When we read the popular science magazines or watch the shows on the History, Discovery or Science channels we get the idea that humans are just a little more smarter than all other animals and really not any more important. According the evolutionary theory we are just a result of unfocused mutations in strings of DNA and no more or less than any other animal. Are we really just as Desmond Morris called us, naked apes? After all some scientists calculate that there is only about a 2% difference between us and chimpanzees, actually about 1.5% difference. However that is now in dispute. It seems the difference may be greater. But lest go with the 2% difference.
What a difference that 2% difference makes. From art to tools to the ability to conceptualize and to contemplate the meaning of life and its end humans are different from any other creature on the earth. These differences between humans and those other animals that most closely resemble us are such that no one could mistake one for the other. In this post I will take a look at some differences that I consider major differences, language, tool making/use, artistic endeavors and finally the mind.
One of the major differences between humans and all other animals is language both oral and written. Many animals make vocalizations to alert others of their species to danger, location, for mating purposes and limited feelings, anger, loss etc., but these sounds can convey only limited information. They can alert other that a predator is near but humans can describe the predator and give the direction as well as make a plan to defeat or escape from the predator. Something that no other creature but humans is capable of is written language, the ability to pass knowledge on to future generation and to keep a record of events. The use of symbols to convey information is unique to humans. Written language enables each of us to receive information from someone we have never met and who may no longer be alive. It binds generations together.
Before we move on yes there are other creatures that can be trained to use language. Parrots and some other birds can mimic human speech and be trained to use these words to receive a reward. Being able to teach a creature to mimic a sound is a far cry from that creature being able to communicate on their own and while Poly might enjoy the occasional cracker they are unable to ask for directions back to the jungle. Then we have the gorillas that have been taught sign language. Once again they can use simple words in order to get a reward and there are studies that indicate an ability to put words together to convey new thoughts. Recently some of these studies have come into question as to how much was the gorilla’s doing and how much may have been open to interpretation by those conducting the study. Still even if we take these studies at face value we once again see that the ability to communicate is limited and nowhere near the capabilities of humans.
Much has been made of animal use of tools. From chimpanzee’s use of stick to get termites out of their mounds to otters using a rock to open mollusk shells. We are constantly told that the use of tools is not limited to humans. What seems to get left out is that humans not only use objects as tools, humans shape objects into tools. It is a long way from poking a stick into a termite mound to retrieve a snack to shaping the same stick into an arrow or spear shaft. Using a rock to crack an oyster shell is not the same as taking a rock and fashioning a point to attach to the shaft you have constructed. Human use of tools has left these primitive tools in the dust. From chariot to the wagon to the modern automobile humans have created tools to do most anything.
A few years ago the zoos around the country were selling art created by elephants and chimps and gorillas. While the money was going to a good cause I cannot help but question if it was art. Splashing paint on a piece of paper is not art; it may be pleasing to the eye but without purpose is it really art. Think about the last time you toured a fine arts museum. While not every piece appealed to you there was much that did and it had purpose, it communicated the artists feeling to you. Human art transcends paint on paper. There are the sculptures of Michelangelo, the drawing of Da Vinci or the faces on Mont Rushmore. Then there is music. Humans create sounds not to communicate but to entertain. Music speaks to us on an emotional level it has no survival value. Other creatures may make sounds that are pleasing to us but those sounds have a survival purpose, luring a mate, letting others know where you are or giving a warning. Only humans create art not to survive but to enjoy.
Finally there is the human mind, a mystery to science. How matter can display consciousness is so far unexplainable by science. We think, we plan and not for the moment but for the future. Only humans can contemplate the past, the present and the future. Only we are aware of our own mortality and contemplate what lies after this earthly life. The mind was able to discover mathematics and then use this discovery to put men on the moon and objects such as Voyager which has left the solar system. With our minds we imagine something and then we build it. We alone are able to move beyond the survival programming of all other creatures. We are unique.
Have a blessed day,
As I was finishing up this post I came across something on the Discovery magazine website that really belonged to my last post. It seems that paleoanthropologists have recently found the first complete hominid skull from the early Pleistocene period which will provides evidence that all the many hominid species that were though to exist are really only one species. Gone would be Homo erectus, Homo rudolfensis and Homo habilis replaced by a single species. You can find the article here: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2013/10/17/hominid-skull-spurs-radical-rewrite-of-human-evolution/ .
Something else about this find, the skull’s cranium and jaw bone were found five years apart and six feet from each other. Still we are told they everyone is confident that they are indeed on individual. I would think there would be a bit higher confidence if they were found together but that seems to be the norm with hominid finds. Fragments spread over wide areas are assumed to be one individual.
This discovery does not refute evolution but it does call into play how much our own biases shape how we view things, especially when the discoveries are subject to interpretation. Using fragments of skulls and not much else whole species were created and then lined up on a family tree. These were then used to demonstrate to all that evolution was a fact. Now once again we find that all the experts were wrong and the findings were misinterpreted. What will not happen is that this type of finding will make its way into a biology text or class. It seems that nothing that calls into questions the experts ever do.
Next post I will finish this series on evolution with a summary of the past posts, how I would like to see evolution taught and what are the alternatives.