Philosophical Dialogues, Why do we need Names?, Hunter and Bain, Jake Jackson

Dialogues | Why Do We Need Names?

Hunter and Bain have returned to a cafe at the edge of New Manhattan, overlooking the Hudson Bay. Just beneath the deep waters, eyeless creatures neither seen nor imagined in the original New York lurk amongst the hordes of artificial life, suffering the curse of wordless empathy.

Bain nods at the single-eyed A.I. who brings the coffees to the table. It is a wonder to both of them that in the dying days of the human domination the best coffee in the galaxy is to be served by the perfectly calibrated, hands of a robot who can neither care nor appreciate its taste. Bain leans over to his companion whose eyes are closed, embracing the slowly disappearing warmth of the sun.

The time does not matter, nor the year.

Hunter: Go on then, you’ve been quiet for a whole minute, I know you have a question.

Bain, mildly offended: So, I’ve been wondering, if survival of the species is the primary motivation for humankind, then why do we need names?

Hunter: Sometimes I think you think too much.

Bain: Perhaps, but what do you think.

Hunter: Thinking is the key.

Bain: Are you saying that thinking implies something beyond than survival?

Hunter: Not beyond, but it does lead you humans into strange and wondrous places.

Bain: Well, I’m only talking about names.

Hunter: Yes, how many other species do you know who give each other names?

Bain: That’s a leading question. We could both name hundreds.

Hunter: But take out those which are derived from humans, or intimately associated with humans.

Bain: Well, we went to the moon around Mars, er, Titan, and shook out the demon from the dwellers beneath the surface.

Hunter: Ah, but they only described each other’s functions. Their names meant  “digger”, and “carrier”.

Bain: Human names are based on the same concept though. In many human cultures the names come from exactly the same source.

Hunter: So the descriptions offer the solution to your question.

Bain: So, if names are derived from descriptions, there’s some sort of association with building, maintaining, or other functions that contribute to the survival.

Hunter: Something like that.

Bain: But that was the case in medieval times on Old Earth. That wasn’t necessary later on.

Hunter: But the point still stands, every name represents a role or status, at least a distinction between one person from another.

Bain: I suppose I can see it might define a person as part of a community with a defined role, so a new person, a new name, might indicate a threat to the balance, survival, and that person might be driven out just because of their name.

Hunter: Barbaric, but has its base in the first human communities where competition for food and shelter were at a premium before technology began to exercise its importance across all parts of a community, a country, or a world.

Bain: So it’s almost a negative definition. A survival of the fittest by association, implying a communal effort. But what about those with names which are random, as became more common on old earth’s Twentieth Century?

Hunter: The same still applies. The apparently random still brings a sense of belonging, if they are used enough. Names of celebrities and popular figures, a group of odd sounding names are collectively normalised.

Bain: So names don’t bring individuality.

Hunter: That’s a whole different question. Individuality within a community however large is a matter of indentification, i.e. Identity.

Bain: So why not have numbers?

Hunter: You would say that’s de-humanising.

Bain: Only if its deliberate. The robots and the hybrids, they function as numbers in a sequence. It doesn’t matter to them what they’re called.

Hunter: Don’t let them hear you say that!

Bain: But they don’t think as we do, the number or name has no relevance to their identity.

Hunter: I think you would say that tyrants always take that view.

Bain: Yes, you’re right, I would. A name is powerful as a self-identifier, not just as part of a community, but a strong sense of the individual. It helps us maintain our sanity, gives us something to cling to.

Hunter: Sanity seems important to you humans. Without it, perhaps you don’t don’t need names.

As they lapsed into silence Bain watched the receding form of the AI as it disappeared into the shadows at the back of the cafe. He wondered how it referred to itself, and if it had a self-identity.