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Why do humans see themselves as different from animals?

  1. Oct 14, 2014 #1
    While humans are scientifically classified as animals, we frequently see ourselves as being something different from the animals. Why is this?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 14, 2014 #2

    analogdesign

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    Are you sure that many people still think that?. I think of myself as an animal, for instance.

    I think many people think of themselves as distinct from other animals due to ego. It's the same human thought process that led us to believe we were the center of the universe, the sun was a god obsessed with our conduct, etc etc
     
  4. Oct 14, 2014 #3
    There is a long history of doing that, for complicated and (it seems to me) largely unexplored reasons. (Say, do you really want to feel more or less similar to the organisms you hunt, eat, enslave and work all their life?)

    A probe to get at some of that may be to ask how robust such notions are:

    "A US appeals court is currently hearing the case of a chimpanzee named Tommy and is to decide if he has the right to bodily integrity and liberty, just like a person. ...

    In the same way, the question of whether human rights can transcend the species divide is simply a way of asking who we include when we talk about basic rights. Nobody now regards the old limits of sex, race, nationality, religion and property ownership as justifiable reasons for excluding others from basic rights. But is species? ...

    I share the common view among human rights theorists and practitioners that basic rights are about protecting an individual's well-being. And to have well-being is not merely to benefit from certain goods, but also to experience the benefits of those goods. On this view, then, basic rights should not be extended to all things, but certainly should be extended all other animals who possess conscious life."

    [ http://phys.org/news/2014-10-comment-monkeying-aroundanimals-human-rights.html ]

    (FWIW, I accept realpolitik, and note that our "extended family" has barely started to include pets. That may be the two extremes of the move against the notion that animals differ from us when push comes to shove.)
     
  5. Oct 14, 2014 #4

    Pythagorean

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    I wonder if it's natural for other animals to consider all animals besides themselves as distinct. I imagine so.

    Certainly humans have a stronger social element than most animals. We can read the words of our ancestors and add them to our knowledge. We can idealize ourselves and our social image in comparison to dead people we admire. This ties into the ego mentioned earlier a lot, but it's also a sort of objective difference between us and other animals. To some extent, it's semantics - as long as we're all clear that man descended from primates.
     
  6. Oct 15, 2014 #5
    Actually humans are primates too, so it would make more sense to say that humans (and other primates) descended from Primatomorpha. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primatomorpha ].
     
  7. Oct 15, 2014 #6

    Pythagorean

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    That would depend on how you defined and grouped the clades (in addition to, as your wiki links says, how you interpret molecular data) wouldn't it? We can look at a clade in which we descended from primates through the Haplorhini line. Of course, we are primates too, but we are also chordates and craniates - and we also descended from them. Descending from and being aren't mutually exclusive, are they?
     
  8. Oct 15, 2014 #7
    It would seem there is considerable evidence for the above since most animals will instinctively either fight or flight from specific other species. Some of this has to do with smell since it seems that the first animals willing to share a watering hole are herbivores, but even carnivores can, under the right conditions, learn to overcome this predisposition.

    It might be treading on thin ice to characterize our social element as stronger than in most animals and we don't have to even get to certain kinds of insects like termites, and ants, although things do get rather blurry with insects that are obviously social and gather in great numbers yet allow for cannibalism.

    There are many mammals that either hunt in packs and keep a social group with very strong sets of rules and bonds even when not hunting as well as prey animals that employ herding and other social forms to find safety in numbers. I would go so far as to say that lone or immediate family grouped only animals are the rarity. Humans are somewhere in between since we are obviously social but also rather fiercely individualistic, although it is possible that this individualism only came into prominence as it became affordable (and in some cases, desirable for diversity) within fixed civilizations. Hunter-Gatherers had less room for individual behavior since they lived most often right on the edge of survival.

    Also regarding this attitude of equality or near equality with those we eat or enslave, hunter-gatherer societies have little or no problem with this since they tend to be naturalistic and accept that we can't survive eating rocks. They accept the Law of the Jungle. Something alive has to die to feed us and apparently Nature manages to handle a balance.
     
  9. Oct 15, 2014 #8

    Pythagorean

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    I don't think "individualism" really conflicts, since those individuals benefit from an education and/or knowledge and social structures that reach far back into humam history. No other animal is able to construct and retain social constructs likes we do through books and paintings and photography and other media.
     
  10. Oct 15, 2014 #9
    @Pythagorean - Perhaps we are dealing with semantics here, since I would call those things recorded language (technology), somewhat different from fundamental social structure.
     
  11. Oct 15, 2014 #10

    Pythagorean

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    What I said was that social structure is encoded in those things (language and technology) and passed down. The social structures themselves are things like religion, laws, methodology, political structures, etc.
     
  12. Oct 15, 2014 #11
    @Pythagorean - I quite understand that for the human species social structure is encoded in language and technology but not only do we have many social structures, many of which are in conflict, language and technology are somewhat ephemeral, witness The Dark Ages or the incalculable loss of the Libraries at Alexandria.

    Social structure is also encoded in our genes and these too are often in conflict not only with language and technology but even sometimes with our best interests. Stephen Hawking pointed this worrisome conflict out in a general way in Brief History of Time and such works by other authors such as Growing Up Absurd have pointed out the "house of cards" we deal with and the conflicts our systems ignore.

    I don't think animals have such conflicts and healthy animals rarely exhibit self-destructive behavior. So I conclude that even if we are not comparing "apples to oranges" that it is further human conceit to assume our social structures are stronger. If 80% of all wolves were wiped out in a day the remaining wolves would get along just fine, at the very least continuing their social structure. I'm very skeptical that if 80% of all humans were wiped out in a day, there would still be 20% left in just a few months, and have no doubts that social structure would utterly collapse.
     
  13. Oct 15, 2014 #12

    Pythagorean

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    You're using a different measuring stick than me. The point is how big of a role social elements play in our behavior, not whether it's "good" or "bad" or other moral arguments about "conflict" or "self-destructive". Your point:

    Only supports my point! Because of our important social structure, we'd have trouble surviving without all the social roles that have developed being around to keep things going. Most humans are dependent on social structures like commerce and trade. Most people don't know how to hunt their own food or find appropriate shelter - it's all done for us in exchange for us performing our social roles.
     
  14. Oct 15, 2014 #13
    For the record I didn't say anything about "good, bad, or moral". I said stronger. From my point of view since in the example case of the wolves theirs would remain intact after such a blow while ours would likely not, theirs appears stronger. It may be because it is a simpler, less complicated structure but that doesn't diminish it's ability to survive impact - QED stronger.

    However we are beginning to beat a dead horse and probably because one things seems objectively true - we are using different measuring sticks or weighting algorithms. So I'll just walk the rest of the way home.
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2014
  15. Oct 15, 2014 #14

    Pythagorean

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    It just seemed to me like you were making value judgments about the quality of the social interactions; because values are dependent on value systems, they're hard to debate and discuss in a rigorous fashion, whereas the biological perspective is more about behavior and survival.
     
  16. Oct 16, 2014 #15
    Agreed.
     
  17. Oct 31, 2014 #16
    Mental states can be difficult to identify from outside, and behaviorist psychologists believe in ignoring them as much as possible. Some behaviorists even make a philosophical principle out of ignoring them, on the ground that they are not directly observable. But such epistemological skepticism can easily be extended to everything but one's own consciousness, giving solipsism.

    But I do think that they have an important methodological point, that internal states of other entities are inferred from externally-accessible features of them, like their behavior.

    So let us look at what is accessible from the outside.

    Language is a big one. Human language has a level of complexity that no other species' communication system has, as far as we have been able to tell. Most animals' communication systems are analogues of single human words, though some are more complicated, especially bird songs and whale songs. But there is not much evidence that they hold conversations with them. They seem mainly to advertise their singers' presence and possibly also what species their singers are and how big and strong their singers are, like various other sexually-selected features. Dolphins go a bit further, with some dolphin whistles apparently for self-identification -- names.

    There have been various attempts to teach human languages to our closest simian relatives, like chimpanzees. They have had the most success learning sign language, but though they can learn lots of individual signs, they seem unable to string them together to make much more than simple noun phrases -- and often not even that.
     
  18. Oct 31, 2014 #17

    Evo

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    Explain the behavior of these water buffalo in deciding "as a pack" to go back and save a baby.



    I have personally witnessed two squirrels decide together to attack a hawk that had been harassing the area birds and squirrels. The hawk was up in a tree just sitting there on a branch. The two squirrels came together and chattered awhile to each other, then they went up and out on a single branch to rush the hawk together. It was amazing. I've seen groups of small birds dive at cats to drive them away.

    How do they decide to perform a deliberate act in unison? It's not one animal attacking, then others join in. They have a plan and all carry it out together.
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2014
  19. Oct 31, 2014 #18

    Pythagorean

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    It would be difficult to determine whether they have a plan or they are just very experienced at improvising.
     
  20. Oct 31, 2014 #19

    Evo

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    Odd improvising as a group all at once to address a single problem that doesn't really involve them personally, but to help a friend? Or if you prefer, a herd member?
     
  21. Oct 31, 2014 #20

    Pythagorean

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    Odd planning too, no?
     
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