Being Human 3 (RJS)

Chapter 2 of Joel B. Green’s book Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible is entitled “What does it mean to be human?” In this chapter he addresses the title question from two directions. First he discusses the scientific evidence for the connection of human life with the rest of animal life. This includes a consideration of the material features that may, or may not, make us distinctly human. After laying this foundation, Dr. Green then moves on to consider the nature of human uniqueness from a biblical perspective. In the post today I would like to put forth the scientific data and ask how this influences our understanding of what it means for our understanding of the human soul. In the next post I will consider the biblical perspective.

In asking what makes us distinctly human Dr. Green considers three categories or phenomena relating to the material nature of humans: the human genome, consciousness, and mind reading (a fourth category, moral agency, is left for a later chapter).

The development of genome sequencing has led to the discovery that the human genome is smaller than that of many less complex forms of life (common rice has ca. 50,000 genes, a primitive worm, c. elegans, has ca. 20,000 genes, while humans have only ca. 25,000 genes. Clearly the complexity of human life is not reflected by a mere counting of the number of genes coding for proteins. Rather, there is a more intricate, and not fully understood, process of activation effecting the connection between the simple genes and the end result. It is not the number of genes, but when, where, why, and how, the genes are expressed.

Dr. Green also notes that the chimpanzee and human genomes differ in rather small ways (a good summary table can be found in this post). Ignoring insertion and deletion segments the homology is ~98.8%, looking at protein encoding genes the homology is >99% and over all the homology is ca. 95%. The differences between humans and chimpanzees are subtle on this level.

These numbers – either the number of genes or the gene homology between humans and chimpanzees – prove little in terms of human distinctiveness, except to eliminate some possible sources. We are created from “the dust of the earth” as are plants and animals. The features that make us distinctively human arise from something else.

What aspects of our nature make us distinctively human?

Is “humanness” connected to the physical and material form of our bodies? If so, How?

Does “humanness” result from the possession of a soul?

More significant than gene counts and gene homology are considerations of consciousness and the theory of mind.

In discussion of Christian anthropology generally, appeal is often made to baseline human experience that I am more than my body – that is, to my experience of a subjective inner life, the perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and awareness of my experiences, including what it is like to be a cognitive agent. This subjective, first-hand quality of experience goes by the shorthand “consciousness,” and for most of us it is difficult to believe that our first-person experiences of embarrassment or fulfillment, love or hate, smells or color are nothing more than brain states. (p.39)

However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to draw a sharp line between humans and the other animals in the realm of consciousness. Some animals, especially primates, are more similar to humans than previously imagined. This is a nascent science – and one deserving of skepticism and caution. But it appears that many of the characteristics of human consciousness, including the ability to problem solve, hypothesize, and think about one’s own thinking, can be identified in other nonhuman species. This is evidence, some will say, that consciousness is simply a material, physical phenomenon. It does not separate us from the beasts. In any case it appears that the difference between human and animal consciousness is a matter of gradation or degree rather than a sharp line with the presence of consciousness in humans and the absence of consciousness in animals.

The theory of mind is another characteristic sometimes thought to be uniquely human and nonmaterial. The theory of mind refers to “the cognitive ability to understand others as intentional agents with their own beliefs and desires.” This may seem to be a purely human, abstract concept. Recent research however, has suggested that there are nerve cells that fire  when others are observed engaging in an activity.  These mirror neurons are not unique to humans, they were first discovered in monkeys, and play a role in language acquisition, music, and more. Again the difference between humans and other animals appears to be a difference of degree rather than kind.

Embodied mind and consciousness. Not only is it difficult to draw a line separating distinctively human traits and characteristics from those of animals, it is also increasingly clear that all of these human characteristics are rooted in our physical, material, bodies. Everything, including thoughts, perceptions, decision making ability, empathy and more, is traceable to biological responses characterized by physics and chemistry.  Dr. Green summarizes this embodiment, and asks what it means for the concept of the soul.

If the capacities traditionally allocated to the “soul” – for example, consistency of memory, consciousness, spiritual experience, the capacity to make decisions on the basis of self-deliberation, planning and action on the basis of that decision, and taking responsibility for these decisions and actions – have neural basis, then the concept of “soul,” as traditionally understood in theology as a person’s “authentic self,” seems redundant. (p. 45)

The realization of the material embodiedness of human existence does not mean that humans are nothing but chemistry and physics; a carefully balanced set of reactions. Nor does it mean that scientists are forming a united front intent on reducing human existence to nothing but materialism. Dr. Green summarizes:

This does not mean that neuroscientists ans neurophilosophers are unanimous in their reducing humanity to their brains or bodies; rather, many, in urging that humans are more than their physicality, simply refuse to identify that “something more” with an ontologically distinctive entity such as a “soul” or “spirit.” (p. 46)

In the next post we will look at the biblical material that touches on the nature of what it means to be human and how this relates to the concept of the soul.

If everything we think and do can be traced to physical and chemical processes in biology – the electrical signals of neurons in response to sight, sound, taste, smell, touch – what is the role for, or essence of, the human soul?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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  • http://www.conversationinfaith.wordpress.com Nancy Janisch

    Your question, “If everything we think and do can be traced to physical and chemical processes in biology…” seems to stand in contradiction to your last two quotes from Green-perhaps on purpose. I have spent some time this past year reading Nancey Murphy and I believe she and Green have similar views. (I haven’t read Green yet, waiting for the interlibrary loan to get it to me)

    The idea that we are “nothing but” our DNA and chemistry has real problems when thinking about the relationship between our brains and our minds. Minds require brains but our minds also seem to be much more than our brains. Murphy suggests that rather than thinking of ourselves as made up of “Parts” a body, a soul; we ought to think of body and soul as aspects of ourselves. Not separate things but aspects of a holistic entity, a human being.

    The question of what makes us human has been of interest to me for a long time. I may be jumping the gun here but- in my opinion what makes us human is not something biological or the addition of a soul, but what makes us human is the nature of our particular relationship with God.

  • John W Frye

    “This is a nascent science – and one deserving of skepticism and caution” and “it appears…it appears…” are enough for me to hold judgment on the inadequacy of prevailing views of the material/immaterial aspects of the “human being.” I am eager to read about how Dr. Green defines “the image of God” in human beings.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I am on board with Nancy. Last year I had a series of conversations around the human with a Hindi friend, and his view is much like what Nancy is saying. He views these things of properties of humans, not things that make up humans. Viewed in that way the animals clearly have similar properties, which should not be surprising given the animation of each of us.

    So the mind, the perception of consciousness is a property of the configuration of our existence. To think that we have something separate that was bestowed on a material being sets us off in the wrong direction.

    I have a couple other observations.

    First, I once heard that, not only are the chimps our closest relative, but we are their closest relative. When they look out at the animal kingdom I can’t help but think they feel a kinship with us unlike the other animated dust. Does anyone know if this is true?

    Second, I saw another article in the past week that was claiming 1% to 3% or DNA is Neanderthal, pretty clearly showing a distinct lack of, what some would probably call, purity.

    Third, people used to think of other people as being sub-human, and I am willing to bet my soul that there are those who still do. Given that, we have to recognize that ego is quite powerful indeed and will cloud this subject in many ways.

    Last, I continue to get more open in my view of this and have a difficult time drawing the line at human/animal and feel much more compelled to draw the line and sentient/non-sentient. Not only should I not beat my neighbor, but I should not beat my dog.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    My apologies, I meant Hindu, not Hindi.

  • http://www.virtuphill.blospot.com phil_style

    One of my main problems with trying to posit a “soul” or “spirit” part of a person is when we are dealing with persons with vastly reduced brain functioning. If we suppose that a spirit/soul actually does certain things then are we to assume that persons without those functions are missing a soul?

    Most strong dualists I know seem to then default to the idea that a “soul” is present in a person so long as that person is alive, and it “departs” on death. What happens to this “soul” during unconsciousness and/or sleep is simply ignored. This seems to me to be a cop out – because it suggests to me that this soul is perfectly pointless.

    If the soul has no use or function then why should my conscious self care about its health, destiny or otherwise? What does it matter to me what this entity does after I die?

  • dopderbeck

    Green correctly notes that: [neuroscientists], in urging that humans are more than their physicality, simply refuse to identify that “something more” with an ontologically distinctive entity such as a “soul” or “spirit.”

    But Green doesn’t go on to discuss why this position is fundamentally incoherent. A “something more” that exerts causation in the world is the defintion of an “ontologically distinct entity.” Causality and ontology are directly related. Even if “mind” is only an emergent property of brain states, nevertheless as an emergent property that exercises downward causation it is an “ontologically distinct entity.”

    Example: the computer keyboard on which I’m typing is an “ontologically distinct entity” — “a computer keyboard.” The keyboard is comprised of plastics, silicone chips, and some other materials, which are comprised of various organic and inorganic molecules. What sits under my fingers is not just “a lump of plastic,” nor just “a bunch of petroleum-based molecules”. It is a “keyboard” — a distinct emergent entity.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    dopderbeck, isn’t their refusal a refusal to name, not a refusal to aknowledge existance?

  • dopderbeck

    DRT — from my reading of some stuff by neuroscientists, I suspect its more about a reluctance to give “philosophy” or “metaphysics” any role in defining what is “real”.

  • John W Frye

    DRT (#7),
    Is the scientists’ refusal to name the “ontologically distinct entity” a reaction to religious categories?

  • http://evolutionarycreation.wordpress.com EC

    I think idea of supervenience may play into this discussion. That is, mental properties and facts supervene on the physical properties and facts, and thus do not equal the physical. So mental properties and facts can be more than simply physical.

    Any thoughts on this?

  • scotmcknight

    Dopderbeck,
    Have you seen K. Ward’s new book? More than Matter?

  • Susan N.

    DRT – your human/animal, sentient/non-sentient thoughts are resonating with me. Most of my thoughts and comments here are non-scientific and from a “lay” theological perspective, I realize. But, here goes another anecdotal observation from me! When my daughter’s guinea pig was gravely ill for two weeks in February, and, in the end, died, the experience deeply, deeply affected us… Which caused us to do a lot of “grief work” and reflect on many spiritual things. As we provided “hospice” care to our guinea pig, I had some uncanny experiences with the little creature that caused me to question whether she was conscious of her imminent death and purposed to hold on a bit longer to “say goodbye” or whatever?? We were hard-pressed to come up with any biblical “proof” for the existence of an animal’s soul, or to find evidence that animals’ souls live on eternally, but my daughter firmly concluded that if all guinea pigs don’t go to heaven, then she doesn’t think it’s a place she’d like to be either! And I just let that belief stand. For those who have domesticated animals as pets, there is a relationship that is very meaningful. So is it the human owner’s soul that is impacted, or in loving the animal, is the animal’s soul given “life”? Pets certainly are conscious/sentient of *some* things, though often driven purely by instinct at other times… And what of humans? How often, when one’s “soul” is not healthy (disconnected, self-destructive, and, yes, alienated from God) is it a result of being completely unaware of self, others, or God? Many vegetarians do not eat meat due to the belief that animals DO, in fact, experience pain and grief, and that by killing and eating them, we violate the sacred. If I had to kill my own chicken to eat for dinner, I would think twice about my meal plan! How much of brutality in society arises from primitive urges in humans? Maybe the role of the soul, and the Divine image within, is to integrate the primitive creature with the transcendent Divine in creation? Scientifically, I don’t know how to understand this, let alone articulate it! Hoping these rather jumbled up thoughts come across somewhat coherently…

  • http://www.conversationinfaith.wordpress.com Nancy Janisch

    Susan, thank you for sharing. You are not alone having this sort of experience. To interact with just one of your comments- Biblical “proof” for animals souls. There is not much in the Bible about animal souls or the relationship between animals and God, not because animals are of no value but because they are not the audience and the focus of Scripture. The Bible is the record of God’s interactions with humans. But here and there in scripture there are hints, if you will, about God’s relationship with animals. Check out http://www.notonesparrow.com for an evangelical perspective on faith and animals that is very accessible for lay persons.

  • dopderbeck

    Scot — hadn’t seen that one by Ward yet — thanks! Right up my alley.

  • Susan N.

    Nancy @ #13 – thank you for this link. I surfed over and know instantly from reading the ‘About’ page alone that this will speak to me…and my daughter, who is a “gentle soul” and a lover of animals. I will spend some time reading and contemplating the content at the ‘Not One Sparrow’ site :-)

  • rjs

    The book by Ward does look interesting.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Only Animal Stuff in this Response

    Susan and Nancy – We have lots of animals running around my house and yard, though we are at a low point right now with just 6 mammals and 3 birds (one bird got eaten by a mammal on Friday). Most of them have more feelings and communications than my 13 year old son (just kidding,…)

    While there certainly is a cognition difference, I have no doubt they have souls. If I had to guess based on my direct experience, the image of god thing would be more in the language department more than anything.

    My best animal personality story is about our 200 lb Old English Mastiff, Tonka. He was a very sweet boy, and his favorite food was pigs ears. He was voracious eating them and would throw them up in the air and loved it! But when my wife would leave the house, she would give him one and he would know that she was leaving. He would take it, then put it down and just lay there next to it and not eat it. No matter how long she left (as long as no one else was there) he would just lay by that pigs ear and look sad (they can look quite sad). When she got home he would wait until she came in, greeted her, then would go over and eat it, full of joy. She swore he did it just to give her a guilt trip, and it worked.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    John Frye#9, Yes, it is my belief that the scientist will not name the entity due to the religious names. Having said that, if I was researching it I certainly would be reluctant to name it with those names considering all the baggage they come with.

  • Dana Ames

    Phyllis Tickle says that up until now, the “burning question” has been, “Who has the authority?”, but that this will come to be replaced by, “What does it mean to be human?”

    Susan, I know it’s foolish to derive “doctrine” from a single verse. However, the psalm verse that says “No good thing will he withhold from those who love him” has always been a comfort for me wrt my companion animals. Pets are among the very best of “good things,” and I firmly believe God will give ours back to us in the New Creation. I don’t care to speculate on how, I only know that it has to be, for, something extremely important about love and humans’ relationship to the created world would most definitely be lacking otherwise.

    IIRC, some of the eastern Fathers thought animals had “souls”, though not the same “type” as what humans have.

    I tend to view a human Person as a unity, so also see the distinctions discussed in the post as aspects of a unified being, rather than “parts” which add up to something.

    Interestingly, in the east one doesn’t begin with trying to figure out conceptually what makes a human being; one starts with human-to-human experiences (“energies”) which constitute the level on which we know other humans, and then from there we get some ideas about what a human person is, both as a human and as a Person. Humanness (human nature), which every human shares, is only knowable through distinct Persons; Persons are only knowable and express humanness through encounter, participation, communion.

    Dana

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Dana, IIRC made me have to look it up….IIRC

  • Fred

    DRT

    I have pet pigs.

  • normbv

    David Brooks had a article today that resonates with this discussion. It appears that humans are hard wired to cooperate and help while animals are not.
    Here is the link and some excerpts.

    “Nice Guys Finish First”
    By David Brooks

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/17/opinion/17brooks.html?hp

    The story of evolution, we have been told, is the story of the survival of the fittest. The strong eat the weak. The creatures that adapt to the environment pass on their selfish genes. Those that do not become extinct.
    In this telling, we humans are like all other animals — deeply and thoroughly selfish.

    … Tomasello’s point is that the human mind veered away from that of the other primates. We are born ready to cooperate, and then we build cultures to magnify this trait.
    In “Born to Be Good,” Dacher Keltner describes the work he and others are doing on the mechanisms of empathy and connection, involving things like smiles, blushes, laughter and touch.
    … But the big upshot is this: For decades, people tried to devise a rigorous “scientific” system to analyze behavior that would be divorced from morality. But if cooperation permeates our nature, then so does morality, and there is no escaping ethics, emotion and religion in our quest to understand who we are and how we got this way.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Fred, I bet they plot to overthrow you.

  • Susan N.

    DRT – you crack me up! I never did comment on the post about atonement (King’s Crossing?), on which you commented that maybe Christ’s ransom was for all those poor (sacrificial) animals that could now LIVE! I hear you on this… Your doggie sounds nice. Some animals are nicer than people… Our pets bring out the better side of us humans, don’t you think?

    normbv – Oh! Oh!! Did you see the news coverage of the two dogs after the earthquake/tsunami in Japan? One dog was injured and unconscious or immobile, so the other dog just sat by its side, as if looking for help? This made me think, again, that animals sometimes behave better than people. Both dogs were rescued finally (hooray!). Certain animals are more “community” minded. I’m a big fan of the herbivores of the animal kingdom. That survival of the fittest is animal instinct plays out in human civilization, too, I think. I wrote a paper on that topic in college English class once…how survival of the fittest plays out in the global job market. Dog eat dog, and eat or be eaten! Certainly, God revealed in Christ shows us a different way (thankfully).

    Dana – these are interesting and good thoughts to contemplate. I have enjoyed this discussion a great deal.

  • Brian Considine

    RJS ask: “If everything we think and do can be traced to physical and chemical processes in biology – the electrical signals of neurons in response to sight, sound, taste, smell, touch – what is the role for, or essence of, the human soul?”

    Three answers come quickly to mind:

    First: We have the capacity to ask why. No other of God’s creatures have the capacity to ask that fundamental and life changing question, and then reason about it, pontificate on it, and sermonize about it. Science can tell us how something happens, it might even tells us that our responses are chemical and electrical activity that can be measured, but science cannot tell us why it happens. Why do we delight in a beautiful sunset? Why do we take pleasure in our child’s fine performace? And an infinite number of “why questions” that science cannot and will never be able to answer. Sure, those that worship science can and will no doubt conflate evidence to nothing more than basic instinctive responses, but why would we want to do that?

    Second: Because we have the capacity to ask why, we also have the capacity to create. Can an animal do that beyond some basic building (i.e. nests, dams) functions? Can they create technology, art or music? Can they even do science? Only those created in the image of God can do that.

    Third: Because we can create we have the capacity to praise God. We can praise the Lord for breathing creative His life into us? Did He do that for the animals? Can science even tell us what that means? Can an animal acknowledge a Creator and thank Him, as we humans can, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made? Can an animal sing the praises of God for His salvation and that of others? Can an animal proclaim the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Can an animal pray?

    And, this all separates us from the animal kingdom as we are of a different Kingdom that is imperishable, because God has placed a soul within us. Science cannot explain this since science is so limited.

  • Joe Canner

    @Norm #22, This is some interesting research, although I don’t think there is an all-or-nothing distinction between humans and animals as far as cooperation is concerned. Animals have long been known to cooperate with one another, but what appears to be altruism in animals is actually just self-interest. This is true to some extent in humans as well; we just have more sophisticated methods to cooperate. What truly sets us apart from animals is to be altruistic without hope of benefit in return. This, I believe, is what Jesus was getting at with the story of the Good Samaritan (and elsewhere): don’t just be nice to people in your “tribe” or people who can pay you back, be nice to people outside of your comfort zone and to those who can’t pay you back.

  • normbv

    Susan N.

    I tragically lost a beloved Boxer pet when it became entangled due to wearing a chain collar. That loss still haunts me and if you asked me immediately after that beloved pet’s loss I would tell you that I seriously felt that God had a place for her in Heaven. I was convinced that a creature that could display the love and loyalty of this pet had to have been preserved by God.

    I can hardly watch dog movies because invariably they die and I start boo hooing like a baby.

    Joe Canner… I found the article by Brooks interesting as well and as I mention above I tend to get emotionally attached to dogs especially. However my grown kids like to remind me that I even cried when their first hamster died. Dug the grave and made a cross for it as well. However growing up on the farm I felt ok about catching the chicken for supper and wringing its neck. Loved that fried chicken and mash potatoes and gravy. ;)

  • rjs

    Brian,

    I agree, I think the kinds of things you list do separate us from the non-human animals. The capacity to create, inquire, and relate on a level that far exceeds anything anywhere else in creation. Whether that requires a separate “soul” or whether our soul is part and parcel of our body is another question.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Susan N, I am really having a difficult time refraining from a Good Shepard joke….

  • Tom F.

    Good discussion so far. Hey, for those folks who still feel the need for a distinct, different substance sort of soul,(as opposed to a sort of emergent, wholistic expression of personhood) how does the soul actually help people accomplish the things it supposedly does?

    Example: Brian brings up that the soul is necessary to understand “taking pleasure” in a child’s performance or enjoying a sunset. But why would having a soul help make these experiences possible? What precisely about a soul makes the experience of beauty possible when compared to a physical brain? Or creativity, for instance? Why does having a soul make us more creative than if we don’t have one? Or even worship? Why does having a soul make us able to worship? What about a soul allows it to worship? No fair just saying: “It can’t be physical”. Fine. If it isn’t physical, how does it work when it becomes immaterial?

    I just wonder if this conversation is less about whether we do or don’t have a soul, and more about what we are or are not comfortable having science be able to explain.

  • AHH

    What aspects of our nature make us distinctively human?
    Is “humanness” connected to the physical and material form of our bodies? If so, How?

    If we take “humanness” as meaning “image of God” (which I’d consider a good starting place for Christians), then I would answer these questions “none” and “no”.

    The OT scholars (at least the majority) tell us that “image of God” refers to a role or function that is assigned to humans, to represent God and be God’s vice-regents with a responsibility for God’s created order and to glorify God in general. If they are right, then this assignment of responsibility was God’s choice, not necessarily the result of special physical qualities.
    Having said that, it does seem like some characteristics of our species, as others have named, make us better suited to carry out that God-assigned responsibility than other species.

    But I see no foundational reason why God could not have chosen instead to make dolphins, for example, the image-bearers. [he says, as "So long, and thanks for all the fish" comes to mind.]

  • Tim

    Great post RJS. It looks like this material is touching on previous conversations we’ve had on this forum regarding the continuity between humanity and our closest evolutionary cousins. I look forward to reading the rest of the series as you progress through the book.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Again the difference between humans and other animals appears to be a difference of degree rather than kind.

    A difference in degree can be a difference in kind. A literal example: heat up ice from -5 Celsius to -3 Celsius, and not much happens. But heat it from -1C to 1C, suddenly you’ve got water. Heat water from 95C to 97C, and you’ve still got water. Heat it from 99C to 101C, and you’ve got steam.

    Lots of other examples; critical mass, the pebble that launches an avalanche, the transition to chaotic behavior in dynamic systems.

    Just because the genetic differences between humans and chimpanzees are small by some measures doesn’t automatically mean they can’t have large effects.

  • rjs

    Ray,

    Good point.

  • Joe Canner

    Ray #33,

    I was going to say something like that yesterday, but couldn’t figure out how to say it in an understandable way that actually made the point I wanted to make. So, thanks for doing the heavy lifting!

    To bring your analogy back to the chimp and human genomes, there are about 25,000 genes and 3 billion base pairs in the human genome. Even a 1% or 2% difference between the genomes could affects tens of millions of base pairs and hundreds of genes. Not only that, but it could be that the slow, gradual increase in brain size (which probably doesn’t require a lot of genetic change) made it inevitable that humans would eventually have the brain capacity to do the things that make us uniquely human.

  • Susan N.

    Joe @ #35, when you said, “Not only that, but it could be that the slow, gradual increase in brain size (which probably doesn’t require a lot of genetic change) made it inevitable that humans would eventually have the brain capacity to do the things that make us uniquely human.” — is it language that you think primarily differentiates us from animals? How do we know what animals are thinking or feeling if they cannot communicate with us in words? How about the studies with primates who have been taught sign language, and have demonstrated the ability to create tools?

    Ray, I like your point too about differences being in degrees.

  • Amanda Furman

    Out of curiosity, has anyone here listened to the “Lucy” episode of Radiolab?

    This episode, about a chimp named Lucy who was brought up by the Temerlin family as an experiment by psychologist Dr. Maurice Temerlin to see how far she could be humanized, is really powerful. (and warning, quite depressing)

    For me, it did ultimately affirm our uniqueness as humans (though perhaps altered many of my categories), but raised fascinating questions about differences of degree. The results of trying to humanize Lucy had both horribly tragic, yet interesting (as related to the questions we are asking) results.

    http://www.radiolab.org/2010/feb/19/lucy/

  • Joe Canner

    Susan @#36: That’s a good question, one I’ve often wondered myself. I know that chimps and gorillas have been taught sign language and I recently read about a parrot who had been taught to speak extemporaneously (not just mimic). And it certainly stands to reason that animals can communicate amongst themselves to some degree, even if we don’t know exactly what they’re saying. We will probably never have a clear picture of what animals are thinking, and even if there is no evidence that animals are capable of the kinds of thought processes as humans, I don’t know that we will ever be able to rule it out.

    So, I would probably hedge a bit, and say that “uniquely human” characteristics are differences of degree not all-or-nothing. Back in #26 I said that true altruism (doing something for somebody without expectation of reward) is a uniquely human trait. I still stand by that, although with some caveats. Even if there are examples of animals being truly altruistic (and I think there may be some), it is most likely because they have an instinctual (genetically inherited) sense that they will be rewarded, even if the reward is not always obtained. However, this goes to motives, something which will remain a mystery until we can either communicate with animals or read their minds. So, back to square one… :)

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Regarding the differences between humans and animals, this is interesting, too: http://www.cracked.com/article_19042_6-terrifying-ways-crows-are-way-smarter-than-you-think.html


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