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Unread 10-22-2007, 09:15 PM   #1
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Default What seperates humans from animals?

I've put a lot of thought into this recently, and I thought it would make a good discussion topic. Anyways, in my opinion, there are two main things that make humans different from animals: Capacity and moral reasoning.

Capacity

What is meant by capacity? Well, two things actually.

First is emotional capacity. I am not going to argue about whether or not animals have or have not such emotions as love and hate. However, regardless of whether they do or not, they cannot feel these things on the same level as we do. A human being is capable of so much love, and of loving so many people, as well as loving animals, and beauty in nature, art, and the human world. At the same time, no other creature is capable of hating so much and so many. No animal is capable of feeling so much love, or of feeling the hate needed to want to destroy another race, or group of people. Animals have neither the emotional or mental capacity to grasp ideas such as genocide.

Which brings me to my second point, mental capacity. Humans are capable of planning, forethought, invention, as well as awareness on levels that animals don't come even close to. Apes and monkeys, while possessing the same rudimentary body structure and brain capacity as our ancient ancestors, have yet to advance to a level even remotely close to ours. If taught by us, they can perform small feats of intelligence and creativity, but it isn't so much theirs, as ours that we put into them. Other animals have had as much time on the planet as we have, and yet they have failed to evolve past the point of infants and toddlers when mentally compared to us.


Moral Judgment

No animal has the ability to judge good from evil, right from wrong, like we do. We see evil, even if it doesn't directly affect ourselves, and we punish it. We reward good. We may not always use this ability, but we all have it for the most part. And, for the most part, we all agree on the basics of what is right and what is wrong. It is right to help an elderly neighbor with something he/she can't do. It is wrong to murder someone. Most arguments of what is good or evil are just in relation to finer details. Does self-defense justify murder? Does protection of property justify murder? Or, as some believe, regardless of excuse, is murder wrong? However, even these arguments into the finer details of good and evil further prove our superiority to animals.


Anyways, that's all from me for now, hope this gets an interesting discussion going.
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Unread 10-22-2007, 10:25 PM   #2
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I'm going to go with the ability to rational thought. Lab mice have some difficulties navigating a maze or learning through shock therapy, and humans were able to build pyramids with nothing but simple tools and loads of slave labor.

Think about it, without the ability to reason, all culture is impossible. Economics, written language, science, and history can be generally defined as the cornerstones of most civilizations, and they all rely on rational thought.

Capacity and moral judgement came after.
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Unread 10-22-2007, 10:41 PM   #3
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I disagree with moral judgment between good and evil. We're the only species that does it, yes, but we're also the only one who has need of such arbitrary values. We're the only ones who DO either one. It stems entirely from excess. WE ARE THE ONLY SPECIES IN EXCESS! And it's because we were big, had thumbs, and managed to make weaponry to fuel our predatory tendencies. Gorillas are largely browsers and have no need for the likes of spears and bows. Everything else is much smaller and built, with the exception of orangs, for quadripedal movement. Which are also largely herbivorous. Otherwise, we'd probably be living side by side.
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Unread 10-22-2007, 10:51 PM   #4
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Have you seen some monkeys? They are violent as all get out. Some mother dogs will eat others babies if they get the chance. These are just a few examples. Animals aren't as tame and sweet as children's television would have you believe.
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Unread 10-22-2007, 11:02 PM   #5
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And I'm quite aware of that. But they don't do evil for evil's sake or good for good's. They take what action they need to best ensure their own survival, and are frankly better at it than we are. As in they leave some behind. But they don't generally "murder" save for other primates, and that's usually in the form of clan infighting, which we're just as guilty of.
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Unread 10-22-2007, 11:03 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Noncontradictory
Have you seen some monkeys? They are violent as all get out. Some mother dogs will eat others babies if they get the chance. These are just a few examples. Animals aren't as tame and sweet as children's television would have you believe.
Have you seen some humans? I need not delve into the nigh-infinite list of atrocities, both rational and irrational in nature.

If you don't mind, I'd like to draw a distinction, since the title might be construed as a little ambiguous. The difference between:

What separates humans from animals?

and

What separated humans from animals?

It gets a little evolutionary, but it's more of a tense thing. The top is where we are now, and what the separation is, and the bottom is what took us to where we are now. In my eyes, the two are different. I wouldn't mind knowing people's thoughts on both, instead of one or the other, or mixing the two up.

What currently separates us from animals, aside from an appreciably larger frontal lobe relative to body size, and in terms of practical capabilities, would be the things already listed above. Capacity is a pretty good one; so is moral reasoning. Rational thought is just moral reasoning at its most primitive, so maybe that's good too (though the above justification is a little wishy-washy).

What separated us from animals, which I think bluestarultor started to touch on, is our significant mammalian tendency towards offspring care, and our sophisticated means of communication. Really, I think a core, basic, human stripped of the immense benefits of society and civilization would be about as impressive as the other higher mammals cited so far (that is, compared to us, not overly so).

Long parental care (and a relatively long life too) means a lot of time to learn. Learning is essential to all of us and to most animals too, but I believe it was very essential in our "ascension" to where we are now. Advanced communication gave us the means to transfer knowledge from individual to individual, and therein lies the key. We're really more of a superorganism of the amassed human knowledge, and that is what makes our species so great in the present. Without that knowledge, we're just shaved monkeys.
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Unread 10-22-2007, 11:09 PM   #7
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The difference is evolution adding some extra mass to this thing called the brain and it all went downhill from there.

Moral reasoning is not that uniform. Although most people agree that, for the most part, murder is wrong, it's because that's over simplifying the point. The question usually is: murdering who is wrong? Most people agree that murdering people in their village/country/group is wrong, but in many cases outsiders have not been given the same luxury. Who is defined here as an outsider depends on the group defined.

And it's not like this reasoning is entirely unique to humans.

Lions may murder each other, but in their prides they work together. I can't imagine thinking of a situation where lions in the same pride would murder each other, unless some mistakes happened or a male tried to gain dominance in the pride. Which totally hasn't happened in human society.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Noncontradictory
Have you seen some monkeys? They are violent as all get out. Some mother dogs will eat others babies if they get the chance. These are just a few examples. Animals aren't as tame and sweet as children's television would have you believe.
Humans do similarly violent things when given suboptimal conditions. See: criminals.
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Unread 10-23-2007, 06:08 AM   #8
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From a purely psychological standpoint, there are only two primary qualities that separate human beings from other animals. These are that human beings need to believe, and that human beings fear death. All other differences stem from these.

To clarify, no other animal fears death. They fear pain and suffering, but they don't fear dying. Other animals accept death as a natural part of life, human beings do not. A perfect example is this: in the original story of Little Red Riding Hood it ended with Little Red Riding Hood being eaten by the wolf. There was a purpose to that story, a meaning behind it. It taught that even family members can hurt you and not to trust people's facade. But that meaning was destroyed in subsequent rewrites of the story which lead to a hunter cutting Little Red out of the wolf, or even saving her before she was eaten in the first place. These changes destroy that meaning and clearly show a human fear of death.

Human beings need to believe coincides with the collective unconscious. Animals have a collective unconscious among their species as well, but it's greatly simplified into what we would call instincts. Human beings, on the other hand, are much more complex than that. Human beings and animals share a need for spirituality (yes, even atheism is a form of spirituality), but a need to believe is different. The distinction is that spirituality is an individual, personal quality whereas belief is part of the persona. Another distinction is believing in something, which is a strong outpouring of emotion and opinion and does not always include facts or even evidence.

I unfortunately have to leave for my fist class in just a bit, so I'll try and expand on these ideas later.
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Unread 10-23-2007, 03:27 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Toast
To clarify, no other animal fears death. They fear pain and suffering, but they don't fear dying. Other animals accept death as a natural part of life, human beings do not. A perfect example is this: in the original story of Little Red Riding Hood it ended with Little Red Riding Hood being eaten by the wolf. There was a purpose to that story, a meaning behind it. It taught that even family members can hurt you and not to trust people's facade. But that meaning was destroyed in subsequent rewrites of the story which lead to a hunter cutting Little Red out of the wolf, or even saving her before she was eaten in the first place. These changes destroy that meaning and clearly show a human fear of death.
It is true that humans fear death. But what about animals? What about that mouse that got stuck in the mouse trap and will do anything to get out of it? I've seen it. They've fought to the very end.

This is not saying all animals fear death (although one would think a species would have to to survive), but that unless you call mice humans, that isn't the deciding factor.

Quote:
Human beings need to believe coincides with the collective unconscious. Animals have a collective unconscious among their species as well, but it's greatly simplified into what we would call instincts. Human beings, on the other hand, are much more complex than that. Human beings and animals share a need for spirituality (yes, even atheism is a form of spirituality), but a need to believe is different. The distinction is that spirituality is an individual, personal quality whereas belief is part of the persona. Another distinction is believing in something, which is a strong outpouring of emotion and opinion and does not always include facts or even evidence.
I'm going to admit I have a hard time understanding this argument.

If you're looking at belief in the purely spiritual sense (such as why we were created, etc) the animal part is a little harder to grasp.

If you're looking at belief in the being able to have a strong opinion on something, I can imagine animals can have strong opinions too. They just usually can't express them, due to deficient brain mass. However, certain animals, like domestic dogs, are much better at expressing their emotion.



Also, I should probably expand upon my own personal belief as to what makes humans different.

First, by random chance, extra mass was added to the brain. From this mass, humans gained an increased ability to think and to plan. Because of this, humans learned how to both gather, grow, and store food. This caused what we now call the agricultural revolution. From there humans had the free time and ability to develop a social caste and most importantly a history. All of human history since then has been expanding upon what previous generations have learned and bettering ourselves from it.

In summary, humans have greater cognitive ability and a greater foundation of ideas and knowledge to be born with from this greater cognitive ability.
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Unread 10-23-2007, 04:35 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Wizard Who Did It
It is true that humans fear death. But what about animals? What about that mouse that got stuck in the mouse trap and will do anything to get out of it? I've seen it. They've fought to the very end.

This is not saying all animals fear death (although one would think a species would have to to survive), but that unless you call mice humans, that isn't the deciding factor.
I should have been more clear about what I meant by fearing death. Fearing death isn't the same as fighting to survive. As a further example, no other animals besides humans bury their dead in boxes so they don't decompose into the natural life/death/life cycle. Remember the Lion King? Now granted, if we didn't bury our dead we'd likely have some serious health issues, but that's more a function of there being entirely too many human beings than of death itself. We started burying our dead long before that would have become a problem.

Human beings hide death, we deny it. How many times have you heard someone say to a child that a dead person is just sleeping or taking a long trip? We don't tell them the truth because, as a whole, we don't want to answer the question ourselves.

Now of course other cultures handle things differently in many ways. I'm primarily speaking about average American culture. That isn't to say, however, that there aren't parallels between our and other culture's fear of death.

Another thing that came to mind is that human beings are the only animals that intentionally commit suicide. Now, you might think that this would indicate not fearing death, but I disagree because most people who commit or attempt suicide are not thinking rationally. However, another facet of suicide is that we work ourselves to death. Heart attacks are still, last I knew, the most common cause of death in America. And it's not because of poor health habits, at least not directly. It's largely due to the chronic stress of working 40+ hours per week.



Quote:
I'm going to admit I have a hard time understanding this argument.
Having reread that portion of my post two or three times, I must say I agree with you. I don't even know what I was trying to say there. I don't think it came across well. Let me have another go at it.


Quote:
If you're looking at belief in the purely spiritual sense (such as why we were created, etc) the animal part is a little harder to grasp.
Well, I can already tell we're working from different definitions of spirituality, as mine would consider that an unimportant question. But let's save that for the big big religion thread.


Quote:
If you're looking at belief in the being able to have a strong opinion on something, I can imagine animals can have strong opinions too. They just usually can't express them, due to deficient brain mass. However, certain animals, like domestic dogs, are much better at expressing their emotion.
As I said before, this didn't come across like I had hoped. Having thought about it some more, I'm not even sure I can fully articulate the meaning I'm trying to get at. It's sort of like this: animals either know or don't know. Human beings either know, don't know, or believe they know, or believe they don't know. That's not exactly a sound, or even very clear, distinction.

There's a quote by Ian Malcolm in Michael Crichton's The Lost World that may shed some light on what I mean. It goes:

Quote:
What makes you think human beings are sentient and aware? There's no evidence for it. Human beings never think for themselves, they find it too uncomfortable. For the most part, members of our species simply repeat what they are told--and become upset if they are exposed to any different view. The characteristic human trait is not awareness but conformity, and the characteristic result is religious warfare. Other animals fight for territory or food; but, uniquely in the animal kingdom, human beings fight for their 'beliefs.' The reason is that beliefs guide behavior, which has evolutionary importance among human beings. ... I see no reason to assume we have any awareness at all. We are stubborn, self-destructive conformists. Any other view of our species is just a self-congratulatory delusion.
For right now, I'm not sure I can explain better than that.


Quote:
First, by random chance, extra mass was added to the brain. From this mass, humans gained an increased ability to think and to plan.
This is actually more profound than you might think. Human beings do have better developed frontal lobes and it is the area primarily responsible for planning actions. Planning actions is a very global kind of cognition process. This leads to a lot of other things similar to what you were talking about.
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