About ‘On the Human’

On the Human (OTH) is an online community of humanists and scientists dedicated to improving our understanding of persons and the quasi-persons who surround us. As persons are biological, psychological, historical, moral, and autobiographical beings, we employ modes of inquiry from the sciences and humanities. Contributors explore issues in metaphysics and biology, ethics and neuroscience, experimental philosophy and evolutionary psychology.

Our mission is to deepen understanding of the meaning and significance, if any, of being human. Generally, OTH supports and disseminates scholarship on the philosophical implications of the new biosciences and technologies. Specifically, we employ new media strategies of public education in pursuit of two objectives:

  • To stimulate humanities research on the philosophical and ethical implications of recent advances in bio- and information-technologies, especially as new scientific discoveries help to advance understanding of our evolutionary past and aid ethical evaluation of proposals to enhance future cognitive capacities;
  • To engage the public in this scholarship through three innovative digital methods: ‘Structured E-conversation,’ ‘OpenSeminar,’ and ‘E-Assignment.’ OTH is developing structured e-conversations in our Forum and beta-testing e-assignments in the OpenSeminar on the Human.

The site consists of six resources:

1. The Forum is an interactive blog providing open access to leading experts on persons and the animals and machines that surround us. Every two weeks a new invited Contributor posts a brief essay.  Commentators, including special guests invited by the Center, respond. The conversation continues four days and the Contributor closes the discussion with a final post on Friday.  The results have been satisfying, providing high-level scholarly debates. One of the debates is already slated for publication in a book and several have earned spots on the required reading list of a university course (HON 294, “On the Human” at NC State University).

2. OpenSeminar On the Human (OSOTH) is under development. We will eventually have a repository of free, expert-maintained undergraduate-level courses designed to deepen our understanding of the human using philosophical and scientific modes of inquiry.  Collaborative and inter-institutional, OSOTH will offer a suite of model syllabi, structured readings, interactive exercises, a calendar, videos, discussion questions, podcasts and a dedicated Facebook group. All resources will be publicly accessible so that students may work through any of the courses free of charge.  Instructors will be able to open, copy, modify, and teach sections without fee. Easy to use, cost-effective, and adaptable, the platform is designed to serve the needs of those lacking explicit training or experience teaching in this interdisciplinary area.

3. In the News is a monthly round-up of research and the use to which it is being put by the media. We try to include two links for each item, one to the research publication and another to the media’s representation of the research. In the News is compiled by Stephen Zachary.

4. Teaching Resources gathers pedagogical strategies, links, and suggestions for success in the classroom.  “How-to” papers reflect on the experiences of instructors who are alums of the National Humanities Center’s Human Nature seminars.  We invite viewers to send us links to strengthen our bibliography.

5. Guiding Papers provides introductory, orienting essays. Written by members of the OTH community, articles describe authors’ research interests and the way each one construes our subjects.

6. Archives is a library of papers, videos, pictures, and other materials from our site’s predecessor, Autonomy, Singularity Creativity, a three-year project of the National Humanities Center that ended in 2009.


On the Human was created in 2009 to succeed the National Humanities Center’s initiative, Autonomy Singularity Creativity (2006-2009). Reviews, discussions, and citations of our activities are at OTH in the news.