Posted by: xeper | April 15, 2008

What humans have that animals don’t..

Families interfering with their choice of mate, that’s what!

Well, maybe not to that extent, but family ties are life-long, and remain strong enough that family considerations are present by default, especially in Mediterranean and other old societies, ranging from invitations to the ceremony, to having family blessings, and up to having the family as the main channel to find a spouse. When you think about it, that is behavior unheard of throughout the animal kingdom. It is rarer than language and opposing thumbs!!

Throughout my life, I kept listening to different people describing, even boasting, allegedly unique traits and behaviors of human beings. Well, now I can easily say people perpetuating those allegations were seemingly not interested in putting the least effort in checking their claims. To cut a long story short, here’s a selection of realizations I got from the comfort of the couch, with generous assistance of a TV and its remote control:

  • Humans are NOT the only species that knows laughter. Whoever says otherwise never watched chimps playing, and has definitely not tripped and fell on their face in front of a chimp. In one obscure corner of my mind, I had also suspected dogs laughed, but it seems this was one of my far-fetched, counter-common-sense-and-science fantasies, but only until recently;
  • Humans are NOT the only species to have empires; ants did it first. Common Sense would reply “They’re not real empires since they let us cross their borders without checks; we are supreme!”, but chances are that Uncommon Sense would answer back “Well, we let birds and gazelles and even human tribes cross our borders too, are they supreme to international borders, or simply enjoy mutual indifference?”
  • Humans are NOT the only species to levy taxes; go watch some baboons and try to feed the females or the weak before the alpha male accepts. Baboons have stricter tax systems that ensure the strong remains well fed;
  • Humans are NOT the only species that feels responsibility. You’ve probably seen that video of a leopard caring for a baby baboon it orphaned after it killed its mother;
  • Humans are NOT the only species to use tools and natural phenomena (aka “science”) to its advantage; I’ve seen fish spit water into the air to catch insects, and the amount of birds that rely on gravity to break their lunchbox open (throwing rocks on things or throwing things from high to break them is overwhelming;
  • Humans are NOT the only species that understands political favors; big predators such as sharks and crocodiles have little friends who clean them and are treated with the utmost favoritism;
  • Humans are NOT the only species that uses blackmail; get a cat to torture yourself with glutton cuteness!
  • Humans are NOT the only species that understands military tactics; watch lionesses coordinate a hunt, stalking their preys against the direction of air currents so their scent won’t be detected, correctly encircling their prey taking care to stay out of line of sight until the correct moment, and finally using a psychological factor to ensure all goes as planned! A sudden forceful appearance terrorizing their prey into the now-established ambush.. let the feast begin!
  • Humans are NOT the only species that grieves; watch a mother monkey carrying her dead child for days before abandoning it, or a buffalo attacking lion cubs in revenge for supposedly forgotten crime;
  • Humans are NOT the only species evolved enough to have honorable dealings with other species; get a dog!
  • Humans are NOT the only species to farm or raise cattle; some kinds of ants use damp leaves to farm mold, and others raise sugar-producing insects to secure their local production of sugar (you cant leave that to the chances of interforestial relations, can you??
  • And please do not tell me we are the only species that has religion because (1) this is debatable, (2) every species has its own species-wide life philosophy (well except maybe us, that would be a good point to make), and (3) religion is NOT an aspect of all our societies.
  • In short, tell me what you think humans are unique in and I’ll tell you something shocking about it, except mayb arrogance and believing in the uniqueness of our species.

Aside from that, I can tell you, the only tangible social proof of our uniqueness remains the interference in our offsprings’ choice of mate, if not explicitly then implicitly.

Prove me wrong in this before I build my whole theory of human specificity on it. So tell me what you think..



  1. Personally, I am not convinced we are the only creatures to have religion. We only assume they donot because we cannot communicate with them, which is hardly conclusive evidence. I think certain animals would have some concept of abstract thought in this direction, given their use of social hierarchies and communication which points to them being well able to concieve of other abstract concepts. To me it doesn’t seem beyond all possibility.

    Also, though I’m not sure what it says about us at allm other than that we are fussy… But we are the only creatures to cook/prepare our food before we eat it…

  2. Thank you for this remark.. I spent a couple of weeks now trying to find an animal that cooks but didnt find any.. cleaning or even washing food yes (in elephants and some apes at least) but that’s not cooking, I agree.. so now we found two things that humans do that animals don’t πŸ™‚

    Re: religion in animals, I fully agree with you.. I might even tell you the name of that religion πŸ˜›

  3. I knew it! πŸ™‚ Humans are unique after all, just like everything else… Interestingly enough, I came accross an article today that reports rats have been found to possess metacognition, previously thought be restircted to primates and humans.

    Perhaps humans are just wary about the idea that creatures that do not look anything like us, especially ones we consider dirty and beneath us, may in fact have similar awareness and thoughts to ourselves. Cute monkeys thinking like us is, of course, just fine. But not “evil” rats…

  4. Your comment is hilariously pertinent. I had to look up metacognition though..

  5. Ok, update: animals don’t feel at ease wearing other animals’ skins, nor any clothes as far as I could find..

  6. how about that humans are the only species to have all of these traits…

  7. Nice point, Jordan. However, wouldn’t you agree this is simply a biased egocentric view of Life? Since why did we care for these specific traits in the first place? Because we have them. Queen Ant would tell you “we” are the only species with six legs, with central reproduction ensuring only the best genes propagate, with vast lands and highly devoted members of our society etc.. then ants are the only species that have all these. My point is, we’re not the only species to have a wonderful blend of traits shared with other species. What do you think?

  8. I had to consider this when I wrote a term paper; the question was, “What is man?” By man, the professor meant humanity. So, I had eliminate the most common answers from science itself.
    Being self-aware doesn’t make us human, many apes and Cetaceans are self-aware.
    Feeling sympathy? Many animals feel sympathy, particularly among pack animals.
    There is one quality that came to mind, that I never saw or heard of in animals, that humans possess: empathy. The ability to “put ourselves in another person’s shoes”, and then make judgement accordingly.
    We are human according to the degree of empathy we employ.
    Make sense?

  9. this is a great article. As I thought more and more about this, we are not the most unique or the only ones to do certain things…

    i dont know if i can make my point here but let me try. as DC said, empathy is certainly a trait that humans possess but I dont believe we are the only ones. since we can argue that the definition of empathy= knowledge+care (in my opinion).

    these characteristics can be seen in dogs if you have been with them their whole life and truly love them. you may call it ‘six’ sense or whatever but when you are truly feeling down, your dog understands and empathize by putting his head on your lap and quietly looking at you. but this can also be argued by our standards/ interpretation of this action.

    As i said before, i dont know if this is a valid point im making since we CANT fully understand animals (as Xeper mentioned) because we interpret anything that happens based on our knowledge as well as OUR basic morals and standards. I mean, as our views about working women change, the generations to come will not understand why the female lions hunt while the male lions steals the food and no female lion is against it because the male protects their territory. I mean 6~8 females lions can perhaps beat one male lion if they do work together (like that of hunting for prey)

    I love this topic though. keep it going! i want to get more opinions and their views!

  10. unlike animals, humans can – and should – control their urges…

    animals can kill or fight with other animals for the heck of it, every time they get the urge. they can even have more than one mate if it strikes them

    humans shouldn’t — and if they do they get punished accordingly.

  11. “Humans are NOT the only species that understands political favors; big predators such as sharks and crocodiles have little friends who clean them and are treated with the utmost favoritism”

    uhh no actually. take a marine biology class. its not political — its natural.

  12. @DC Tatner: Empathy is one feeling we are least evolved in, as far as mammals go. Please check the experiment about the chimp given food link with electricity to another one. The chimp soon realizes that when he eats the other one screams in pain and refrains from eating until he is so hungry that he would electrify himself to get the banana.

    Please cross reference this with the other famous experiment where humans continue to torture the other just because they are commanded to do so by the scientist in the experiment, or the young troops who kill civilians just based on command or just for fun. Did you ever hear of an animal, mammal or other, killing or torturing another of the same species just for fun??!

  13. @CC: thank you for the encouragement. God knows I need it πŸ™‚
    Thank you for the input too, and please check my reply to DC above.
    And it is indeed something weird that lionesses do not enslave lions and beat them. In fact, it is so weird that Egyptian popular classes use the term lioness as a very slang and very derogatory term for women who would do anything for, and are totally controlled by… mating.

  14. @nyc d: Thanks for the comments. I totally disagree on both, after my humble studies at least in politics, anthropology, nature, and zoology. But I do appreciate the input, for, after all, I am no more young enough to know everything πŸ™‚

    Wishing us all Wisdom as long as we seek it..

  15. And what of Ethics? Morality? Reason? Culture? Architecture?[and yes, animals build dwellings, but do two different birds of the same species build two different types of nests according to their whim or preference?

    You said “Did you ever hear of an animal, mammal or other, killing or torturing another of the same species just for fun??!” You don’t think there are animals who kill for sport? I couldn’t name *the* animal(s) but i’m quite sure I have heard of it being done.

    I believe the purpose of the experiment you reference: “Please cross reference this with the other famous experiment where humans continue to torture the other just because they are commanded to do so by the scientist in the experiment” was purposed to show how dumbly people place total trust into those with authority, even if they haven’t even verified the credentials of the ones in authority, if they look like they know what they’re doing, people will trust them. I believe their trust in the person took precedence over their empathy. [i would refer you to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where Harry handles Dumbledore in the cave] lol. jk.

    Interesting post though.

  16. @Dan: Thanks for the discussion. And you will not find sadistic animals torturing for sport, no. Even cats when they play with a mouse are oblivious to the facts that this is another terrified creature. Only humans enjoy the torture itself. Cats, however, do not torture other cats because they can understand their distress.

    The point about different nests according to personal preference makes “personal preference” the identifying fact, not the architecture. And I assure you personal preference between members of the same species are always present for the trained eye. And you can say that animals have a rather limited architecture, but this does not make it our monopoly. Same goes for Culture.

    Reason? I would need a definition for that to give you examples proving they have it, often beyond ours. But authority over empathy? What kind of reason is that! I hope you see why I don’t trust human reason πŸ™‚

    And speaking of which, you say “before they get proof of authority”. Even if they got proof. You think that is justified? Not that I did not do stupid mistakes myself, but I know why I did them: I’m human, and that is not a very wise species to belong to.

    [And I didn’t read the deathly hallows yet sorry! lol]

    About Ethics and Morality, I trust animal ethics and morality far beyond that of humans, at least they don’t do the opposite of what they say then philosophize to prove their moral superiority. When they are hungry and have to pounce over you to eat you, they don’t tell you it’s for your own good, and did I mention they do it only when hungry? Oh, or trained by a human for combat!

    Glad you liked the post and hope to see more of your comments.

  17. I saw the first comment about how some animals may have religion, i have to say that this is right, at least in the case of elephants. Elephants are the only species on Earth other than Homo sapiens sapiens and Homo sapiens Neanderthalis, known to have or have had any recognizable ritual around death. They show a keen interest in the bones of their own kind (even unrelated elephants that have died long ago). When they come across a deceased elephant in the wild they are often seen gently investigating the bones with their trunks and feet and remaining very quiet. Sometimes elephants that are completely unrelated to the deceased will still visit their graves. Elephant researcher Martin Meredith recalls an occurrence in his book about a typical elephant death ritual that was witnessed by Anthony Hall-Martin, a South African biologist who had studied elephants in Addo, South Africa, for over eight years. The entire family of a dead matriarch, including her young calf, were all gently touching her body with their trunks, trying to lift her. The elephant herd were all rumbling loudly. The calf was observed to be weeping and made sounds that sounded like a scream, but then the entire herd fell incredibly silent. They then began to throw leaves and dirt over the body and broke off tree branches to cover her. They spent the next two days quietly standing over her body. They sometimes had to leave to get water or food, but they would always return.

    George Adamson also recalls when he shot a bull elephant from a herd that kept breaking into the government gardens of Northern Kenya. George gave the elephant’s meat to local Turkana tribesmen and then dragged the rest of the carcass half a mile away. That night, the other elephants found the body and took the shoulder blade and leg bone and returned the bones to the exact spot the elephant was killed. Scientists often debate the extent that elephants feel emotion. Occurrences of elephants behaving this way around human beings are common throughout Africa. On many occasions, they have buried dead or sleeping humans or aided them when they were hurt. Meredith also recalls an event told to him by George Adamson, a Kenyan Game Warden, regarding an old Turkana woman who fell asleep under a tree after losing her way home. When she woke up, there was an elephant standing over her, gently touching her. She kept very still, because she was very frightened. As other elephants arrived, they began to scream loudly and buried her under branches. She was found the next morning by the local herdsmen, unharmed.

    sorry most of that was copied from wikipedia but im tired and you get my point, we are not the only beings to ritualise death and mourn the passing of loved ones, the fact that elephants also have a close social group and simple hierarchy almost to the point of a tribe, can paint, enjoy different types of music and remember loved ones and grudges points out to me that elephants have strong cognative powers, maybe not advanced as ours as we like to belive. but they are still, in my view extremely intelligent, almost sentient.

  18. sorry, that was a little bit too long.

  19. …. You named all these qualities that different species may have, and then you summarize you statement and say that humans aren’t unique… Huh, so what animal contains the platform of characteristics your using to evaluate all other animals with?

    I believe you left off quite a bit there sir.. Animals are holistic creatures like humans.. hence humans would be unique..

    Besides that humans are the only ones to make love face to face, as well as contain freedom, self-consciousness, culture, rationality. By the way your video of your leopard doesn’t hold a lot of validity since we only see a small time frame..

    I appreciate your attempt, like most biologists, to minimize the Anthropocentrism of the gaps, but this data is incomplete. You still have to factor in were the only species who holds desires outside our biological/ psychological instincts. The animal’s psyche holds far lass room for outside variables when calculating the probability of actions. Some psychologists (I do not hold a stance) that animals don’t even know they exist. They do not hold a metaphysical cognition of reality, so they are only vacant to their instincts and desires.. Unlike animals we are not slaves to our biological/ psychological desires.. hence freedom I mentioned above.. We do not have to respond to our bodily desires. We don’t see animals fasting, saving sex, etc.

    You may respond with “humans just have a more complex psyche.”… Well that’s another unique quality of humans. As for the religion aspect.. It’s not religion that makes humans unique but it’s our natural psychological desire for understanding of the world around us, which religion CAN be birthed out of… Another unique quality…

    Now if we want to argue that humans are unique biologically, that too can be challenged.. From my understanding humans are the only creatures to hold clitorises outside of the baculum, that serve a single purpose of pleasure. Actually I believe humans are the only mammels (who have penises) not to have a baculum bone, which means the variables that consist or create an erection are different than animals.

    The anthropocentrism of gaps I believe are limited, and humans still withhold certain attributes that are absent of the rest of the kingdom

  20. Killer Whales have been known to toy with their prey and play with the prey regardless if its alive or dead. Its not for sport, its for fun.

  21. Each show is different and it really depends on whos booking it and
    for the bigger shows with celebrities and bands they need a
    lot of lead-time. It is an industry norm that you offer a hotel room for
    the comedian at the same time. He represented his homeland in four Olympics
    and is a three-time indoor world champ in the 1500 meters.

  22. You should be a part of a contest for one of the greatest blogs
    on the web. I most certainly will highly recommend this web site!

  23. Animals do not have a Language Acquisition Device (LAD) like humans do.

  24. Thanks for finally writing about > blog_title < Loved it!|

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: