Are people objects?

I would think that anyone reading this would agree that there’s a difference between a person and a toaster. A toaster is not self-aware. I find it interesting that cells in and of themselves are not self aware; however, when enough of them aggregate the collection suddenly is. I guess it just blows my mind that a collection of individually non-self aware biological machines can together create a consciousness. People are essentially a collection of objects. Cells, atoms, subatomic particles. They’re all objects. Tissue is an object. But at some point this collection of objects transcends it’s simple make up.

I don’t believe in souls, so please, readers, hold off on the comments about the magical, intangible essence that allegedly animates everyone.

My question is at what point do people make the transition from collection of benign objects to personhood? Or is there any difference? Are people objects, like a toaster or a chair? If the qualification for not being an object is simply the virtue of being alive, are bacteria objects, despite the fact that they aren’t self-aware?

I feel like I’m rambling, and that all of my thoughts haven’t quite congealed on the subject yet…I just thought I’d throw this up here.


8 thoughts on “Are people objects?

    1. You’re correct, I suppose we really don’t…but given the evidence so far, I think scientists would agree it lacks the sensory organs and processing abilities to be self aware. But, I have to concede that anything is certainly possible, even if it seems improbable.

  1. I like your question about when people stop being objects and start being people. I think there is a difference. In my mind objects are used and manipulated while people use and manipulate objects. This is a loose definition, but if this is the criteria then people can be objects if they are allowing themselves to be used and manipulated by other people. As I think about it though, I think I would say that objects are those things which are used and manipulated only. People and animals (all insects, bacteria and whatever else that lives included) can behave like objects, but are not objects. Things that can act are not always objects, but things that are only acted upon, or in the process of being acted upon, I suppose I would call objects.
    This is an interesting topic.

  2. Hi,
    Loving the discussion. A very interesting question and one that I have thought a lot about to no real end. I like that in your question you have offered up the idea of a threshold on a continuum –the notion that there is some obscure point where the bits and pieces that make us up add up to something transcendant of themselves.

    I think the definition of objects vs. people as manipulated and manipulative is an interesting one, but does not really encompass that total nature of the question. I will soon be writing a post about life, its definition, and whether or not our restrictive perspective is biased toward an anthropocentric model of life. I look at machines and their operation as the sum of many parts, like the body, equalling out to be something animated that creates. Now, if self-awareness is in play, of course a machine (at least the most basic machines) fall short. But, if we broaden our definitioin of life to include any animate form with the potential to create other animate forms, then of course machines must be considered. One might say, yes but a machine is dependent on man to turn it on and provide energy, but what sort of life does not have requirements? Human life requires many things in order to keep it moving, so when you think of a machine’s relationship to man as a sort of symbiotic one, or even parasitic, the requirements for its life are not that many –energy and maintenance –things we also require in different forms.

    Perhaps this is a little bit of a stretch, but your post got me thinking! There is a fungus in South America that takes hold of ants. As it devours their brain it causes them to just wander aimlessly until they die. There are, in nature, examples of other life forms taking control of another’s mind–just as if it were a machine with moving parts. Manipulatable.

    Anyway, thanks for the interesting post! I am sort of using this idea as a space to work through my next one and writing thoughts in comment form help me to hone in on what my driving points will be.

    1. Wow, thank you very much for the comment! You make a lot of interesting points, and have certainly given me more to ruminate over. I very much look forward to reading your post on the topic!

  3. Thank you for such an interesting question. Here’s a run at an answer. When the simplest definition of “consciousness” is used, a bacteria’s ability to respond to its environment makes it conscious. Would the conversion from consciousness to self-consciousness take place when an object becomes a subject?

    Is evolution the cause of this change and and does it occur at the time a thinking or feeling entity is created in a living creature? If so, what is this entity? Is it one’s identity or ego which parents, family, friends, neighbors, and society help a new-born create and recognize?

    1. You raise a lot of good points. I guess I didn’t really distinguish between being conscious and being self-conscious, which changes the nature of the original question. You’ve given me a lot to think about, in particular the role that evolution plays in this. I’ll have to do some pondering before I can offer a real reply. Thank you for the thoughtful response!

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