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How Are Humans Unique? - Comments

justinesaracen's Avatar Comment 1 by justinesaracen

While the gap between the social behaviors of non-human animals and humans seems large, I think Mr. Tomasello is too anxious to prove that humans are better and does not give enough mention of studies indicating complex social and even apparently moral communications among non-human animals.
That is, that the difference is in degree, not kind.


Sun, 25 May 2008 07:41:00 UTC | #175067

Mike O'Risal's Avatar Comment 2 by Mike O'Risal

Tomasello asks:

It is thus with decidedly mixed feelings that we regard the frequent reports that activities once thought to be uniquely human are also performed by other species: chimpanzees who make and use tools, parrots who use language, ants who teach. Is there anything left?
I can think of a few things. For instance, we're the only species we know of that sits around trying to come up with ways to feel that we're different from all the other species. As far as I know, we're also the only one that publishes.

Man: the authoring animal.

Sun, 25 May 2008 08:08:00 UTC | #175068

Colwyn Abernathy's Avatar Comment 3 by Colwyn Abernathy

Human beings do not like to think of themselves as animals. It is thus with decidedly mixed feelings that we regard the frequent reports that activities once thought to be uniquely human are also performed by other species: chimpanzees who make and use tools, parrots who use language, ants who teach. Is there anything left?

Any other species use sarcasm?

EDIT: SRSLY, I think we're the only species to create something merely for the sake of creating it to exist, and not for some evolutionary purpose: mating rituals, homes, etc. You know, the whole ART thing.

Sun, 25 May 2008 08:26:00 UTC | #175069

Synchronium's Avatar Comment 4 by Synchronium

As far as I'm aware, we're the only species with tcp/ip capabilities.

Sun, 25 May 2008 08:36:00 UTC | #175071

Wosret's Avatar Comment 5 by Wosret

Well reading this I felt like my intellect was being slapped across the face about every sentence. Though perhaps others don't realise this. It has always seemed obvious to me that we have only gotten anywhere because of our complex social interactions.

I once argued that you could have a specie with an intellect three or four times greater than a normal person's. They would definately solve problems faster, and probably be excellent at survival, but if they were a solitary species, without a social structure, then they would not be advancing in any technological sense. They would likely use pretty good tools that they invented themselves, but once they died that would be it. The next generations always start from scratch.

One of my favorite quotes, from Newton: "If I've been able to see further than most men, it's because I've stood on the shoulders of giants."

We are a collective, and we wield the knowledge and achievements of about a million years. Our technology, and rate of improvement has increased, exponentually correlating with our accuracy of taking records, and the growth and improvement of our societies, and our society's ability to communicate amongst itself, and with others.

We are billions of individuals capable of working intricately, and precisely as one. This is why we kick so much ass compared to every other animal.

Sun, 25 May 2008 09:05:00 UTC | #175076

Chuk15's Avatar Comment 6 by Chuk15

And we can walk upright and use our hands. That's a plus, definitely.

Sun, 25 May 2008 09:16:00 UTC | #175077

Christopher Davis's Avatar Comment 7 by Christopher Davis

I agree with Mitchell, I don't see anything revolutionary about this author's ideas. In fact, I'd describe it as a clumsy attempt to shoehorn basic social and developmental psychology into an evolutionary framework.

Sun, 25 May 2008 09:17:00 UTC | #175078

riki's Avatar Comment 8 by riki

Publishing is probably the animal equivalent of a dog marking it's territory.

Sun, 25 May 2008 09:19:00 UTC | #175079

moderndaythomas's Avatar Comment 9 by moderndaythomas

The great apes; chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans; communicate almost exclusively for the purpose of getting others to do what they want.

Emphasis on almost.

This article has many anthropocentric qualities. I've always marveled at not how unique the human animal is, for there are few examples, but rather how similar we are.

humans beings are not cooperating angels; they also put their heads together to do all kinds of heinous deeds. But such deeds are not usually done to those inside "the group." Recent evolutionary models have demonstrated what politicians have long known: the best way to get people to collaborate and to think like a group is to identify an enemy and charge that "they" threaten "us."

I'm not arguing that sapiens are far more intelligent than the chimp, but are not chimps efficient at organised hunting? Do they not assault (wage war on) other primate communities?

Sun, 25 May 2008 09:35:00 UTC | #175084

Auraboy's Avatar Comment 10 by Auraboy

Chimpanzee communities have also been seen to make social outcasts, beat and even murder individuals within a group and not for any apparent mating or power struggles. They have also been seen to forgive outcasts and even re-introduce them into the social fold despite the disadvantages to the individuals who choose to do so.

Of course I think reading in some human preference into the article is a little extreme. The author appears to be pointing out behavioural differences that have been directly observed. Observation and decree are not normally the same thing. Even in a truncated newspaper article.

Sun, 25 May 2008 10:10:00 UTC | #175087

Opisthokont's Avatar Comment 11 by Opisthokont

Last I checked, I was a human being, and I have absolutely no problem at all with considering myself an animal. Likewise, I have no difficulty considering myself a eukaryote, or a living thing. The problem that this author alludes to here is not with the classification but rather with the emotionally charged connotations that most people have with the word "animal". These range from an inferred lack of civility to a denigration of those features that make humans unusual to the outdated and incorrect scala naturae. None of these things are accurate. We are not humbled by belonging to the animal kingdom: we are given a place by it. We are a part of Nature; we are native inhabitants of Earth; and counting ourselves amongst its other inhabitants is merely an acknowledgement of our relationship to them -- ecological as well as evolutionary. Working to assert and to affirm those critical relationships is a far more important and necessary goal than reassuring ourselves of our imagined superiority.

This is not to say that we are not in fact superior in many ways: our intelligence and our capacity for communication at least are unmatched, as far as we can tell. However, these are only some of many traits, many others of which are significantly inferior to those of other organisms. It is not a question of overall superiority that we should focus on, but rather an examination of values: we are superior in things that we care about, can make up for many of the others, and can do without the rest. Again, there is nothing humbling in this. We must merely be honest with ourselves.

Sun, 25 May 2008 10:12:00 UTC | #175088

BJohn's Avatar Comment 12 by BJohn

Here is an article I think many people on this website would find interesting. It's about what "other atheists" are saying about Dawkins and Harris...

Sun, 25 May 2008 10:29:00 UTC | #175089

huzonfurst's Avatar Comment 13 by huzonfurst

BJohn's article about the "other atheists" points out a real problem about how so many people are still terrified of being found out as unbelievers. Every one of those "other atheists" bases his entire argument on the discomfort he feels when Dawkins and Harris tell it like it is for once, without pulling any punches.

Their objections are universally straw men which desperately try to equate honest atheism with fundamentalist religion. It's *tiresome* - religion is *bullshit* and we all know it!

Sun, 25 May 2008 11:10:00 UTC | #175091

Auraboy's Avatar Comment 14 by Auraboy

I think just about anybody with even a hint of credibility or a vague faculty for critical thinking has managed to note that Terry Eagleton seems to want limelight more than anything and throws out such blithering aspersions at anyone and anything that he really shouldn't be allowed to call himself a critic. More of an amateur rotten veg thrower. His ongoing spat with Martin Amis was another dribbling argument that made anybody who thought these were part of the intelligentsia want to bang their head against the rather muck stained walls of Manchester's English department.

Have the affront to say something because it's true and worry about whether it's fitting later. Dawkins says religion is flawed, often a cause of evil and simply, fundamentally not true. Discomfort has nothing to do with that argument. Comfort is not a factor in truth. Comfort is a factor in comfort. It doesn't mean you have to ignore it, but some of these critics really are painfully guilty of some fuzzy categorisation.

Sun, 25 May 2008 11:22:00 UTC | #175093

huzonfurst's Avatar Comment 15 by huzonfurst

For Bullet, Evolution 101, first introductory lecture: Evolution is a *fact*; evolutionary theory is an *explanation* of this fact. The word does not mean "educated guess" as it does in the vernacular. Now sit quietly and learn.

Sun, 25 May 2008 11:49:00 UTC | #175095

AoClay's Avatar Comment 16 by AoClay

I would like to see a test done (maybe one already has been done) about how good human hands are, because I know some Ionians were fascinated by them.

and bullet, many other animals have forms of morality and evolution is indeed a theory (a scientific theory). The point is, how does that make it any less of a fact? It isn't JUST a theory, it's a theory. It's a theory that is the background theory for biology, and is on par with atomic theory or heliocentric theory for being correct.

or I should put it like huzon. Evolution is a fact and the theory is the explanation that is damn well supported.

Sun, 25 May 2008 12:08:00 UTC | #175097

Auraboy's Avatar Comment 17 by Auraboy

I'm not sure how we'd know an ape doesn't have a developed sense of right or wrong. But as you describe it, neither do the apes that call themselves human beings. Moral development is noticeable for the word development. Moral choice and understanding has originated and morphed across generations and civilisations. What is right and wrong are important questions but to ignore the fact they have changed over time and through cultural pressures and intersocial development is to ignore the very point. Morality has developed in it's own fundamental evolutionary way. I'm sure there are far more knowledgeable people on here who can point out the areas of study for this.

Still nothing separates us from animals.

Sun, 25 May 2008 12:15:00 UTC | #175101

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 18 by mordacious1


You also need to look up the definition of "theory". christianity is NOT a theory, it's a myth. Natural Selection is an accepted theory (to describe evolution) but evolution is a FACT. Read a book other than the bible and you might learn something.

Sun, 25 May 2008 12:16:00 UTC | #175102

Darwin's badger's Avatar Comment 19 by Darwin's badger

Yeah, huzonfurst - and why is the theory of gravity still called the THEORY of gravity? Get out of that one, Rommel.


Bullet, are you a troll or just really ignorant?

Sun, 25 May 2008 12:17:00 UTC | #175103

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 20 by mordacious1

I suppose, even to understand a dictionary, you need some basic knowledge to comprehend what the definitions mean.

Darwin's badger
Yeah, everytime one of these morons tell me that evolution is a theory, I suggest we throw their kid off a 10 story building. Gravity is only a theory...

Sun, 25 May 2008 12:24:00 UTC | #175105

Quine's Avatar Comment 21 by Quine

Bullet, I suggest you go read the Lying for Jesus thread (from the beginning), where you will find many others have already made your comments, and where you will be able to read the answers and get the links to the background sources.

Sun, 25 May 2008 12:25:00 UTC | #175106

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 22 by mordacious1

No real school teaches that christianity is a theory, christian schools, maybe.

Sun, 25 May 2008 12:32:00 UTC | #175107

Auraboy's Avatar Comment 23 by Auraboy

My dog knows when it's been bad.It looks really sad about it. But I suspect the little bastard is just putting on a show to mollify my almighty wrath. You can't trust these animals to know right from wrong.

Much like politicians in that respect. And arch-Bishops. But their hound dog expressions carry less weight with me.

Sun, 25 May 2008 12:46:00 UTC | #175110

Auraboy's Avatar Comment 24 by Auraboy

Moral and ethical concerns have changed with the developments of societies.

Sun, 25 May 2008 12:49:00 UTC | #175112

epeeist's Avatar Comment 25 by epeeist

Comment #184487 by Bullet

Why has it been taught in schools? There is too much evidence for it to simply be called "myth". There are enough facts for creation for it to be called a theory, by far. Thats why it has been taught in schools. It is a reasonable explanation of how we got here, as is eveloution.
Sometimes I really understand why Steve Zara left to do other things.

  1. Evolution is a fact. It has been observed in the laboratory and in the wild. Have a look for the history of Spartina Anglica and Tiktaalik for examples.
  2. Darwin's theory of evolution and the modern neo-Darwinian synthesis is an explanation of how evolution takes place. It is a scientific theory
  3. Scientific theories have a number of properties, including accuracy, broadness of scope, self-consistency and consistency with other theories, parsimony and fruitfulness of research programs. These are from Kuhn, Popper would also add testability and falsifiability.
  4. The theory of evolution has undergone critical tests and is falsifiable. You can find extensive information on this here -
  5. Creationism is not science. The judge in the ACLU-Arkansas trial said so, and the judge in the Kitzmiller-Dover trial concluded that "Intelligent Design" wasn't science either. In fact Michael Behe was forced to admit that a definition of science broad enough to include ID would also be broad enough to include astrology. Do you want that taught in schools too?

If you believe your god created the universe in 7 days you are going to have to do some work to prove it.
  1. You are going to have to show that the universe was created
  2. You are going to have to show the creator was a deity
  3. You are going to have to show that this deity is interventionist and didn't just move on to the next job once he finished this universe
  4. You are going to have to show that your particular deity is the one worshipped in one particular area of one particular planet circling one particular sun amongst 400 billion others stars in one particular galaxy amongst 150 billion others
  5. You are going to have to show that this was documented in the "holy book" of a tribe of cattle sacrificing primitives
Oh, and as for something being true because a lot of people believe in it - this is a logical fallacy known as argumentum ad populum. There is more contemporary evidence for Zeus than there is for Jesus, and as I say creationism is not a theory. It makes no predictions, it isn't testable and it isn't falsifiable.

Sun, 25 May 2008 12:51:00 UTC | #175113

epeeist's Avatar Comment 26 by epeeist

Comment #184495 by Bullet

I promise you, im not lying. My problem is, Im fourteen years old man. Im still trying to figure things out for myself. Basically, Im getting my facts straight, but theres still a lot that I dont understand.
If you are prepared to learn then people here will help you. You might want to start with -

Sun, 25 May 2008 12:56:00 UTC | #175114

the way's Avatar Comment 27 by the way

What is it with creation-ists and CAPS? I can't bring myself to use the term "intelligent design proponents", that's a FACT.

Sun, 25 May 2008 12:59:00 UTC | #175115

moderndaythomas's Avatar Comment 28 by moderndaythomas

Bullet, Bullet, Bullet, Bullet, Bullet.

If you want to test established theories for yourself, begin with gravity and jump off a ten story building.
If not gravity, try the germ theory and eat a nice steaming pile of dog sh*t.
I had asterixed out the "i" so as not to damage your nice christian boy sensibilities.

But seriously (and I can't believe I have to explain this), a theory to science is to the military a five star general. Evolution for all intense and purposes should be ranked as a law were it not for the fear (political) of damaging those christian sensibilities.

Christianity, however, has absolutely no evidence in support of it, which is why the cornerstone to any religion is faith.

Sun, 25 May 2008 12:59:00 UTC | #175116

EvidenceOnly's Avatar Comment 29 by EvidenceOnly


- your cell phone operates on the THEORIES of wireless communications, electronics, chemistry (batteries), etc.
- your car operates on the THEORIES of mechanics, electronics, chemistry, gravity, etc.
- your house is built on the THEORIES of gravity, material sciences, etc.
- you can walk around based on the THEORY of gravity.

They are all just theories but theories that are so overwhelmingly supported by evidence that we call them fact.

If you do not understand the difference, you should no longer use anything from this world and just pray to your God that gravity keeps working for you so that you do not get lost in space.

It is never too late to accept that we invented Gods in our image and that the holy books are just myth and stories written generations ago by people who did not know as much as we do now.

Let go of this false certitude of religion and open up to the wonderful world of theories that explain the facts we observe.

Sun, 25 May 2008 13:01:00 UTC | #175117

moderndaythomas's Avatar Comment 30 by moderndaythomas

Bullet, you're fourteen? Sorry my man, I had thought I was messing with someone a bit older. Excuse my rhetoric. This would explain why the need for a definition of the term "theory".

Sun, 25 May 2008 13:04:00 UTC | #175119