Cyborg and Human

Lora Schwartz (

The concept of needing a certain percentage of a human body to qualify as human forces a more fundamental question of what it means to be human. Is it that, like the one the protagonist of Bladerunner, one believes that he is human? Is it a personality that allows individual motivations and impulses like the sea diving of Ghost in the Shell's android heroine? Is it a set of passions and emotions as seen in the attachments of the android girls in The Bubble Gum Crisis? Each of these stories chooses to poise the question of what is human rather than answer it decisively.

When a character acts human and looks human, displays emotion, has fallibilities as well as strengths, the audience empathizes with that person. The audience seems to consider human anyone who reminds them of themselves. The nemeses in the movies mentioned are often dispassionate and calculating. Whether human or not, they evoke the qualities associated with machines. Since the audience cannot empathize, the character and their evil qualities are justified. The main criteria for being considered human, then, seems to be how much a character appears to be like other people or how well they express qualities associated through history, culture, and literature to be human.

Cyborgs are most often defined based on their physical characteristics. They are part cybernetic and part organism. Arguments for the current existence of many cyborgs are based on looking at physical prosthetic that people use. In science, humans are also defined by their physical features. Humans are a species of mammal, biped Homo sapiens with enlarged fore-brains. But as the movies show, what the audience comes to consider human does not necessarily correlate with the character's birth by another human.

The movies dealing with cyborgs and humans create an idea of humanity based on actions and emotions rather than physical characteristics. However, the idea of cyborg is still based primarily on physical description before action. I propose that these categories do not have to be mutually exclusive because they deal with different methods of defining a character or even a living person. There is no need to set human vs. cyborg in opposition when human is a behavior and cyborg is a feature.

[To other discussions of this topic by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]

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