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Deep Thoughts On What Makes Humans Special


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#1 Moontanman

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Posted 19 October 2010 - 01:10 PM

Deep Thoughts on What Makes Humans Special


PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Our special stature among Earth's creatures may look shaky when considering that humans share 98 percent of our genes and many behaviors with chimps. Yet human behaviors stand out by reaching levels of complexity unseen in any other part of the animal world, according to a neurobiologist.

http://www.livescien...als-101015.html

#2 Eclogite

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Posted 10 November 2010 - 04:57 AM

I found the article and the claims somewhat self-serving and ultimately rather silly. Certainly the descriptions of the unique character (primarily the complexity)of human behaviour were accurate and - on reflection - can be awe inspiring, but their is a but. The article implies that these unique characteristics set humans apart and above other life. If we focus on what makes any species different from others, if we explore its 'special' talent, what do we discover? Very often we find it superior at exhibiting that talent to any other creature on the planet. So for me the article was making the circular statement, humans are different, the difference is that humans are different.

Perhaps I should get out more.

#3 HydrogenBond

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 03:09 PM

In my opinion, what makes humans unique is subjectivity. This is an aspect of free will.

For example, most animals will have a set of local foods they instinctively eat. If we added human subjectivity, some people might like that, while others won't. If you subjectively don't like the taste of that food set, you might look for something else to eat, more in line with your subjective tastes.

Say in times of drought, if the supply of traditional food was very low, watching someone subjectively enjoying the untraditional, may result in others trying it. The knowledge bases expands quickly when there is a high level of subjectivity. Different subjective strokes for different folks means more angles.

If you look at the variety of products in a grocery store, at the rational level a small percept could feed the body. It is through subjectivity that the observed diversity of subtle variations inflates like a balloon. Marketing does not go after objectivity, but after subjectivity.

Subjectivity does not require a huge brain upgrade. It essentially uses the same of amount of resources. The only different is the unique personal character. Whether I like vanilla or chocolate does not require any more storage space or brain power. As we confront the subjective environment, one comes in contact with this subjective diversity. Someone may even have mixed the chocolate with the vanilla. Now there are more angles to learn from.

The primitive fear of novelty may be connected to our animal nature, which does not have inflating subjectivity. In their own way, animals are objective to the requirements of their bodies and the balance of nature and are conent to stay subjectively deflated.

#4 Ken

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 05:52 PM

[quote name='HydrogenBond' timestamp='1292879372' post='302970']
In my opinion, what makes humans unique is subjectivity. This is an aspect of free will.

For example, most animals will have a set of local foods they instinctively eat. If we added human subjectivity, some people might like that, while others won't. If you subjectively don't like the taste of that food set, you might look for something else to eat, more in line with your subjective tastes.

Say in times of drought, if the supply of traditional food was very low, watching someone subjectively enjoying the untraditional, may result in others trying it. The knowledge bases expands quickly when there is a high level of subjectivity. Different subjective strokes for different folks means more angles.

If you look at the variety of products in a grocery store, at the rational level a small percept could feed the body. It is through subjectivity that the observed diversity of subtle variations inflates like a balloon. Marketing does not go after objectivity, but after subjectivity.

Subjectivity does not require a huge brain upgrade. It essentially uses the same of amount of resources. The only different is the unique personal character. Whether I like vanilla or chocolate does not require any more storage space or brain power. As we confront the subjective environment, one comes in contact with this subjective diversity. Someone may even have mixed the chocolate with the vanilla. Now there are more angles to learn from.

The primitive fear of novelty may be connected to our animal nature, which does not have inflating subjectivity. In their own way, animals are objective to the requirements of their bodies and the balance of nature and are conent to stay subjectively deflated.
[/quote]

I enjoyed the read. It was both humorous and thoughtful. It's true that, as suggested above, we are different because we behave differently. But I see that more as providing a reality check against excessive reductionism (of which I have been accused on more than one occasion :D ).

The uniqueness lies in the extreme complexity of our normal behavior Vs similar behaviors in our closest relatives -- the Great Apes. I don't attribute it to the 2% of genetic difference except to the extent that the difference might be expressed in the far higher level of Cerebral Cortex interconnectedness.

For me that would point to an essential question or set of questions that may be reasonably investigated. Is it the case that in the translation from neural activity to complex behavior quantity really is quality as Kasparov quipped?

Now when I say reasonably investigated I'm certainly minimizing the difficult technical aspects that such an investigation would require. At a minimum we need to understand the variables that are functionally related to the development of greater neural complexity in some humans as opposed to other humans. A reasonable speculative judgement might lead to some focus on genetic mechanisms Vs developmentally enriched and stimulating environments.

In any event, it is an intriguing perspective advanced by an extremely competent student of neural function.

Thanks for sharing it.

#5 HydrogenBond

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Posted 03 May 2012 - 03:42 PM

Here is another different angle. What makes human special is what is external to humans; civilization. Civilization allows people to become more than they would under natural conditions. If we compare two cultures (first and fourth world) both are human but since the external is different you will see differences.

For example, not many people could build a house from scatch with tools and their own noodle. Yet, we can say to our friend, " I am building a house", then hire a contractor. We can get credit for building a house. If we take away the external one might look like an idiot.

Education is part of the external and brings us in contact with knowledge, we would never think of on our own. But once we learn, we can create the impression this is natural and we now have this innate ability.

A good example is, some apes have been taught sign language by humans. The same ape would not develop this ability, in the wild, on its own. At least not to the same degree. But through civilization. it becomes the smartest ape in the jungle. This smart is not innate, but artificial. We might also put him in a tuxedo and teach him to smoke a pipe and now he will become the Einstein of apes. There is some smoke and mirror involved.

When we say humans are the smartest critter, because we put a man of the moon, even though I had nothing to do with it, in any direct or indirect way, I get to accept credit, simplty by showing up as a human. That subjectivity makes me look higher.

A better way would be to compare innate ability without external input. If we isolated a child (hypothetically) and he had to adapt, would he appear smarter or much less qualified than the basic animal. Next, you train him via education. Now he will appear above all the rest.

#6 arKane

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Posted 03 May 2012 - 11:44 PM

Here is another different angle. What makes human special is what is external to humans; civilization. Civilization allows people to become more than they would under natural conditions. If we compare two cultures (first and fourth world) both are human but since the external is different you will see differences.

For example, not many people could build a house from scatch with tools and their own noodle. Yet, we can say to our friend, " I am building a house", then hire a contractor. We can get credit for building a house. If we take away the external one might look like an idiot.

Education is part of the external and brings us in contact with knowledge, we would never think of on our own. But once we learn, we can create the impression this is natural and we now have this innate ability.

A good example is, some apes have been taught sign language by humans. The same ape would not develop this ability, in the wild, on its own. At least not to the same degree. But through civilization. it becomes the smartest ape in the jungle. This smart is not innate, but artificial. We might also put him in a tuxedo and teach him to smoke a pipe and now he will become the Einstein of apes. There is some smoke and mirror involved.

When we say humans are the smartest critter, because we put a man of the moon, even though I had nothing to do with it, in any direct or indirect way, I get to accept credit, simplty by showing up as a human. That subjectivity makes me look higher.

A better way would be to compare innate ability without external input. If we isolated a child (hypothetically) and he had to adapt, would he appear smarter or much less qualified than the basic animal. Next, you train him via education. Now he will appear above all the rest.


Those are all good points, but humans doing what is in their nature doesn't seem so special. We are intelligent social beings with arms and functional hands that allow us to make tools to help us better all our lives. But what about the porpoises? I've read they have a more complex brains than humans, but they live in the ocean and it's tough to make tools with flippers or fins. Or the octopus, a very intelligent life form. I wonder what it could do with the same life span that a human has, rather than the 2 or 3 year life span it has?