One of my favorite quotations found on the inside cover of a textbook sent to me twenty years ago was attributed by G. E. Moore in Principia Ethica to Bishop Butler:
“Everything is what it is, and not another thing.”
Today I heard excerpts from two TED talks. In one, a neuroscientist commented that primates eat raw food and consequently spend most of their day foraging and chewing. Cooking food enables us to get far more nutrients by reducing the need to chew and also to absorb the nutrients more easily. She concluded apropos of nothing much at all, cheerfully, “we’re just animals.”
Another neuroscientist laughed at philosophers who say things like “the brain is unable to understand itself.” She then cheerfully concluded with no real argument – “we are our brains and our brains are just machines.”
Both women regarded what they said as unanswerable truisms, prompting the query: so which are we – animals or machines? Those terms are not interchangeable nor even compatible. I wonder how each non-arguer would respond to the claim of the other?
How about – humans are neither animals nor machines. We are just what we are – humans. Aristotle was on the right track in suggesting that we share a nutritive and sensitive soul with animals, but include a rational soul as well. There’s a degree of continuity, while important and distinctive differences exist too.
The TED talk excerpts at least concluded with David Chalmers who correctly stated that how the brain is related to consciousness is perhaps the most mysterious aspect of the universe.
Here’s a link to an article of mine that distinguishes robots/machines from conscious beings.