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Humans as Non-Animal: Can any inferences be drawn?

rousseau

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I came across this New York Times op-ed a few days ago: Humans Are Animals. Let's Get Over It, and thought it was an interesting view. I haven't read the article in depth and am not that interested in it's contents, but it does raise an interesting question: over the idea that humans don't see themselves as animals, and believe themselves distinct from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Even looking at something as fundamental as our scientific name, sapiens, we've framed ourselves as particularly more capable than other species, and not under some other context. This idea that we are special permeates much of our history.

So that's a starting point for discussion. I don't have any firm opinions about this, but I wonder what kind of inferences we could draw from this fact?

- is it true that all cultures view themselves as non-animal? If not, which cultures deviate?
- was there any historical delineation when some of us started seeing ourselves as distinct from nature?
- what can this artifact of our culture tell us about our collective psyche and human nature?

Looking forward to responses!
 

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A goodly question! "Animal" is not a culturally universal category; the natural world is divided up in different ways in different cultures, so some cultures/languages will draw a sharp distinction between birds, fish, and land animals, for instance, not using a single term that would refer to all three at once. I'm not aware offhand of any cultures that don't apply some sort of special significance to humans as a category. Animist cultures in general are less likely to see humans as innately superior to humans, and may consider other spirits to be on a higher order than ourselves. It goes without saying that theistic cultures when they came along, saw gods and possibly other spirits as beings superior to humans. But all groups I know of recognize humanity as a distinct and special category one way or another, that has some responsibility to protect our own from other species for instance.

There are some disagreements about boundaries. Many groups would consider Homo sapiens belonging to other ethnic and racial groups to be nonhuman, or quasi-human. This habit is so commonplace that many people refer to their ethnic group simply by their word for "man"; the many groups bearing a name akin to "Dene" or "Dine" in Athabaskan-speaking North America, for instance. On the other side, some "animals" by western cultures have been considered human in some cultures. The orangutan in pre-colonial Borneo for instance was commonly regarded as a sort of primitive human tribe rather than an animal per se. In the Pacific Northwest, many cultures regarded bears as belonging to the same general family as ourselves.

There are some interesting exception cases one might explore. In Central America to this day, especially in rural Mixteca Alta, some "animals" are considered to be "human animals" by reason of their connection to a kiti nuvi, a sort of sorcerer whose soul is dyadically placed in both a human and an animal body. Hunters are therefore watchful for animals that bear certain signs of humanness that they know to look for, out of fear of the disastrous supernatural consequences of murdering a kiti nuvi.

Phillipe Descola's modern classic "Beyond Nature and Culture", might be a good one to add to your ever expanding book recommendations list, as it explores the general concept (and non-concepts) of nature from both ethnographic and philosophical perspectives. Eduardo Kohn's "How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human", likewise.

If by "we" you mean Eurasian culture, sharp distinctions are drawn between humans and other animals in even the earliest works (this a major theme of both the Bible and the Epic of Gilgamesh, for instance), so I don't know if we have any means to place a time stamp on that idea.

In terms of interpretation, I'd say that the common perception of human distinctiveness is partly empirical observation (we are unique in some important ways), partly instinctive action on the part of the superior temporal sulcus, and partly trained hubris.
 

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I read that opinion piece a couple of days ago, but I've never thought of humans as anything other than animals. I mean....come on...We share most of our DNA with other apes. We look and act like animals. WTF are we if we aren't animals?

I was a bit surprised and entertained by some of the things written in the comment section. Apparently a lot of evangelicals read the article and made the claim that we aren't animals. We are special beings created by God. I had forgotten that some people don't realize that they are animals, the most destructive animals on the planet.
 

rousseau

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In terms of interpretation, I'd say that the common perception of human distinctiveness is partly empirical observation (we are unique in some important ways), partly instinctive action on the part of the superior temporal sulcus, and partly trained hubris.

Thanks for the reply, I enjoyed the read.

This seems a good way of putting it, I think there is a risk of moving too far in the other direction and forgetting that we actually are quite distinct from other species, which maybe accounts for this part of our culture. For a species that is able to notice what is immediately obvious, but struggle to go beyond initial perceptions, it's no surprise that we'd get a non-animal interpretation.

And maybe when one's family, friends, and associations are predominantly within same species, while other species are more important for their utility, it should be natural for us to view ourselves as central within our own culture. Since we are the only species with a propensity for complex language, maybe we're just seeing this predisposition expressed into cultural elements.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately too, the ways in which we are similar to other animals, and it seems like there is a broad, cognitive benefit to the belief that we're dissimilar. If humans are special, intelligent, God given, or whatever your interpretation is, then it follows that we're able to overcome any inherent problems in nature, which resolves uncertainty. Where the base reality: I'm an animal and if I don't continually find food I'll starve to death is a lot scarier.
 

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Growing up in a conservative Young-Earth creationist household, I can attest that there are reasons why a person might not want to think of themselves as "just another animal." There needs to be a huge gap between humanity and the animal kingdom. This justifies many things, like how we treat animals. Also, we don't need to worry about their eternal spirits since they don't have any.

If humans are just "smart apes" then much religious dogma finds itself without a foundation. Either Jesus died to save earthworms from their sins, or humans don't need to worry about spending eternity in Hell. We're not special, just slightly differentiated, just like every other animal species. And if we're not specially created by God to share in his eternal blessings. . . . well, the alternative is just too horrible to think about.

This camel's nose in the tent is part of the huge pushback against Darwin. People didn't deny his research because they thought his scientific methodology was lacking in rigor, or his sample sizes were too small to provide significance. They denied because he was removing humanity from the pedestal that the Bible and our own egos had placed us upon.

The same denialism was employed against Copernicus, and Galileo. If we're not the 'center' of the universe, then what's all the fuss about?
 

T.G.G. Moogly

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Another way to look at the subject is to ask if a dog knows it's an animal. Does an elephant know it's an animal? Does a porpoise know its an animal? Which animals actually know that they are animals?

I think it safe to claim that all the above animals, and all animals, don't know that they are animals. They are simply not conscious of this fact. So if there are humans who do not know that they are animals that would seem to make them just like all the other species of animals.

Further, if there be humans that know they are animals that would seem to distinguish them from dogs, cats, elephants and all the other animals, including other human animals. So even though they are animals, that would in fact make them something separate from all the other animals, animal-denying humans included.
 

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humans vs. other animals

Growing up in a conservative Young-Earth creationist household, I can attest that there are reasons why a person might not want to think of themselves as "just another animal." There needs to be a huge gap between humanity and the animal kingdom.

There is such a gap: we have thinking minds, which ask questions and form beliefs about the world, seeking truth. Other animals do not ask questions and search for the truth.


This justifies many things, like how we treat animals. Also, we don't need to worry about their eternal spirits since they don't have any.

They don't have a desire for eternal life, because they cannot think of such a possibility. Thinking of it and wanting it makes humans different.


If humans are just "smart apes" then much religious dogma finds itself without a foundation. Either Jesus died to save earthworms from their sins, or humans don't need to worry about spending eternity in Hell.

But humans do worry about it, while earthworms have no ability to worry about it. That we worry about it makes us different and superior to them.


We're not special, just slightly differentiated, just like every other animal species.

No, we're special, because of our thinking and questioning and truth-seeking ability. This feature probably evolved in our ancestors, over millions of years, but it's a fact now which sets us apart from other animals, and makes us superior to them.


And if we're not specially created by God to share in his eternal blessings. . . . well, the alternative is just too horrible to think about.

A better way to put it is that it's "horrible" if death has to be the end of us individually, by annihilating us. Hopefully there is something more, so we're not permanently annihilated. If this annihilation is not something bad, then life now is also not good, and there's no reason to live another day. Anyone who hopes to live another day, another year, another 10 or 50 or 100 years, has to hope that total individual annihilation is not inevitable.


This camel's nose in the tent is part of the huge pushback against Darwin. People didn't deny his research because they thought his scientific methodology was lacking in rigor, or his sample sizes were too small to provide significance. They denied because he was removing humanity from the pedestal that the Bible and our own egos had placed us upon.

We were already on that pedestal, when our ancestors acquired the ability to affirm and deny and question and make judgments about what the truth is, and seek knowledge of what happened a million or billion years ago, and knowledge of how things, including ourselves, originated.


The same denialism was employed against Copernicus, and Galileo. If we're not the 'center' of the universe, then what's all the fuss about?

That's a different question -- the position of planet earth in the universe -- than the question if humans are distinct from other animals, or special.
 

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I think that a lot of the other animals are a lot smarter than we dumb ass, ecocentric humans tend to think. We don't know what other animals think because they don't speak like we do, but I have no doubt that many mammal and bird species do think and there is plenty of evidence if you read enough books on the topic that animals feel emotions, they experience grief, they love, and some understand fairness.

In some ways humans are among the dumbest animals on the planet. We destroy the habitat of other species and throughout history we've destroyed our own habitats repetitively, due to our stupid lack of foresight, our greed and unwillingness to accept that we aren't all that special. Just look at what we're doing now? We are a lot dumber than we are willing to acknowledge, despite our large brains and ability to do abstract thinking. We are big brained apes who have done a great job of fucking up the planet.
 

steve_bank

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It is the Abrahamic idea that we are above the natural world when we are part of it.

If you side with evolution then a long chain of events led to the development of our brain and articulate speech.

Chimps are generically close. They make tools. We are just better at tool making.

Culture and religion serve to put a thin veneer on our genetic tendencies.

One of our fundamental problems is the Christian Genesis idea god gave Earth to humans to exploit. We only recently are staring to understand we are part of and dependent on the ecosystem.
 

bilby

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Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen suggested that we should replace the seriously humility deficient name Homo sapiens with the more appropriate Pan narrans, "the storytelling chimpanzee", which is a member of the same genus as Pan troglodytes and Pan paniscus. This has the advantage of far better reflecting our genetic similarity; There's zero biochemical or genetic reason why Homo should exist as a separate genus from Pan.

The differences between humans and other animal species are no larger nor more significant than those between non-human species. It's certainly true that we are far from the only species to use tools, for example: Both other chimpanzee species do so, as do some cetaceans and some avians, amongst others.

Every species has some niche in which it excels - that's pretty much the defining feature of a species - and the only reason we see human excellence in our generalist intelligence and massive use of tools as unique is that we lack perspective. Dolphins would take one look at that 'superiority' and say "Yeah, but they are shit at swimming".
 

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Syntax-driven language and religion/science are the main thing. But both have been influential in making us an incredibly distinct species. Let's not discount how interesting we are! As far as we know, no other living organisms has had adventures in the abstract the way we do on a regular basis.
 

bilby

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Syntax-driven language and religion/science are the main thing. But both have been influential in making us an incredibly distinct species. Let's not discount how interesting we are! As far as we know, no other living organisms has had adventures in the abstract the way we do on a regular basis.

Every species is incredibly distinct. And they're all interesting too.

As far as I know, every other organism with a frontal cortex has adventures in the abstract. I have little trouble in believing that my dogs might have a more detailed and complex internal universe than some of the duller people I have met. Certainly they twitch and yelp in their sleep in ways that strongly suggest detailed and exciting dreams, as do the dogs.
 

Politesse

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Every species is incredibly distinct. And they're all interesting too.
Didn't say they weren't.

No, but as they are, your statement that humans are, fails to imply that humans are in any way separate from other species.
I am not following your logic. Are you claiming that the only way for humans to be a distinct species, is if no other species are distinct species? That doesn't even make sense.
 

bilby

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No, but as they are, your statement that humans are, fails to imply that humans are in any way separate from other species.
I am not following your logic. Are you claiming that the only way for humans to be a distinct species, is if no other species are distinct species? That doesn't even make sense.

Perhaps I should have said "...in any special or unique way separate...".

Humans are not unusual in being distinct. We are just another species, with another niche. We like to feel like our niche, and therefore our species, is superior. But that's just an egotistical error.

Yes, we are good storytellers and toolmakers. But we're dreadful at pretty much everything else. We can't fly, digest leaf mulch with our skins, reproduce by mitosis, digest cellulose, or live in deep ocean trenches.

The idea of a hierarchy of life, with humans at the top, is nonsense. Evolutionary theory shows that all extant species are equally important and impressive.
 

aupmanyav

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- is it true that all cultures view themselves as non-animal?
For Hindus, we humans are just one of the 8.4 million yonis (life forms). Being born as a human is a privilege and the only chance when one could aspire for Moksha/Englightenment. Not doing our 'karmas' right, not following our 'dharma', will send us to other yonis. Kabir said:

"tune rāt gavāi soy ke, divas gavāyā khāy; hirā janam amol thā, kauri badle jāy."

(You have spent the night in sleeping and the day in eating; you got a precious diamond birth (as a human), but you are selling it for a cowry.)

"ākar chāri lakh chaurāsi, jāti jiva jal thal nabh vāsi;"


(Four kinds of living beings live in 8.4 million forms, in water, land or sky.)

I think it safe to claim that all the above animals, and all animals, don't know that they are animals.
That is a division made by humans and not by evolution. How would they know? If you go among them, they will conider that you are just another kind of living being. Does a lion care whether he is killing a boar or a human. For it all are the same - food.
 
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southernhybrid

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I suggest that some of you read the book, "Are we Smart Enough to Know how Smart Animals are", by Frans de Waal. De Waal is a primatologists who was initially ridiculed for comparing the human animal to other animals, but we know now that we have a lot more in common with other animals than we once thought.
 

Politesse

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No, but as they are, your statement that humans are, fails to imply that humans are in any way separate from other species.
I am not following your logic. Are you claiming that the only way for humans to be a distinct species, is if no other species are distinct species? That doesn't even make sense.

Perhaps I should have said "...in any special or unique way separate...".

Humans are not unusual in being distinct. We are just another species, with another niche. We like to feel like our niche, and therefore our species, is superior. But that's just an egotistical error.

Yes, we are good storytellers and toolmakers. But we're dreadful at pretty much everything else. We can't fly, digest leaf mulch with our skins, reproduce by mitosis, digest cellulose, or live in deep ocean trenches.

The idea of a hierarchy of life, with humans at the top, is nonsense. Evolutionary theory shows that all extant species are equally important and impressive.

I didn't say we were superior, or posit any kind of hierarchy.
 

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We are better at it but hob human species solve problems and appear to reason things out.

Daylight Robbery may still be on the net. Someone set up obstacle courses for squirrels with food at the end. It seemed clear to me there was observation, trial and error, and reasoning.

There are chimps that fasion stobe tools by chipping to crack nuts. The skill is passed on by observation and mimicry.

There is a long list.

White supremacy has been in the spotlight for a while now. There is also human supremecy which is just as hrmful. We cantraol nature, a belif held even in rhe face a lkarege atural disasters. We are the biggest and baddest.

If wid bees die off the ecosystem diminishes. Plants provide oxygen.

We are just like any oter critter in he ecosystem.,

The one difference is that technology has to a large degree shielded us from nature so we feel detached.

Nature always seem to pull things into balance. Washout a vaccine COVID might have led to large scale population reduction.
 

T.G.G. Moogly

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But the problem is that our biosphere is a closed system. And the truth is none of us really know what the world is going to look like in 1000 years, but what we do know is that we're already doing pretty serious damage to pretty much every global ecosystem.
Most people on the planet don't give a rat's ass about environmental damage or pollution so long as they have life's basic necessities. How many other species are exterminated is of no concern, never has been and never will be.
 

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But the problem is that our biosphere is a closed system. And the truth is none of us really know what the world is going to look like in 1000 years, but what we do know is that we're already doing pretty serious damage to pretty much every global ecosystem.
Most people on the planet don't give a rat's ass about environmental damage or pollution so long as they have life's basic necessities. How many other species are exterminated is of no concern, never has been and never will be.
Which is why we have a serious case of overshoot with this species. We don't concern ourselves enough with our dependence and interrelation with the rest of earth's life. However much we're evolved to be a self-involved animal, I can't help but keep hoping we also evolved the ability to overcome that.

----

And a little more about humans being self-involved... Once in IIDB, I offered that it'd be unfortunate if humans left earth for other planets after killing off most of its nonhuman life. A posthumanist sort responded that technology could solve that by recreating the extinct species, so "animal lovers" like me could revisit extinct life-forms in a Star Trekkian "holodeck". That POV views nonhuman lives as existing FOR humans. I know of no non-religious justification for thinking that way. The technophilic faith that fellow subscribed to is just a revisioning of Christianity.
 

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But the problem is that our biosphere is a closed system. And the truth is none of us really know what the world is going to look like in 1000 years, but what we do know is that we're already doing pretty serious damage to pretty much every global ecosystem.
Most people on the planet don't give a rat's ass about environmental damage or pollution so long as they have life's basic necessities. How many other species are exterminated is of no concern, never has been and never will be.
Doesn't that pretty much indicate that there is no difference between humans and other animals?

That is kinda the subject of this thread.
 

T.G.G. Moogly

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But the problem is that our biosphere is a closed system. And the truth is none of us really know what the world is going to look like in 1000 years, but what we do know is that we're already doing pretty serious damage to pretty much every global ecosystem.
Most people on the planet don't give a rat's ass about environmental damage or pollution so long as they have life's basic necessities. How many other species are exterminated is of no concern, never has been and never will be.
Doesn't that pretty much indicate that there is no difference between humans and other animals?

That is kinda the subject of this thread.

Well, I didn't want to get too pedantic. :)

The wife and I used to volunteer at the local library by taking folks on a short hike at a local county park. It's not a big park and has 18 miles of formally blazed trail. Some of the group had never been to the park, despite being locals. Some were visibly distressed and worried when we got out of sight of their cars and the parking area.

That told me there's a fear factor operating in a lot of people. As backpackers my wife and I realize that we can't call 911 and expect an ambulance when we're in the backcountry. I think many folks are very uncomfortable with that condition and so avoid it.

I also met one gentleman who told me he doesn't go "camping" because it means he'd have to take a crap or a pee in the woods. Everyone knows that the only civilized place for that is in a proper toilet. :rolleyes:
 

rousseau

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But the problem is that our biosphere is a closed system. And the truth is none of us really know what the world is going to look like in 1000 years, but what we do know is that we're already doing pretty serious damage to pretty much every global ecosystem.
Most people on the planet don't give a rat's ass about environmental damage or pollution so long as they have life's basic necessities. How many other species are exterminated is of no concern, never has been and never will be.
Doesn't that pretty much indicate that there is no difference between humans and other animals?

That is kinda the subject of this thread.

This is an important point, I think for one's own mental well-being, something I've promoted for some time now. It's easy to get angsty about our impact on the environment, but on some level what else would you expect? Is it reasonable to believe that, being animals, we can direct our future in any meaningful way?

It makes sense to try, but when I hear so much pessimism over human nature I feel like there's something missing. It maybe implies a should that doesn't, and can't exist. It's great to be idealistic, but not to the extent that you let the state of the world ruin your life. At some point we need to accept that this is the world we live in, not to justify inaction, but to realize that it's unhelpful to think of the world as wrong.
 

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Doesn't that pretty much indicate that there is no difference between humans and other animals?

That is kinda the subject of this thread.

Well, I didn't want to get too pedantic. :)

The wife and I used to volunteer at the local library by taking folks on a short hike at a local county park. It's not a big park and has 18 miles of formally blazed trail. Some of the group had never been to the park, despite being locals. Some were visibly distressed and worried when we got out of sight of their cars and the parking area.

That told me there's a fear factor operating in a lot of people. As backpackers my wife and I realize that we can't call 911 and expect an ambulance when we're in the backcountry. I think many folks are very uncomfortable with that condition and so avoid it.
Yes, animals (of course including humans) are uncomfortable in unfamiliar environments. I saw a video about a "retirement" center someone had set up for chimps that had lived as lab animals. In the center they would have freedom to roam around the grounds that was forested. The chimps had never seen the outside of the lab. It took several days for one old chimp to build up the courage to step off the paved walkway onto the grass. Even then it was very tentative... but he did eventually, over time, adapt to his new environment.
I also met one gentleman who told me he doesn't go "camping" because it means he'd have to take a crap or a pee in the woods. Everyone knows that the only civilized place for that is in a proper toilet. :rolleyes:
I have always loved camping and do a lot of it. I have to confess that I would much rather shit in a toilet than in the woods. On a toilet, there is no leg strain from squatting, no struggle to balance, no care required to insure the shit doesn't get on my heels, etc. OTOH, I much prefer pissing in the woods - there is just something liberating about it.
 

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I've been thinking about this thread some more. One needs to wonder if many of our belief systems, as well as technologies, are built to stand in contrast to as well as control nature. The world we lived in when many of our ideas were developed was likely quite terrifying in a lot of ways, so there'd be a huge psychological benefit in the idea that a) someone is watching out for us / we're special, and b) we'll be relieved of our struggle when our life is over.

It's comfortable to think of ourselves as distinct from nature, and also build things that protect us from nature.
 

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Evolution isn't trying to pick a winner, advantages determine the pathway evolution will follow. If having a longer neck is an advantage, then what would stop the process from becoming extreme? That's why giraffes have such structures. It is the same for humans...once intelligence is the advantage then more is better and down the path we go. But no species is superior to another, just advantaged differently. It's like which animal is the superior flyer? Well, birds...but so what. Evolution leads to successful species and if that success doesn't need to adapt then the species remains much the same for millions of years. Such as sharks, who as all fish are superior at swimming.
 

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I've been thinking about this thread some more. One needs to wonder if many of our belief systems, as well as technologies, are built to stand in contrast to as well as control nature. The world we lived in when many of our ideas were developed was likely quite terrifying in a lot of ways, so there'd be a huge psychological benefit in the idea that a) someone is watching out for us / we're special, and b) we'll be relieved of our struggle when our life is over.

It's comfortable to think of ourselves as distinct from nature, and also build things that protect us from nature.

Comfortable it may be, but from an evolutionary perspective, our structures, technology and civilisation are no less part of nature than is a beaver dam or a termite mound.

Life shapes its environment, and environments shape life.

Even having oxygen in the atmosphere is an unnatural phenomenon, resulting from the exploitation of carbon dioxide and sunlight by living organisms.

There's no coherent schema wherein automobiles and skyscrapers are artificial, but an atmosphere containing ~20% oxygen is not.

If we say that humans are separate from the natural world because of the changes made to the world by humans, then that's just question begging. Microbes have made vastly greater changes in the world than humans ever will.
 

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I've been thinking about this thread some more. One needs to wonder if many of our belief systems, as well as technologies, are built to stand in contrast to as well as control nature. The world we lived in when many of our ideas were developed was likely quite terrifying in a lot of ways, so there'd be a huge psychological benefit in the idea that a) someone is watching out for us / we're special, and b) we'll be relieved of our struggle when our life is over.

It's comfortable to think of ourselves as distinct from nature, and also build things that protect us from nature.

Comfortable it may be, but from an evolutionary perspective, our structures, technology and civilisation are no less part of nature than is a beaver dam or a termite mound.

Life shapes its environment, and environments shape life.

Even having oxygen in the atmosphere is an unnatural phenomenon, resulting from the exploitation of carbon dioxide and sunlight by living organisms.

There's no coherent schema wherein automobiles and skyscrapers are artificial, but an atmosphere containing ~20% oxygen is not.

If we say that humans are separate from the natural world because of the changes made to the world by humans, then that's just question begging. Microbes have made vastly greater changes in the world than humans ever will.

Right, I'm not arguing that we, or what we've built, is distinct from nature. I'm making a comment that our entire worldview and cultures are predicated on the idea that the natural world is hostile, and our desire to separate ourselves from that hostility (you could say like any other animal).

I think that would account for a basic desire to see ourselves as not an animal. Even those who aren't religious, I think there is still a very deep belief that we are somehow different, apart from the natural world. This kind of abstracts the very real pressures we face and makes them seem more bearable.
 

Angry Floof

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I came across this New York Times op-ed a few days ago: Humans Are Animals. Let's Get Over It, and thought it was an interesting view. I haven't read the article in depth and am not that interested in it's contents, but it does raise an interesting question: over the idea that humans don't see themselves as animals, and believe themselves distinct from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Even looking at something as fundamental as our scientific name, sapiens, we've framed ourselves as particularly more capable than other species, and not under some other context. This idea that we are special permeates much of our history.

So that's a starting point for discussion. I don't have any firm opinions about this, but I wonder what kind of inferences we could draw from this fact?

- is it true that all cultures view themselves as non-animal? If not, which cultures deviate?
- was there any historical delineation when some of us started seeing ourselves as distinct from nature?
- what can this artifact of our culture tell us about our collective psyche and human nature?

Looking forward to responses!

I think religion has had a big hand in making us believe we are separate from nature and other life, or different in some fundamental way, as if we are special creations and not highly sophisticated, intelligent social mammals.

I think self awareness has a lot to do with it as well. Free will arguments notwithstanding, the experience of being human is the experience of being an independent, free agent self. We can do a lot of things that no other animal can.

It hasn't yet killed us to believe we are special creations and not just clever primates, as closely related to other forms of life as any. And we've developed virulent religious memes based on this belief and expounding on it.

It's easy to understand how easy it is to fall into such a delusion. We generally have no reason to question our reality when it doesn't come back to bite us in the ass, and questioning everything uses up fuel for the brain, so most people will opt out. Brains generally like saving energy until something threatening or unpleasant comes up, or something delicious needs to be chased.
 

Angry Floof

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I've been thinking about this thread some more. One needs to wonder if many of our belief systems, as well as technologies, are built to stand in contrast to as well as control nature. The world we lived in when many of our ideas were developed was likely quite terrifying in a lot of ways, so there'd be a huge psychological benefit in the idea that a) someone is watching out for us / we're special, and b) we'll be relieved of our struggle when our life is over.

It's comfortable to think of ourselves as distinct from nature, and also build things that protect us from nature.

Comfortable it may be, but from an evolutionary perspective, our structures, technology and civilisation are no less part of nature than is a beaver dam or a termite mound.

Life shapes its environment, and environments shape life.

Even having oxygen in the atmosphere is an unnatural phenomenon, resulting from the exploitation of carbon dioxide and sunlight by living organisms.

There's no coherent schema wherein automobiles and skyscrapers are artificial, but an atmosphere containing ~20% oxygen is not.

If we say that humans are separate from the natural world because of the changes made to the world by humans, then that's just question begging. Microbes have made vastly greater changes in the world than humans ever will.

Right, I'm not arguing that we, or what we've built, is distinct from nature. I'm making a comment that our entire worldview and cultures are predicated on the idea that the natural world is hostile, and our desire to separate ourselves from that hostility (you could say like any other animal).

I think that would account for a basic desire to see ourselves as not an animal. Even those who aren't religious, I think there is still a very deep belief that we are somehow different, apart from the natural world. This kind of abstracts the very real pressures we face and makes them seem more bearable.

What bilby said, basically, but I'd like to add that natural/not natural concept is useful within some contexts. But it doesn't make sense when talking about our fundamental nature as a species. It's easy to think a tree is natural but a car is not, and within human experience, that is what I mean by useful in some contexts. The difference only really being one is produced by nature without humans needed, and the other one couldn't exist without humans creating it. Cars don't grow out of the ground. But cars are still the artifacts of nature because their human makers are nature.

Depends on how meta you want to get. In the grand scheme of things there is no such thing as unnatural, but human made is a thing. It just doesn't separate us from nature to do any of that.
 

rousseau

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I came across this New York Times op-ed a few days ago: Humans Are Animals. Let's Get Over It, and thought it was an interesting view. I haven't read the article in depth and am not that interested in it's contents, but it does raise an interesting question: over the idea that humans don't see themselves as animals, and believe themselves distinct from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Even looking at something as fundamental as our scientific name, sapiens, we've framed ourselves as particularly more capable than other species, and not under some other context. This idea that we are special permeates much of our history.

So that's a starting point for discussion. I don't have any firm opinions about this, but I wonder what kind of inferences we could draw from this fact?

- is it true that all cultures view themselves as non-animal? If not, which cultures deviate?
- was there any historical delineation when some of us started seeing ourselves as distinct from nature?
- what can this artifact of our culture tell us about our collective psyche and human nature?

Looking forward to responses!

I think religion has had a big hand in making us believe we are separate from nature and other life, or different in some fundamental way, as if we are special creations and not highly sophisticated, intelligent social mammals.

My perspective is that this is a part of it, but I have trouble calling religion ipso facto cause. If you look at social science theory it'll say that we are in a constant process of creating, re-creating, and reifying our cultures. With regards to religion this means that man is a cause of religion, we existed before it did. So I think this largely tells us that most world religions throughout history were created to fit our needs, and not vice versa. But, toward the religion as cause point I believe once you set a certain ideological framework in motion it will reinforce itself in a kind of positive feedback loop. We want to be unique / believe we are unique and so this becomes reflected in our cultures, and because it's reflected in our cultures the belief is reinforced, and because the belief is reinforced it continues to be reflected in our cultures.

I think self awareness has a lot to do with it as well. Free will arguments notwithstanding, the experience of being human is the experience of being an independent, free agent self. We can do a lot of things that no other animal can.

This is likely a factor that I'm understating, and I generally agree with. In a lot of ways we are distinct, or at least it would appear that way to an animal that doesn't fully understand itself.
 

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To put it very simply, the more I read about the other large apes in the world, the more I realize that we have a lot more in common with our ape relatives than most people realize. We are apes and we share most of the good and bad qualities that define us as humans with our ape cousins. In fact, as time goes on and more research is done, it becomes more obvious that our ape cousins are far more intelligent and self aware that we realized in the past.

Apes uses tools, and while human built tools and machines may be far more sophisticated compared to the tools that apes use, our tools and machines have had a far more negative impact on the world. It's hard to see what we build as part of nature, but I get the point made by the other posters. Still, no other animals have done the harm that we humans have collectively done to the world. There is no denying that.

We could blame this on religion, but then the question must be asked, what is it about human nature that makes us want to believe that there is some higher power that created us to be at the top of the food chain? What is it about humans that allow us to believe that some higher power is watching over us, judging us, creating a list of moral rules for us to follow? Why do our sophisticated brains allow us to be so taken in by falsehoods? Is it because we know that we will eventually die and we have difficulty accepting our own mortality, so religious beliefs give us a sense of purpose and the promise of a joyous after life. Even the term after life is an oxymoron.

It's hard to know if other animals are aware of their impending deaths, but we do know that some other animals grieve over the loss of a loved one. Since they don't speak our language, it's hard for us to know what they are thinking, but many animals are excellent at reading body language, and understanding human languages. Maybe we are the dumb asses when you really think about it. Maybe the other apes understand us better than we understand ourselves. Sometimes I tend to think that's the case.

One last rambling thought. Humans can mentally masturbate endlessly about all kinds of things, but humans don't seem to be able to know how to establish peace or to keep our habitats from being destroyed by our own actions.
 

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A skyscraper is the product of human cultural evolution. It is not innate.

A bird's nest is the product of natural evolution. It is innate.

Two completely different processes at work.
 

Jokodo

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A skyscraper is the product of human cultural evolution. It is not innate.

A bird's nest is the product of natural evolution. It is innate.

Two completely different processes at work.

For may Savannnah ungulates, eating grass is effectively the culmination of cultural evolutio: There'd be shrubland with barely any grass if it weren't for generations of ungulates grazing before them.
 

Angry Floof

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A skyscraper is the product of human cultural evolution. It is not innate.

A bird's nest is the product of natural evolution. It is innate.

Two completely different processes at work.

A dam is a part of beaver evolution. It is not innate.
 

fromderinside

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Humans can mentally masturbate endlessly about all kinds of things, but humans don't seem to be able to know how to establish peace or to keep our habitats from being destroyed by our own actions.

Is that really a question where being or not being an animal is important? The universe is a process of self destruction.
 

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Humans can mentally masturbate endlessly about all kinds of things, but humans don't seem to be able to know how to establish peace or to keep our habitats from being destroyed by our own actions.

Is that really a question where being or not being an animal is important? The universe is a process of self destruction.

Sure, the universe self destructs, but humans have a way of speeding up the process. Not that we have any control over it, but I don't have to be happy about it. :glare:

Who said that being an animal was important? "It is what it is" to quote a moronic president.
 

untermensche

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A skyscraper is the product of human cultural evolution. It is not innate.

A bird's nest is the product of natural evolution. It is innate.

Two completely different processes at work.

A dam is a part of beaver evolution. It is not innate.

The beaver makes it without instruction.

It is innate behavior.

Building a skyscraper is not innate human behavior.

It took a lot of cultural evolution before any human could do it.
 

Politesse

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A skyscraper is the product of human cultural evolution. It is not innate.

A bird's nest is the product of natural evolution. It is innate.

Two completely different processes at work.

A dam is a part of beaver evolution. It is not innate.

The beaver makes it without instruction.

It is innate behavior.

Building a skyscraper is not innate human behavior.

It took a lot of cultural evolution before any human could do it.

Is it culture, or evolution, that you credit with the human variations in domicile? There is no such thing as "cultural evolution" per se, as they used to seek in the 1960's-70's; cultural transmission and biological inheritance ultimately follow very different rules, except insofar as culture itself is a result of the natural evolution of complex, symbolically communicative neural networks.

I wouldn't describe either process as not being "innate" to our species, as if culture is not an innate property of ours I've no idea what is.
 

untermensche

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The beaver makes it without instruction.

It is innate behavior.

Building a skyscraper is not innate human behavior.

It took a lot of cultural evolution before any human could do it.

Is it culture, or evolution, that you credit with the human variations in domicile? There is no such thing as "cultural evolution" per se, as they used to seek in the 1960's-70's; cultural transmission and biological inheritance ultimately follow very different rules, except insofar as culture itself is a result of the natural evolution of complex, symbolically communicative neural networks.

I wouldn't describe either process as not being "innate" to our species, as if culture is not an innate property of ours I've no idea what is.

The word "evolution" is different in both cases. Cultural progress is not evolution. Evolution is when the genes change.

You are right.

Demonstrating the processes are different.

One is innate. Like the human ability to develop a language.

It is not an inevitable progression from small hut to a large steel building with elevators, electrical wiring, glass and plumbing. None of those things are something humans can innately create.
 

Politesse

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The beaver makes it without instruction.

It is innate behavior.

Building a skyscraper is not innate human behavior.

It took a lot of cultural evolution before any human could do it.

Is it culture, or evolution, that you credit with the human variations in domicile? There is no such thing as "cultural evolution" per se, as they used to seek in the 1960's-70's; cultural transmission and biological inheritance ultimately follow very different rules, except insofar as culture itself is a result of the natural evolution of complex, symbolically communicative neural networks.

I wouldn't describe either process as not being "innate" to our species, as if culture is not an innate property of ours I've no idea what is.

The word "evolution" is different in both cases. Cultural progress is not evolution. Evolution is when the genes change.

You are right.

Demonstrating the processes are different.

One is innate. Like the human ability to develop a language.

It is not an inevitable progression from small hut to a large steel building with elevators, electrical wiring, glass and plumbing. None of those things are something humans can innately create.

I certainly agree that any particular cultural process cannot possibly be inevitable. This should be self-evident given the great diversity of cultural trajectories in history. I would argue that culture and its effects are prompted by and to some extent bounded by the naturally evolved properties of the body, though. We have innate tendencies and requirements; we just exercise considerable ingenuity and variability in how we choose to meet them (and ascribe value to the solutions we've found).
 

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I think that human language changed the game. Along with the human intellectual capacity.

But the intellectual capacity was not enough.

The species that directly led to humans probably had a pretty good intellectual capacity. It probably used vocalizations for communication.

But it did not have language so it did not have cultural advancement at nearly the pace or scope of humans.

Language and human cultural advancements made possible by language separate humans from all other species.

Of course humans are a sadistic and easily misled species too.
 

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I suspect we really started to separate ourselves from the animal kingdom during the agricultural revolution. Hunter gatherer people associated themselves with earthly gods, animals and rhythms.

The agricultural revolution taught people to connect with the “heavens” as their farming calendar was so closely associated with it. The signs of the zodiac is a farming calendar essentially.

At this point people disassociated with nature.

This is just a theory, probably oversimplified, but I’ve always meant to research the idea.
 

rousseau

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I suspect we really started to separate ourselves from the animal kingdom during the agricultural revolution. Hunter gatherer people associated themselves with earthly gods, animals and rhythms.

The agricultural revolution taught people to connect with the “heavens” as their farming calendar was so closely associated with it. The signs of the zodiac is a farming calendar essentially.

At this point people disassociated with nature.

This is just a theory, probably oversimplified, but I’ve always meant to research the idea.

I recall reading a similar argument at one point, and I believe there's something to it. The more we literally remove ourselves from nature via technology, the more disconnected we'll become from it. Look around today and many of us are afraid to do things as simple as drink water out of a tap, or eat vegetables that aren't slathered in sauce or seasoning.
 

untermensche

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I suspect we really started to separate ourselves from the animal kingdom during the agricultural revolution. Hunter gatherer people associated themselves with earthly gods, animals and rhythms.

The agricultural revolution taught people to connect with the “heavens” as their farming calendar was so closely associated with it. The signs of the zodiac is a farming calendar essentially.

At this point people disassociated with nature.

This is just a theory, probably oversimplified, but I’ve always meant to research the idea.

With farming you have science.

You have prediction.

I plant this seed and wait and I will have food in the future.

With farming you learn about probability.

Not all the seed will grow. You plant more than you need knowing this.
 

Politesse

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There are some common misconceptions about foraging ("hunter-gatherer") lifestyles floating around here; foragers don't just randomly wander around the landscape, they also have to plan extensively and pass down quite a lot of information to the next generation about what Westerners would call botany, biology, ecology, geology, fire science, and so forth. You'll starve to death just stumbling around hoping to run across food sources, if you don't know how to predict what will be available at what times, in what places, what is available raw and what must be processed, what plants have medicinal properties, etc. If anything, agriculture lowers the bar on how much information you need to carry in your head in order to survive, though this may be one of the things that made it attractive to our Mesopotamian forebears.
 
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