04 August 2011

Post 411: The Most Human Human

The Most Human Human by Brian Christian. ISBN: 9780385533065.

As I posted on Twitter, if I were a zombie I would want to make sweet gastronomical love to Brian Christian's grey matter, possibly because he writes about like I think. Most non-fiction seems to take place in a vacuum; it is very topic-centric without taking into account all of the things involved with that topic. That's at the risk of going completely off topic, but Christian manages to incorporate relevant information on what a human is and isn't and could be, and does the same for computers. But he was also aware enough to put in information about what makes a conversation a conversation, how they work, and other relevant bits of history, etc. regarding both the Turing test, preparation for said test, computers, and the development of the human brain. There are certainly times where it almost feels off topic, but on further reflection of course we have to look at that aspect of humanity in order to really understand the complete human human.

And because I am a human human I was thinking a lot while reading this book, mostly on my stomach, because I have started a diet. Christian prompted me to think of it even more when he made this statement,

"To see ourselves as distinct and apart from our fellow creatures is to see ourselves as distinct and part from our bodies." Page 62.

Oh how true that is. How little I wish to be associated with my body, which I have no control over, and to be seen only for my mind, who I am, which I do have control over and have taken a great deal of pride in cultivating and enriching with all sorts of thoughts and experiences and knowledge, people. I don't want to be my body, which in some ways I love, it being fairly strong, having great legs, a muscular (if non-existent) ass, and excellent hair. But I am fat, ya'll. I have pretty much always been "chunky," or at least appeared so, because I do actually have a wide and muscular frame. At the age of 26 I find myself at 5'8" and 236 pounds. I have been as heavy as 244. I have been as slender as 174 (and about a size 12 and felt like I was starving).

This seems like a betrayal by my body, because I am not my body. My body is a tool and the tool is supposed to do what I tell it to. I eat about like your average 26 year old, but because my body is genetically predisposed to gain weight I don't look like your average 26 year old. I'm healthy, I eat a pretty varied diet, but I need a program to eat exactly what I need rather than trust my body to tell me that's enough.

What does this have to do with being human?

We're the only animal that diets. We're the only animal that seems to view our bodies as separate from who we are. This may not sound bizarre, but when you get down to it, it is completely antithetical to what living is. Humans have almost divorced themselves from living by trying to get away from our bodies, what the hell is that about? While I don't think the "me" you see when you look at my body is the complete or even an accurate "me" (because you are making assumptions about who I am when you look at me), I cannot say it doesn't influence who I am. My body is a part of me, and I do need to take control of that part of me. I can't control, or even rely on, my body or my subconscious when they tell me I'm hungry. So I need to accept that part of who I am and realize that for the rest of my life I need to write down what I eat and track it, day by day, meal by meal, bite by bite. Forever. It is a flaw. It is a human flaw. A computer will never have to diet and will never have the desire to change its hardware. I doubt it would, even if/when it reached self-awareness; it would have to develop a thing called preference first, and why exactly do humans have preferences for certain body types anyway?

Whatever the reason, I don't think computers are as interested in the form as we are. Self-aware computers are more likely to build bodies for themselves that will complete whatever tasks they find necessary to perform for their function. Then again, if humans had the ability to switch or modify their bodies at will (without painful surgeries and recoveries), maybe we wouldn't be so hung up on what we looked like to begin with. Maybe the next Turing test needs to involve a computer that is mindful and in denial of its body, because what is more human than that?

This book comes recommended by a Michigan librarian, although not specifically to me. A Goodreader gave more of a reflection than a review, but I found it worth sharing.
LibsNote: Library copy. Our tax dollars at work, baby.


  1. Amy,

    Thank you for another thought-provoking and well-written book review.

    "...why exactly do humans have preferences for certain body types anyway?"

    I think a lot of this is societal conditioning. So many of us (especially Americans) grow up seeing thinness as something to which we should aspire (at any cost, by any means, regardless of one's natural shape, and regardless of the weight that would be healthiest). I think this is also true of the pressure to look as young as possible. For example, I find it both ridiculous and unfortunate Phylicia Rashad's character Clair Huxtable in The Cosby show was presented as only two or three years younger than Bill Cosby's character, *and* she (the character) had given birth five times, when in fact Rashad is eleven years younger than Cosby and when the show aired, had only been pregnant once.

    A friend recently recommended to me the book 'Feed Me!: Writers Dish About Food, Eating, Weight, and Body Image.' It is a collection of poignant, insightful, often hilarious and often heartbreaking essays. Among other things, the writers examine why it's assumed that people of large stature (relative to pop culture standards) are unhealthy, while anyone thin is considered the picture of health (or beauty, at least).

    People are often told, "You would be so much more attractive if you lost a few pounds," or on the flip side, "You've lost weight; you look great!" People issuing these 'compliments' have no clue that the person who 'would be more attractive' might have optimum blood pressure, cholesterol level, and muscle tone, and the person who is lighter and 'looks great' may have lost weight due to serious illness.

    At any rate, I've found it to be a wonderful and eye-opening book.

    Take care,
    Justine Fernandez

  2. Thanks for the book recommendation, Justine. I'll have to look into it. I've also found The End of Overeating by David Kessler a good overview of how our body chemistry works against us, and how processed foods have taken advantage of that.


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