Science and the Theft of Humanity
In science's renewed interest in the human condition, a humanist sees the promise of a dialogue and a new golden age
Through Open Doors, Discourse
Autonomy, singularity, creativity—each of these terms
names both a long-standing concern of the humanities and a set of
contemporary projects being undertaken in the sciences.
Many such projects—from the relatively familiar such as
stem-cell research and the Human Genome Project to the more exotic,
such as attempts to upload the component parts of consciousness into
a computer, bioinformatics, and advanced nanotechnology—appear
to have serious implications for our basic understanding of human
being. These projects may well force us to modify our understanding
of traditional moral and philosophical questions, including the
definition of and value attached to such presumptively nonhuman
concepts as "the animal" and "the machine."
Humanists, who have been only partially aware of the work being done
by scientists and other nonhumanists on their own most fundamental
concepts, must try to overcome their disciplinary and temperamental
resistances and welcome these developments as offering a new
grounding for their own work. They must commit themselves to be not
just spectators marveling at new miracles, but coinvestigators of
these miracles, synthesizing, weighing, judging and translating into
the vernacular so that new ideas can enter public discourse.
They—we—must understand that while scientists are indeed
poaching our concepts, poaching in general is one of the ways in
which disciplines are reinvigorated, and this particular act of
thievery is nothing less than the primary driver of the
transformation of knowledge today. For their part, those
investigating the human condition from a nonhumanistic perspective
must accept the contributions of humanists, who have a deep and
abiding stake in all knowledge related to the question of the human.
We stand today at a critical juncture not just in the history of
disciplines but of human self-understanding, one that presents
remarkable and unprecedented opportunities for thinkers of all
descriptions. A rich, deep and extended conversation between
humanists and scientists on the question of the human could have
implications well beyond the academy. It could result in the
rejuvenation of many disciplines, and even in a reconfiguration of
disciplines themselves—in short, a new golden age.