Are You Human?

Paul with the Gom Jabbar at his neckThere are a lot of theories about what separates humans from animals. Some say it is our use of tools and the civilization that we have built. Others disagree. When you look at all the negatives we have created in our society, it is hard to argue that our civilization is a positive differential.

Personally, I think Frank Herbert got it right when he wrote Dune. He posits that what makes us human is the ability to overcome are baser instincts, letting our mind control our actions. He conceived of the Gom Jabbar test which I think clearly illustrates the difference.

The Gom Jabbar test

Our reaction to pain is one of our stronger base instincts. It is directly tied to our desire to live. When you experience pain, your first reaction is to remove the source of the pain. As the character Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam puts it in the book,

You’ve heard of animals chewing off a leg to escape a trap? There’s an animal kind of trick. A human would remain in the trap, endure the pain, feigning death that he might kill the trapper and remove a threat to his kind.

For the Gom Jabbar test, the person being tested is unaware of how the test is conducted before it starts. They puts their hand into a box. Instantly, a poisoned needle is placed against their neck. The instruction is simple,

Your awareness may be powerful enough to control your instincts. Your instincts will be to remove your hand from the box. If you do so you will die.

Paul's hand "burning"Sounds simple until the box starts to create pain. Searing pain. The pain is described as the entire hand being engulfed in flame. I have been burned several times on my hands. I have yanked back my hand as fast as possible every single time.

To pass the test, all one has to do is to remember that the hand is not actually burning and endure the pain until the test is over. It isn’t a long test, unless you are the on feeling their flesh burning.

If you pass the test, you are human. Simple as that. Your mind was able to overcome base instincts for an outcome your instincts could not understand. It is a difficult test that I don’t know if I could pass.

Why am I writing about this? Because I want everyone reading this to ask themselves, Am I human?

Overcoming “Instincts”

I have read, even in comments on my blog, men making allowances for their bad behavior because of hormones or how a woman is dressed. My question for you is simple.

Are you Human?

When I was being raised, I was taught it wasn’t polite to stare. If someone looks different, don’t stare. You can take note, but do not stare. Your instinct will be to stare, but it isn’t polite. Don’t do it.

Yes, that may be an attractive person walking down the street, but you don’t need to stare, oogle, cat-call, or anything else. Nobody expects you to stop noticing the world around you, but don’t stare at people.

Control your instincts. Prove you are human.

This extends to all behavior towards woman. They are what men should aspire to be in many ways. They can control their instincts in daily life much better than men. They are human.

Frank Herbert knew this. This is why the Gom Jabbar test was conducted primarily within the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, an all female organization. Men who were human where either to rare or too hard to train to that level of control.

Nobody is asking anyone to withstand searing pain to prove that they are human. Can you control your other instincts?

Are you human?

4 thoughts on “Are You Human?

  1. What a fun and fascinating essay. Two things jumped out. One, the standard of “polite” is an evolving culturally defined norm rather some empirical and inherent “good” (if such a thing exists). Being polite is of highest significance only if others approval is paramount. Which may be a more base and animal-like need .

    Second, it seems that willpower is the most commonly recognized way to overcome animal nature, implying that we need to overpower our baser nature. What if surrender rather than power is the route to increased humanity?


    • Surrender is easy. It is even appropriate at times. I would argue that knowing when and being able to choose when is a defining characteristic of “good” human.

      When the surrender is giving in to actions that don’t show respect for fellow humans, then it is a bad thing.


  2. Sometimes surrender involves sweating blood. Other times it means keeping our hand in the box.

    Semantics aside, you and I are in agreement. The trick is knowing how to better the life, human or otherwise, around us. Sometimes this means trusting our instincts, other times it means dying to them.


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