Human Origins - What Makes Us Human?

Aristotle
Aristotle

Human Origins - What Makes Us Human?

The study of the human species poses a unique problem, which is that the researchers are also the object of the study. Because of this, human attempts at self-explanation has lack in objectivity over the years. For instance, the Greek philosopher Aristotle said that all life was arranged according to a fixed hierarchy, but not surprisingly he then put humans at the top of the order. However, despite all these difficulties, the search to understand who we are and where we come from is indeed a worthwhile quest.

What makes us human and other primates not? Very little. According to the genetic code of our DNA, humans and their closets relative, chimpanzees, are 98% identical. Despite this, it is not difficult to tell a human from a chimpanzee. We have large brains for our body size, something which has been linked to higher intelligence relative to human ancestors and other primates, and we also walk on to legs, which is known as bipedalism. Chimpanzees on the other hand have a specialized way of walking on four legs, also known as knuckle-walking.

Taking another approach, some scientists have reasoned that it is our special cognitive skills what makes us human, such as to make tools and use them, or our capacity for abstraction which has made things like art, music and language possible. These high level cognitive skills may not be as unique to humans as they appear though. Chimpanzees have been observed using rocks to crack open nuts and leaves as a sponge to drink water from a shallow pool. Studies have also shown that American sign language can be taught to apes in captivity, thereby proving that nonhuman primates can learn a symbolic/abstract language.

Despite Aristotle's interpretation, it is clear that humans are part of a large biological spectrum, which makes it difficult for researchers to single out our particular species. That doesn't stop them from trying however. Finding the answer to the question What makes us human? is something many professionals, especially paleoanthropologists, geneticists and archaeologists, have dedicated their careers to. Most of them begin looking back into our evolutionary past.

To sum up - Humans belong to a biological continuum which makes it difficult to single out one species from another, but researchers continue to search for traits that makes humans unique.

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bearclawmedia 4 years ago from Mining Planet Earth

Very nice prose. Thanks

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