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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

What does a portrait of Erica the android tell us about being human?

Nigel Warburton
The Guardian
Originally posted September 9, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

Another traditional answer to the question of what makes us so different, popular for millennia, has been that humans have a non-physical soul, one that inhabits the body but is distinct from it, an ethereal ghostly wisp that floats free at death to enjoy an after-life which may include reunion with other souls, or perhaps a new body to inhabit. To many of us, this is wishful thinking on an industrial scale. It is no surprise that survey results published last week indicate that a clear majority of Britons (53%) describe themselves as non-religious, with a higher percentage of younger people taking this enlightened attitude. In contrast, 70% of Americans still describe themselves as Christians, and a significant number of those have decidedly unscientific views about human origins. Many, along with St Augustine, believe that Adam and Eve were literally the first humans, and that everything was created in seven days.


Today a combination of evolutionary biology and neuroscience gives us more plausible accounts of what we are than Descartes did. These accounts are not comforting. They reverse the priority and emphasise that we are animals and provide no evidence for our non-physical existence. Far from it. Nor are they in any sense complete, though there has been great progress. Since Charles Darwin disabused us of the notion that human beings are radically different in kind from other apes by outlining in broad terms the probable mechanics of evolution, evolutionary psychologists have been refining their hypotheses about how we became this kind of animal and not another, why we were able to surpass other species in our use of tools, communication through language and images, and ability to pass on our cultural discoveries from generation to generation.

The article is here.