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View Full Version : Do humans belong in another group(not 'animals')?


opacis magi
01-13-2004, 09:18 PM
I had a quite heated discussion tonight online about whether or not humans should be put in a group of themselves, or if they're actually just animals with deeper thinking.

So I said this to him; Humans can make a written language, they can use and understand mathematics, they know of their own mortality, they can think and reflect and change their own emotions, and lastly understand themselves and the world around them on a whole new level compared to animals.

What I'm saying is, at one point in the evolution, a big light bulb just switched to 'on', and our learning went drastically faster.
From that point on, it was inevitable that we would end up knowing everything we do now.

So let's look at dolphins, or cats or dogs.
Unless they have this "click" they will never learn anything new.
No matter how many times you teach the chimp to pick up his own bread, he will never think about what he's doing, or more so, begin a love life with the bread. (Some people do.)

You see how complex humans are compared to animals?

Anyone agree or disagree with me here?

John Mace
01-13-2004, 09:27 PM
I disagree, but the question you have to ask first is: For what purpose are you setting up the "groups"? I think they are most useful when they demonstrate genetic relatedness. Along those lines, I'd go in the opposite direction and put humans and great apes in the same Family (rather than the separate Families of Hominidae and Pongidae).

Fiver
01-13-2004, 10:40 PM
I'm with John Mace...what sort of "groups" are the OP talking about? If you mean biological kingdoms, as in animals/plants/cyanobacteria/protists, etc., then I don't see any utility to the distinction.

Humans are not as different from other animals as animals are different from, say, mushrooms, so no, they should not be put in a different "group" from them. It makes no difference whether chimpanzees or dolphins (or mushrooms, for that matter) can love bread.

MEBuckner
01-13-2004, 10:43 PM
In a separate group for what purpose? Taxonomically speaking it would make no sense to separate out Homo sapiens from other animals any more than we are now.

Now of course legal classifications or moral classifications have their own logic. However, humans are animals. That's a basic, inescapable fact. We share not only DNA or basic arrangements of the bones in our limbs, but also many features of the structures of our brains, and many of our behaviors and passions with other animals as well, especially with our closest relatives. The scientific facts of the world don't lead in some obvious and inarguable way to one moral code, but any system of ethics which just ignores the facts isn't going to get very far.

tomndebb
01-13-2004, 11:31 PM
Over the last 40 years, we have been learning a lot about great ape societies and they (particularly chimps) have been discovered to share a lot of characteristics with humans. Among the more surprising traits have been xenophobia and warfare, many social patterns (e.g., non-reproductive sex), and limited toolmaking.

Clearly humans have much greater intelligence, but much of that intelligence seems to be focused on doing more of what apes do, only better.

John Mace
01-13-2004, 11:40 PM
Another issue that would have to be tackled is whether or not extinct Hominid species would be in this new "Kingdon". Do Neanderthals get in? If not, why not? How about Homo ergaster?

There is a continuum of (extinct) species that readily bridges any gap between the great apes and modern humans.

Meeko
01-13-2004, 11:44 PM
I think Agent Smith from "The Matrix" (The First one) puts it best.

".... Humans are a virus...."

Smith Compares Humans to a virus, and basically does a good job selling the Idea that we are not animal, but virus. He cites that me have infected an organism (The Earth) reproduce and move on to new sites on the host once we have killed previous sites on the body.

Then again, You probably had this exact quote in mind when you formed your question...

The quote Smith makes on this is rather long, and through a copule of scenes. I think I have done a fair job sumarizing the esscence of the quote, if not, see the film (Who Hasn't?) or Google it.

Darwin's Finch
01-14-2004, 12:57 AM
Don't wanna be an "animal"? How about we just call ourselves "metazoans", then?

IWLN
01-14-2004, 01:25 AM
Don't wanna be an "animal"? How about we just call ourselves "metazoans", then?I don't mind being an animal.:)

Rashak Mani
01-14-2004, 10:51 AM
Just a few problems with your thinking...

First should the new classification exclude human groups like primitive savages that don't read, write, count or have elaborate mythlogies ? Homo Sapiens Literati vs Illeterati ?

Second should trained dolphins/chimps who are thaught basic words and complex training be also given a new category since they are "superior" ?

Biologically speaking we aren't so different from our "cousins" so not much reason to make ourselves so much special. Our emotional and social tendencies are not that far from chimps.

I think we should be worried more about acting as something special rather than animals with weapons, technology and massive economies.

Radu Lycan
01-14-2004, 02:49 PM
Well, imo dolphins are fairly close to humans intelligence-wise, and perhaps wolves also, as well as apes/chimps.

I don't see what any real use for sorting creatures into different groups is though.

Hazel
01-15-2004, 01:50 AM
Of course we're animals. I invite anyone who disagrees to explain just what it is that we are if we're not animals.

notquitekarpov
01-15-2004, 03:18 AM
Of course we are animals.

The OP included the statement, "So I said this to him; Humans can make a written language, they can use and understand mathematics, they know of their own mortality, they can think and reflect and change their own emotions, and lastly understand themselves and the world around them on a whole new level compared to animals".

I recall seeing a documentary where one of the great apes in captivity, a female orangutang I believe, was taught to use language. It involved using flash cards which she could hold up but it shows she could use simply maths (count, add and subtract up to mid-single figures IIRC), had a concept of self and others, and could express her own perception of not only her emotions but also those of others.

I don't see a whole lot of essential difference between the scope of those abilities and what you describe as essential features of humans that support your idea that they are not animals. As far as I see it is simply a matter of degree, and issue of ability in those areas if you like.

Regret I could not quickly find a direct cite but as a starting point, an index of ape research sites:

http://www.zeal.com/category/preview.jhtml?cid=888337

seems like it might be useful.

Faldage
01-15-2004, 02:30 PM
I can't imagine a clearer refutation of the idea that language somehow sets us above the rest of the animals than this (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=234990).

Cervaise
01-15-2004, 03:18 PM
Clearly humans have much greater intelligence, but much of that intelligence seems to be focused on doing more of what apes do, only better.I'd agree with this. If you define a (purely conceptual) continuum of "intelligence" (whatever that is) wherein protozoa are at A and the smartest humans are at Z, it's certainly true that the overwhelming majority of the animal kingdom will occupy the slots up to E, with a couple of outliers getting to F or G and possibly even H in extreme cases, while even the dumbest (non-impaired) humans won't get much below S or T. There's a vast difference in ability, primarily defined by the leap of abstraction, but it's hard to argue that it isn't just a highly advanced form of generalized thinking.

Really, that's the only thing that sets us apart. "Lower" life forms (I use the term advisedly) use tools, count and do basic math, communicate using particularized syntax, and so on. Our skeletal structure indisputably ties us to our ancestral forms (check out a whale's "hand"). Ditto our digestive tract, cardiovascular system, neurological makeup, all the way down to our DNA. We are creatures of our world.

And more than that, I personally think cognition is somewhat overrated. Yes, it's allowed us to dominate the planet and build cities and compose symphonies and land on the moon and everything else that your typical beaver isn't even able to dream about. But in my view, I don't think people are as rational as we believe ourselves to be; I look at our intellectual capacities, and civilization in general, as hardly more than a thin veneer over a vast sea of biologically determined drives and instinctive behavior. We are able to create post hoc rationalizations for the choices we make, but at root I don't see us as being motivated by much more than the desire to breathe, eat, fuck, and shit how we please. In that respect, the only thing that separates us from dogs and dolphins is that as far as we know we're the only species that can write a song about those desires.

IWLN
01-15-2004, 04:22 PM
I pretty much agree with Cervaise. And I don't understand why it even matters. Are we afraid the dolpins or apes are laughing at us for being animals too?;)

photopat
01-15-2004, 05:07 PM
We are definitely animals. Just because we've developed certain traits and abilities that other animals don't appear to have doesn't mean we've somehow evolved into a different life-form.

Look at it in the simplest way. If you cut up a human body (I'm not suggesting this) what do you have? Meat, bones, fat, organs. What do you get if you cut up any other animal?

Marley23
01-16-2004, 03:51 AM
I think Agent Smith from "The Matrix" (The First one) puts it best.

".... Humans are a virus...."

Smith Compares Humans to a virus, and basically does a good job selling the Idea that we are not animal, but virus. He cites that me have infected an organism (The Earth) reproduce and move on to new sites on the host once we have killed previous sites on the body.
You're joking, right? The Earth is not an organism. We haven't moved on to new sites aside from a couple of landings on the moon. We have nothing in common with viruses in any way that counts. The only reason Smith's comment has any impact is that it's a metaphor for how aggressive people are. Although animals can be plenty aggressive, and his comment about 'every organism except humans reach a natural equilibrium with their environment' strikes me as totally wrong.

Darwin's Finch
01-16-2004, 02:14 PM
Although animals can be plenty aggressive, and his comment about 'every organism except humans reach a natural equilibrium with their environment' strikes me as totally wrong.

Technically, Smith said "mammal", not "organism". He was still wrong about us being not so much mammals as viruses, though - even if he were just speaking metaphorically.

Phobos
01-16-2004, 06:06 PM
Don't wanna be an "animal"? How about we just call ourselves "metazoans", then?

Or, given that most life is bacterial, we could simply group the oddities of animals, plants, and fungi as Eucaryotes....Eucaryote sapiens. :)


Although animals can be plenty aggressive, and his comment about 'every organism except humans reach a natural equilibrium with their environment' strikes me as totally wrong.

Agree. Smith made it sound like animals desire harmony with their environment whereas the reality is that the environment beats back any species that gets too big for its niche. Humans are just at lot better at fighting back (at least in the short term, geologically speaking).

opacis magi
01-16-2004, 06:31 PM
Well, I understand all your points, but it still icks me.
Even though we are animals physically, the psyche of a human is so much more advanced that it feels like it must be seperated from the rest in some meaningful manner.

I've many times thought about how humans act very much on basic desires and instincts, and how that has formed society, but when we get down to it, there seems to be a big leap from teaching a chimp basic language with cubes, and making an alphabet with grammar.
Hard for me to explain this in a clear manner, so I'll just list some more things that come to mind.

- The way we can think about what we choose, and choose how to dress/talk/think/dislikes/likes. I mean, it looks as if we can change our personality at will. (Maybe not 100%, but very close if we put our minds to it.)

- The whole idea that we have a complete picture of our own worlds, and that even though we may be sceptic to new things and sciences, they can easily be fit into our world.
What I mean by this is the fact that we can learn things ourselves, and we can comprehend new things all the time. While for chimps for them to learn anything new must be done through repitition and discipline, very different.

So, I'm not saying that we're very different physically, but, at some point in time, we became more than animals, we became like 'the new kind of animal'.
But like another poster said, maybe there's no point in dividing the two, in any meaningful way.
I dunno, I just think the psyche and behavior of a human is very fascinating, so many things can happen.

tomndebb
01-16-2004, 07:50 PM
While for chimps for them to learn anything new must be done through repitition and discipline, very different. I'm afraid that this statement is false. Chimps pick up a lot of things after witnessing a single event and also develop new techiques (and games?) on their own. (They may need repetitive training in order to perform circus tricks--but so do humans.)

I don't think anyone is challenging the notion that humans are significantly more advanced than apes. The issue is whether the advancement is one of degree or kind. If we are further along only in degree (even if there is an immense gulf in that degree), then you need to provide a rationale for us to create a new category that uses degree, not kind, as its basis.

(If it makes you feel better, many people have the same problem when dealing with the human animal: Alfred Wallace, who published a theory of Natural Selection almost simultaneously with Darwin, retreated from a full endorsement of his own theory when he tried to wrestle with the descent of humanity. (According to all our evidence, he should not have retreated.))

Cervaise
01-16-2004, 07:58 PM
Even though we are animals physically, the psyche of a human is so much more advanced that it feels like it must be seperated from the rest in some meaningful manner.There's a commonly quoted aphorism, generally attributed to Emo Phillips, that's obliquely relevant here. Paraphrasing: I'm pretty sure my brain is my most important organ, until I remember what's telling me that. :)

John Mace
01-16-2004, 09:01 PM
OM:

But you haven't addressed the point that there is still a continuum of species (although they are extinct) between us and chimps. Where, precisely, do you draw the line? I don't think it can be done. From a religious standpoint, you might argue about us having a soul, but then you're out of the realm of science.

Fish
01-17-2004, 01:34 AM
Well, I understand all your points, but it still icks me.
Even though we are animals physically, the psyche of a human is so much more advanced that it feels like it must be seperated from the rest in some meaningful manner.

We can have a "cognition" and "no cognition" section in restaurants. That'll show those damned lower life forms. :p

Marley23
01-17-2004, 01:52 AM
We can have a "cognition" and "no cognition" section in restaurants. That'll show those damned lower life forms. :P
You'll never get anyone who admits he has cognition into a Denny's.

I'm starting to warm to the idea of different menus for each group, though.

SiXSwordS
01-17-2004, 11:56 AM
[Devil's Advocate] One of the most common points made in this thread regarding humans as animals is the commonality of body structures such as skeletal structure, nervous system and digestive systems. Although it wasn't brought up in the OP, one difference between humans and animals is that we modify those structures. Beyond tattoos and piercings and other social modifications, which could be dismissed as trivial or purely behavioral, we change our internal organs, our skeletons, our dentistry and our brains by transplant, artificial implant, and excision. I forsee this becoming more and more influential on our lives and life expectancies in the future.

While I am not the most eloquent poster to mar these boards, I'd like to try my hand at a more challenging aspect of this idea.

I believe the current organization of kingdom, phyllum, order, class et al, is based on differences in body structures-- simple differences in the case of species ( speciation notwithstanding) and major differences in the case of orders and classes. I understand that this is a very cursory overview of the binomial nomenclature system and that reproduction and other cosiderations play an important role in determining how an animal is placed in the system. But a major change in the structure and maintenence of the life profile of a species seems to warrant at least a consideration of the OP's argument. [/Devil's Advocate]

As a last note, wouldn't classifying humans as other-than-animals require the creation of a new Kingdom rather than a new genus?

Darwin's Finch
01-17-2004, 03:10 PM
[Devil's Advocate]Although it wasn't brought up in the OP, one difference between humans and animals is that we modify those structures.

Irrelevant, really, because "animal", in terms of biological classification, is not defined, or diagnosed, by traits such as skeletal structure, organs, or whatever. Animalia (or Metazoa, or to be even more specific, Eumetazoa, which excludes sponges and various weird things like Placozoads and Rhombozoads) is united by various features such as the formation of a blastula and a gastrula during development, true gonads, a nervous system with synapses, etc. Until such time as we can modify those traits, we will remain animals.

I believe the current organization of kingdom, phyllum, order, class et al, is based on differences in body structures-- simple differences in the case of species ( speciation notwithstanding) and major differences in the case of orders and classes.

Linnaean classification is based on grouping "like with like", and ignores many instances of descent. Thus, we have separate groups (Orders) for mammals, reptiles and birds, despite the fact that all three descdended from a common ancestor, and birds descended directly from reptilian ancestors. When viewed as a tree, with numerous contiuous and branching lineages, rather than as separate boxes, humans are very clearly kin to others in that tree. Even if we were to eventually become Star Trekian energy beings, we would still be linked by clear lines of descent to other animals.

Fish
01-17-2004, 03:35 PM
You'll never get anyone who admits he has cognition into a Denny's.

I'm starting to warm to the idea of different menus for each group, though.
"Welcome to Denny's. Cognition or No Cognition?"
"Two for No Cognition."
"Would you like to see our No Cognition menu?"
"Yeah."
"Here you are."
"What's this Grand Slam Breakfast?"
"That's where we beat you savagely with an aluminum baseball bat, breaking as many of your bones as fast as we can. It's our $2.99 special this week! Would you like to try it?"
"Uh, yeah. Separate checks."

Darwin's Finch
01-17-2004, 09:17 PM
Thus, we have separate groups (Orders) for mammals, reptiles and birds

Oops...those are Classes, not Orders. Another reason I hate Linnaean taxonomy: not only does one have to keep straight the name of a group, but the name of the hierachical position of that group, as well.