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Author Topic: What are human characteristics that we share with simpler organisms?  (Read 2206 times)

Offline KurtRoss

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I need help.

I'm starting a short video series that's aimed to dispel some anthropocentrism.

Here is the first and only one so far:


What are other behaviors or characteristics that humans believe distinguish us from other organisms, and what non-humans can they be found in?

Specifics would be the most helpful.

Thanks in advance.

[MOD EDIT- please phrase titles as questions in line with AUP]
« Last Edit: 13/06/2014 09:48:01 by Georgia »


 

Offline cheryl j

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Every time biologists or philosophers make the claim that "The human being is the only animal that..." they seem to have to eat their words later on, as with "makes tools" or "can use language." But science author Daniel Gilbert completes that sentence with "The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future." He makes a distinction (arguably) between how a human thinks of or plans for the future, and a squirrel burying nuts that it will dig up later, claiming that the squirrel is running the food burying program in response to decreased daily light exposure. He says "Until a chimp weeps at the thought of growing old alone, or smiles as it contemplates summer vacation, or turns down a Fudgsicle because it already looks too fat in shorts, I will stand by my version of The Sentence."

I'm not sure I entirely agree and suspect one could find exceptions, but it's an interesting argument.
 

Offline alancalverd

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45 years ago I signed up for a correspondence course in humanities. By the end of the third month, not one valid distinction had been drawn between humans and other animals, but the first essay was due. In desperation I asked the first person I met in the lab one morning "what distinguishes Man from other animals?"

Without a moment's hesitation he said "Man records anything that is too trivial to remember."   

This seems an appropriate time and place to express my gratitude to Bob Burns for that profound insight. Thanks to smartphones, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, his words are truer today then ever before.

As for the original question, it begs a definition of "simpler". Humans have sigificantly fewer chromosomes than gorillas, dogs, goldfish, or many grasses, so it obviously doesn't refer to inherent complexity. Few other animals are observed to kill members of their own species because they believe in a different fairy in the sky, so presumably "simpler" means "less stupid".
« Last Edit: 12/06/2014 23:04:52 by alancalverd »
 

Offline dlorde

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... science author Daniel Gilbert completes that sentence with "The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future." He makes a distinction (arguably) between how a human thinks of or plans for the future, and a squirrel burying nuts that it will dig up later, claiming that the squirrel is running the food burying program in response to decreased daily light exposure. He says "Until a chimp weeps at the thought of growing old alone, or smiles as it contemplates summer vacation, or turns down a Fudgsicle because it already looks too fat in shorts, I will stand by my version of The Sentence."

I'm not sure I entirely agree and suspect one could find exceptions, but it's an interesting argument.
Not sure I agree, either; I seem to recall a chimp in a zoo enclosure that would gather stockpiles of stones to throw at the visitors, even breaking up larger rocks when he couldn't find stones. I suspect there are other examples of non-human forward planning that is deliberative.

ETA - I found a conclusive great ape study: Great Apes Think Ahead.
« Last Edit: 12/06/2014 23:13:48 by dlorde »
 

Offline cheryl j

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Those are good examples, and now that you mention it, I remember reading about the stock piling chimp!

I doubt there are any human behaviors or abilities that don't have some antecedent in our evolutionary past.
 

Offline chiralSPO

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I don't think there are very many examples of a single feature that distinguishes us from all other organisms. We share, after all, a long history of evolution, co-evolution and adaptation with those creatures that we are comparing ourselves with.

I will note, however, that even though we can find examples of animals using tools, or using complex communication, or in intricate social organizations, or appearing to express sympathy, or planning ahead--we are the only organism currently on this Earth that excels at all of these tasks (I imagine several now extinct non-human hominids would qualify as human by most of these measures...)
 

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