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RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Are we really human?

Asked by RealEyesRealizeRealLies (30864points) February 10th, 2014

One of my favorite podcasts, Expanding Mind latest episode interviews Dr. Neil Theise, stem cell specialist and complexity researcher.

At 11:40 on the podcast, Dr. Theise estimates people have approx 4 Trillion human cells each. But we have ten to a hundred times more foreign bacteria cells on our skin and inside our digestive tract.

So, if the least part of us is human cells, outnumbered by foreign cells to a vast degree, then are we really as “human” as we think we are?

What the hell are we?

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29 Answers

KNOWITALL's avatar

Hmmm, you’re a thinker aren’t you? lol Maybe we could be defined as human bacteria?
If a shark has feeder fish on it, it’s still a shark.

zenvelo's avatar

You answer your own question by calling them “foreign cells”.

The gut bacteria are inside us, but not part of us. The alimentary canal is a tube though he body, but not of the body. If such bacteria intrude into us, they are an infection, not part of us.

Are we not men? we are D E V O.

SQUEEKY2's avatar

Have you witnessed the way the general public drives, I would have to say no.

PhiNotPi's avatar

Do you, by any chance, know what percentage of cells in our body are bacteria by weight? I would imagine that it would be a much smaller statistic because bacterial cells are usually pretty tiny.

Cruiser's avatar

Without those extra cells we would not be alive.

God’s hands must have been dirty when he molded Adam and where all these bacteria originated from. Adam was lucky he did not suffer a serious staph infection when God reached in and removed the rib.

ragingloli's avatar

If god removed one of adam’s ribs, why do men not have an uneven number of ribs?

syz's avatar

@PhiNotPi According to Lita Proctor, the program coordinator of the National Institutes of Health’s Human Microbiome Project, only 1–2% of our body mass.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@KNOWITALL “Maybe we could be defined as human bacteria?”

The way I see it, we humans, and the bacteria, are just manifestations of information.

We’re all code. And code always represents something other than itself.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Ah, the Matrix, I can dig it!

mrentropy's avatar

If we made up the word ‘human’ then I reckon we can call ourselves whatever we want.

glacial's avatar

Of course we’re still human. And for those wondering how we’d survive without them… do you not also wonder how they’d survive without us?

alphabetpony92's avatar

I often wonder if we are alien hybrids.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@alphabetpony92 Why is that? <curious>

alphabetpony92's avatar

@KNOWITALL I simply don’t buy the whole monkey evolving into man thing. I think its a part of the truth but its too simple to be the whole truth. I think aliens came to earth and meddled in natural evolutionary processes, and they still have a great involvement in our lives. They might stalk us with their technology, watch us take a dump, or watch us masturbate, etc. You might think I’m just trolling now but I’m dead serious.

I think they also have other forms of involvement in our lives but that is all I will say before I give it away. Lets just say some of the other theories mentioned in this thread correlate with the rest of my hypothesis in some way. I am a very personal, private and sometimes shy individual so I will shut up now. You will have to try and pry the rest of it out of me.

alphabetpony92's avatar

@mrentropy I really like your post and its very enlightening. ‘Human’ is just a labeling term and theres really not much use for it. It does not bring us any closer to reality. Plus, are we not scientifically supposed to be animals anyway? The human label just attempts to separate us from monkeys, cats, etc. and we aren’t all that different from them.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

“The human label just attempts to separate us from monkeys, cats, etc. and we aren’t all that different from them.”

Humans can describe phenomenon in various ways. Mathematics, Poetry, Illustration.
Animals cannot.

Humans can map their language (code) to any other language.
Animals cannot.

Humans can envision and imagine themselves beyond their humanity. Can pretend to be a monkey, or a tree.
Animals cannot. Though they can be trained to seem as if they do.

Humans can invent a new language at the snap of a finger.
Animals cannot expand beyond their species language for meaningful communication. Though some animals can mimic other species language for predatory purpose, there is no genuine communication occurring.

All of the above are examples of advanced code manipulation that no animal comes close to achieving.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

To put it another way…

Animals can potentially see and enjoy.

But only humans can see beyond and rejoice.

alphabetpony92's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies When I said that it wasn’t directed at you. I just meant that words are words. That ‘human’ and ‘cat’ are words for separate species and yet we have similarities to cats. We like to eat, sleep, etc.

Its funny you mention seeing beyond things because Buddhist monks and general meditation teach us to see what is, rather than seeing beyond whatever there is. It teaches us to be in the moment. Humans deliberately and voluntarily stray from their nature in life.

ragingloli's avatar

A nice absolute statement, despite the fact that humans are unable to understand animal language, and definitely can not replicate it, and have only managed to communicate with animals using simplistic commands.
The primitive level of human communication with animals is the fault of humans for their inability to understand animals, and their arrogance towards them by asserting that animals are just to dumb to understand.

glacial's avatar

@ragingloli Indeed, while most humans are next to useless at understanding animals’ language, they manage to pick up quite a range of human commands. And be able to deliberately manipulate our behaviour. Who’s “beyond” here?

longgone's avatar


“Humans can map their language (code) to any other language.”

Any other human language, maybe. Outside of our own species, we are clueless. We have no idea what’s happening inside animals’ minds…which is why all your other points are debatable.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

I hear you guys, the last few comments here, and appreciate your perspective.

But allow me to illustrate something about the human capacity for language that may give a better perspective to my comments.

Code is code. The formal definition is simply the mapping of probability space A to probability space B. That’s what every code has in common. No exceptions. So this is not a matter of “understanding” a non human language. It’s a matter of “mapping” one language to another, and then being able to understand it to the degree that is possible between species.

SETI is NOT looking for extraterrestrial life. SETI is looking for a codified signal. For they know that every codified signal must have an accompanying author intelligent enough to codify their thoughts. Human SETI may not be capable of understanding ET message. But SETI can map the ET code, and slowly decipher the message for human understanding, to the degree that humans can.

Same with DNA. We map that code. But it takes a long long time to decipher what it all actually means.

There is a marine scientist (sorry no links) who video tapes dolphin behavior and records the sounds they make with each accompanying action. The scientist blasts the sound upon the bottom of an aluminum plate covered with sand. As the sound vibrates the aluminum plate, the sand forms a specific symbol from the vibration. They record the symbols created for each sound, and form an alphabet from the symbols. It’s no different than the symbol “R” meaning something beyond what it looks like.

Different dolphins make the same utterance for the same actions. They each create the same symbols in the sand. They are slightly different, but not any more so than you and I comparing our handwriting differences. The symbols are the same, though not identical.

The symbols are fed into computer which associates each with the dolphin sounds of each action. The symbol imbibed computer plays the recording of dolphin sounds, and the dolphins respond the same as if receiving instructions from another dolphin.

“Food over here” means the same thing whether spoken in English, Chinese, or Dolphin symbology. And from this primitive communication protocol, we can speak Dolphin-ese.

Humans have deciphered numerous messages from the Figure 8 waggle dance of the bumble bee. The messages from the bee determine the direction of food, directions to the food, alternative directions, and even weather conditions denoting wind drift encountered along the way. It’s not just a predator warning cry. It’s real messages that provide instructions to other bees, and now humans too.

Submarines broadcast Whale song. And I’ve seen the same done with Wolves.

If it’s a code, it will meet Purlwitz, Burks and Waterman’s formal definition described above. And when those protocols are met, then humans can map it to any other language they choose. Understanding it is a completely different matter.

glacial's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies There is no difference between understanding or translating a different language to one’s own and “mapping one language to another”. It is the same thing.

Honestly, the minute you begin talking your special “code” jargon, I start hearing the Twilight Zone music, and I just can’t keep reading. You have imbued these terms with a personal meaning that most other people who use these terms do not share.

Humans are not computers or aliens or gods or whatever else you think we must be because of your special definition of “code”. We are humans. Animals. Our adaptations are different from those of other animals, yes. But we are still animals.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@glacial Why do you think I have a special definition of code?

I adhere to the formal definition that every information scientist uses, as set forth by Purlwitz Burks and Waterman. Why do you accuse me of having a special definition when the same definition is what runs our entire modern lives from cybernetics to computer science to biology?

@glacial “Humans are not computers or aliens or gods or whatever else you think”

I never said that. Why do you accuse me of thinking that?

What definition of code would you prefer me to use?

Please answer because your accusations are a bit unfounded, to put it politely.

Paradox25's avatar

No, we’re not humans. According to many of my opponents we are nothing more than deterministic biological robots who merely believe we’re sentient when we really are not. Please don’t criticize me for writing this post, I’m just following my deterministic brain mechanics, so I can’t help myself.

longgone's avatar


’“Food over here” means the same thing whether spoken in English, Chinese, or Dolphin symbology. And from this primitive communication protocol, we can speak Dolphin-ese.’

And you’re saying our pets don’t translate us in a similar way? They don’t manipulate us?

I’m curious. Have you ever heard of Alex, the parrot?

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Yes Alex is interesting for many reasons beyond his apparent command of language.

The implications of research conducted upon him also bring discussions of operant conditioning to the floor. His uniqueness should also be considered as no true peer has been determined, to my knowledge.

I’m not saying that animals can’t be trained or conditioned. Nor do I claim that within their own language that they cannot condition humans to respond as desired either. Nor do I claim a combination of the two cannot occur. But there is a difference between genuine code mapping, and conditioning. And this is a far cry from a capacity to identify and describe new phenomenon with entirely new words created on the fly.

None of my comments should be taken to diminish the uniqueness of Alex. He was impressive. But the implications of the research upon him are not without debate.

longgone's avatar

“And this is a far cry from a capacity to identify and describe new phenomenon with entirely new words created on the fly.”

Alex did create words. “Banerry”, because he didn’t know what to call an apple. Mixture of banana and cherry, apparently. Created on the fly.

Anyway. I won’t change your mind. Remember, though, that people claiming a uniqueness of humans have had trouble explaining their stance. First, animals were not considered to feel pain. Then it was supposed to be pain, but no emotions. A few years ago, they claimed animals weren’t able to use tools…now it’s “code mapping”?

I don’t get why we need to put ourselves on a pedestal.

NanoNano's avatar

I’ve heard the estimate being 100 – 200 trillion cells for an adult, with less that for a child.

Every second 500,000 cells die in the body and are replaced (almost 50 billion cells per day).

Even though the bacteria outnumber our actual cells, mass wise they are much much smaller (about five times smaller in size). A typical bacter is about 2 micrometers long, a typical human cell about ten.

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