What Does It Mean To Be Human?

“Know then thyself, presume not God to scan,
The proper study of mankind is Man.”

-wrote the 18th century poet, Alexander Pope, in his philosophical poem, ‘The Essay on Man’.

In this poem, Pope suggested that the position of Man in this world ‘is at a middle stage between the angels and the beasts’. In his view there was a clear division between ‘higher beings’, humans, and beasts- animals.

I wonder what Alexander Pope would have thought today, when these sharp divisions are being blurred- at least those between humans and animals.

Britain’s Academy of Medical Sciences has just launched a study on what it means to be human.

It intends ‘to look at the use of animals containing human material in scientific research’. The study expects to establish some guidelines regarding putting human genes into animals used for experiments. The question is- can these animals, into whose bodies human material has been ‘added’, be considered partially human?

‘”Do these constructs challenge our idea of what it is to be human?” said Martin Bobrow, a professor of medical genetics at Cambridge University and chair of a 14-member group looking into the issue.’

There was an great uproar, last year, when the British Parliament passed a law to allow the creation of human-animal embryos.

Scientists are keen to avoid such hysterical debates, and hence this study.

The million-dollar question is, what is the limit for introducing human elements into animals?

‘Bobrow said there was a “sort of understanding” within the scientific community that “as you get close to 50/50 mix” of human and animal material, the boundaries are near.

“Do most of us care if we make a mouse whose blood cells or liver are human? Probably not,” he said. “But if it can speak? If it can think? Or if it is conscious in a human way? Then we’re in a completely different ballpark.”

What’s your opinion?
What does it mean to be Human?



  1. Technology, inappropriately released and applied can be a social catastrophe. While studying fertilizing animal-human embryos may give clues as to how to develop cures for certain persistent diseases, have we given up the investigation as to why these diseases happen in the first place ? Diabetes, Alzheimers,Parkinsons' are much more prevalent now than before. The technology of Ultrasound has been roundly abused in India to skew the male female ratio. And so technology is not an end in itself, science or no science. It MUST always be studied for its impact across and within cultures. As an aside, it also occurs to me that we humans have been behaving worse than animals at times. So its a bit presumptious for governments to get pompous over such rules of humanizing animals. Thumbs down.


  2. I tend to agree with Pope's view.This experimenting with human material in animals was to be expected. I have a feeling it will yield unexpected results. I am also sure that in top secret military labs – not in India of course (it will react much too late, as always) – people must be experimenting with adding animal material to humans, with a view to creating a super warrior: tough, brutal, indefatigable, devoid of sentiment – the ultimate killing machine.


  3. Ugich Konitari– Good point-have we given up the investigation as to why these diseases happen in the first place ?I think that sort of investigation must seem very prosaic as compared with creating new technologies- useful/ethical/not.Hobo– Shaking hands- meaning social interactions? Yes, but many times animals seem to have these, too.Animals may live in packs, co-operate with each other to find food, unite against a common enemy…


  4. That is mind boggling.. What does it mean to be human – I really don't know.. As Ugich Konitari says, Technology needs to be used for good – it could easily be used for both good and bad.. But then, is introducing human elements into animals good or bad – is something we will probably not know – until somebody experiments with it..But what if it is one experiment too far?


  5. Vinodji– Yes, that is a probability, too, isn't it- adding animal material to humans to create a super- warrior? I hadn't thought of that! They will need a whole new study for that!And also more research into what percentage of 'machine' in a human-machine or animal-machine combination is acceptable!Smitha– A scary thought, Smitha- But what if it is one experiment too far?


  6. Reading about these technologies itself is scary…already robots that too, thinking robots have started coming. Are these technologies going to help humans or destroy humans (with humane nature) completely.


  7. What a question. I am still grappling with all the possibilities that it can probably throw up. And still shuddering. But the question of what does it mean to be human begs answers. Atleast int the current state that we are in…it begs a whole lot of answers.


  8. the similarity between a monkey and human genome is 99% but look how different we are! Putting human parts into animals will not change a thing. By the way, transgenic animals have been used for years and years, but the mice still squeak!! 😛


  9. Sandhya– Yes, these technologies are scary!But new technologies are not going to stop being developed, so I suppose this study by Britain's Academy of Medical Sciences is not a bad idea.Kavi– You know, I've been thinking about this, and I feel that humans on occasion help others, even if it is detrimental to their own self-interest. Animals do not. I think this is the difference. What do you think?


  10. Roshni– Well, you know more about these things than I do, so you're probably right!Would putting human parts into animals cause only physical changes and not behavioural ones?Chowlaji– Yes, Darwin does say so!


  11. Sometimes I think that these scientists can stop these kinda experiments by torturing those animals… who has given the right to them to inject something into them which in no way going to be pleasant to them…and I have read the other post I missed.. that was an interesting analogy… I never believed our mainstream media… most of the news are published to get circulation.. very few times I see something useful… :(and hope your sight problem is completely rectified 🙂 take care


  12. Kanagu– That is something to think about- really, who gave humans the right to use other creatures any way they want?And thanks, my vision problem is much less now.


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