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The Sciences

Redefining Humanity

The IntersectionBy Sheril KirshenbaumApril 23, 2010 8:02 PM


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'What is it, exactly, that distinguishes us from other species?' So begins a recent article by UT professor Michael Webber, who offers an interesting take on a subject that's long been debated. He suggests that what makes us human is the way we manipulate energy:

I contend that what really separates humans from all the other species is that we are the only ones to manipulate energy. The First Law of Thermodynamics tells us that energy has many forms (for example, chemical, thermal, kinetic, electrical, atomic, radiant) and that we can convert from one form to another. And though all species benefit from the natural conversion of radiant energy (for example, sunlight) into chemical energy (derived from, for example, photosynthesis), humans are the only species that will specifically manipulate energy from one form to another — for example converting chemical energy (fuels) to thermal energy (heat) or mechanical energy (motion).

And, thus, a new definition of humanity is born: Humans intentionally manipulate energy.

With this in mind, Webber argues that we ought to accept responsibility for its negative effects. In other words, his definition implores us to be better stewards of this pale blue dot. It's a perspective I like very much. Go read the full article here.

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