This is the question that a panel of scientists gathered to discuss at the World Science Festival in 2008. The range of answers was as diverse as the variety of specializations and degrees. Here are some of the brightest minds’ answers. (Take a deep breath because this is 11 scientists’ answer summarized in one sentence.) Here goes. To be human is to employ memory and reason, use language (and symbolic cognition), be conscious, practice morality, appreciate beauty, exercise creativity, generate hypotheses and to be unique from birth biologically and behaviorally.
I’d say that’s a pretty good start to describing what humanity is and does. However, these descriptions only focus on the tangible aspects of humankind; the spiritual seems to nearly be forgotten. (Only one scientist briefly mentioned the brain and it’s connection with a vague idea of the transcendent, or God.)
In class we concluded that personhood is both material (which was thoroughly expressed above) and immaterial (which seemed to be all but forgotten). It seems to me, that to be human, while encompassing all of the above descriptors should also include the fact that humanity has consistently believed in a higher being or force. To be human is to be spiritual and to be spiritual is to be human. Thus, the expansive definitions given are actually still too narrow. One must account for the immaterial, as well as the material aspects of being human.