By Peter Aarts ( BC2011)
A biologist might see humans as animals and, like all animals, eat other animals or vegetables in order to fuel their attempts to reproduce. The fundamentals of human nature, therefore, are the pursuit of food and sex.
Tigers have strength, cheetahs have speed and humans have large brains. Biologists may believe that once they understand the human brain and the evolutionary history behind it, they will know all they need to, about our species.
Reducing the particulars of human consciousness to the workings of genes and brain cells seems wrong however, it appears the dominant account of what it is to be human today. Evolutionary theory is now firmly established, our genome is being deciphered and there are indisputable correlations between consciousness and brain activity.
A problem arises however, when we blame the credit crunch, for example, on short-termism inherited from our ancestors.
Raymond Tallis, latest book “Aping Mankind” is an all-out assault on the exaggerated claims made on behalf of the biological sciences. He points out that a fundamental shift in our self-perception is under way and frequently going too far.
Helga Nowotny’s book “Naked Genes” offers an explanation and presents an analysis of how the life sciences are shifting our view of ourselves and the challenges this is posing.
Scientists tend initially to ascribe too much importance to processes they attempt to understand, by isolating and extracting it from its context. They look inside the living brain and give disproportional weight to the images they are seeing.
Nowotny argues that the distinction between the natural genes we are born with, and the artificial, through drugs and genetic engineering, is a fiction.
Brian Christian book “The Most Human Human” offers a fascinating insight of what it means to be human and to prove it in the face of stiff competition from the world’s best artificial intelligence. The reductionist viewpoint suggests we are merely biological machines; if this is so, then all and any of our capacities should be achievable by other kinds of machines. Many in the science and technology community are trying to prove this. The conventional test of whether a computer can think like a human is known as the Turing Test. It works as follows; an assessor converses separately, usually via a remote terminal, with a human and with a machine. If the assessor can’t tell which is which, the machine has passed the test.
The conclusion is that, we should not allow ourselves to be reduced by these new disciplines of genetics, neuroscience and computing. Instead, we can learn from them and use them to become better at being human.
(source: Financial Times)