With the Paralympics upon us, it seemed appropriate to reflect on the meaning of being human.

The Paralympic athletes are an amazing bunch.  They have missing limbs, spinal injuries, cerebral palsy, visual impairments, and intellectual impairments.  All of them are better at their chosen sport than I will or could ever be.

Back to the original point, nobody ever considers that they don’t count as humans.  That rules out humans being a specific shape, and a specific level of intelligence.

A species is usually defined as a group of living organisms which are capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding.  Nobody denies the humanity of people who can’t reproduce for whatever reason, so there goes the “member of the species” definition of humanity.

Whatever dictionary Google uses to power its searches defines “human” as

A human being, esp. a person as distinguished from an animal or (in science fiction) an alien.

which is a little circular, and not particularly helpful.  But at least we can be sure that humans aren’t aliens.

Some Christians have suggested that to be human is to have rational thinking, free will, moral capacity, or the ability to face our own death.  I would point out that we only got most of that after we ate that darned apple, and therefore either we weren’t human before that or that’s not the answer.  (Or the apple is a metaphor, but let’s not go there today).

Of course, the rational thinking argument is not totally the domain of the Christians.  Cognitive scientists like Daniel Dennett also cite reasoning with each other as a definition of being human.

Personally, I think it’s our ability to think about the future, to imagine new worlds, that makes us human.  Endless imagination and the ability to describe it to another – now that’s something.

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