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The title of this document is the sort of thing that might be expected to cause outrage –it is well known, after all, that in the past the simple calling of various persons “subhumans” or “witches” (or other names) has led to horrid behaviors that needed to be severely trounced. On the other hand, on what basis does calling someone a witch make that person a witch? Measurable facts, data items, are extremely important!
Given the preceding, IF there is such a thing as a “pseudoperson”, THEN it is extremely important to be very certain the entity can be distinguished correctly, unambiguously, and consistently, from an ordinary person. One way to go about that is to carefully note the characteristics that qualify some entity as a person, and then note the ways in which some other entity appears, but actually In Measurable Fact fails, to possess a crucial characteristic –in which case, logically, the other entity could deserve the label “pseudoperson”.
This document will focus more on scientific data than legal stuff about personhood. It is important to recognize that Science and Law are two entirely different endeavors, with different histories and different rationales for reaching conclusions. Nothing in this document should be interpreted as disputing existing Law, which arbitrarily assigns legal personhood to humans at birth. Only if there should be some effort to change existing Law regarding personhood might the scientific data in this document be relevant to that process, simply because it is widely known that modern law-makers do tend to pay attention to appropriate scientific data when crafting new laws.
One purpose of this document is to offer something that is either a new rationale, or a new variant of an old rationale, for answering a problem known as the “Fermi Paradox“. Basically, relative to the size of our Milky Way Galaxy, technically advanced civilizations within it should not be horribly rare –and relative to the age of the galaxy, any one such civilization could colonize most of its star-systems in a short time. So where are they? Because we’ve yet to see the slightest hint that they are Out There somewhere….
Before describing some of the particular scientifically relevant characteristics of persons, we need to note the fact that human history is chock-full of stories and legends and tales and anecdotes and myths and even Religious teachings, regarding non-human entities that can be called “persons”. The general presentation of such continues right up to recent years –see the “Star Wars” movies, for example, full of non-human intelligent beings interacting with others quite equivalently to the way humans can interact with each other. This document therefore has as a partial foundation the fact that the concepts of “human” and “person” are entirely independent of each other. That is, it is just as possible for a non-human entity to be a person, as it is possible for a 100% human entity (such as a “hydatidiform mole“) to be a non-person.
As a result of that foundation, an extremely simple Question can be asked: “What characteristics do ALL persons, regardless of their physical nature, have in common?” Logically, since non-humans can qualify as persons, “human-ness” will not be a characteristic that all types of persons have in common!
One of the most important characteristics of a person is called “Free Will”. Without it, an entity is basically just a stimulus-response machine, little more than a typical robot of the early 21st Century. On the other hand, there is a long-running philosophical debate about whether or not the thing called “Free Will” actually exists at all, entirely because the physical Universe manifestly exhibits –extremely widely– The Law of Cause and Effect –and even ordinary adult humans are physical entities. For Free Will to exist, it is necessary that there can be a Cause that is NOT itself an Effect of some other Cause!
Well, it happens that modern scientific research has discovered a few relevant facts. One of them is that Quantum Mechanics has, provably, utter Randomness at its foundations. Thus in the quantum-mechanical world, events can happen that are unrelated to prior events. Spontaneous/random appearances of “virtual particles” happen everywhere and all the time, and ordinary physical particles are capable of being influenced by interactions with virtual particles. Most of the time the interactions cancel-out each other, but on occasion…. For an actual physical device that embodies those other occasions, see this article about random number generators.
Another modern scientific discovery is that living cells, particularly in the nervous system, have structures fine enough to be affected by quantum randomness. (And that’s not the only way neurons can be affected.) This means that many ordinary animals have access to random data, nerve signals, which they can either filter out (“noise”), or use. Evolution has a habit of using any physical property that comes along, whenever some aspect of that thing can increase the chances of survival. For example, consider a rabbit being chased by a fox. The chance the rabbit can escape depends at least partly on making jumps in different directions –if the rabbit can make utterly random jumps (so long as they are away from the fox), isn’t that better than making predictable jumps?
It is a fact that humans have a lot more brainpower than rabbits, and it is also a fact that when Evolution retains a useful biological feature, it tends to expand the uses of that feature as organisms become more complex. (While that linked article is about cell-specializations, keep in mind that descendants of a partly-specialized cell can become specialized to do more different things, than originally.) So, can a typical human adult decide to do something that is entirely unrelated to a given stimulus, something that falls outside the Law of Cause and Effect? If so, then it can be said that that human probably possesses Free Will.
The preceding is quite important with respect to future computer science, and the desire to develop True Artificial Intelligences. They will have to have as much Free Will as typical adult humans in order to qualify as persons. If they were nothing more than complicated stimulus-response machines (while typical adult humans get shown to be more than that), then it logically follows that they would be pseudopersons, not real persons like typical adult humans. It also means that if you are going to accuse some human adult of being a pseudoperson on that basis (and after it is shown that Free Will generally exists among adult humans), you had better be able to back up the claim with measurements regarding that specific human’s lack-of-ability to exhibit Free Will!
Before getting to the next characteristic of persons that will be discussed here, it is important to note a distinction between having an ability and using an ability. An ability is a tool, and we know full well that just because you might own a tool like a hammer, that doesn’t mean you are always using it. It is possible that you might find yourself in a position where you cannot use a particular tool (see “peace bonding a sword“), but that doesn’t mean you no longer possess it! SO: The last part of the previous paragraph is stressing the need to show that some entity does not have an ability, rather than showing that someone is in a situation where an existing ability cannot be used. Please keep that in mind with respect to the other characteristics of personhood described below, when seeking to show that some entity is just a pseudoperson.
Another important characteristic of persons is called “self awareness”. The world is full of living things that are aware of other things, but self-awareness is special. It cannot exist without some level of understanding the concept of “self”. Scientists studying the concept of personhood have devised a “mirror test” for self-awareness (which obviously is useless for testing blind entities), and relatively few species of animals are able to pass that test.
There are several varieties of “awareness” that are worth mentioning. For one, awareness can be focused; a cat can focus its awareness so intently on a mouse-hole that the cat can fail to be aware of another animal sneaking toward it, and thereby become seriously startled (or worse). A bowerbird apparently has some awareness of the awareness of another bowerbird. That is, successful mating requires constructing something that can must be noticed by (and impress) the awareness of a prospective mate. Humans with their bigger brains certainly also have that level of awareness; tatoos, hair styles, body paint (including fingernail art), cosmetic surgery, jewelry, and ordinary cosmetics are all ways by which humans at least partially attempt to affect the awareness of other humans (besides affecting one’s self-image).
Humans may be the only species on Earth that take self-awareness to the level of deliberately modifying self to affect the awareness of others, so that might be a way of distinguishing human self-awareness from the self-awareness ability of other species, and associating it with personhood. However, many humans simply are not interested in modifying their bodies (some don’t even get haircuts), and therefore the lack of such modification is not a valid way to declare that some human is only a pseudoperson. Also, consider dolphins, which are pretty-much physically unable to modify themselves. Some might be interested, but can’t do anything about it!
It is Logical that any test devised to identify personhood in a non-human species should, for the sake of fairness, also be applied to humans (see above about all persons of all types having things in common, and “human-ness” won’t be one of those things). With respect to the mirror test, the fact is, humans younger than about 18-months-after-birth are generally unable to pass that test. Depending on how important is self-awareness relevant to qualifying for person status (more on that later), and keeping in mind that the measurable lack of some personhood characteristic(s) can be a critical fact, the relevant scientific data indicates that we could conclude that very young humans are not persons, that they are at most pseudopersons. (Again, more on this later.)
The next characteristic of persons to discuss is sometimes called “empathy“, but as with self-awareness, there are different degrees of empathy. Many mammals are somewhat empathic, and this is likely an effect of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes psychological bonding and sociality. However, brainier animals can take basic empathy, feeling what another feels, to a higher level —elephants, for example, are known to mourn their dead.
Humans can take empathy to the level of consciously imagining themselves in the situations of others, complete with mental visualizations of tribulations or triumphs, depending only on the “other” chosen. The other entity doesn’t even have to be in a situation of distress or victory –or be real, or even be human— for such imaginings to occur. With respect to story-telling, this level of empathy is typically known as “identifying with the character”.
As with certain other characteristics of persons, like self-awareness, the human ability to empathize increases during growth. Very young children are extremely self-centered, 100% Naturally selfish, and certain habits tend to get learned, which eventually must be un-learned. That is, infants don’t know how to communicate their needs other than by crying and/or screaming. It doesn’t take long for them to learn that crying/screaming gets them what they want, and they can become habituated to using that knowledge. Unlearning that habit goes hand-in-hand with increasing their awareness of what others want and feel –becoming more empathic and less selfish, that is.
Those that don’t unlearn that early habit tend to become categorized as “spoiled brats”, “juvenile delinquents”, and even “sociopaths”. The word “pseudoperson” might actually be appropriate!– but as stressed multiple times, this should depend on those humans measurably lacking empathy, very much like human infants.
On the other hand, it could be argued that with respect to personhood, some characteristics are essential (perhaps including Free Will), while others are not-so-essential. What if low-level empathy was considered necessary, while high-level empathy wasn’t? This ties in with what was previously written about different levels of self-awareness, that the highest level might not be a necessary part of qualifying for personhood. In the end, it is possible that the final definition of “a person” will be something like, “any entity that possesses at least this short list of essential characteristics, plus at least this minimum (X) quantity of other characteristics, from this longish overall list of other possible characteristics.” To Be Determined!, as scientists keep studying the subject.
Another characteristic of persons relates to understanding “abstractions“. At a basic level, many animals can understand that certain sounds or visual symbols can refer to certain things (like their own names); the words are abstractions that represent the things. We might call these “material abstractions”, since physical things are referenced. But there also exist “immaterial abstractions”, such as the concepts of “good and evil” or “the future”. Relatively few species can understand abstractions at that level.
Relevant to both the preceding and next sections of this document, learning to understand immaterial abstractions like “right and wrong” is closely related acquiring empathic abilities. We note that all through Nature there exists a thing sometimes called “The Law of the Jungle”, which can also be expressed as “Might Makes Right”. Nature has no sense of ethics, and so whatever works in Nature, to pass genes on to the next generation, is allowed by Nature.
A social organization, however, cannot survive if any member of that organization can at any time stab in the back any other member of the social organization. Abstract concepts like “right and wrong” are essential for any social organization to survive (the concepts could possibly even be defined in terms of what helps or hinders the survival of the organization), and thus it is basically only the species that are significantly social that have individuals able to understand those immaterial abstractions.
With respect to possible pseudopersons, human societies tend to lock away or otherwise restrict the freedom of individuals that seem incapable of understanding the socially-critical immaterial abstractions of “right and wrong”. Whether or not any of them are truly pseudopersons doesn’t really matter, because they are usually locked up as a consequence of socially unacceptable and very selfish actions done by them, and not as a consequence of actually lacking a characteristic of personhood.
According to Sir Julian Huxley (1887-1975), persons are “individuals who transcend their merely organic individuality in conscious social participation“. Note how this encompasses all of the things previously described in this document –Free Will allows the conscious choice to participate in a society, for starters. And one has to be able to be aware of self as an individual, plus have empathy, before being able to transcend one’s natural biological selfishness. Finally, understanding the concepts of “right and wrong”, and being aware that others can also understand it, give one a couple of reasons to make the choice to participate socially.
First is related to the obvious fact that a group is stronger than an individual –one person can’t win a tug-of-war against a group, but only a social group could possibly cooperate in a tug-of-war. (Note that one type of tugging group is a team of horses pulling a wagon; it works because horses are herd-animals and therefore have some sociability.) A variation on this is the fact that while any individual might be better at something than other individuals, no individual is better at everything than all other individuals. This means that a group, when facing a particular problem, can get the best-suited individual (or sub-group of individuals) to tackle that problem, but the whole group benefits when the problem is solved.
Second is a matter of “trust” –Nature is a dangerous place and it is widely accepted that there is safety in numbers … but that can’t really be true if one is constantly worrying about randomly getting stabbed in the back by some other member of the group. For one’s own peace of mind, it is essential to be able to trust that others in the social group are placing the group’s interests ahead of personal interests –each understands “right” vs “wrong” as well as oneself understands it. This is closely related to “ethics”, which can be derived from realizing that all persons need to get-along with each other, for maximum mutual benefits. Your trust that others understand and agree goes hand-in-hand with their trusting that you understand and agree.
It is well-known that humans are extremely social animals. Each of us can fairly easily join multiple groups that have nothing to do with each other (like, say, a group that goes bowling regularly, and another group that sews quilts). Furthermore, we can do that sort of thing without getting seriously distracted by side-issues. For example, consider a bus full of humans during rush hour, and think of the odds that some of the women on that bus are probably in the fertile part of their natural cycles of reproductive biology –and now remember that for most other species, such females would be surrounded by males pheromonally driven to fight each other and attempt to mate (and the females would be both willing, and unconcerned about privacy). Our sociality has evolved in conjunction with a huge reduction of such involuntary biological drives, to the extent that we often don’t even notice ourselves holding back from such behavior! (And a bit more on this in a bit.)
In practice, as decades and centuries and thousands of years went by, a flaw appeared in the above seemingly-tidy descriptions of human sociality and groups. The fact is, any single group constitutes an “entity” that has its own goals, and, very often, its own selfish desires. The result has been clashes between different groups for millennia, clashes that can be boiled-down to each group saying some equivalent of “Our group’s selfish desires are more-important-than and superior-to your group’s selfish desires!” That has been the basis of many bloody conflicts and all genocides in human history.
Thanks to the very-blatant statements and actions of Adolph Hitler, (1) it is possible to define a particular type of socially unacceptable behavior, and call it “Stupidly Prejudiced Master Race Idiocy” –in which one group claims that the only way it needs to interact with other groups is to enslave or kill them– and (2) human persons around the world nowadays are aware that no group of human persons is inherently better than any other group of human persons. This basically means that every group of human persons should realize that getting along with other groups is the way to maximize mutual benefits. However, there is still a flaw in that!!!
Over the long term, a focus on human persons and human person-groups inevitably means doing very little thinking about human interactions with non-human persons and non-human person-groups. Look again at the descriptions of person-characteristics in this document! There is nothing in those descriptions that insist that only humans can have those characteristics! And right here on Earth, it appears that dolphins may have enough characteristics to qualify as persons. Plus, researchers in the field of Artificial Intelligence continue to think that a true person-class “machine being” can one day be successfully built. Since they are tackling that problem by studying the human brain and copying its features into electronic hardware, and since the human brain is a finite physical object having a finite number of characteristics to copy, on what basis could it make sense to claim that they can never, ever succeed?
Therefore it is very important to consider modifying Huxley’s definition in two ways. First, the word “organic” should probably be replaced with something like “default”. Both biology and machinery will have built-in default behavioral instructions (think of how widespread is the fear of heights, which exists for an entirely valid reason with respect to Evolution and survival). Both will also have the abiltiy to write new behavioral software –a “habit”, for example, is extremely equivalent to a computer program, and the author of any habit has the power to edit or even destroy that habit. Plus, both will have Free Will –it has already been explained how a machine-being that lacks Free Will can only be a pseudoperson at best. Free Will gives persons the power to choose to write new behavioral software that can supersede default programming –like acrophobia, or an urge to assault some girl’s boyfriend in order to look like a superior mate. Some of our ability to resist indulging in mating battles in ordinary city crowds is related to self-control programming that we create as we learn things in childhood about how to get-along with each other. (There is significantly more to say on this topic later.)
Second, the phrase “social participation” should be expanded, to become something like, “social participation in any possible group of persons”. See above about how versatile is human sociality –why should it be limited to only sociality with other humans? It would be Stupidly Prejudiced Master Race Idiocy to assume human persons/groups are somehow inherently better than other types of persons/groups….
Works of fiction have a way of pointing out possible consequences of various social attitudes. For example, in the movie “Independence Day“, an alien species suffering from Stupidly Prejudiced Master Race Idiocy tries to wipe out humanity. (Fiction hasn’t excluded Earth-humans from exhibiting Stupidly Prejudiced Master Race Idiocy, either.) On another hand, in the various Star Wars movies, humans frequently socially interact with non-humans just as easily and freely as humans socially interact with each other. Which way is better for ALL persons?
The possible consequences associated with Stupidly Prejudiced Master Race Idiocy are so horrible that it might be desirable to find a way to discourage anyone from consciously embracing that socially unacceptable attitude, and encouraging anyone suffering from it to consciously abandon it. One possibility (after doing some sort of Legal adoption of this Pseudoperson Manifesto), is to (1) NOTE that anyone promoting Stupidly Prejudiced Master Race Idiocy is specifically declaring that one group can deliberately refuse to peacefully/socially interact/get-along with other groups. The one group is claimed to somehow be so superior to all other groups that all other groups basically consist of pseudopersons or even nonpersons when compared to the one group, and (2) Formally Backfire That Declaration, by declaring instead that anyone promoting Stupidly Prejudiced Master Race Idiocy is no better than a pseudoperson that cannot peacefully/socially interact with different types/groups of persons, and therefore should lose various rights and other societal privileges, like voting.
Key facts, which help support the notion that those who insist on acting like socially incapable pseudopersons deserve to be treated like actually-socially-incapable pseudopersons, are that (A)it remains voluntary to promote Stupidly Prejudiced Master Race Idiocy —or not to do that; (B) human history has proved it is extremely important that folks know that that attitude has dire consequences, and (C) the way proponents of Stupidly Prejudiced Master Race Idiocy spout their dogma, the existence of that attitude is certainly an easy-enough thing to Objectively Measure! (Remember, if you cannot measure something that could give you a reason to declare some entity is a pseudoperson –or equivalent thereof– then you cannot rationally make that declaration.)
While it has previously been mentioned that persons can understand immaterial abstractions, there is more. Persons can manipulate abstractions –mathematics, for example, is entirely about manipulating abstractions. The basic parts of ordinary languages involve manipulating mostly-material abstractions. ALL abstractions are manipulable in one way or another, and quite often various manipulations are called “artistic”. Music and dance and poetic rhyme schemes, for example, tend to be mathematical, and therefore are also abstract. The art of painting involves manipulating swaths of color –and the assignment of “meaning” to each swath is an abstract thing, regardless of how realistic-looking is the result, the combined collection of manipulated swaths of color..
There are aspects of this particular characteristic of personhood that are hugely important with respect to individual human development, and also with respect to human history. Modern humans evolved in Africa, and the paleontological record is quite clear, that some time between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago, humans invented the arts. Decorations and symbolisms began to exist where no such things had existed before. The “Late Stone Age” is pretty-much defined as beginning at the time the arts were invented.
But there has been something of a mystery, related to the fact that the fossil record indicates humans have been “anatomically modern” for roughly 200,000 years. Why did it take as much as 150,000 years for humanity to invent art?
A pretty good answer to that question can be deduced from studying typical individual human development. It is known that young humans must be exposed to a great deal of mental stimulation, in order for their brains to develop “properly“. That last word is quoted because it actually expresses opinion, not fact. Remember that 150,000 years? During most of that time no human child received the kind of mental stimulation that is normal/common/typical today! It is perfectly Natural for humans to be unable to significantly manipulate abstractions!
So what happened 50-70 thousand years ago? The Logical answer is, “a combination of two major known things”. First is the fact that humans are clever; they and their ancestors spent millions of years gradually discovering/inventing new tricks. Second is the fact that the human body can physically adapt to various environmental stresses. A well-known example involves growing up at a high altitude; the body grows greater lung capacity and the blood has a higher red-cell count, than a body growing up at sea-level. But other adaptations are possible, too.
Thus, in the case of “youthful brains being fed all the tricks humans learned over millions of years, a point was reached, 50-70 thousand years ago, where the simple magnitude of things being taught, likely including various crude verbal abstractions for identifying them, constituted an environmental stress that caused those brains to simply grow some extra processing power, in order to handle it all. It is that extra brainpower, over-and-above the Natural Default for humanity, that lets us manipulate abstractions! And growing that extra brainpower in a data-rich environment is so normal/common/typical today, that it is considered a “proper” thing for a young human brain to do! Nevertheless, whenever the mental stimulation is lacking, the Natural Default prevails, and any modern human would be no more mentally capable than an ancestor from 200,000 years ago.
Now what about a connection between this characteristic of persons and the topic of this document, pseudopersons? The link attached to the above first occurrence of the quoted word “proper” describes how some children, extremely few in modern history, managed to grow up without growing the extra brainpower associated with abstraction-manipulation. That lack kept them from becoming competent members of ordinary human society; there is little chance that if they had been offered an opportunity to vote in an election, they could have understood the relevant abstractions well-enough to make good decisions. Logically, because they would have measurably lacked a particular characteristic of persons, they would have qualified as pseudopersons, per the definition offered earlier in this document.
Some folks might point out that if any human can be correctly identified as a pseudoperson instead of a true person, then that human would likely be targeted for abuse by various other humans –and therefore no human should be declared to be a pseudoperson, regardless of the facts. On the other hand, WHY should a pseudoperson human be targeted for abuse? Are the humans who would do the targeting no better than a bunch of **monkeys** interacting with one different from themselves? Are the target-ers perhaps suffering from Stupidly Prejudiced Master Race Idiocy, and therefore themselves deserve to be treated like pseudopersons? Are the target-ers suffering from the excess selfishness of sociopaths, deserving to be locked up? When ordinary human society frowns on the abusing of ordinary animals, which have even fewer characteristics of personhood than feral human children, on what basis could it possibly be acceptable to abuse human pseudopersons?
Another characteristic of persons is the ability to exhibit “conscious creativity“. When we encounter a problem, we can deliberately choose to try to invent a solution –employing a combination of Free Will, abstraction-assignment, and abstraction-manipulation. When ordinary animals encounter a problem, they mostly are stumped. Some are willing to try random things, and occasionally that works. Some of those animals can teach others of their kind, including offspring. Our human and pre-human ancestors were in exactly that limited situation for millions of years, before we became able to perceive problems abstractly, and manipulate those abstractions, thereby becoming efficient problem-solvers.
As mentioned in the first link of this section of this document, conscious creativity is not limited to solving problems; the various arts are chock-full of creativity, and often are entirely unrelated to problems that need solving. Also, the appreciation of art often requires another characteristic of persons, a significant level of empathy. What reason is there to attempt to influence others via the thing called “self expression” if no one can share an artist’s feelings?
That same first link indicates that persons often have an actual urge to be creative, but we can be quite sure that different people have different magnitudes of that urge. For many folks the urge to create is minor enough that other activities get priority for pursuit. And if it happens that some persons actually have no noticeable urge-to-create, well, that is not the same thing as lacking the ability to be consciously creative, and therefore the lack of the urge would not be a good-enough reason to claim certain humans are pseudopersons.
The next-to-last characteristic of persons to be described in this document is called “time binding“. That link does such a thorough job of explaining it that little need be added here. Still, it can be pointed out that there are degrees of time binding, just like there are degrees of other characteristics of persons. Many mammals, not just humans, teach their young various things relating to survival, and while it is a less-obvious form of time binding than, say, the oral traditions of ancient tribes, it is nevertheless a type of time binding.
Today, human societies are accumulating information at a rate that is literally incomprehensible without employing mathematical abstractions. Simultaneously there is an ongoing effort to connect all that information to the Internet. In the not-distant future any single human person will have access to very nearly the entirety of humanity’s information collection (most likely only excluding stuff that is just-discovered-or-created, and in-the-process-of-getting-added). Who will control that access? It is a famous adage that “knowledge is power”, after all!
Fortunately for all who might fear a future despotism over knowledge, equivalent to an ancient “water empire“, today’s technology makes it easy to make copies of information and, ultimately, we might expect all of humanity’s information –which in theory will include this document!– to be both UNcontrolled and available for no more than the cost of an Internet connection. No doubt there will be associated problems, most likely to be caused by people suffering from excess selfishness and/or lacking the normal amount of empathy. Equally, however, there is no doubt that if the knowedlgeable are powerful, then the ignorant need to become knowledgeable, simply as a matter of self-defense! The reasoning here is quite equivalent to why there exists the classic “right to bear arms“.
Near the start of this document it was pointed out that the legal description of a person has a different origin than the scientific description, and nothing presented here should be taken as superseding the legal description. This Intermission exists to note a third origin for the concept of “person”, and to point out that all three have at least one thing in common. That common thing is most explicitly described by the scientists, the notion that a person is a mind having various characteristics that ordinary animals can’t match. To scientists, it doesn’t matter in the least what sort of body might be associated with a person-class mind –it could be a dolphin or an extraterrestrial or a super-advanced computer– only the abilities of a mind matters. Note that to the Law, a person is very often an entity that is **ABLE** to take responsibility for actions –perhaps that thing should be added to the list of characteristics-of-minds-of-persons that scientists examine!
The third origin for ideas about persons is Religion. Religions often talk about “souls“, and “Judgment“. That latter thing is very similar to legal concepts of judgment, but for the purposes of this document, only one aspect of it matters. A soul must have an associated mind in order to understand immaterial abstract things like “right and wrong” and a Religion’s type of Judgment. That is, if a guinea worm had a soul, it would simply be pointless to sentence that soul to eternal torment just for following natural instincts and acting like a guinea worm. It has no larger-scale understanding of the consequences of its actions. Most ordinary average walking-about humans, and persons generally, are more-capable than that!
As far as this document is concerned, therefore, the existence of souls is irrelevant. Only minds matter, regardless of what form they take (even if spiritual). Intermission ends.
While this document-section will feature the last personhood-characteristic to be discussed here, in no way is it implied that there might not be others (see the Intermission above, for an example). What this characteristic is, is an extension of some things previously mentioned, such as self-awareness, body-modification, and the ability to overwrite a body’s Naturally selfish default programming to become more sociable. For humans, it includes understanding, at least on a Secular level, humanity’s very-random place in the Universe, and various objections to it. No, not Religions objections! These objections are mostly related to complaints about fragility and temporariness of maximal human health.
Ordinary animals live very-much “in the moment”. Consider a typical young male, which needs to dominate at least some other males to obtain breeding rights. Over the course of several years he might try and fail, try and succeed, successfully defend his position a few times, and then lose to a youngster. Such a male seldom lives long after losing the dominant position. All through Nature this sort of thing happens with such monotony that even though populations of animals may thrive, the process is machine-like. We might say that ordinary animals mostly just “exist” in accordance with their Natural biological programming. When one human tells another to “get a life”, something more than simple existence is getting referenced!
That aspect of personhood could perhaps fit under the umbrella of the word “elan“, zest-for-life. In this particular section of this document, we can look back on the earlier section that mentioned Natural defaults and social behavior, and realize that persons can seek to override all default behaviors, including the normal functional operations of their bodies.
As a result of a desire to give zest-for-life increased scope, humans have invented things like immunizations, corrective surgeries, and organ transplants –and want to do even more, such as seeking to defeat the aging process and even trying to overcome Death. And our elan doesn’t even stop there, because various technological enhancements are in the works, for humans to experience.
The preceding CAN lead to problems that others have already pointed out. In this document a wider view will be examined, because assuming Evolution works throughout the Universe the way it works on Earth, where Death is an essential element for Evolutionary Progress to occur, then every technologically advanced species in the Universe will eventually run into those problems.
Remember the Fermi Paradox? One might be tempted to conclude that no species has ever solved the problems, and their civilizations all collapsed after suffering Malthusian Catastrophes. However, it might also be possible that every species that ever solved the problems decided it didn’t need to colonize every planet it could reach (and thereby fill a galaxy in just a few million years).
It is that notion which now will be explored in detail, because, after all, why and how could that apply to humans, which throughout history have been colonizers as much as explorers? It is well known that exploration and colonization helps species survive over the long term, so …. For every biological environment in the Universe, throughout which Evolution includes both individuals and species with a drive to dominate others, if other intelligent species were also explorers and colonizers, why might they decide to stop (and not colonize galaxies)?
In a way, that immediately-preceding paragraph gives us the answer, even as it describes the question. It is part of the biological “default” of species, to explore and colonize and dominate. And this section of this document is about the ability and desire of persons to overcome their bodies’ defaults!
How might a society of persons avoid a Malthusian Catastrophe? In accordance with previously presented aspects of personhood, a majority should be able to understand the problem, partly by understanding immaterial abstractions like “the future”, and partly by being able to manipulate abstractions rationally (which could reveal the degree of serious-ness of the problem). They should also be able to employ conscious creativity to seek solutions. Here on Earth we humans have spent a couple centuries devising ways to feed our growing population, and we are not done doing that, yet.
That might seem okay, but what about the fact that the phrase “our growing population” implies that after we have done the above-linked things, we will evetually need to do still more? Consider the following image:
The Earth is a finite object, and therefore unlimited human population growth on Earth is mathematically impossible. Now that can obviously give any society an excuse to go forth and explore and colonize a galaxy!…provided that society fails to recognize that its overpopulation pressure is caused by a Natural Biological Default!
The particular relevant default basically encourages all biological entities to breed like mindless animals. Well, if a society of person-class entities allows itself to suffer the consequences (like a Malthusian Catastrophe) of the Natural Biological Default drive to breed like mindless animals, in what way is that society actually comprised of entities that are more than just a bunch of mere animals? It appears likely that all those supposedly person-class entities should probably be identified as “pseudopersons”!
LOGICALLY, in accordance with the current aspect of personhood under discussion, another solution to the overpopulation problem involves a majority of entities that desire to use their Free Will, their ability to overcome a Natural Biological Default, to overcome the specific biological drive to breed like mindless animals … and that leads us to a very important observation about certain modern human cultures.
It is well-documented that birth rates have fallen significantly in many of the world’s technologically advanced nations. Many of those nations are also considered to be “socially advanced” in the sense that most women in those societies have all or nearly all the same rights and freedoms and liberties and choices available to them, that men have. There is a strong correlation between the social advancement of a nation and its lowered birth rate —but that’s not the whole story!
One of the classic reasons for a high birth rate was a high mortality rate for young children –in almost every culture a few centuries ago, about 1/3 would die by the age of 5. Anyone wanting children had to have extras, just to compensate for the losses. But then medical science was invented and sanitary infrastructure began getting built in many places, and the mortality rate for young children dropped drastically. It took decades for folks in various cultures to trust that if they had fewer children, the children would very probably survive, but it did eventually happen. (And because there are still places in the world where that very important sanitary infrastructure doesn’t exist yet, there are still places in the world with high birth rates compensating for high childhood mortality rates.)
Another reason birth rates have dropped relates to the overall “place” of women in a culture. Many modern cultures give women a vastly greater range of opportunities than they have had in past centuries –and when women choose to pursue those opportunities, they often delay having offspring, or severely limit the number of offspring they choose to have, or even decide to altogether not bother with reproduction. It is to be noted, though, that plenty of women still choose to have offspring; the world’s human population has been growing by roughly 80 million per year for nearly 40 years.
In this document, the most important remaining reason birth rates have dropped is purely economic. It takes significant resources to raise a child, and in any culture with a high population, there is a great deal of competition for the available resources. The Law of Supply and Demand applies, and the cost of resources rises to the point where some people decide that offspring cannot be budgeted. This particular situation is the most relevant to this section of this document. That’s because in this case the biological drive to breed has been stymied, more than it has been overcome by the deliberate application of Free Will.
And therefore, if resources are provided to humans who want offspring but can’t otherwise afford them, those humans will start having offspring. But the resources still have to come from somewhere!
Throughout the Universe, intelligent beings that are as capable as humans will be able to speculate about interactions across interstellar distances with species alien to themselves. Well, what are the likely consequences when Species A, exploring and colonizing in accordance with the natural biological drive to breed like mindless animals, meets Species B, also exploring and colonizing in accordance with the natural biological drive to breed like mindless animals? See the above Section 5, where it was noted that different groups tend to say this: “Our group’s selfish desires are more-important-than and superior-to your group’s selfish desires!”
The likely result has been well-portrayed in various fictions here on Earth. Some examples include the “Antares” books by Michael McCollum, the television series “V” and its “remake”, the movie “Independence Day”, and the movie “The Fifth Wave”.
If any such speculation ever became a reality, then what happened to the notion that true persons are supposed to be superior to mindless animals!?!?!?
We therefore can imagine that a truly advanced culture might refuse to colonize a galaxy, on the simple basis that there is no rationale for doing that, besides succumbing to the mindless natural biological drive to breed. They might colonize just a few places, in order to ensure they don’t have all their eggs in one basket; that would be a sensible thing to do. They might explore their galaxy, simply because learning new things is always useful, but if they encountered a species like humanity, having huge numbers of pseudopersons still breeding like mindless animals, why would they want to make contact?
And so that ends this proposed answer to the Fermi Paradox.