they are.

Anyways, you probably wouldn't find any answer that everybody likes... but it's possible to find an answer to the question that gives you a rational basis for a belief.  Or a rational basis to reconsider a belief you already had.

Off the top of my head, I'd probably say that human DNA, sentience and sapience (like a few people have already said) are all necessary.  But they don't seem sufficient to me.  I would probably argue a soul is necessary, but I'd argue that about a dog or a cat or Optimus Prime.

Anyways, that's just me trying to get something in... ^.^;; it seemed like an interesting conversation went on that I'd missed, is all.

Offline Shjade

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #35 on: March 16, 2012, 07:07:59 PM »
It's actually a little worrying when I try to think about it logically.  What logical reason is there not to murder someone, other than law enforcement?  The question is a moral one, that we all know that it's wrong to murder, but I don't know much of a logical argument.

If you want to leave morality and law out of it, there are still pragmatic reasons for not murdering people willy-nilly. Try to think about it as a sociopath might:

- Every time you kill someone, you've just given yourself a load of work to do unless you absolutely don't care about people knowing you killed said someone, and even then it's a chore if the killing happened on your property. Who wants a corpse stinking up the place? Cleanup's no fun.

- Social acceptance. Even if murder weren't illegal, it's likely the local community would not think highly of a known murderer: it's bad for business, it's bad for relaxation, it's bad for trust, it's just all-around a bad label to have applied to you - the proverbial scarlet letter (which, in this case, is written with other people's blood on your shirt).

- Reciprocation. If you kill someone, you have to expect there will be repercussions from SOMEONE, if not necessarily the law. Maybe your victim's family doesn't think too highly about you carrying on with that whole "breathing" thing now that you've murdered one of their kin. Congratulations, now you get to live the rest of your life looking over your shoulder. Sounds like fun.

I'm sure there are other similarly clear reasons to not just kill someone that don't rely on the existence of morality or laws to that effect to remain solid.

Offline AndyZTopic starter

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #36 on: March 17, 2012, 05:00:27 AM »
If you want to leave morality and law out of it, there are still pragmatic reasons for not murdering people willy-nilly. Try to think about it as a sociopath might:

- Every time you kill someone, you've just given yourself a load of work to do unless you absolutely don't care about people knowing you killed said someone, and even then it's a chore if the killing happened on your property. Who wants a corpse stinking up the place? Cleanup's no fun.

- Social acceptance. Even if murder weren't illegal, it's likely the local community would not think highly of a known murderer: it's bad for business, it's bad for relaxation, it's bad for trust, it's just all-around a bad label to have applied to you - the proverbial scarlet letter (which, in this case, is written with other people's blood on your shirt).

- Reciprocation. If you kill someone, you have to expect there will be repercussions from SOMEONE, if not necessarily the law. Maybe your victim's family doesn't think too highly about you carrying on with that whole "breathing" thing now that you've murdered one of their kin. Congratulations, now you get to live the rest of your life looking over your shoulder. Sounds like fun.

I'm sure there are other similarly clear reasons to not just kill someone that don't rely on the existence of morality or laws to that effect to remain solid.

This is definitely the direction I'd have to go in order to be able to invent a set of laws without applying morality.  Thank you.

Offline RubySlippers

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #37 on: March 18, 2012, 10:22:22 AM »
Lets see eggs meet sperm, join, making a fertilized egg that in nine months barring a miscarriage or intervention will surely be a human even in the comics a mutant is still a human even if grotesque. So I would say to play it safe the human is human at conception.

Unless you can show me a case of human woman giving birth to something other than human?

Offline vtboy

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #38 on: March 18, 2012, 01:10:41 PM »
Lets see eggs meet sperm, join, making a fertilized egg that in nine months barring a miscarriage or intervention will surely be a human even in the comics a mutant is still a human even if grotesque. So I would say to play it safe the human is human at conception.

Unless you can show me a case of human woman giving birth to something other than human?

Would you grant legal protection to the human zygote?

Offline Oniya

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Re: When is it human?
« Reply #39 on: March 18, 2012, 02:31:19 PM »
That's where the whole semantics issue breaks down.  Biologically speaking (as someone said earlier), everything from a drop of blood to fingernail parings to a whole person is 'human'.  It can even get reduced to absurdity rather quickly:  At what point can a woman claim her pregnancy as a dependent on her taxes?  When does a pregnant woman need to buy a second movie ticket?  When can she drive by herself in the HOV-2 lanes?  I'm choosing the most ridiculous examples I can here, lest anyone think I'm actually looking for an answer to those questions.

Offline vtboy

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #40 on: March 18, 2012, 02:58:10 PM »
That's where the whole semantics issue breaks down.  Biologically speaking (as someone said earlier), everything from a drop of blood to fingernail parings to a whole person is 'human'.  It can even get reduced to absurdity rather quickly:  At what point can a woman claim her pregnancy as a dependent on her taxes?  When does a pregnant woman need to buy a second movie ticket?  When can she drive by herself in the HOV-2 lanes?  I'm choosing the most ridiculous examples I can here, lest anyone think I'm actually looking for an answer to those questions.

Yes, the label we attach to the product of conception is solely an issue of semantics unless, with the label, come legal restrictions on the way we treat that product. For this reason, I would prefer the term "person" to "human", since the former is more a legal classification and the latter more a biological one.

Offline Chris Brady

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #41 on: March 18, 2012, 03:42:05 PM »
According to science (wish I could find that article) assuming I remember correctly, you become 'human' during the first stage of fetal growth.  That's what I go by.

Offline AndyZTopic starter

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #42 on: March 18, 2012, 03:45:37 PM »
According to science (wish I could find that article) assuming I remember correctly, you become 'human' during the first stage of fetal growth.  That's what I go by.

If you can find that for me, please let me know.

Offline Oniya

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Re: When is it human?
« Reply #43 on: March 18, 2012, 04:03:04 PM »
It's not until about 6 weeks embryonic age (8 weeks since the preconception menstruation) that a human embryo can be visually distinguished from other mammalian embryos.  (Pics available here.) 

Offline Shjade

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #44 on: March 18, 2012, 04:11:25 PM »
Lets see eggs meet sperm, join, making a fertilized egg that in nine months barring a miscarriage or intervention will surely be a human even in the comics a mutant is still a human even if grotesque. So I would say to play it safe the human is human at conception.

Is an egg a chicken?

Offline Merah

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #45 on: March 18, 2012, 05:23:50 PM »
Since some people are asking for scientific info on prenatal development, this might be helpful:

http://www.ehd.org/science_main.php?level=i

Offline Chris Brady

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #46 on: March 18, 2012, 05:50:54 PM »
Bear in mind, I'm doing this off memory (which is shaky at the best of times, and why I can't find the damn article) but I believe that it was Day 3, that an embryo can be considered 'human' by the medical science community.

Offline vtboy

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #47 on: March 18, 2012, 07:07:17 PM »
From a parental perspective, I can assure you the thing isn't full human until, at least, it starts doing its own laundry.

Offline Callie Del Noire

Re: When is it human?
« Reply #48 on: March 18, 2012, 07:28:06 PM »
From a parental perspective, I can assure you the thing isn't full human until, at least, it starts doing its own laundry.

Or at least till it picks up it's toys before the 3rd yelling at it.

Offline Oniya

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Re: When is it human?
« Reply #49 on: March 18, 2012, 09:42:18 PM »
Days 1-23 (counting from fertilization):