Sunday, November 21, 2004

What makes us hum*ans uni*que?

As some of you know, I am now in vet school but I’m also an Anthropologist. My anthropology was never the cultural type, I did research in Ethology (animal behaviour).

I am preparing a post on what defines us as humans, what makes us unique as a species. For that, I will need your help. This list is partly what I’ve remembered so far from articles on the subject and some given to me by others. Please tell me more (you can email me if you’re shy). Don’t give vague suggestions, it has to be pretty specific (see below).

Because some of the things listed below require extensive explaining, I will break it into
several minor posts. Check the sidebar, I'll add a new category right at the beginning to make it easier to follow.

There’s a point to this other than I'm loving to exercise my Anthropological fingers again. And you might just be very, very surprised.

1 - Org*sms, or*l sex + miss*onary position + sex t*ys

2 - Abortion

- Homosexuality

- Language (not simply communicating)

- Insomnia (how could I've missed this one!)

- Art

- Self-recognition

- Humour/laughter

- Killing own species’ members for no apparent reason

- Culture

- Mourning the dead

- Burying the dead

- Active teaching

- Religion

- Racism

- Revenge

- Tools (makeshift and use)

- Vanity

- Greed

- Imagination

- Clothing

- Intuitive thinking

- Ritualisation

- The Means to Conceivably End All Life On This Planet (just because, there’s no out-arguing this one really)

- Awareness of impending own death

- Sense of time (past, future, memories, expectations, learning and planning)

Do you have any more?

Links to this post:



At 21/11/04 01:56, Blogger paulmonster said...

I'm not sure how to articulate this, but--

Intuitive Thinking. As in, leaps of imagination, or tangential logic, or the propensity for attaching new systems of meaning onto existing ones.

I suppose it's a function of imagination plus any one of several of those others which you've already named.

also, (again, Caution: articulation problems ahead)--

The Tendency to Ritualize Stuff. To ritualize things like just about everything you've mentioned in this list. Further; iconic imagery in the media, and the importance of anachronistic props (like gavels and robes in jurisprudence, or honorific titles in the British Parliament, or regimental colors in the military), and the weighted importance of mundane habitual activities to individuals or groups of individuals.

Also, the Means to Conceivably End All Life On This Planet.

And finally, Opposable Thumbs (but I'm not 100% sure about that).


At 21/11/04 02:24, Blogger The Lioness said...

Alright, will include all others but - opposable thumbs are a primate thing:

1) Non-opposable thumbs: marmosets, tarsiers
2) Pseudo-opposable thumbs: prosimians, Cebidae
3) Opposable thumbs: Old World monkeys, great apes, humans
4) Opposable, comparatively long thumbs: Hylobatidae

At 21/11/04 08:25, Blogger Noorster said...

The old "we know we're going to die" one, perhaps?
The means to conceivably end all life on the planet, definitely.
Racism, religion and intuitive thinking, I guess.
And oral sex! Don't think there's oral sex in the animal kingdom.

The others I could "out-argue".

At 22/11/04 05:22, Blogger paulmonster said...

Glad to be of service. Should've known about the opposable thumbs business, but be that as it may.

At 22/11/04 21:27, Blogger d.x. said...

how about abortion and homosexuality? things that have developed that (at least on the surface) appear to be anti-evolutionary.

At 22/11/04 21:30, Blogger d.x. said...

by the way, i think this is an incredibly importnat topic that speaks to the very nature of our existence; all of science, all of religion, all of everything we ever do as humans somehow touches upon or addresses this question. please continue this line of discourse, i am genuinely excited.

At 22/11/04 22:22, Blogger The Lioness said...

Thank you for the feedback, I was actually thinking it might be boring for you and that I should quit it.

At 23/11/04 15:32, Blogger Ana said...

About the abortion, how do you determine when a fetus is viable? Is the termination of pregnancy at 24 weeks an abortion? I think abortion is the voluntary termination of a pregnancy regardless of the timing. But maybe I'm wrong??

At 23/11/04 16:21, Blogger D said...

Homosexuality (like its opposite) does not necessitate pair bonding.

Abortion does not necessarily take place before the fetus can survive outside the body. In China for example, they still call it abortion when (after full-term pregancy) during childbirth the head becomes visible and you subsequently inject it with formaldehyde. Late-term abortion, but there you are.

I did not make this up. Almost wish I had, but unfortunately, it's true.

At 23/11/04 16:56, Blogger The Lioness said...

I’m sorry, I deleted the previous comment because it was confusing and I neglected to insert a very important and obvious word: legally (I checked with my doctor friend). Viability is medically determined by the foetus' survival capability outside the womb. Remember that viability varies depending on the species in question. An abortion is medically-LEGALLY defined as the PREMATURE exit of the conceptus (foetus, fetal membranes and placenta) from the uterus. The time issue is contemplated and ties in with the viability notion because abortion has been legislated in many countries and it’s a way to (theoretically) ensure that only non-viable foeti are terminated.

In broad medical terms, an abortion is the termination of a pregnancy, period. The late-term abortions are considered abortions MEDICALLY because the foetus wasn’t born yet, regardless of when it happens (and irrespective of whether it was crowning already. The Chinese still suck - oh on so many levels - but their medical terminology is accurate). It doesn’t have a “juridical figure” as we say here, I hope you know what I mean by it.

Because we are talking abt different species and not just humans, and from a biological perspective and not a legal one, I’ll go with the “termination of a pregnancy, period” definition.

As for homosexuality, you’re right, Danny, my mistake, it should read and/or.

At 29/9/05 17:55, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Homosexuality exists in plenty of animal species.

At 18/5/06 06:28, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Killing own species’ members for no apparent reason "
Im no expert but I'm sure that other animals kill their own kind. Your post has an anti-human tone to it, I'm not sure what thats about, but I have to argue that not humans don't kill each other for "no apparent reason".

You also included greed, but don't animals eat until their appetites are fully satisfied. I'm sure they don't eat to just sustain themselves. I also don't think that alpha-male animals will allow less dominate members of their group to have sex with their mate.

I dont know where you got racism from, that just seems to come out of left field. Your giving something distinctly human, and applying to animals.

All in all I think this article is poor and should be backed up with evidence, not just what you think makes us human.

At 18/5/06 13:19, Blogger The Lioness said...

Anon, don't leave comments when rude or high. Funny, though.

At 19/5/06 19:38, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about gay penguins and dolphins?

At 27/6/06 19:39, Anonymous Coelho Buda said...

Hi. ^_^

Sorry if I'm bringing this subject back from the grave, but I've come across your blog today and I'm absolutely fascinated with it (the blog, I mean, and to some extent, this subject). Anywho, just thought I'd add some traits to the ones already present:

- arrogance, cynicism, hypocrisy and lying (notice a trend here? Just the mood I'm in today... bah)

Yes, Man(and woman)kind disappoints me more and more with each passing day and it's no wonder that nowadays the worst in us is what makes us unique among the rest of the animals that populate this mudball... go figure.

Waiting to read more of your blog, your fellow Piscean, book and English language lover.

Coelho Buda

At 10/6/07 02:35, Anonymous RightWingLefty said...

Although homosexual behavior is seen in some other species, man is the only species where exclusively homosexual individuals exist. Among other species, homosexuality is simply used as a way to dump excess sex drive.


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