Re: Can someone who is immortal still be considerd human?

#1
This is an interesting question if you ask me.

On one side: yeah, your biology stays the same and therefore you are human. Or maybe something like: if your immortal then you could say that your body is paused at the moment of gaining said immortality. Therefore you must still be human because you were human first.

On the other side: Death is something that is intrinsically connected to humanity. We've kept ourself busy with it for as long as we can think. We've gone so far as to call those who passed away immortal in the realms of the dead. We've created a thought that says we have a 'soul' while we don't have anything to prove that we do. In some cases, we've considered people who are in the stories immortal, as gods!
And gods aren't human, right? So if death no longer has a say in you, can you still be considered human? Or have you transcended to a different being?

I've had this question on my mind for a while now and have had a few interesting debates considering it. But in the end, I don't know. I can't seem to choose a side. So if you have an opinion on it, please share it, I'm curious.

But to

Re: Can someone who is immortal still be considerd human?

#2
A good question - thinking it over, my conclusion is that yes, an immortal can still be considered human. 

There's a building in Kyoto, Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion), which has been burned to the ground several times and rebuilt. Is it the same place? Yes. The materials might be different, but it's the same place with the energy, purpose, and thoughts the original had. 

Terry Prachett (in The Fifth Elephant) says it in another way. "This, milord, is my family's axe. We have owned it for almost nine hundred years, see. Of course, sometimes it needed a new blade. And sometimes it has required a new handle, new designs on the metalwork, a little refreshing of the ornamentation . . . but is this not the nine hundred-year-old axe of my family? And because it has changed gently over time, it is still a pretty good axe, y'know. Pretty good."

My two cents :)

Re: Can someone who is immortal still be considerd human?

#3
I'm not a great supporter of soul, but I do put some of my faith in biology. So yes, immortal or not, as long as you go through a significant change species wise, you'd still be human...

Also, being immortal doesn't necessarily make someone a god. If an immortal has no special powers other than living forever, then he isn't really any different from a normal human. Being immortal also doesn't mean you don't age, so immortality shouldn't always be a blessing...

Re: Can someone who is immortal still be considerd human?

#4
Interesting.
But biology isn't everything, right? Because if you look at the way we humans live, we all know that death is coming, whether we want it to or not. We haven't seen that sort of behaviour in other animals. So is knowing you will die someday not also a major part of being human?

And about that not ageing thing: when we age we slowly turn old and start to look old as our cells start dying and stop being reproduced in full, among other reasons, so if someone is immortal, it should stop this from happening. So would that person stop ageing as well? And with all the time in the world, you are sort of a god among men. In experience at least.

But,  I really don't know.

Re: Can someone who is immortal still be considerd human?

#5
Given, it is impossible* to actually know if you are immortal or not, so the fundamental question here is an assumption of one's mortality a necessary condition in defining a person as human?
I have to say, no.
For a lot of people in their youth, and I remember being one of them, death is such an abstract, never present, concept they live their lives as if they never expect to die.
It doesn't mean you are less human because you smoke five packs of cigarettes a day.
I think, you have to distinguish concepts here. Being human with the limits of our perception and the limits that imposes on our knowledge would likely be the only thing that would make immortality tolerable.

The conditions associated 
with immortality but not necessary to it, omniscience, omnipotence and agapic understanding, would make one so beyond human in the nature of ones thoughts as to not qualify as human.

* okay, I suppose if you could see time in either its infinite or looped structure, and you know you will never die in that framework, than it would be possible.

Re: Can someone who is immortal still be considerd human?

#6
I think someone's who's immortal would still be human from a biological standpoint. To me the question would be how this affects their life. Would the knowledge that they'd never die lead to a life of reckless abandon just to feel alive. Perhaps they'd spend their life in study, endeavoring to help the rest of mankind. Maybe they'd use their long life to accumulate political power and rule over those who will eventually die. What would they choose? Actually, it would depend on the kind of person they are. After all, they're only human.

Re: Can someone who is immortal still be considerd human?

#7
Save the cheerleader, save the world!

I don't know why you made that jump to gods. Maybe there is an argument in your mind that you didn't include, or you just automatically think of any god as immortal and vice versa, but in most mythologies gods can and die. The "mortal" separation is just for the natural life span, power and perspective. 
I don't believe in souls, reincarnation and afterlife, so I won't even go there.

Also death isn't intrinsically connected to humanity. It's connected to anything alive or living (and maybe non-living things too).
And that is flawed logic in the first place, because the way you put it, you are not a human until you die...

I agree that if your biology or physiology change enough, you would no longer be considered human, but here is the other side.
For example, if you upload your mind and consciousness into a computer, continue to think and exist, will you not be still human?

Re: Can someone who is immortal still be considerd human?

#9
Quote:Astrowoud

But biology isn't everything, right?

but biology is everything.

Why are you separating your state of mind from biology? Doesn't who you are biologically, also determine what kind of mentality you would have? A dog is born with the mind of a dog, a cat with the mind of a cat and so are humans born and have the mind of a human. Unless you consider a newborn baby to be a different species than typical humans until they grow up and have a spiritual mindset(I'm being sarcastic), a baby developing into a grown person and developing the mindset of a grown person and being 'human' is a biological act. Our body and our mind make us who we are, and it's all part of our biology...

And about death. how many times do you think a typical person thinks of their impending mortality? I don't think whatever you do through your whole life, you think about death heck, even life a lot. Only when we grow old enough and start reaching death, we start spending more and more thought about it. Otherwise most of the time, we aren't even thinking of what the dinner's going to be when we are working on something else. Although we plan for the future and stuff, most of the time, our thoughts are very on the moment. So I don't think our mortality has too much effect on who we are...

that said, do we act more carefully in our everyday life to avoid accidents and such because we are mortal? sure. and an immortal might have less or no reason to cross the road after watching out for cars, but is that really what being human means???

And also, if something as magical as being immortal existed, then why do you think ageing while being immortal won't exist too? Cells not dying doesn't mean they stay as young and wholesome ever. Also, a person might not die, but what stops their body from decaying? That's a horrific view of immortality, but yes, ageing while being immortal is also immortality...

Re: Can someone who is immortal still be considerd human?

#10

Astrowoud Wrote: This is an interesting question if you ask me.

On one side: yeah, your biology stays the same and therefore you are human. Or maybe something like: if your immortal then you could say that your body is paused at the moment of gaining said immortality. Therefore you must still be human because you were human first.

On the other side: Death is something that is intrinsically connected to humanity. We've kept ourself busy with it for as long as we can think. We've gone so far as to call those who passed away immortal in the realms of the dead. We've created a thought that says we have a 'soul' while we don't have anything to prove that we do. In some cases, we've considered people who are in the stories immortal, as gods!
And gods aren't human, right? So if death no longer has a say in you, can you still be considered human? Or have you transcended to a different being?

I've had this question on my mind for a while now and have had a few interesting debates considering it. But in the end, I don't know. I can't seem to choose a side. So if you have an opinion on it, please share it, I'm curious.



Short answer to the title: Yes, they can be considered as 'still human'.... in somebody's view.

Biology doesn't mean much when it comes be being 'human' in a person's mind, merely perception. All identifications are inherently restricted by their beholder, for to define is first to distinctify. In this manner, the question of 'what constitutes a person (an individual's so-called 'humanity')' has been asked by many who would dare to put 'people' to words, and there's been numerous 'conclusions' made by these persons over time. In 'recent' movies, these have ranged from 'is Sonny from iRobot as 'human' as Will Smith's character due to sharing certain qualities with the other human characters?' to 'are the aliens in District 9 people too?' to the whole masterpiece that is Chappie, or more subtly in John Carter. Science fiction spawns an infinite number of questions on the subject, and many of them try to answer the quandary that is humanity. I'm not even writing science fiction, and I still found it an interesting enough idea to incorporate it integrally into my own story.

None of these attempts ever truly will come to 'the definitive answer', though. Identity itself lies at the heart of the problem, and as was noted in the fifth element above: there are infinite thought experiments which seem to lead to the same conclusion, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_of_Theseus x https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Ship_of_Theseus_examples and any of these and more can be made along the same pattern 'how much of a thing must be replaced until it is no longer what it was first deemed to be'.

Ultimately, humanity is an element that is conferred only through perception. If a man of one colour looks at another of a different one, he can come only to one of two conclusions: the man who is different is as human as he is, or the man who is different is not.

I don't believe that an understanding that 'the human soul' is immortal is in any way necessarily counter to an understanding that 'an immortal is human'... godliness included or otherwise. The Greek Gods resemble humans in appearance, action, and towards their lower end and the upper end of man: even in power, or in timelessness.... the Abrahamic religious 'God' not only constructed man in 'His Image', but also acts very much the part of the Jealous and Wrothful Husband. 

If the gods and immortals all share so many human qualities that we do, then the only route to regarding them as inhuman (as I see it) is to fixate upon what makes them different enough from us to warrant their 'inhumanity'.

Fun point to modernity: it's been discovered that literally every cell in our bodies aside from some of those in our brains (last I heard) are endlessly undergoing patterns of replacement, such that about every 7 years, everything about your body has been replaced except your brain (and do I have to wonder about that exclusion). To say nothing of sheer development of new cells that happen in our growth phase: does this not affect 'who you are' at all? Can a person really believe that it doesn't change 'what' they are to grow? I'm not a big believer in the 'humanity' through biology only, for such a perception reeks of the 'technically' true, but to have entirely missed out on what makes 'humans' interesting critters. We're biological machines, each with a semi-unique programming package.... same as many other animals, in particular the so-called 'complex' ones. What differentiates a malfunctioning human machine from one running correctly? Is there a 'correct' way for humans to be? Is a human born braindead and allowed to come to adulthood through the miracles of science really equivalently as 'human' as those who can gaze upon that 'human' made of biology and judge for themselves whether or not they can still be said to constitute 'humanity'? I think the world doesn't fit so easily into absolutism of any sort, for (assumption incoming) it was born outside of our ability to think of it, but that's just my opinion on the matter :)

Fun point to psychology: every time you change your mind on something, or experience something new to you: you are probably a new 'person' in total, if only subtly so. Just how many times have you changed more significantly in your beliefs, understanding in all matters, and interests? Is the person you are now such a different person from the one you were when you were seven that to meet yourself from then you may as well be a stranger? Either you're a profoundly boring kind of 'person' who never changed since babyhood, or your old self is almost nothing like the more developed person you've become... but congratulations: you're 'the same person' as everyone else knows regardless of how you might have changed, it would seem. Until you turn your genitalia inside out, that is O___O

Re: Can someone who is immortal still be considerd human?

#11
Throwing in my two cents, the scientific definition of a species is "two individuals who can reproduce to produce fertile offspring." Yeah, it's not a perfect definition because there are exceptions to the rule (e.g. some species can produce fertile hybrids), and that definition doesn't cover species who reproduce asexually. But if they're not able to reproduce and produce fertile offspring, (think undead/ vampires etc) scientifically there is an argument that they're not the same species anymore. However, just because they're unable to breed doesn't mean they're a different species, it could just mean their immortality has made them infertile. Even so, this doesn't mean they aren't still human on an ethical level. Even clinical psychopaths with no concept/ concern of other people's suffering are still considered human.

Re: Can someone who is immortal still be considerd human?

#12
Immortal doesn't mean invincible, so what changes? They can live for thousands of years and learn well beyond a normal mortal? All right, they could still also die of a plague or get shot in the head or be involved in an accident. If you have a character obsessed with maintaining immortality you would still have your average overly cautious human. If they aren't you would appear to be a reckless individual. There's no change immortality ALONE brings.

Re: Can someone who is immortal still be considerd human?

#13
Yer book, yer call, so far as literary development is concerned. Philosophically,  just depends who you want to ask. I recommend you follow your own star, for your own work.

As a side note, every cell in the human body is replaced every seven years on average, and how long this process continues is variable. Humanity is usually not defined by how long this process continues onward. There are a lot of questions about the problems longevity brings, both medical and psychological, whether in terms of years or centuries. And what might extend it, ameliorate it or even if it is possible or wise. 

Re: Can someone who is immortal still be considerd human?

#14
For myself I would answer this question in regards to what actually matters in a story: how it applies to theme. Questioning whether a character can be considered "Human" while also being immortal is a thematic dilemma, and so the answer to the question should arise from what themes the story in question chooses to pursue.

Being Inhuman, Other, or otherwise diverging from humanity can be as much of a theme to a story as Humanity itself can. There are manifold interpretations on the theoretical concept of immortality within everything from Fantasy, Science Fiction, and even in how it pertains to Romance. Additionally immortality is defined differently in different stories and genres where some immortals do not age, some can't be harmed or be killed, some are effectively mortal but can regenerate even from death, some can regenerate endlessly but not necessarily with impunity and can still be killed or be damaged beyond being able to regenerate but are still immortal even if they age between regeneration cycles, some are just cloned as much as is needed, and some are entities sustained by conceptual existentiality who literally cannot die, be killed, or ever be stripped of immortality because their existence is woven into fundamental reality and is absolute, another example is just the transferal of memory or information which while considered immortal might still be imperfect in actually preserving said intellect as it was originally. All of these conceptions of immortality are vastly different from one another, so how you have to interpret them in terms of how human they are- assuming each of them originated as a human- also differs.

A lot of stories like to portray gaining power (and thus immortality) beyond what one is naturally meant for creates a detachment from one's origins and thus Humanity, causing one to become inhuman in mind, spirit, and potentially in body as well. Holding such power is considered as something beyond mere humanity and as such automatically disqualifies immortals from being human. That is purely a thematic conceit, but authors can back it up by having such characters literally be unable to avoid changing into an inhuman individual and having such immortality and its inhuman nature be a source of conflict or ethical considerations into whether such "Ascension" can be considered "Good" as an extension on contemplating the role of Power within ethics and the nature of evil.

Another interpretation is that immortal beings might not be superior to humans, in effect being human themselves through being flawed. This also can be a similar exploration into the themes of Power and Evil, or an amplification of the flaws of human nature by multiplying the consequences thereof.  That being flawed is largely unavoidable and a "perfect" existence or utopia is merely a fanciful dream with no basis in rationality or practicality. That something cannot be utterly "Good" or "Flawless" as even such beings beyond mere human capabilities cannot achieve such ideals and we as their lessers and also doomed by our failings.

On the other side there is the theme that being truly imperfect and "Good" is beyond humanity, and that only being that are beyond humanity and its flaws can become utterly "Good" and these beings are then "Too Perfect" and must be cherished, protected, or served. Some stories might even go so far as having human who achieve such perfection instantly ascend because they are "No longer human" and can no longer remain as a mere mortal.

Looking further, mythology holds examples of immortal beings who become mortal in order to be "Human" implying that their inhumanity is tied to their immortality and that mortality is a fundamental component to humanity. Some fairies or spirits gain a "soul" by surrendering their supernatural powers and taking a human as a lover, becoming human through love, which subtle ties love into being a component of humanity and mortality as well, something "denied" to these immortals.

All of these adaptations of one single concept have similar threads and theming throughout, as is most obvious when comparing stories where immortals are considered similar in demeanor and stories where immortality and humanity are considered exclusive of one another. Humanity is seen as flawed, imperfect, and limited, and stories apply or remove flaws from immortal being depending on if they are considered similar to mere "humans". Immortals and gods are in effect used thematically to explore the failings of humankind and our seemingly inescapable flaws.

But on the other side humanity is also tied to inherent goodness, which does not contradict our exclusion from perfect goodness because they are different concepts altogether. Being human is being good, and abandoning our own goodness is also abandoning our humanity. In this way everything that is human maintains the potential for redemption and "goodness" because they retain their basic humanity. But individuals who forsake their potential for good irreconcilably become inhuman and turn into monsters, and are no longer human. In this paradigm morality is tied to mortality and immortals and gods are seen as forces that fundamentally oppose good. This ties nicely into the narrative that power corrupts. In order to achieve immortality one must first forsake all that is good for one's own selfishness and become an inhuman monster who is uncaring that they are no longer human. Holding power and immortality is a selfish act which damages the good of the world and only leads to calamity.

In conclusion the answer can only be determined by the perspective on humanity you want to promote in any particular case. The answer changes depending on what basic themes you want to apply in each case and the kind of immortality in question. All it requires is a little understanding of very simple themes and how they interact, as shown above. They can even be expanded into other themes such as the act of recognising humanity in others being a human act and failing to do so in inhuman or mutant being as being a failure of humanity and that recognising the humanity within the inhuman would be a more human thing to do etc. Though that doesn't apply as much to the question of immortals and humans other than immortals being inhuman at times.
PeoReading 

Re: Can someone who is immortal still be considerd human?

#15
I think it depends on the age of the immortal.

A 30 year old immortal? Sure.
A 300 year old immortal? Perhaps.
A 3000 year old immortal? Doubtful.

I think it's the acknowledgment of our mortality combined with our strive for the future despite it, that makes us human. If you were to have an eternity you would always have a tomorrow, some of that drive would ironically die off.   

Re: Can someone who is immortal still be considerd human?

#16
Wellll. . .yes.

Theologiacally speaking, once human always human. In a few native American tribes the thought is that humans are their own group of being, separate the animal group, separate the plant group, separate the beings that are never incarnated, even separate from the gods. Everything is connected in some ways and humans are similar to quite a lot of these different tribes of being and that is one reason why there are so many stories about human interaction between the various tribes and great confusion as to the origin of humans. 

Being part of a tribe of beings determines what laws and responsibilities you will be held to account for.  Humans are a specific tribe of being. If you are made as a human, you will always be human and be subject to the spiritual laws governing humans, even if you ascend the stars like a god or turn your body into an animal, or die and become a spirit, or even if you manage to become an incarnate immortal through a blessing or curse or great trial.

Abrahamic though is similar. Humans are always humans. Angels are always angels. God is always God. Abrahamic structure is rigid and dependent on naming conventions to determine the purpose of beings. Death is actually not inherent to the human condition, it entered the human condition through the loss of innocence. Death exists because sin exists.

Re: Can someone who is immortal still be considerd human?

#18
I think this, in part, is based on your definition of "human".

In our modern, post-science society, genetics and modern definition of speciation (very, very fuzzy), if it's human-like in appearance, has 23 pairs of genes, and can produce fertile offspring with regular humans, it's a human.

However, I think most of us would agree that humanity is more than mere genotype and phenotype. Enter all of our existentialist philosophers and ideas of origins, ontology, imago dei, mortality, etc. As an example, there are some that would say the act of achieving immortality means one has transcended humanity and has therefore become transhuman, which, by definition, then, would mean one is no longer human. Additionally, as mentioned in the comments above, some mythologies toyed with the idea of immortality and humanity, a notable example being the Epic of Gilgamesh, in which the gods are shown to be less than human, as they lack the urgency and morality created by one's mortality.

A third set of definitions of human is the idea of humanity in context, which then raises the question of isolation - would an immortal become non-human the longer they persist, as they become isolated from their society and, functionally, "other". Good examples of this would be Grendel and Hrothgar in Beowulf, as Grendel is an overt example of Hrothgar's violation of comitatus, which is the expected give-and-take interplay between a lord and his vassals. Similarly, there is the Sub-Saharan concept of Ubuntu, which is a concept in which one's humanity is defined via the acknowledgment of the humanity of others.

So, then, to bring this all together, having a singular immortal character is an excellent outlet to begin playing with the ideas of humanity, because, yes, in genotype and phenotype he/she may be human, but the psychological, philosophical, and sociological impact of said immortality would/could eventually resort in dehumanisation, whether through debasement or transcedence.

Addendum:
Someone mentioned the discrepancy between immortality and eternal youth. An example of this is the Oracle at Delphi. She refused Apollo's offer to make her eternally young along with her immortality and so continued to age until all that was left of her was a wizened, withered husk with a voice.

Re: Can someone who is immortal still be considerd human?

#20
It really depends on how you define human.

Is humanity a quality outside of biology? If you're 50% mechanical, are you still human? What about a human brain in a robot? While it may be technically incorrect to describe that as A human, they may still have vestiges of what we define as humanity. By the same token, an alien mind in a human body may be A human, but it won't be human.

Human itself is a descriptor we invented. At various points in history, people that were fully biologically human have been considered (and treated as) less human than their peers, purely by the standards held in the moment. Taxonomic classification based on biology's a crap shoot to begin with; electric eels aren't really eels, they're knifefish. Killer whales are actually dolphins. Absolute definitions of what anything is can fall apart with a single edge case. For me, personally, humanity is like art--I can't tell in you exact terms what it encompasses, but I know it when I see it.

That said, I think a person who lives long enough will steadily shed a lot of what would we consider humanity.