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What makes us Human

and what do we share with other animals?

wonderoushen  Female  Gwynedd 6-Oct-2018 17:52 Message #4726489
I've just been reading a book called The Book of Humans: The Story Of How We Became Us, by Adam Rutherford, its about evolution and what seperates humans from animals or not and how evolution works. Its a very entertaining and easy read by a brilliant teacher who has the ability and confidence to make the very complex understandable to non scientists.

One fo the chapters was about sex and more specifically masterbation, something we might think of as being a human activity and not extending much or at all into the animal kingdom, how wrong we would be! It seems the whole world is full of creatures self pleasuring, including something that blew my mind andd weirded me out, a dolphin was observed masterbating by using an electric eel! I'm glad I only read it as thought thought of David Attenborough narrating that scene was enough to set me off being weirded out still further, I was going to have toad in the hole for diner but changed my mind after reading that!

We are also far from the only species that has sex for non reproductive reasons or are homosexual, many animals do and are, so that sort of puts those "against nature" arguments in the bin.

According to Rutherford the thing that seperates us from other animals, apart from an opposable thumb is our ability to concieve of a past and a future beyond whats for dinner and our wish, need to communicate abstract ideas and information. As far as we know we are the only species who has a sense of history and a curiosity about it, we are the only species that could come up with science fiction by projecting ourselves into an imagined future. Above all we teach and learn, we teach to those that arn't our immediate family that have no connections to us other than being human and interested in the subject matter. Just think the fact that you are reading this is the product of not just technology but a need in humans to communicate with other's we don't know personally and may never know personally. Our ability to create culture is a result of how our genes are organised as is our ability to communicate it, but genes arn't the whole package, our culture that we communicate and teach is as important as our genes and is the other half of our inhertitance and inheritance we share with other creatures. Good innit?
Victoriana11  Female  Buckinghamshire 6-Oct-2018 20:47 Message #4726507
interesting W/Hen... food for thought.

V x
warmundeft  Male  Wrexham 6-Oct-2018 21:42 Message #4726516
Sounds like my kind of reading WH. Thanks for the 'heads up'.

I must take a close look at Rutherford's thesis (as I read your interpretation of it) that only Homo sapiens have 'ability to conceive a past and a future'.
I call this into question because I have a (dim) recollection that there are a couple of species of birds usually thought of as seasonal migrators; but not all members migrate and gain the benefits of pastures new.
Instead, those that stay put, benefit by being in a position to get first pick of nesting sites before the returning migratory cohort can compete.
Now, what is it that brings about such variance in behaviour in members of the same species ?
(I'll try to brush up on the 'dim' aspect.)

Also regarding H.sapiens interest in history and an ability to imagine future events, do you not reckon that having the luxury of adequate food & shelter, and thus 'spare time', allows us to develop and indulge our curiosity ?

Anyway, thanks for the prod to my grey cell - quality on a par with the recent screening of Andrew Marr's 'Darwin's Dangerous Idea'.

Aely  Female  Hampshire 6-Oct-2018 21:51 Message #4726518
More and more things which were thought to be exclusive to humans are being recognised in other animals. self-awareness used to be a criterium. However, using the "recognise myself in a mirror" test several species so far have passed the test, including the Magpie!
wonderoushen  Female  Gwynedd 7-Oct-2018 11:38 Message #4726540
Self awareness is covered in the book and as you say Aely theres are quite a few creatures that pass the mirror test, but he points out that its not a particuarly good test, because although it tells us that other creatures can recognise themselves it dosen't tell us anything about how they concieve of themselves.

warmundeft, I think in the context I was trying to explain and probably didn't explain well enough, its having a sense of abstractness and deep time that sets us apart. Whilst agree that your example shows awareness, how does it show awareness of time rather than culture? Is the nesting behaviour of the non migratory birds driven by being non migratory or is it a side effect? Evolution seems full of side effects that can be beneficial and yet arn't controlled by genes.

Whats called "the neolithic package" of sophisticated tool use, a move towards a more settled existance with farming etc is a difficult one we can see it in the archeological record with people having a more and more sophisticated material culture. But and its a big but, theres lots we don't know, many of these cultural artifacts where there long before the neolithic, art, ritual, music, symbolic thought are all there, but they tend not to leave many remains, we know of percussion instruments, whistles, flutes etc and presumably they sang and vocalised too, but what they played, when and in what context we have no idea. It would seem that many of the things we see as "human" were present in earlier homminids, not just Neanderthals and Denisovans but in their predesessors, things like tool use, symbolic/art/depiction and the use of colour as well as control of fire. But then use of fire isn't an exclusively human behaviour either, chimps who live in areas at high risk of wild fire use those burnt areas as rich feeding grounds and they're safer as they can see further. In Australia FIrehawks patrol areas of wildfire to catch fleeing prey, but they also pick up burning twigs and fly off with them and start fires in unburnt areas so as creatures sheltering from the fire are forced to flee making them easy prey.
justfem  Female  Cambridgeshire 7-Oct-2018 12:10 Message #4726545
I think that on the whole we are a very arrogant race because only a few years ago it was believed that Neanderthals had died out completely. Recently that perception has been turned on it's head since it has been shown that most of us carry at least 2% of the Neanderthal genome.
Timmee  Male  Hampshire 7-Oct-2018 12:33 Message #4726547
"I was going to have toad in the hole for diner but changed my mind after reading that!"

I like what all this reading is doing for your SOH Hen!
wonderoushen  Female  Gwynedd 7-Oct-2018 18:44 Message #4726554
Yes, its between 2 and 5% of us have Neanderthal DNA its mostly Europeans that have it although it is present in all places where there were Neanderthals, such as North Africa and the Levant, in other populations such as Tibetans there are traces of another homminid group, the Denisovans. DNA studies have shown that one of the genes Tibetans got from their Denisovan heritage was a gene that helps them live at high altitude, there are other genes in groups in sub-Saharan Africa that are known to be from other homminids who we have no other trace of.

One of the things that sort of intrigues me is how this impinges on the views of white supremacists?
warmundeft  Male  Wrexham 7-Oct-2018 20:21 Message #4726562
Your explanation came across just fine WH. I think the obvious factor that hasn't been explicitly stated is whether or not there is an ability to predict the consequences of the 'chosen' course of action.
That is an idea that the selection of academic work I've skimmed does not provide an answer to - and I wouldn't expect anything different.
What many with an interest in the field recognise, as did you, is that the availability of suitably nourishing food is a major factor in all aspects of animal behaviour.
But then (prepare to groan), that is a whole can of worms.
wonderoushen  Female  Gwynedd 8-Oct-2018 11:23 Message #4726600
I think as far as we know we are the only species that can think more than one or two steps ahead certainly on an abstract level, but its one of those things thats very difficult to devise an experiment for as we have to think like the species we wish to test. How would we test if say a crow, a species we know are intelligent and long lived can plan 5 years ahead? Then theres the fact that we only see a tiny percentage of animal behaviour, something like 94% of animal behaviour happens with no human observation, a lot of the behaviours we see are with captive animals and they may behave differently to how they would in the wild.

Of course food is incredibly important, but our panoply of potential behaviours were in place long before they were used, some were used in ways that were not pragmatic and we must be careful of looking back and seeking a soley pragmatic answer. Our health deteriorated with the advent of farming and settled living, hunter gatherer populations were much healthier, they were taller, had less arthritis and were far less likely to get diseases like typhoid and cholera, farming is hard work too. Its thought that farming took hold gradually with certain crops being planted and then people went off and left them and came back to harvest them, Prof, Alice Roberts goes into this in more detail in her book, Tamed, which is about the species that have been our companions for the last 30k years or so, such as dogs, wheat and apples.
warmundeft  Male  Wrexham 8-Oct-2018 18:32 Message #4726630
Oh yes ! The work of Alice Roberts gets my vote too and not just for her presentation style. And to recall when she was seen on 'Time Team' as just the back of her unmistakable head with a trowel scraping in front of her My word she is doing well.

And back to the thread, there is a lot of diligent effort being put into all the aspects raised by your original post - and recent technology such as GPS trackers make investigation into migration so much more viable. Aye, we've come a long way since Aristotle expressed an interest, but even interpretation of the vast amounts of newly gathered data is likely to take some time.
As you rightly illustrate WH, how to get inside their heads is a major hurdle - but observation, deduction, prediction and test by experiment do eventually lead to plausible results.
BlinkinLights  Female  South Yorkshire 9-Oct-2018 14:05 Message #4726691
Well WH this thread has got me thinking like no other !!
My thoughts are:
Whatever you may read about animal behaviour it is all supposition - observation - guesswork. They may be an educated guess, but a guess nonetheless. We can never know what makes animals tick - that is, until the day they learn to speak in our language.
The mirror test:
Different animals live differently so a pride of female lions having one male who guards them may act very aggressively towards "seeing" another male approaching. He may try to attack it, its not a question of whether he recognizes that it is himself he is seeing.
On the other hand, if say a squirrel "sees" another squirrel nearby, he will probably just ignore it, not feeling threatened at all. Now cows seem to be extremely curios and will probably come over to the mirror and look and look - again its not a question that he recognizes himself. We will never actually KNOW until animals can talk !!
The dolphin/eel scenario :
Question: do dolphins have genitalia from which it would be obvious he is getting aroused (like our males) ?
If so, then it may be presumed the dolphin is aroused but if not, then it is all supposition, surely?
It could be that the dolphin is just playing with the eel, as we think that dolphins are very playful. I think, however, that their playfulness is all part of their 'practice' to corale herring or other fish when they want/need to eat.
And once again I say we will never KNOW until they speak. In any event most humans put a human interpretation on what animals do. We may be wildly wrong !!
wonderoushen  Female  Gwynedd 9-Oct-2018 19:11 Message #4726711
Its very obvious when a dolphin has a stiffy, and apes have been seen masterbating, bonobos use sex as a social bonding tool, males and males, females and females, males and females, adults and "children".

The mirror test is about if an animal recognises itself, some species seem to better at this than others and some individuals are better than others, dogs arn't supposed to be very good at the mirror test and yet my wardrobe mirrors had a trail of dog slobber at nose height from Monty and Dogglet checking themselves out every morning.

What we know of animal behaviour isn't supposition and guess work and good observation isn't either of the former, crows are good tool users, if you give them a bendy tube and some wire they will walk around the tube sussing out its dimensions and then bend the wire into the right shape to get food in the bottom of the bendy tube. I think there video's on Utube of them doing it. Of course there are things we won't know until we can figure out a way of enabling us and animals to communicate, but we already know quite a bit, many captive apes have been taught sign language and not only sign to their humans but to each other too and not randomly, but meaningfully.
OTB  Male  Dorset 10-Oct-2018 00:26 Message #4726743
It depresses me to contemplate that humans think they are so, so different, advanced and superior to other species upon this earth.

We developed agriculture just 12,000 years ago.

ANTS devoloped the same process over a million years ago. (Farming aphids for milking).

We developed 'manned flight' just over 100 years ago.

ANTS had that technology worked out a million years ago. (Flying on bitten off leaves)

ANTS also crossed continents by floating on bitten off leaves.

If you really want to comprehend and understand concepts of love, loss, wonder or any number of other, supposedly unique, human emotions, google KOKO the gorilla ... and learn that EMOTIONS (and the expressing of emotions), is not, remotely, merly a human manifestation ... but an emotion that many species experience and share quite naturally upon this earth.

OTB  Male  Dorset 10-Oct-2018 00:29 Message #4726744
The very phrase, "What makes us human" infers that we are some special species.

"What makes us human" is the arrogance we place on our own importance.
OTB  Male  Dorset 10-Oct-2018 01:03 Message #4726746
And yeah ... Look at our present, current, world.

Are we so clever?

We've ENTIRELY f**ked up our planet! :-)

It'll recover ...

But only after WE have left it. (or been wiped out).

Oh. And by the way ...

All the miracles we "discovered" about this world?

We award ourselves Nobel Peace Prizes for "discovering" the wonders of the universe ... as if we created them!

But we didn't create them.

The wonders of DNA, the mysteries of the atom, the crazy properties of the quantum world, the workings of the universe, the concepts of time and space ...

We didn't invent, create or have any input regarding the mysteries of the universe ...

SOMETHING manifest such wonders billions and zillions of years before Mankind ever appeared on the earth.

It was NOTHING to do with us.

Doesn't stop US from claiming to be at the centre of the universe though, does it? ... as if WE, somehow, think we had something to do with it all.

But we didn't.

"Being human?"

"Being human" means ... trashing a planet, causing genocide to hundreds of thousands of fellow earth based species, polluting the atmosphere, filling our oceans with litter, raping the earth of resources, killing the earth's lungs, (rain forests), and melting the poles.

Ha ha.

How clever we are! :-)
wonderoushen  Female  Gwynedd 10-Oct-2018 11:30 Message #4726767
Golly Beach who p1ssed on your chips?
Timmee  Male  Hampshire 10-Oct-2018 18:52 Message #4726803
"As far as we know we are the only species who has a sense of history and a curiosity about it, we are the only species that could come up with science fiction by projecting ourselves into an imagined future" & "its having a sense of abstractness and deep time that sets us apart." [W.Hen]

"We can never know what makes animals tick - that is, until the day they learn to speak in our language." [Madness]

"We developed agriculture just 12,000 years ago. ANTS devoloped the same process over a million years ago. (Farming aphids for milking). We developed 'manned flight' just over 100 years ago. ANTS had that technology worked out a million years ago. (Flying on bitten off leaves) ANTS also crossed continents by floating on bitten off leaves." [Beach]

I'm looking forward to reading the Ants' own account of their remarkable achievements. It should be very readable - after all Adam Ant produced a whole string on Number 1 hit records - and that was over 30 years ago back in the 1980's!
warmundeft  Male  Wrexham 13-Oct-2018 21:09 Message #4726942
Heads up folks! I suspect that 'if you've like this' thread, you might well be interested in:
'Origins of Us', next Tuesday on BBC4
warmundeft  Male  Wrexham 16-Oct-2018 23:31 Message #4727127
Well Hen, i rather think that Alice Roberts' 'Origins of Us' has started to answer your original question brilliantly.
Some parts seemed familiar, perhaps because it was first screened seven years ago, and since my household in 2011 experienced some rough patches, it's not impossible that i may have dozed off.
Found the last twenty minutes of this evening's episode particularly praiseworthy. The development and presentation explaining how the dexterity of H.sapiens came to be and the clear explanation of the difference compared to tool-using anthropoids was especially illuminating, demonstrating that anatomically, there is more to our ability to use tools than the possession of opposable thumbs.
Although it probably goes without saying, based on what I've seen this evening, I thoroughly recommend viewing the 'Origins' series. But I'm also looking forward to reading Rutherford's 2018 book as well.
wonderoushen  Female  Gwynedd 17-Oct-2018 11:53 Message #4727157
I thought I'd seen it before and I can't get BBC4.
warmundeft  Male  Wrexham 17-Oct-2018 12:26 Message #4727160
Bet that the amount you pay for your receiving licence is not pro rata!

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