Essay: Humanity

Pages: 5 (1841 words)  ·  Style: Turabian  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Mythology  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … Humanity

One very interesting aspect of the human experience is the manner in which certain themes appear again and again over time, in literature, religion, mythology, and culture -- regardless of the geographic location, the economic status, and the time period. Perhaps it is the innate human need to explain and explore the known and unknown, but to have disparate cultures in time and location find ways of explaining certain principles in such similar manner leads one to believe that there is perhaps more to myth and ritual than simple repetition of archetypal themes. In a sense, then, to acculturize the future, we must re-craft the past, and the way that seems to happen is in the synergism of myth and ritual as expressed in a variety of forms that examine humanity. In contemporary times, sometimes this crafting takes on more psychological measures, defining and redefining the human species by asking difficult questions about what it actually means to be human. There are several examples of this for modern reality can sometimes best be expressed in fiction -- a non-threatening way that allows society to critique and discuss sensitive ideas. We have the 1997 movie, GATTACA, -- named to represent the four DNA bases (Guanine, Adenine, Thymine, and Adenine). In this movie, directed by Andrew Niccol, society has evolved to one driven by liberal eugenics. Children of the wealthier classes are selected and designed through preimplantation genetic diagnosis to ensure they harbor only the best, most desirable genetic makeup. A national genetic registry uses biometrics to classify those as "Valids" as well as those of the lesser classes, known as "In-Valids." Valids are qualified for professional employment, based only on their genetic profile, not their ability -- thus redefining humanity from an intrinsic position.

Once technology reached the computer age, or even the potential of the computer age, there were numerous speculations about the overall long-term development of humanity through artificial intelligence. Among the first treatment of this issue was a 1920 science-fiction play by Karel Capek called R.U.R., introducing the word robot to the English language and into the science fiction genre. Even this early, prior to genetic manipulation, artificial intelligence, and even the technological capabilities of artificial organs, the idea of artificial "people" and their interactions with human pushed the limit of myth and humanity. Of course, since Capek's play there have been hundreds of examples, HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, David in Steven Spielberg's a.I., a masterful performance that was full of both comedy and pathos by Robin Williams in the 1999 movie Bicentennial Man -- which asked the audience to side with the artificial person in a court dispute for legal "human rights." However, one of the most interesting characters to push the limits of what is human and what is not was the character of Lieutenant Commander Data (played by Brent Spiner) in the seven season and movie tie in franchise Star Trek the Next Generation.

.The idea of humanity tied into myth and culture is so engendered in modern life that even our motion picture industry epitomizes the need for particular stories to remain focal themes. Whatever the genre, even if those genres did not exist when the particular archetype originated, the classic nature of the normative values of certain subject continues to resonate within the human spirit. Indeed, the very sharing of experiences is part of the greater understanding, and acceptance, of mythos as part of human culture, regardless of the date, time, or location. Whatever the culture, we can empathize and find commonalities with these stories simply because they are part of our existence, and part of who we choose to be.

One of the foremost functions of myth is to establish models for behavior and to explain what it means to be human. This happens again and again in Star Trek, and it is the interactions between Data and many other characters that one finds mythical figures that are sacred and are therefore worthy role models for human beings. Thus, myths often function to uphold current social structures and institutions: they justify these customs by claiming that they were established by sacred beings. In fact, in some cases, a society will reenact a myth in an attempt to reproduce the conditions of the mythical age: for example, it will reenact the healing performed by a god at the beginning of time in order to heal someone in the present (Campbell and Moyers, 1991). Within this paradigm, though, it is typically the growth and development of the heroic character that seems to resonate most with modern audiences. This is as true today as it was with Homer and the other oral traditions told generation after generation as people gathered by the fire.

Taking two prime examples of this voyage of discovery into humanity, if we start with R.U.R. As the beginning of the discussion of androids as humans, and then move forward to analyze the dialog between Commander Data and his Captain, Jean-Luc Picard, we can see certain trends that move beyond time and geography and into the very heart of the philosophical issues surrounding humanity. The difficulty with our thesis regarding humanity is that it is a multidimensional definition that is very dependent upon the characteristics of the audience: Jane Goodall, for instance, sees a number of human characteristics in her studies of chimpanzees; a geneticist might see humanity as a definition involving chemical patterns; and certainly, there are varying degrees of "humanity" present in the patterns of behavior one sees historically. If we deal with a few basic definitions: Human walk upright, use tools, have a sense of self and future/past, evolved brains, language and symbols, and the ability to drastically change their environment.

In R.U.R. The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people, more on the line of androids who can think for themselves and even be mistaken for humans. These robots seem happy with their lot, although there ensues a robot rebellion that leads to the extinction of the human race; a retelling of the Jewish Golem myth, and certainly somewhat repeated in the 1950 book I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov, made into a 2004 film that has robots thinking about humanity using the "Three Laws" of Robotics: 1) a Robot may not allow a human to come to harm; 2) a Robot must obey all commands from humans, except as if it would conflict with #1; 3) a Robot must preserve its own existence as long as does not conflict with the other laws. However, this definition of robot/artificial person, seems to see the robot as something "not-yet human" -- more the serf to humans than identical. This comes across in R.U.R. with the character of Helena Glory -- daughter of the President of the Corporation that makes the robots.

Helena is a humanitarian -- but one who has compassion for what she considered to be the kernel of life -- the ability to empathize. She is absolutely horrified when she finds out that robots are built to simply be beasts of burden, without rights, and without the ability to actualize. Instead, Helen sees human qualities in the robots and asks their creator, Dr. Gall, to modify them to give them true "souls," which will, in her view, liberate the robot. In her dialog with the robot Radius, Helena discovers that the robots wish to have no master, to lead not follow, and she inquires, "Does Radius have a soul?" Thinking about how much the robot hates humanity, she is convinced that perhaps the robots have more of a human soul that do humans, at least those who think and act like her father and his company employees.

Similarly, in Star Trek, Captain Picard continually believes that it is the morality of humankind that defines the species. What is a person is a continual them when dealing with Commander Data -- with the easiest concept as any entity that has the moral right of self-determination. This, of course, transcends the species, in fact, anything genetic or even carbon based. In the episode "Measure of a Man," Data is about to be removed from the Enterprise to be taken apart and studied. Data refuses to go, claiming to be a person with "rights" (presumably, this includes what we are calling the moral right of self-determination). He believes that it is immoral to experiment on him without his consent. His opponent, Commander Maddox, insists that Data is property, that he has no rights. A hearing is convened to settle the matter. At the crux of the hearing, the attorneys consider the question: What is a person? Is it possible a non-human could be a person? Can a machine be a person?

Captain Picard responds that personhood is not human based, but sentient. Three conditions must be met: intelligence, self-awareness, and consciousness. Using this episode as an example, we then ponder the question about humanity through the trial:

First: the issue of intelligence:

Picard: Is… [END OF PREVIEW]

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