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Claim: Humans not unique or special

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Says new BBC feature:

We once viewed ourselves as the only creatures with emotions, morality, and culture. But the more we investigate the animal kingdom, the more we discover that is simply not true. Many scientists are now convinced that all these traits, once considered the hallmarks of humanity, are also found in animals.

If they are right, our species is not as unique as we like to think.

In a rare, special tribute to common-sense, Brit Tax TV offers a look at the counter-argument as well. Not an especially insightful one. Which is probably what they wanted.

But there is really no argument. It apparently never occurs to the people who write this sort of thing that, were it true, they should not demand that we all “do something” about climate change. No similar demands are placed on rats or cats, or bonobos or mosquitos. If they die, they die, and something else replaces them.

Unless, of course, the real point of all the argument is something other than self-evident fact.

See also: The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (human evolution) and The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (the human mind)

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12 Replies to “Claim: Humans not unique or special

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    Darwin’s mistake: explaining the discontinuity between human and nonhuman minds. – 2008
    Excerpt: Over the last quarter century, the dominant tendency in comparative cognitive psychology has been to emphasize the similarities between human and nonhuman minds and to downplay the differences as “one of degree and not of kind” (Darwin 1871).,,, To wit, there is a significant discontinuity in the degree to which human and nonhuman animals are able to approximate the higher-order, systematic, relational capabilities of a physical symbol system (PSS) (Newell 1980). We show that this symbolic-relational discontinuity pervades nearly every domain of cognition and runs much deeper than even the spectacular scaffolding provided by language or culture alone can explain,,,
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18479531

    Evolution of the Genus Homo – Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences – Ian Tattersall, Jeffery H. Schwartz, May 2009
    Excerpt: “Definition of the genus Homo is almost as fraught as the definition of Homo sapiens. We look at the evidence for “early Homo,” finding little morphological basis for extending our genus to any of the 2.5–1.6-myr-old fossil forms assigned to “early Homo” or Homo habilis/rudolfensis.”,,,,
    “Unusual though Homo sapiens may be morphologically, it is undoubtedly our remarkable cognitive qualities that most strikingly demarcate us from all other extant species. They are certainly what give us our strong subjective sense of being qualitatively different. And they are all ultimately traceable to our symbolic capacity. Human beings alone, it seems, mentally dissect the world into a multitude of discrete symbols, and combine and recombine those symbols in their minds to produce hypotheses of alternative possibilities. When exactly Homo sapiens acquired this unusual ability is the subject of debate.”
    http://www.annualreviews.org/d.....208.100202

    Leading Evolutionary Scientists Admit We Have No Evolutionary Explanation of Human Language – December 19, 2014
    Excerpt: Understanding the evolution of language requires evidence regarding origins and processes that led to change. In the last 40 years, there has been an explosion of research on this problem as well as a sense that considerable progress has been made. We argue instead that the richness of ideas is accompanied by a poverty of evidence, with essentially no explanation of how and why our linguistic computations and representations evolved.,,,
    (Marc Hauser, Charles Yang, Robert Berwick, Ian Tattersall, Michael J. Ryan, Jeffrey Watumull, Noam Chomsky and Richard C. Lewontin, “The mystery of language evolution,” Frontiers in Psychology, Vol 5:401 (May 7, 2014).)
    It’s difficult to imagine much stronger words from a more prestigious collection of experts.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....92141.html

    More interesting still, the three Rs, reading, writing, and arithmetic, i.e. this unique ability to process information that is inherent to man, are the very first things to be taught to children when they enter elementary school. And yet it is this information processing, i.e. reading, writing, and arithmetic, that is found to be foundational to life:

    Signature in the Cell by Stephen Meyer – video clip
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVkdQhNdzHU

    John Lennox – Semiotic Information – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6rd4HEdffw

    As well, as if that was not ‘spooky enough’, information, not material, is now found to be foundational to physical reality:

    “it from bit” Every “it”— every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely—even if in some contexts indirectly—from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits. “It from bit” symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has a bottom—a very deep bottom, in most instances, an immaterial source and explanation, that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment—evoked responses, in short all matter and all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe.”
    – Princeton University physicist John Wheeler (1911–2008) (Wheeler, John A. (1990), “Information, physics, quantum: The search for links”, in W. Zurek, Complexity, Entropy, and the Physics of Information (Redwood City, California: Addison-Wesley))

    Why the Quantum? It from Bit? A Participatory Universe?
    Excerpt: In conclusion, it may very well be said that information is the irreducible kernel from which everything else flows. Thence the question why nature appears quantized is simply a consequence of the fact that information itself is quantized by necessity. It might even be fair to observe that the concept that information is fundamental is very old knowledge of humanity, witness for example the beginning of gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word.”
    Anton Zeilinger – a leading expert in quantum teleportation:
    per – metanexus.net/archive/ultimate_reality/zeilinger.pdf

    Quantum physics just got less complicated – Dec. 19, 2014
    Excerpt: Patrick Coles, Jedrzej Kaniewski, and Stephanie Wehner,,, found that ‘wave-particle duality’ is simply the quantum ‘uncertainty principle’ in disguise, reducing two mysteries to one.,,,
    “The connection between uncertainty and wave-particle duality comes out very naturally when you consider them as questions about what information you can gain about a system. Our result highlights the power of thinking about physics from the perspective of information,”,,,
    per – phys.org/news/2014-12-quantum-physics-complicated.html

    It is hard to imagine a more convincing proof that we are made ‘in the image of God’, than finding that both the universe and life itself are ‘information theoretic’ in their basis, and that we, of all the creatures on earth, uniquely possess an ability to understand and create information.
    I guess a more convincing evidence could be that God Himself became a man, defeated death on a cross, and then rose from the dead to prove that He was God.
    But who has ever heard of such overwhelming evidence as that?

    Turin Shroud Quantum Hologram Reveals The Words ‘The Lamb’ – video
    http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=J21MECNU

    Solid Oval Object Under The Beard
    http://shroud3d.com/findings/s.....-the-beard

    Verse and Music:

    Genesis 1:26
    And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

    John 1:1-4
    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and that life was the Light of men.

    Casting Crowns – The Word Is Alive
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9itgOBAxSc

    Supplemental notes:

    The overturning of the Copernican Principle and the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead as the correct solution for the ‘theory of everything’:
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/17u0srH9x3kUiei43aOHoKolLsRERhPpUfI9WNhxyLrE/edit

  2. 2
    daveS says:

    But there is really no argument. It apparently never occurs to the people who write this sort of thing that, were it true, they should not demand that we all “do something” about climate change. No similar demands are placed on rats or cats, or bonobos or mosquitos. If they die, they die, and something else replaces them.

    I don’t see any inconsistency here. Emotions, morality, and culture apparently exist to some extent in nonhuman animals, yet no animals other than humans are capable of doing climatology.

  3. 3
    leodp says:

    What animal wonders whether what it just did, or what it is contemplating, is morally right or wrong? What animal seeks God, or else spends its life arguing and justifying denial of Gods existence?

  4. 4
    redwave says:

    “Are humans unique or not?” The question appears analogous to the question, “Is the glass half empty or half full?” These two questions might be equivalent for human experiencing, and are therefore dependent on subjective cognition without precise objective corollary. In other words, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” If this is the tensional state of affairs, empirical observations and measurable evidence, physical similarities and dissimilarities, will not persuade the cognition unless the frame of reference is altered by some arbitrary factor. And the persuasion could require extended periods of time involving multiple reference frame alterations, for which the uniqueness could disappear in a cauldron of indecipherable chaos. Possibly Samuel Clemens was correct, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.” Or, Twain’s friend, Charles Warner, “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it” … which is no longer the case. This raises the question, embedded in News’ summary, what exactly is the correlation between the diminishing uniqueness of the human and the changes in the climate?

    Is the glass half empty or half full? Are humans unique or not? In the words of the ancient proverb, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you.” Or is it as Paul Arden has said, “Whatever you think, think the opposite.”

    Reference:

    “Information leakage from logically equivalent frames”
    Abstract. “Framing effects are said to occur when equivalent frames lead to different choices. However, the equivalence in question has been incompletely conceptualized. … This leakage of information about relative state violates information equivalence, and gives rise to a normative account of the most robust finding in the attribute framing literature – the valence-consistency of preference shifts. We argue that, more generally, valenced descriptions leak information about perceived valence.”

    (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16364278)

    [Note: Valence cognition theory from Burgoon, Guererro, Floyd (2010). Valence refers to whether a behavior is perceived to be positive or negative compared to what was expected.]

  5. 5
    Robert Byers says:

    Why do these scientists know better then the rest of us? Are we not around critters all the time?!
    The bible says we are made in gods image but implies otherwise we are alike to creatures.
    Yes we have the same thinking boundaries but they are really dumb.
    By the way emotions do not exist. its a poor choice of describing human lingering thoughts. the bible never mentions a concept of emotions.
    there are just thoughts.

  6. 6
    tjguy says:

    Is the glass half empty or half full?

    Good question. I think it is easier for the exceptionalists to explain the half full claim of the Materialist than it is for Materialists to explain the evidence for exceptionalism. Just my opinion though. IMO, the common features we share can easily be accounted for by a common Designer.

  7. 7
    Axel says:

    That is certainly what right-wing Governments think about the BBC: eminently dispensable. Or a Papa Francesco would say, ‘disposable’. Yet, though Establishment, they still represent a buffer against the worst excesses of Government attacks on the public good.

  8. 8
    Axel says:

    ‘the bible never mentions a concept of emotions.
    there are just thoughts.’

    What are you talking about Robert? Ever read the Psalm beginning, ‘By the rivers of Babylon….’? To name but one example.

    I’d say the truths of the Bible are only accessible to the emotional intelligence. It is virtually all about emotion. God is love.

  9. 9
    Robert Byers says:

    axel. yet the bible never mentions the word emotions or a like concept. Yes tears, sadness, anger etc BUT its about some points. They wept by Babyons rivers because of a thought. Not being in Israel(or North Americva)
    There are no emotions. there are just thoughts and then they linger.
    Emotional intelligence does not exist.
    All the bible is for thinking people and to draw conclusions.
    Name a emotion that exists without being innately/completly a thought on a point.

  10. 10
    redwave says:

    Robert Byers. Your observations and point are well taken, that the word ’emotion(s)’ is not a Biblical concept. And apparently our contemporary division, between emotion and thinking for the human, is artificial and has no empirical basis. The concepts ‘heart’, affection, feeling, et cetera, are conjoined with the concepts mind, soul, thinking, knowing, in terms of Biblical teaching. Possibly we can only ‘isolate’ feelings, affections, disaffections, for analytic purposes. I have wondered for some time, from what state of thoughts are we displaced or removed (emotion from latin emov?re)? In other words, is fear the displacement of a thought-feeling of safety, certainty, confidence? Is hatred a displacement from affection, honor, trust? If such displacements from thought-feeling states are a process occuring with humans resulting in the observables we identify as fear, hatred, happiness, et cetera, then we can use the term ’emotion’ to capture the displacement but this does not also suggest a severence of affections from thinking. Many times such reasoning is too analytic or inconvenient for every day communication, and many persons begin to believe the once artificial divisions of the human are true … the convenient and artificial become indecipherable from reality.

    “Be angry, do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (paraphrase) This biblical phrase has always intriqued me and is not completely understood in the modern artificial division of the human. The Biblical texts do not teach a demonstratable division of feelings from thoughts, but rather teach how we could and would behave when we are ‘displaced’ from the state of trust.

  11. 11
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Weeping is “a thought”?

    Genesis 43:30

    New Living Translation
    Then Joseph hurried from the room because he was overcome with emotion for his brother. He went into his private room, where he broke down and wept.

    English Standard Version
    Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there.

    New American Standard Bible
    Joseph hurried out for he was deeply stirred over his brother, and he sought a place to weep; and he entered his chamber and wept there.

    King James Bible
    And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother: and he sought where to weep; and he entered into his chamber, and wept there.

    Holman Christian Standard Bible
    Joseph hurried out because he was overcome with emotion for his brother, and he was about to weep. He went into an inner room to weep.

    New International Version
    Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.

  12. 12
    Axel says:

    Robert that is the biggest scientific error of all. Not just the biggest scriptural and Christian error.

    The truth is not, as our dumb chums of the atheist persuasion would have it, that the truth is cold, hard, monolithic and objective, but on the contrary, warm, vibrant, dynamic and ultra personal.

    For practicable human purposes, philosophers of science, presumably in the wake of the discoveries of quantum mechanics, hit upon the term, ‘inter-subjective’, but the primordial reality is the infinitely personal, Most Holy Trinity.

    Even God couldn’t get the feedback that his love requires from inanimate, impersonal matter.

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