Homo sapiens sapiens. We are the dominant species on the earth. We pride ourselves for being the greatest, the smartest, the bestest beings under the sun. We are the world. We are above the animals. We are separate creations made in the image of a supernatural being.
Well, la-di-da. Let’s get real. What really distinguishes us from chimpanzees, squirrels, and pond slime?
Everyday we are reminded of the answer. We must reach deep into our souls in search of our humanity encompassed in profound, passionate emotions. Heart and soul are the most exulted regions of our inner existence. Nothing can happen without the motivation of e-motions. Intuition and sensibility lie at the seat of humanity. Inside the primal parts of our brains is found the source of our highest emotions : kindness, empathy, compassion, joy, love.
As we learn more about our animal cousins, we find the antecedents of these emotions. Chimpanzees have an innate sense of fairness and reciprocity. They form friendships with other chimps and show considerable kindness towards favored relationships. Dolphins have sex to express love and strengthen bonds within the pod. Elephants are known to mourn the loss of a member of the heard. People with dogs know their pets respond sympathetically to their moods. Cats show attachment and affection, and bring their owners the gift of a bird caught enthusiastically and presented with pride. Even rodents exhibit joy in playful activity or sadness under stress. We’ve all experienced this with our pets, seen it caught on film in nature programs, and read it in natural science journals. All our human emotions have roots in other mammals.
Hold on a minute. If chimps can be kind, dolphins love, elephants mourn, dogs sympathize, cats gift, rats play; if emotions are what make us human, what separates us from other animals?
There are some things humans can do that no other animal can.
Language. Other animals communicate, and some have a wide display of communication behavior, but none have yet unquestionably demonstrated complex language.
Technology. Many species use tools. Some even fabricate rudimentary tools, but none fashion sophisticated tools and intricate machinery to move beyond nature’s capabilities.
Analytical Thought. We can watch a lion calculating its plan of attack. We have ample evidence of animals thinking and using previous experience to anticipate the actions of other animals, but none have developed a means for recording and manipulating their knowledge to understand, analyze, and extrapolate upon it.
Mathematics. Animals may have a concept of one, two or many, but none understand counting or numeric calculation. Numbers, abstraction, and symbolism are unique to mankind.
Abstract Thought. We can imagine the nonexistent. We make leaps of logic that still make sense. We find connections between dissimilar concepts. We draw relationships that are not obvious. Without this ability, there’d be no humor, no art, no music.
What separates us humans from other terrestrial fauna is the intellect. It’s arithmetic. It’s analysis. It’s design. It’s creativity. It’s technology. It’s analogy and metaphor. And at the core of these heady attributes are language and mathematics. These are the tools that enable us to record, teach, share and communicate our minds with others. Yes, the cold, calculating, analytical, unemotional, dispassionate intellect is what distinguishes us from wild animals.
Be more human : think.