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Bloomington-Normal Freethinkers (BNFree) Message Board Monthly Reading & Discussion Group › April Discussion: What makes humans unique?

April Discussion: What makes humans unique?

user 190458835
Bloomington, IL
Post #: 25
Main text:
Robert Sapolsky, "The Uniqueness of Humans" (Video, ~30 minutes)

Related readings on the topic of humans, animals, and the things they share (or don't):
"Starved, tortured, forgotten: Genie, the feral child who left a mark on researchers" - Guardian article on Genie 'the wild child'
"Monkeys could talk, but they don't have the brains for it" - An NYT article about roughly what you would expect
"The grackle's secret to success" - An NYT article on the grackle, an uncommonly smart bird
"Dogs love to play, but they don’t do so for pleasure" - An Aeon essay on dogs and play
A thirty-second Youtube video of an orangutan seeing a magic trick which you should probably just watch


Two months ago we talked about evolution. One of the important elements of evolutionary theory is the idea that we are not special: that humans are, evolutionarily speaking, products of the same process as everything else. This goes against a millenia-old idea, namely, that humans are special, which idea is central in many religions.

Are we special? In the talk linked above, Robert Sapolsky talks about ways in which humans are--and aren't--different from other species. The related articles are all about different animals (and in one case, a human) and the ways in which they do, or don't, exhibit human-like behavior.

  • What, if anything, makes humans unique? Is it a specific feature of us, something we do, or something else? Are any differences a matter just of degree, or are some of them something more?
  • What is the explanation for those differences? Is an ordinary scientific/evolutionary theory sufficient to explain what we are?
  • Are humans 'special'? What difference does it make if they are, or if they aren't? How should that affect our understanding of ourselves, and of our place in the world? (You might ask: If we are 'just' animals, what does that say about our behavior and how we ought to live?

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