Distinguishing characteristics of humans,
by Zake Stahl (Human)
This list is not really prioritized, could
be organized many different ways, and most of the points interlink/overlap with
other points in the list. Also it's a 'living document' - I change and update
it when inspired. (Last update April 3, 2014.) Enjoy!
- Pronounced Self-Awareness
- Questioning Existence and Purpose
- Introspective Mind
- Able to imagine and create previously non-existent
- Ego - To the point where humans can
act unjustifiably superior and can be so selfish
as to be detrimental to their own existence.
- Not that other entities don't have some or all of the
above characteristics, but there is a blend that is severely human.
- The brain - A no-brainer <hee hee>;
Though obviously many animals have brains, human's are bigger. At least are
bigger insofar as the normal mass and size of body to brain ratio; there are
a bunch of other critters with ratios like our, rats for example.
- Knowledge, History, ORAL
TRADITION, passing information down from one generation to the next,
books, cave wall paintings, stone carvings, sculpture, artwork, family heirlooms,
education systems (school, internships, apprentice-ships, systems of art craft
philosophy). Jaron Lanier (ttbook
transcript):"We can accumulate knowledge and wisdom across generations.
And the cephalopods don't; each generation just emerges from the egg and has
to learn all over again. If they had childhood they would definitely rule
- Speech - This one seems obvious, communication,
history, culture, song. At a mystical levels: vibrations, mantras, Sanskrit,
spiritual song, chanting, prayer, etc..
- The opposable thumb - Some other primates
have this too, and they're basically on the same evolutionary branch. A big
chunk of brain is all about the hands and thumb. Our hands are a huge part
of learning about our environment and interacting with it and (kinesthetic)
learning. (Knitting as antidepressant, hand craft as grounding, etc.)
- Sweat glands and pores on almost entire skin surface
- This makes a huge difference in increased habitat acclimation, and thus
diversity of habitat across the species now. (Ex: Humans can go to hot places
and sweat, cold places and wear clothes, don't have to migrate, maybe aren't
as easily killed off by habitat/climate change.)
- Female humans are not as driven by ovulation
as are female animals who go into "heat," in other words, they
can culturally/personally/socially choose their sexual behavior regardless
of their cycles of menstruation.
- Hemochorial Placenta (pregnancy and menstruation distinctions).
(This information is from
this link which you probably can't get to.) There is a spectrum of control
and nourishment between mother and embryo in animals. On the spectrum side opposite humans
the embryo does not get direct access to blood, does not control the mother's biology
at all, and the mother can (biologically at least, not really consciously) abort -
due to a serious lack of resources threatening the mother's existence. In humans,
the embryo implanting (and other stages) is more difficult, due to more biological
tests for problems. However, unlike the 'lower' animals where the mother's body
can reject the baby, in humans there are three players: Mom, Baby, and genes from
Dad activated in the placenta! The infant, in utero, influences blood sugar
and other chemical levels in the mother for the child's growth advantage, even
when negative for the mother.
- No bone in the penis - Very convenient
and allows for more diverse culture and behaviors. (Don't
recall where I got this one.)
The theory is that this adaptation allows for male humans somehow to multitask
and trick females in ways non-humans can't; also just more flexible or
something. The baculum is used for speed and quanity over quality.
- In many many species the male is more colorful
and decorated, whereas in humans (not all, but enough to be noteworthy)
the females seem to take this role. Note also however, that in humans
and non-humans alike, the males fight for females, though this is hugely
masked and muddied by culture. (I might be biased here.)
- Good at sprint and long range and variability
(hunting) mobility. - (This one I'm sketchy on and need to find the source.)
Something I heard out of the corner of my ear about humans being able to run
longer / more varied as the heart rate / breath rate / locomotion stride are
not anatomically locked in at some fixed ratios. Whereas in some quadrupeds,
for example, there are fixed rations, so they are not as flexible as hunters
or evading prey. Long range is basically walking. Persistence
hunting is an evolutionary term related to the running/sprinting/walking
- Uniquely long adolescence: David Bainbridge
postulates that human's prolonged adolescence is unique and a great evolutionary
advantages; he wrote, "Teenagers: A Natural History." Somehow the
angst and all is required to re-wire the human brain; started 800K years ago
and that's when we became who we are now.
- Cooked food / Cooking food - Richard Wrangham,
the author of "Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human" puts forth
the argument that cooked food packs more energy per volume of food and per
amount of time taken in eating and preparing it, also it allows preservation
and portability. He feels this is a critical node on our evolutionary branch
and a huge distinguishing characteristics (smaller mouth, teeth, stomach,
etc.). (Cooked food vs raw food movement debate - but really both are human,
you can process fuel both ways, each with pros and cons; focus on health (go
- Tool use; actually lots of animals do this.
Abstraction. Long term thinking. Kevin Kelly's "What Technology Wants" details how tools / technology are biological evolution continued in other forms.
- Domestication (clearly overlaping with fire,
cooking, tools, and intellegence.) Other animals migrate (travel) with no luggage,
and enjoy the cold weather without special clothes. Humans are pretty much so self-domesticated
that we can't live without shelter and cooking and massive infrastructure for (critical) support.
It's not just farming and dogs and horses that are domestication, Michael Pollan's Botany of desire
beautifully shows the co-evolution and co-exploitation of humans with four select plant species.
Arguably the changes labled negativly by some as feminization, is simply the (assumed) positive result of domestication.
- Compassionate, though sometimes to help
this one along we need Culture and Religion.