>Are we (humans) any more than machines?

>In Shelley’s Frankenstein, first published in 1818, it was foreseen that man (Frankenstein) would be able to create life (the monster). This life, though abominable to Frankenstein, is fully able to feel and think as a human does. But of course this is fiction. Would it be possible in real life to create such a ‘monster’?

In previous posts we’ve talked about new research that has meant we now seem closer than ever to acheiving this goal. But what would we be able to achieve? Would we be able to create a biological machine that did what it was told and seemed devoid of what we usually call ‘life’? Or would such a biological machine be exactly like us? Are we merely complicated machines or is there something more, a soul perhaps? And if we’re merely machines then would it be possible to recreate any figure from the past, exactly as they were at the time? Would this not be just like recreating an old robot?


  • >In a previous topic, to which you essentially answered your own question (or so it appeared to me), you indicated that brain damage renders a person 'not the same' and EST can and does subdue personalities. Yet, those with brain damage that irreperably changes their character, or indeed in the early and intermediate stages of Alzheimer's, can quite conceivably retain a more or less perfectly functioning body: their kidneys and bowels and bladder and lungs and nervous system works. They do retain functionality as a living organism, and yet their 'character' can be 'damaged' beyond recognition.That, to me, although I am far from qualified to talk about physiology or biology, suggests a separation between a human being as a functioning organism – a natural 'machine', if you will – and a human being as an individual. It is perfectly conceivable that we could create the latter (in fact, if we look closely at stem cell science, transplant technology and even cloning) we can already create functioning complex organisms and even create or recycle many of the functioning parts (organs) of a human being. To a large extent, Frankenstein's monster isn't quite science fiction any more. However, if we follow my reasoning above (which, I imagine, you might follow) then we are somewhat further from creating a human being as an individual.Could this be done? I don't think so. Identity is shaped by one's personal and communal interaction with the world (culture, society, personal fortune and circumstance, education, upbringing) and, to some extent, our own bodies. I don't think we have souls – when our brains die, our character goes with it, as with the tragic 'living death' of Alzheimer's – but our individuality is something akin to data stored on a hard drive (our brain) which is itself part of a wider, functioning, quasi-mechanical organism, a bit like a computer system. That data doesn't come built in to the organism, but is accumulated, like that on my computer, through use – in the case of life, experience both individually and collectively. Of course, this experience is nothing more than synaptic flashes and chemical-nervous processes and whatever, but the point is you can't build these in – as data is the product of a computer being used, individuality is the product of a life being lived.As an aside, my greatest physical fear in life is of that data, which makes me what I am, being slowly but definitely erased before my fading senses and in all-too-full view of my loved ones. Alzheimers scares me witless because it represents something far more (though, in literal terms of course, far less) than the death of me as a 'machine', but the erasure of what I've made of it.So, in short: it is possible to create human life as a 'machine', but not human life in its richest and most meaningful sense: as a person.YoursA most self-conscious non-scientist.

  • >P.S. I recognise the flaws in my computer analogy and that data could, theoretically, be replicated and stored on it. Don't take that too literally, I was just using it as a simple (ish) metaphorical illustration if anything, not a water tight comparison.

  • >Is your argument not based simply on the nature-nurture debate? You're saying that we can design the nature part but not the nurture part right?I find this argument interesting as I would have assumed if we can design the nature part 'identity', as you put it, can be developed by treating the machine as if it were a human. If you designed a baby and put it up for adoption, with no-one knowing that it was created by you artificially, why do you assume that it would not develop the identity you speak of?

  • >It (he/she) would develop *an* identity, of course, but you couldn't replicate a specific identity (i.e. a historical character), which is what I thought you were suggesting.

  • >Ah right. But what if they were to implant all the memories of an historical person and therefore replicate this data 'word perfect'? Let's suppose that you now go to a lab and all your memories are copied. Then you're 're-made' and this 'data' is uploaded once more. Would this not be an exact copy of you?

  • >Most likely, but as far as I'm aware that's not even remotely possible.

  • >Possible? Or possible with current technology? Admittedly my knowledge on the subject is next to non-existent but I can't think of any reason why it can't be done. The human memory isn't entirely like that on a hard-drive as you say. For instance we remember not only verbal and visual data but also experiences, tactile impressions, feelings of pain and joy, motor skills, events, activities and so on. Unlike computer memory ours acts as part of a perceptually active mental system.It receives, encodes, modifies, retains and retrieves information.Yet computer memory doesn't do this because we don't have the technology to make computer memory quite like our own. But if there is no reason why we cannot eventually advance to this level of technology (and I would argue there isn't) then it seems that we could create a machine like duplicate of ourselves with all our own memory and unique identity.However, having said this I do think human beings are more than machines. I believe that we could create a new human being as I said before. And indeed we are machine like in our functionality. But our emotions make us very unlike how a person would commonly define a machine. It's why I think the phrase "I feel therefore I live" would be quite an apt offspring from Descarte's line.

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