Wednesday, October 13, 2004


The Inoculated Mind

...At what point does a cell become a human being?

It used to be that the definition of 'human' included the ability to use tools. Observers later discovered that other animals could also use tools, so the definition was changed to say that the tools had to be designed according to preset pattern, either intuitive or taught.

However, a closer look at chimpanzees showed that their tool use was more advanced than previously thought. Chimpanzees hunt for hours looking for specific types of sticks to use on their termite-munching expeditions. They use strong, broad sticks to punch holes in nests, and chew the ends of slender sticks to make small spoons to scoop out a crunchy meal.

And they teach each other how to make them.

Humans only invented the fork a thousand years ago, and when I eat sushi I'm still using little more than sticks as tools. The most advanced tools we make are different only in complexity. In concept, they are still made from preset designs fashioned to solve problems.

Clearly, there is a large difference between the intellectual potential of a human being and that of a chimpanzee. It is enough to distinguish us biologically from every other creature on this planet. But I find it curious that a fully grown, personable, nonhuman animal is afforded a lower status than a single-celled genetically human zygote....

"Life," as it is used in public debate over abortions and stem-cell research, is a misnomer. They are really debating over the status of embryos as persons worthy of moral status. Why not use a more descriptive and non-persuasive word? The reason is that power relationships are at stake, between humans and animals, men and women, and you and me....