What is "Human"?

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  1. wilderness profile image97
    wildernessposted 7 years ago

    Given that we are biologically Homo Sapiens, can you give a definition of "human"?  One that we can test for to see if current or future animals (or even ET one day perhaps) deserve the label of human and therefore the same rights and considerations that we give ourselves?

    This question came about from another thread where a comment was made that perhaps Neanderthal, using fire to cook food, making complex tools, producing art work and burying their dead should perhaps be classified as "human".  Not the biological definition of homo sapiens, but human nonetheless.

    1. profile image0
      Brenda Durhamposted 7 years agoin reply to this

      Okay, so, I watched the new Planet of The Apes last night, and I am now a BELIEVER in evolution! 


      wilderness, are you trying to change the definiton of "human"?
      or just mulling on what distinguishes humans from animals?

      1. wilderness profile image97
        wildernessposted 7 years agoin reply to this

        LOL  That will do it for you.  Or make you immigrate to mars, take your choice.

        I doubt that I can get the definition changed, although perhaps it should be.  That's maybe part of the question.

        But mostly as you say, how do we truly distinguish animals from humans.  What is that invisible line that is crossed to become human?  A "testable" line, not the soul or spirit.

        One day we may need to know - how far from our own intelligence are dolphins, for instance?  Or even gorillas - even without the physical apparatus to speak, a very few have learned sign language and can communicate simple ideas.  Given the enormous differences in environment, physical capabilities and "culture" we may one day find that some animals are near or at our levels of intelligence. 

        If we do find such a thing one day do they deserve the same rights we have?  Would that not make them human?  (Yes, maybe I'm changing the definition here). 

        For instance, I'm no geneticist by any means but I know that 1) chimpanzees are very close to humans genetically and 2) humans have a very wide genetic range.  Is it possible that some people are further away from the norm than the rare chimpanzees might be?  Yet they are human and chimps are not.

        1. profile image0
          Brenda Durhamposted 7 years agoin reply to this

          I think the "testable" line does have to do with the soul & spirit.  And a thing called conscience.  And rationality. 
          Animals will never be human and never were.  And vise-versa.
          Humanity is an innate inborn thing.  It separates us from the animals.  I'm curious as to why anyone would have the desire to consider it a possibility for an animal to become human...

          1. wilderness profile image97
            wildernessposted 7 years agoin reply to this

            How do you test for presence of a soul?  A dog may have a conscience - if it wets the floor it knows it has done wrong and will hang its head and become submissive.  Watch a pod of dolphins going after sardines and you will find their actions most rational.

            I know you will disagree, but animals did become human and may once more develop to our level of intelligence and creativity.  We don't know.

            Many do.  Have you watched "whale wars"?  Some are willing to put their lives on the line to protect an "animal"?  Or do they consider them human in some way?  I don't know that it's a "desire" to consider that possibility, it just IS.  Some people seem to consider that some animals deserve the same rights humans enjoy.

            1. recommend1 profile image67
              recommend1posted 7 years agoin reply to this

              Humanity is more a measure of civilised behaviour and reasoning ability.

              Your dogs behaviour is just that, behaviour.  It has done wrong and it knows it because when it pees on the floor you shout at it until it learns it is wrong.  It does not understand that it is your fault it is peeing on the floor because you failed to let it outside in time.

              Rational behaviour in animals does not necessarily mean reasoning is involved, although when it does appear to be more than complex behavioural responses then usually communication is involved - which is why anthropologists tend to believe that our high level of reasoning followed the development and evolution of language.

              1. wilderness profile image97
                wildernessposted 7 years agoin reply to this

                I'm with you right down the line.  I DO question "civilized behavior" a little, though.  Are cannibals thus  not human?  The term civilization is extremely variable according to culture and what one calls civilized another will not.

                Even reasoning is based on culture and experience.  An "animal" with a vastly different culture and environment may reason and come to conclusions that we simply cannot understand from our own culture. 

                Finally, reasoning does seem strongly connected to language.  So what about the gorilla that uses sign language?  Is it a reasoning being, deserving the title "human"?  Are whale songs or dolphin squeaks language we don't understand yet or just barking or growling like a dog?

                1. recommend1 profile image67
                  recommend1posted 7 years agoin reply to this

                  Just because animals communicate it does not give them a higher level of reasoning, although I do not believe we know if this is the case with sea mammals who communicate.

                  Higher reasoning is connected to an understanding that we exist, a dog does not question its existence, it just is.  This can be tested by considering why and how an animal does things, rats can negotiate mazes better than people it appears, but this is part of their normal behaviour getting to and from food sources out of sight of predators.  It is not a part of our instinctive behaviour and so we are not so good at it because we try to reason our way, when the right tool is memory lists.

                  Even cannibals have been mis-reported.  Generally they have never eaten human flesh as part of their diet - they eat various parts for specific reasons such as eating the heart of a defeated (dead) enemy to get his courage, or the brain of a defeated (dead) enemy to take his wisdom etc.  Only religion ever got around to specifically killing victims to do this (no surprises there then!).

                  1. wilderness profile image97
                    wildernessposted 7 years agoin reply to this

                    I realize that animal communication seldom indicates reasoning ability.  A dog barking, a prairie dog calling out danger, an elk calling for a mate; these are communicating but not language and do not denote reasoning capability.

                    I agree the sea mammals are questionable at this point.  But what about the "talking" gorilla?  From what I've seen, the "talk" was about non-food things in many cases, and did not result in food being given.  Is that gorilla really talking, saying "Let's play ball" or "I like the color pink"?  More importantly, if (when) we find an animal that can use language is it then to be considered as human as neanderthal was?

                    My point on cannibals was that they are uncivilized - we supposedly civilized westerners would never consider having a nice roast leg of human.  Or heart or brain.  The definition of civilized is very culturally oriented and is of only limited usefulness for determining if an animal is human. 

                    Consider that our ancestors of 2 or 3 thousand years ago were quite uncivilized by our ideals, but they were human.  Or do you refer to modifying our environment (buildings) using something besides instinct?

    2. recommend1 profile image67
      recommend1posted 7 years agoin reply to this

      The idea of Neanderthal being some brute creature, both in looks and ability, grew from  mis-applied anthropology.

      In the last few years it has been found that they were very much more the same as us than was promoted in the past.  They also lived alongside homo-sapiens for thousands of years.  The main difference is thought to be that they lacked advanced speech and so were at a fatal disadvantage when populations started to compete for food and territory. 

      The warped christian view of things that thinks that humans are a specific shape, colour and creed and that does not include human beings that have not been exposed to their god is quite strange.

      1. profile image0
        Brenda Durhamposted 7 years agoin reply to this

        What's the concept of "ape-men" man got to do with differences in shape, color, and creed?

        1. recommend1 profile image67
          recommend1posted 7 years agoin reply to this

          Because they were clearly not 'ape-men'  they were clearly men and human beings.

          1. wilderness profile image97
            wildernessposted 7 years agoin reply to this

            No, they were not just apes (ape man doesn't make a lot of sense).  What we tend to know about neanderthal would seem to man instead of animal.

            That it popularly looks more like a gorilla than a man is meaningless.


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