Human evolution News

Science writer Stephen Cave says new research shows no difference between humans and other animals

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Reviewing a series of books on human evolution, Stephen Cave comes up with what he thinks is a really good argument for why humans are not really unique:

You might think that we humans are special: no other species has, for example, landed on the moon, or invented the iPad. But then, I personally haven’t done those things either. So if such achievements are what makes us human then I must be relegated to the beasts, except in so far as I can catch a little reflected glory from true humans such as Neil Armstrong or Steve Jobs.

Fortunately, there are other, more inclusive, ideas around about what makes us human. Not long ago, most people (in the west) were happy with the account found in the Bible: we are made in the image of God – end of argument. But the theory of evolution tells a different story, one in which humans slowly emerged as a twig on the tree of life. The problem with this explanation is that it is much more difficult to say exactly what makes us so different from all the other twigs.

Indeed, in the light of new research into animal intelligence, some scientists have concluded that there simply is no profound difference between us and other species. … More.

Actually, those people thought that before they did any research at all. In the teeth of the most obvious evidence.

10 Replies to “Science writer Stephen Cave says new research shows no difference between humans and other animals

  1. 1
    Axel says:

    Oh, no! They were shocked. But very agreeably surprised. Ahem…

  2. 2
    JGuy says:

    You might think that we humans are special: no other species has, for example, landed on the moon, or invented the iPad. But then, I personally haven’t done those things either. So if such achievements are what makes us human then I must be relegated to the beasts, except in so far as I can catch a little reflected glory from true humans such as Neil Armstrong or Steve Jobs.
    ..

    I wouldn’t say that those achievements are what make a human a human. Though, many humans could have done what Neil Armstrong did, and Steven Jobs – given simply the desire and resources. But if one has taken time to read all the best literature of chimpanzee writers, and studied the works of all the chimpanzee world’s top scientists… and compare their writing with the average human…one would have a different opinion.

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    “new research shows no difference between humans and other animals”

    of course, results may vary

    Monkey Theory Proven Wrong:
    Excerpt: A group of faculty and students in the university’s media program left a computer in the monkey enclosure at Paignton Zoo in southwest England, home to six Sulawesi crested macaques. Then, they waited. At first, said researcher Mike Phillips, “the lead male got a stone and started bashing the hell out of it. “Another thing they were interested in was in defecating and urinating all over the keyboard,” added Phillips, who runs the university’s Institute of Digital Arts and Technologies. Eventually, monkeys Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan produced five pages of text, composed primarily of the letter S. Later, the letters A, J, L and M crept in — not quite literature.
    http://www.arn.org/docs2/news/.....051103.htm

  4. 4
    ciphertext says:

    So if such achievements are what makes us human then I must be relegated to the beasts, except in so far as I can catch a little reflected glory from true humans such as Neil Armstrong or Steve Jobs.

    I don’t know what is worse. That the author failed to grasp the “essence” of the examples he supplied as evidence of differentiation; or that this sort of thinking is what is being promulgated as rational thought.

    Surely, the author understands that the various creations and achievements to which he pointed are not themselves what differentiate the species. They are simply artifacts. Or more precisely “evidence of” the existence of an extra-natural process. While I don’t dispute that other animal species exhibit intelligence (i.e. ability to use tools [sticks, rocks, etc…] to solve problems), none have been able to harness their intelligence to the same degree as humans. One need only to give serious thought to the evidence laid out by the article’s author.

  5. 5
    Robert Byers says:

    Twigs to man needs scientific evidence to start.
    The difference between us and animals is this argument. No animals ever anywhere had this argument in private or public!
    There is a reason for this .
    We are unique relative to the hordes of kinds and numbers of animals.
    One might say we cross such a threshold of intelligence that its unique in the spectrum of intelligence. not just the end but a threshold crossing.
    In fact it suggests its not of earth.

  6. 6
    tjguy says:

    From the article:

    It would be simply unscientific to expect one twig on the tree of life to be radically different from those on the branches around it.

    And yet that is exactly what we find! So what does this tell us about the evolutionary story?

    Made in the image of God fits the evidence better!

  7. 7
    vjtorley says:

    I have to say I was not impressed with Stephen Cave’s review of the books he’s been reading on what makes us unique. Not that I blame him: it seems that the authors he’s read have been rather sloppy.

    Cave points out, for instance, that elephants have bigger brains than we do. That may be so, nut human beings have more cortical neurons in their brains than any other animal, which means more computing power and more complexity. Not that I think that’s what makes us unique, but it’s certainly a start. And what about the region of the brain that was discovered last week to be unique to human beings – the lateral frontal pole prefrontal cortex? (See http://www.livescience.com/428.....found.html ) There was no mention of that.

    Cave also quotes Henry Gee as saying that Homo sapiens would have appeared much less exceptional 50,000 years ago. But that’s assuming that the great divide between us and non-human animals coincides with the emergence of Homo sapiens, whereas I have argued in a previous post (see http://www.uncommondescent.com.....-a-caveat/ ) that it occurred with the emergence of Heidelberg man, the common ancestor of modern humans, Neandertal man and Denisovan man, about one million years ago. Heidelberg man crafted tools that reflected a sense of aesthetics, and was capable of making life-long commitments (marriage) and sacrificing his life for the good of his community (in big-game hunting, which was a perilous enterprise).

    Tomasello seems to get closest to this point when he argues that our capacity for co-operation is what sets us apart. But co-operation alone is not enough: bees co-operate, after all. Without a theory of mind and the existence of language, the behavior of Heidelberg man would be utterly unintelligible. You can only make a life-long commitment to someone, after all, and you need language to publicly express it. Sign language just won’t cut the mustard: it’s too ambiguous.

    I was disappointed that Suddendorf had chosen to downplay the striking cognitive differences between humans and chimps, with his suggestion that chimps can plan eight minutes into the future. As I have argued in another post (see http://www.uncommondescent.com.....skeptical/ ) the evidence that apes can plan for the future is ambiguous at best. And the claim that language is not unique to human beings is simply laughable: he overlooks the vital properties of productivity, recursivity, and displacement which characterize language as such (see http://www.uncommondescent.com.....-part-one/ ).

    I could go on, but it seems Cave is engaging in propaganda: he wants us to believe that we’re just one animal among many. Strangely, man is the only animal that seeks to downgrade himself. No other animal would be so foolish.

  8. 8
    bornagain77 says:

    Although, being an Intelligent Design proponent, I may be accused of ‘information bias’, clearly what most dramatically separates us from chimps, in our ‘image of God’, is our ability to utilize abstract language and mathematics:

    As to language:

    A scientist looks again at Project Nim – Trying to teach Chimps to talk fails
    Excerpt: “The language didn’t materialize. A human baby starts out mostly imitating, then begins to string words together. Nim didn’t learn. His three-sign combinations – such as ‘eat me eat’ or ‘play me Nim’ – were redundant. He imitated signs to get rewards. I published the negative results in 1979 in the journal Science, which had a chilling effect on the field.”
    http://www.arn.org/blogs/index.....roject_nim

    Young Children Have Grammar and Chimpanzees Don’t – Apr. 10, 2013
    Excerpt: “When you compare what children should say if they follow grammar against what children do say, you find it to almost indistinguishable,” Yang said. “If you simulate the expected diversity when a child is only repeating what adults say, it produces a diversity much lower than what children actually say.”
    As a comparison, Yang applied the same predictive models to the set of Nim Chimpsky’s signed phrases, the only data set of spontaneous animal language usage publicly available. He found further evidence for what many scientists, including Nim’s own trainers, have contended about Nim: that the sequences of signs Nim put together did not follow from rules like those in human language.
    Nim’s signs show significantly lower diversity than what is expected under a systematic grammar and were similar to the level expected with memorization. This suggests that true language learning is — so far — a uniquely human trait, and that it is present very early in development.
    “The idea that children are only imitating adults’ language is very intuitive, so it’s seen a revival over the last few years,” Yang said. “But this is strong statistical evidence in favor of the idea that children actually know a lot about abstract grammar from an early age.”
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....131327.htm

    Adventures in Experimenting On Toddlers By Alison Gopnik Dec. 13, 2013
    Excerpt: But this simple problem actually requires some very abstract thinking. It’s not that any particular block makes the machine go. It’s the fact that the blocks are the same rather than different. Other animals have a very hard time understanding this. Chimpanzees can get hundreds of examples and still not get it, even with delicious bananas as a reward.
    The conventional wisdom has been that young children also can’t learn this kind of abstract logical principle. Scientists like Jean Piaget believed that young children’s thinking was concrete and superficial. And in earlier studies, preschoolers couldn’t solve this sort of “same/different” problem.
    But in those studies, researchers asked children to say what they thought about pictures of objects. Children often look much smarter when you watch what they do instead of relying on what they say.
    We did the experiment I just described with 18-to-24-month-olds. And they got it right, with just two examples. The secret was showing them real blocks on a real machine and asking them to use the blocks to make the machine go.,,,
    Now we are looking at another weird result. Although the 4-year-olds did well on the easier sequential task, in a study we’re still working on, they actually seem to be doing worse than the babies on the harder simultaneous one. So there’s a new problem for us to solve.
    http://online.wsj.com/news/art.....3386009168

    In regards to math, and despite the monopoly that atheists think they have on ‘science’, it seems ‘scientific thinking’ is an innate gift that we are born with:

    Children Act Like Scientists – October 1, 2012
    Excerpt: New theoretical ideas and empirical research show that very young children’s learning and thinking are strikingly similar to much learning and thinking in science. Preschoolers test hypotheses against data and make causal inferences; they learn from statistics and informal experimentation, and from watching and listening to others. The mathematical framework of probabilistic models and Bayesian inference can describe this learning in precise ways.
    http://crev.info/2012/10/child.....cientists/

    Geometric Principles Appear Universal in Our Minds – May 2011
    Excerpt: Villagers belonging to an Amazonian group called the Mundurucú intuitively grasp abstract geometric principles despite having no formal math education,,, Mundurucú adults and 7- to 13-year-olds demonstrate as firm an understanding of the properties of points, lines and surfaces as adults and school-age children in the United States and France,,,
    http://www.wired.com/wiredscie.....-geometry/

    Is Integer Arithmetic Fundamental to Mental Processing?: The mind’s secret arithmetic
    Excerpt: Because normal children struggle to learn multiplication and division, it is surprising that some savants perform integer arithmetic calculations mentally at “lightning” speeds (Treffert 1989, Myers 1903, Hill 1978, Smith 1983, Sacks 1985, Hermelin and O’Connor 1990, Welling 1994, Sullivan 1992). They do so unconsciously, without any apparent training, typically without being able to report on their methods, and often at an age when the normal child is struggling with elementary arithmetic concepts (O’Connor 1989). Examples include multiplying, factoring, dividing and identifying primes of six (and more) digits in a matter of seconds as well as specifying the number of objects (more than one hundred) at a glance. For example, one savant (Hill 1978) could give the cube root of a six figure number in 5 seconds and he could double 8,388,628 twenty four times to obtain 140,737,488,355,328 in several seconds. Joseph (Sullivan 1992), the inspiration for the film “Rain Man” about an autistic savant, could spontaneously answer “what number times what number gives 1234567890” by stating “9 times 137,174,210”. Sacks (1985) observed autistic twins who could exchange prime numbers in excess of eight figures, possibly even 20 figures, and who could “see” the number of many objects at a glance. When a box of 111 matches fell to the floor the twins cried out 111 and 37, 37, 37.
    http://www.centreforthemind.co.....hmetic.cfm

    Design Thinking Is Hardwired in the Human Brain. How Come? – October 17, 2012
    Excerpt: “Even Professional Scientists Are Compelled to See Purpose in Nature, Psychologists Find.” The article describes a test by Boston University’s psychology department, in which researchers found that “despite years of scientific training, even professional chemists, geologists, and physicists from major universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Yale cannot escape a deep-seated belief that natural phenomena exist for a purpose” ,,,
    Most interesting, though, are the questions begged by this research. One is whether it is even possible to purge teleology from explanation.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....65381.html

    In fact this unique mathematical ability of Humans caused Alfred Russel Wallace, who is said to have been to co-discoverer of Natural Selection, and who also conducted far more field work than Darwin did, to state:

    “Nothing in evolution can account for the soul of man. The difference between man and the other animals is unbridgeable. Mathematics is alone sufficient to prove in man the possession of a faculty unexistent in other creatures. Then you have music and the artistic faculty. No, the soul was a separate creation.”
    Alfred Russel Wallace – An interview by Harold Begbie printed on page four of The Daily Chronicle (London) issues of 3 November and 4 November 1910.

    And this ‘intuition’ of Wallace, that our ability to think abstractly, especially mathematically, gave firm evidence for a soul, has been born out by no less than Kurt Godel, who is considered among the best logicians/mathematicians who have ever existed, if not the best:

    Alan Turing and Kurt Godel – Incompleteness Theorem and Human Intuition – video (notes in video description)
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/8516356/

    “Either mathematics is too big for the human mind or the human mind is more than a machine”
    – Kurt Godel

  9. 9
    bornagain77 says:

    The reason why our ability to think mathematically gives us firm evidence for a ‘soul/mind’ is that mathematics is transcendent of any material/physical basis, and yet mathematics is found to govern the universe:

    An Interview with David Berlinski – Jonathan Witt
    Berlinski: There is no argument against religion that is not also an argument against mathematics. Mathematicians are capable of grasping a world of objects that lies beyond space and time ….
    Interviewer:… Come again(?) …
    Berlinski: No need to come again: I got to where I was going the first time. The number four, after all, did not come into existence at a particular time, and it is not going to go out of existence at another time. It is neither here nor there. Nonetheless we are in some sense able to grasp the number by a faculty of our minds. Mathematical intuition is utterly mysterious. So for that matter is the fact that mathematical objects such as a Lie Group or a differentiable manifold have the power to interact with elementary particles or accelerating forces. But these are precisely the claims that theologians have always made as well – that human beings are capable by an exercise of their devotional abilities to come to some understanding of the deity; and the deity, although beyond space and time, is capable of interacting with material objects.
    http://tofspot.blogspot.com/20.....-here.html

    BRUCE GORDON: Hawking’s irrational arguments – October 2010
    Excerpt: The physical universe is causally incomplete and therefore neither self-originating nor self-sustaining. The world of space, time, matter and energy is dependent on a reality that transcends space, time, matter and energy. This transcendent reality cannot merely be a Platonic realm of mathematical descriptions, for such things are causally inert abstract entities that do not affect the material world. Neither is it the case that “nothing” is unstable, as Mr. Hawking and others maintain. Absolute nothing cannot have mathematical relationships predicated on it, not even quantum gravitational ones. Rather, the transcendent reality on which our universe depends must be something that can exhibit agency – a mind that can choose among the infinite variety of mathematical descriptions and bring into existence a reality that corresponds to a consistent subset of them. This is what “breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe.,,,
    Universes do not “spontaneously create” on the basis of abstract mathematical descriptions, nor does the fantasy of a limitless multiverse trump the explanatory power of transcendent intelligent design. What Mr. Hawking’s contrary assertions show is that mathematical savants can sometimes be metaphysical simpletons. Caveat emptor.
    http://www.washingtontimes.com.....arguments/

    Nature by Numbers – The Fingerprint of God – video
    https://vimeo.com/9953368

    “Geometry is unique and eternal, a reflection from the mind of God. That mankind shares in it is because man is an image of God.”
    – Johannes Kepler

    The same goes for information. Our unique ability to utilize information, an ability which other animals do not possess in any non-trivial degree, gives us firm evidence that we have a ‘soul/mind’ that is not reducible to a material basis. This is because, like mathematics, information is not reducible to a material/physical basis:

    “One of the things I do in my classes, to get this idea across to students, is I hold up two computer disks. One is loaded with software, and the other one is blank. And I ask them, ‘what is the difference in mass between these two computer disks, as a result of the difference in the information content that they posses’? And of course the answer is, ‘Zero! None! There is no difference as a result of the information. And that’s because information is a mass-less quantity. Now, if information is not a material entity, then how can any materialistic explanation account for its origin? How can any material cause explain it’s origin?
    And this is the real and fundamental problem that the presence of information in biology has posed. It creates a fundamental challenge to the materialistic, evolutionary scenarios because information is a different kind of entity that matter and energy cannot produce.
    In the nineteenth century we thought that there were two fundamental entities in science; matter, and energy. At the beginning of the twenty first century, we now recognize that there’s a third fundamental entity; and its ‘information’. It’s not reducible to matter. It’s not reducible to energy. But it’s still a very important thing that is real; we buy it, we sell it, we send it down wires.
    Now, what do we make of the fact, that information is present at the very root of all biological function? In biology, we have matter, we have energy, but we also have this third, very important entity; information. I think the biology of the information age, poses a fundamental challenge to any materialistic approach to the origin of life.”
    -Dr. Stephen C. Meyer earned his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of science from Cambridge University for a dissertation on the history of origin-of-life biology and the methodology of the historical sciences.

    Intelligent design: Why can’t biological information originate through a materialistic process? – Stephen Meyer – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqiXNxyoof8

    John Lennox – Is There Evidence of Something Beyond Nature? (Semiotic Information) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6rd4HEdffw

    In fact, Intelligent Design can easily be falsified by showing that material processes can produce functional information:

    Three subsets of sequence complexity and their relevance to biopolymeric information – Abel, Trevors
    Excerpt: Three qualitative kinds of sequence complexity exist: random (RSC), ordered (OSC), and functional (FSC).,,, Shannon information theory measures the relative degrees of RSC and OSC. Shannon information theory cannot measure FSC. FSC is invariably associated with all forms of complex biofunction, including biochemical pathways, cycles, positive and negative feedback regulation, and homeostatic metabolism. The algorithmic programming of FSC, not merely its aperiodicity, accounts for biological organization. No empirical evidence exists of either RSC of OSC ever having produced a single instance of sophisticated biological organization. Organization invariably manifests FSC rather than successive random events (RSC) or low-informational self-ordering phenomena (OSC).,,,

    Testable hypotheses about FSC

    What testable empirical hypotheses can we make about FSC that might allow us to identify when FSC exists? In any of the following null hypotheses [137], demonstrating a single exception would allow falsification. We invite assistance in the falsification of any of the following null hypotheses:

    Null hypothesis #1
    Stochastic ensembles of physical units cannot program algorithmic/cybernetic function.

    Null hypothesis #2
    Dynamically-ordered sequences of individual physical units (physicality patterned by natural law causation) cannot program algorithmic/cybernetic function.

    Null hypothesis #3
    Statistically weighted means (e.g., increased availability of certain units in the polymerization environment) giving rise to patterned (compressible) sequences of units cannot program algorithmic/cybernetic function.

    Null hypothesis #4
    Computationally successful configurable switches cannot be set by chance, necessity, or any combination of the two, even over large periods of time.

    We repeat that a single incident of nontrivial algorithmic programming success achieved without selection for fitness at the decision-node programming level would falsify any of these null hypotheses. This renders each of these hypotheses scientifically testable. We offer the prediction that none of these four hypotheses will be falsified.
    http://www.tbiomed.com/content/2/1/29

    Moreover, not only can material processes not produce any non-trivial functional information, but reality, at its most foundational basis, is found to actually be information!

    “I think of my lifetime in physics as divided into three periods. In the first period, extending from the beginning of my career until the early 1950?s, I was in the grip of the idea that Everything Is Particles. I was looking for ways to build all basic entities – neutrons, protons, mesons, and so on – out of the lightest, most fundamental particles, electrons, and photons.
    I call my second period Everything Is Fields. From the time I fell in love with general relativity and gravitation in 1952 until late in my career, I pursued the vision of a world made of fields, one in which the apparent particles are really manifestations of electric and magnetic fields, gravitational fields, and space-time itself.
    Now I am in the grip of a new vision, that Everything Is Information. The more I have pondered the mystery of the quantum and our strange ability to comprehend this world in which we live, the more I see possible fundamental roles for logic and information as the bedrock of physical theory.”
    – J. A. Wheeler, K. Ford, Geons, Black Hole, & Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics New York W.W. Norton & Co, 1998, pp 63-64.

    In fact, it is now known that all the ‘material’ atoms of an entire human body can, theoretically, be reduced to quantum information and teleported to another position in the universe:

    Quantum Teleportation of a Human? – video
    https://vimeo.com/75163272

    Of related note, as our own Ms. O’Leary (UD News) has wisely noted previously:

    “But information is fundamentally relational”

    &

    “If information underlies the universe, then meaning underlies the universe. Pass it on.”

    i.e. Overarching contextual meaning must preexist meaningful information!

    “If you have no God, then you have no design plan for the universe. You have no prexisting structure to the universe.,, As the ancient Greeks held, like Democritus and others, the universe is flux. It’s just matter in motion. Now on that basis all you are confronted with is innumerable brute facts that are unrelated pieces of data. They have no meaningful connection to each other because there is no overall structure. There’s no design plan. It’s like my kids do ‘join the dots’ puzzles. It’s just dots, but when you join the dots there is a structure, and a picture emerges. Well, the atheists is without that (final picture). There is no preestablished pattern (to connect the facts given atheism).”
    Pastor Joe Boot –
    13:20 minute mark – Defending the Christian Faith – Pastor Joe Boot – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqE5_ZOAnKo

  10. 10
    bornagain77 says:

    Also of related interest that man has a ‘soul/mind’ that is made in the image of God, and that is not reducible to a material basis, is that, as was pointed out yesterday, our internal physiology and anatomy operate as if they were four-dimensional:

    “Although living things occupy a three-dimensional space, their internal physiology and anatomy operate as if they were four-dimensional. Quarter-power scaling laws are perhaps as universal and as uniquely biological as the biochemical pathways of metabolism, the structure and function of the genetic code and the process of natural selection.,,, The conclusion here is inescapable, that the driving force for these invariant scaling laws cannot have been natural selection.”
    Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini, What Darwin Got Wrong (London: Profile Books, 2010), p. 78-79

    The reason why ’4-Dimensional’ metabolic pathways are impossible for Darwinism to explain is that Natural Selection operates on the 3-Dimensional phenotypes. ’4-Dimensional’ metabolic pathways are simply ‘invisible’ to natural selection. The fact that 4-Dimensional things are completely invisible to 3-Dimensional things is best illustrated by ‘flatland’:

    Flatland – 3D to 4D shift – Carl Sagan – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnURElCzGc0

    But of related interest to the fact that our internal physiology and anatomy operate as if they were four-dimensional, and are ‘invisible’ to 3-dimensional processes, is that our brains, which are thought to be where our consciousness primarily resides, seemingly operate on an even higher dimensional plane that our bodies do:

    Scaling of Brain Metabolism and Blood Flow in Relation to Capillary and Neural Scaling – 2011
    Excerpt: Brain is one of the most energy demanding organs in mammals, and its total metabolic rate scales with brain volume raised to a power of around 5/6. This value is significantly higher than the more common exponent 3/4 (Quarter Power Scaling) relating whole body resting metabolism with body mass and several other physiological variables in animals and plants.,,,
    Moreover, cerebral metabolic, hemodynamic, and microvascular variables scale with allometric exponents that are simple multiples of 1/6, rather than 1/4, which suggests that brain metabolism is more similar to the metabolism of aerobic than resting body.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pm.....MC3203885/

    Verse and Music:

    John 1:1
    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

    Sara Groves – The Word – music video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ofE-GZ8zTU

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