C09-E102101

What Makes Us Humans Different, If Anything?

“One of the problems with the idea of memes is that it strikes at our deepest assumptions about who we are and why we are here,” Susan Blackmore writes in “Strange Creatures” (38). “This is always happening in science,” she adds. Blackmore suggests that “many aspects of human nature are better explained by a theory of memetics than any rival theory” (39). In a nutshell, Blackmore argues that what makes us, humans, different from other species is not “our superior intelligence, our consciousness, our language,” but rather “our ability to imitate” (31, 33).

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Gopnik is similarly concerned with naming what “seems to be particularly human,” but unlike Blackmore’s claim that imitation is the key to human’s distinctiveness, Gopnik posits that our ability to imagine alternative worlds, “to produce counterfactuals,” best explains “our evolutionary advantage” (Gopnik 167, 171, 171).

Evolutionary theory informs all the writers we have read up till the midterm, as does the topic of the growing importance of artificial intelligence in the 21st century. Turkle, Tufekci’, and Gopnik all raise the question of how we are to see the similarities and differences between humans and machines. For example, does Turkle force us to see the limits of Blackmore’s thesis “that imitation is what makes us special,” when she notes we are teaching, programming, computers to imitate us: “we see robots as close to human if they do such things as make eye contact, track our motion, and gesture in a show of friendship. These appear to be “Darwinian buttons” that cause people to imagine that the robot is an “other,” that is, that there is, colloquially speaking, “somebody home”? (269)

Question:

What Makes Us So Different: How Should We Place Humans in Relation to Other Species and/or Evolving Smart Machines, and Does The Very Attempt To Define Us Humans Present Us With A Definitional, Philosophical, Problem?

******Whatever you argue, use Blackmore’s essay and at least one other essay to frame the debate–the writers’s arguments in relation to your argument– and use key terms/concepts in your essay. Must sure, for example, you explain the concept of memes and memetic theory more generally, as well as some other key terms from another essay (for example, “counterfactuals,” “authenticity,” “the Robotic Moment,” “automate” vs “informate” etc).

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