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What makes us human?

Charles Darwin brought us the concepts of survival of the fittest and natural selection. Anthropologists for decades argued what made us "human" was tool-making. Now that we know that Chimpanzees make tools some other definition is necessary.

Where survival of the fittest for humanity is concerned, it is far more about creating paradigm shifts that moves the collective mass of humanity forward, then genetic material. Do we really care about the blood line of Artistotle or his ideas?

Evolution for humanity is more about mental and spiritual evolution than evolution of our physical bodies.

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    Feb 1 2012: I think a lot about what separates us from animals and one of the things i come back to is that we can appreciate beauty, as for example: Why do we see the grand canyon as something beautiful? It holds nothing of value for us in terms of survival and so on. So our ability to appreciate the beauty of something i think is one of many things that makes us human.
  • Feb 1 2012: Richard,
    I fully agree with you here, although you won't get the materialist to go see it that way. .. and there are quite a few of them here on TED. They don't think we have spirit or soul. You'll have to prove it first.... To mention it is to swear in their sacred evolutionary church of Charles Darwin.They just cant get over the purely material explanation for our existence. Just wait and see the somewhat aggressive comments that will follow here.
    But see it pretty much this way. Our spiritual being is evolving and changing from day to day. We learn, we share ideas, we test those ideas out in "reality" if they work well we continue using them, if not we throw them aside.
    Our consciousness is growing as our thinking carries us further and further into previously unexplored realms.
    When you say "spiritual" do you mean spiritual as in a truly non-physical entity that is existing here on this physical plane or do you simply mean "mind" ...The mind that ceases after death?
    • Feb 1 2012: My use of spirituality was meant to mean that we are more than the sum of our parts i.e. more than just the physical entity existing here.
  • Feb 1 2012: Language and genes make us human.
    • Feb 2 2012: Hi Zared, you forgot evolution. ??
      • Feb 2 2012: Nope, I mentioned genes.
        • Feb 3 2012: Yes you did, Mr. Schwartz! :) So, evolution is an actual concept? :)
      • Feb 8 2012: Yes.
        • Feb 9 2012: Thanks, that was my poor attempt at humour. :)
  • Feb 1 2012: I am not an anthropologist, so can only ask, Have there been no changes in physical human bodies since beginning? Absolutely no physical changes?

    Differences between human and animal seem to be:

    Humans love their grandchildren; animals love only first offspring.
    Humans are able to reason; animals are limited to instinct.
    Humans evaluate--cost versus benefit before decision; animals are limited to instinct.
    Humans dream or yearn for something better.
    Humans vary, but robins replicate.
    Humans invent with profound mind activity.
    Humans have choices of values and can develop desire for same.
    Humans are said to desire worship upon recognizing a higher Being, a mysterious One.
    Animals can plan or plot in a crude way; snakes are sneaky until prey is caught, for example.
    Humans plan for long term benefit beyond years. Squirrels do pretty well with hiding nuts for the short term.
    Humans can plan in complicated ways that involve many others, more so and better than merely hunting in packs, as do wolves.
    Humans teach their children values and worth. Is it worth going to the moon and into space? What animal considered space travel?

    Ad infinitum!

    Are humans really limited to only mind and spiritual evolution?

    I think it is true that a large portion of evolution is mind, philosophy, values, replacing older ways with newer priorities. But, who can say for sure that human body changes are complete? This thread could go on for many months with input by many.

    Others have ideas what makes us human?

    The Thinker represents in art what is man's greatest dilemma---he is forced to contemplate choices. Ahhhhh there are many!!!!!!
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    Jan 31 2012: If by "forward" you mean "improving" then I must ask if you are quite sure, Mr. Moody, that the motion of "the collective mass of humanity" is forward? We are destroying the planet in our insatiable quest for prosperity and supremacy. It was not always so. Are we improving? What makes us human is our ability to adapt our environment to suit our purposes. We can irrigate deserts and live in environmentally controlled shelters anywhere on the planet, even under the surface of the seas, or above the atmosphere. What we have that is unique in biology is a spirit.
    QUOTE: "Mankind are earthen jugs with spirits in them." (Nathaniel Hawthorne). Thanks for the question.
    • Feb 1 2012: Thanks Ed!

      Our senses can deceive us; the physical world lies and lies and lies and we can only rely on our perceptions of it to define observable reality. As long as scientists believe that the physical world tells the "truth" they will be perpetually confused. Moving humanity forward cannot, by itself, be related to physical things; as Hawthorne indicated it is not the earthen vessel it is the spirit that matters.

      It is my hope and belief that the era of materialism so obvious in America will be replaced by one that is far more spiritual (as opposed to religious). True advances in the collective mass of humanity must recognize that science may well be a red herring in our pursuit of spirituality and truth. In this sense the rise of physics and math in the 20th Century may well be viewed as an impediment of the capacity of humanity to move forward spiritually.

      Science connects the known to the known. Spirituality connects the known to the unknown or unknowable. Reality is in the eyes of the beholder. Moving forward thus must start by believing in spiritual dimensions that are not definable within the confines of traditional science where dimensions are defined as three perpendicular axes acting within a temporal frame.
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    Feb 4 2012: We are the only creature made in the likeness of our creator !

  • Feb 3 2012: Check this story out Richard. There is another conversation going on about Jill Bolte Taylors talk on TED. You might find this very interesting!

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    Feb 2 2012: What makes us human is the same thing that makes us flawed. Our abillity to look at the world and say... "Well, what if it wasn't like that?". Ignorance is progress : p
  • Feb 2 2012: Hi richard! I had to grab my dictionary, to understand your question. The human brain, is so complex! Humans want a book. Humans want evolution. I, for one, am not understanding what you want from your question? :)
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    Feb 1 2012: The ability to learn to speak a language is an inborn quality that makes us human. Also, there are other inborn needs and qualities that set us apart from other creatures on earth.

    For instance, humans also have a need for knowledge, artistic expression, and spirituality.

    A human who is deprived of filling these basic needs is forced to live a subhuman existence.
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    Feb 1 2012: I agree with you that mental and spiritual evolution is essential and unique to humanity. But don't entirely discount the mind/body connection. To give you three wildly varied examples of why you can't entirely separate mind and body, ponder these facts: There is more serotonin (responsible for mood and emotions) manufactured in your gut than in your brain; physical exercise increases something called brain derived neurotropic factor, which activates proteins responsible for synaptic plasticity (increasing synaptic connections); children exposed to unusually high amounts of the plastic by-product BPA exhibit more aggressive behavior than their relatively "cleaner" counterparts. If you haven't already, take a look at Julian Baggini's talk, "Is there a real you?" Then ponder for a moment, would there be a "you" without your particular pound (or however many pounds) of flesh? I would like to think we are spiritual entities separate from our bodies, but I wonder...
  • Feb 1 2012: I'm very interested in the topic. I think human being comes close to a robot, vice versa. Because human being is copied to a robot and a robotic function is embedded into human body. But something different between both. Where and why are my questions.
  • Feb 1 2012: Mans intellect and curiosity, resulting in the ability to create tools to problem solve.
    The resulting ability to solve problems expands our adaptability to varying conditions.
    Other animals adapt to a single set of conditions; Man adapts to multiple conditions, based on intellect, creativity, and an expanding base of knowledge.

    it's us and the cockroaches, the highest life-forms to date. When we self-destruct, it will be just the roach to carry on.
  • Feb 1 2012: I can give you reasons why we can't define what it means to be human. If you can define it, and translate it to language, you can also translate to algorithms, which are then computable. If you define "human" then the computer can become human by definition. This would apply to "God" or "Holy Spirit", or all such processes which we try to attach to human qualities. "Human" seems to have no limits. If you offer a definition, then along comes another, and another, ad infinitum. It would appear that the fact we can't define humanity but are deeply desiring to know, is what makes us human.
  • Feb 1 2012: While a simple question to ask, it is a vey hard one to answer. Not just because it is a question we ask ourselves everyday and most likely always have and always will, but because it can be answered in so many ways. We could say our DNA makes us humans, just as a snakes DNA makes it a snake.

    Are you trying to ask what sets us apart from other? If so than the answer is quite different but still varied depending on who you ask.

    From my limited experience in life, I have so far come to the conclusion that it is emotion and rational thought vs. instinct. Not to say other animals dont have emotions, they do, but we feel emotions to a greater degree than others. It also comes into play more in our decision making than, say, a monkey. It is our unique formula of emotion, instinct, and rational thought that makes us human. I do recommend you watch Ghost in the Shell (1995 film) to give you some more food for thought.

    Hope this helps!
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