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Sneha Iyer

Human Resources Executive,

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Why do we associate human characteristics with animals?

I've been party to many games where I've been asked to describe myself or those around me in reference to an animal, or sometimes a bird. Why do we/or did we, begin this association? How is it that phrases such as sly as a fox, quick as a rabbit, wise as an owl or loyal as a dog come to be?

I find it curious when, in a larger scope, man has struggled and taken efforts to differentiate oneself from animals and prove to be a better being. Yet, sometimes, describing someone as a 'pig' or a 'cat' tells me more about his human-ness.

Would like to know your thoughts.

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    Jan 17 2013: People try and make sense of their world. Our brains create relationships to help us understand and make sense out of the chaos we live in. We compare and contrast new information with previously learned information. So we attribute animal behavior to humans, and we attribute human behavior to animals. Since we are all life forms there is some overlap. Just as two brothers are very similar yet different.

    But humans find these relationships everywhere. Stars are attributed animal characteristics as are cars are attributed human characteristics.

    Comparison is also a good way to communicate a lot of information about behavior and characteristic without having to delineate each aspect.

    So basically we do it to learn and to communicate.
  • Jan 17 2013: Because we are aware.
    Because we think.
    And then we express.
    Because we communicate.
  • Jan 17 2013: When you look at nature you get to see how a being in animal form responds based upon it's instincts, inbred nature and response to the environment. We, as humans, can learn through observation of the natural world many things because of its purity and lack of animosity. After all, we many times don't realize the difference nor beauty between our so called "moral" existence vs the amoral existence of animals.

    In looking at human behavior, you can see that when someone is being "sneaky" they change their movements to mimic that of an animal also considered sneaky. Think and visualize it, really, it becomes more apparent once you are attuned to its existence.
  • W T 100+

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    Jan 16 2013: Where else to look at but to creation and the parts of creation that are visible to the human eye to find comparisons?

    In all fairness, there are also many interesting insights when one compares onself to inanimate objects as well.
    A while back, we had a conversation on this on TED.
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    Jan 16 2013: This is a great question. You should edit it to give it more time on TED, because it's going to close in 21 hours.

    It seems like we use the animal phrases either when we want to credit someone with capacities beyond human capacity (for example, rabbits probably are quicker than human beings), or when we want to insult someone and suggest they are less than human (like pig, or snake).
    • Jan 17 2013: Greg, I took your advice.
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    Jan 16 2013: I always wanted to take this a step further with nonsensicailities such as
    'Crazy like a toaster' or 'angry like a sandwich'
    Sadly they never caught on (...yet)

    I suppose the reason came simply from the observance of said animals and then people used the terms to describe characteristics of someone in a way that could be universally understood
    (Afterall, you can't really say 'he was sly like steve' and expect it to make sense in a neighbouring village..)
  • Jan 16 2013: We set the best of human behaviour as an ideal of the perfect animal.
    But animal characteristics that are admirable should be examples in human ideals. (Proverb 6:6 "Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise")
    "Be wise as a serpent and gentle like a dove" -Jesus Christ.
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    Feb 16 2013: The animalness meme is possibly something in absolute disagreement of zoological truth. We are traditionally led to believe a donkey dumber compared to say dogs, which it is not. There is nothing royal about lions, hyenas are very social and intelligent animals contrary to what we are led to believe just because they are scavengers. Snakes are not vicious and evil by nature - they have much smaller brains to be so. Pigs are way more domesticated than dogs.
    So in all probability we ascribe human qualities with animals wrongly.
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    Jan 19 2013: .
    It is because we and animals have many DNA are the same.

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    Jan 17 2013: humanness is animalness... by any conception, unless the ego gets in the way...

    We do have animal qualities... as far as thinking in groups: packs, herds, hives, loners... We have these type of systems of people as well as other various species of animals..

    We cannot begin to be objective about other animals without first recognizing our animal natures. When we observe both (human and other animals) we can see common factors which we can tie together theoretically, and historically even gods or spirits which guide us.

    To me, it seems natural to associate oneself with already existing factors, things and ideas... We are animals, perhaps a part of what it is to be an animal is to try and figure out where we stand in comparison with other animals.
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    Jan 17 2013: G'day Sneha

    We are all but animals living in an animal kingdom anyway, we relate by comparison which is a good thing as it shows our connectivenss to our kingdom.

  • Jan 16 2013: We set the best of human behaviour as an ideal of the perfect animal.
    But animal characteristics that are admirable should be examples in human ideals. (Proverb 6:6 "Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise")
    "Be wise as a serpent and gentle like a dove" -Jesus Christ.