Human or Not?

One of the first distinctions that infants make about the world is the difference between non-living objects and things that are alive. However, they sometimes get confused. I saw this on the weird and wonderful Dr. Fong blog and like him, I am strangely compelled by the site of dancing robots. 

On the other hand it is very hard to see this guy as human!


Filed under General Thoughts

7 responses to “Human or Not?

  1. Bluemoon

    OMG the dancing guy is too weird. You say we see humanity in inanimate objects then why do we see humans who look strange as objects that can’t be human? Why do we stare at people who have an odd appearance and why do we fear people who look different? Never quite understood that. Great blog though cool stuff.

  2. brucehood

    Welcome Bluemoon, technically this predilection is known as anthropomorphism and thought to make us inclined to inferring life. One possibility is that this default biases us to the possibility of something being alive just in case it is a potential predator or prey. Another, suggested by Dan Dennett is that we take the “intentional stance” even towards objects as this gives us a way of interacting with things as if they had minds.

  3. Bluemoon

    Yes but why do we fear people who don’t look normal or as in you YouTube post think the guy dancing is a robot? Surely this must be something to do with why we look for supernatural clues in the world around us? Perhaps like anthropomorphism we have supernaturalpomorphism? Have I just made up a cool new word?

  4. brucehood

    Oh. I see what you mean Bluemoon. I would have thought that ignorance leads to fear and when someone looks different (e.g. non-human or deformed) and we have no reason to understand why, then it is natural to avoid them. I am not so sure that counts as a supernatural mechanism. After all, if we don’t know why someone is afflicted then best not to take any chances.
    However, if a causal explanation is given and we still fear them, then yes, that is arguably reasoning beyond natural cause. This is why Paul Rozin contamination studies with clothing still works when the previous owner was said to have HIV/AIDs. People still fear contact.


  5. Arno

    Edge just posted their The World Question 2009 ( and they have the most wonderful entry by Sherry Tuckle on The Robotic Movement (

    Just a highlight:
    “In the halls of a large psychology conference, a graduate student takes me aside to ask for more information on the state of research about relational machines. She confides that she would trade in her boyfriend “for a sophisticated Japanese robot” if the robot would produce what she termed “caring behavior.” She tells me that she relies on a “feeling of civility in the house.” She does not want to be alone. She says: “If the robot could provide the environment, I would be happy to help produce the illusion that there is somebody really with me.” What she is looking for, she tells me, is a “no-risk relationship” that will stave off loneliness; a responsive robot, even if it is just exhibiting scripted behavior, seems better to her than a demanding boyfriend. I ask her if she is joking. She tells me she is not.”

  6. brucehood

    Wonderful story Arno… Given that we so easily anthropomorhize non-human agents anyway, I don’t think it would really be such a different leap to make. I can foresee a future where this becomes real.. I might post on this as I have a good story related to this.

  7. Pingback: Rubber Love « Bruce M. Hood

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