Traits That Make Humans Unique

Mother and young daughter smiling together on a couch with orange pillows in front of a sunny window.

Plenty of research has been done to define what makes human beings unique and distinct from all other animal species. (Image: Konstantin Yuganov via Dreamstime)

Over time, humans evolved into the seemingly most intelligent species on Earth. Many animal species, including the primates like chimpanzees, are also intelligent, and they also adhere to the concepts of societal bonding and possess reasoning abilities. Plenty of research has been done to define what makes human beings unique and distinct from all other animal species. Humans, much like other species, reproduce, eat, breathe, sleep, develop ailments, and die.

More than 2,000 years ago, noted philosopher Aristotle tried to explain the differentiation, and most of his observations are still deemed correct. He opined humans are the only animals with a keen interest in nuances of art and science. We are seekers of truth, and they are rational animals, too. There is no denying the resemblances shared by humans with other primate species. However, it would help if you also looked at the significant differences, says American Museum of Natural History’s paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall.

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Humans are the only animals with a keen interest in the nuances of art and science.
Humans are the only animals with a keen interest in the nuances of art and science. (Image: Filedimage via Dreamstime)

Tattersall noted it is believed humans and other living primates emerged from the same ancestors in the ancient ages. However, somehow the species known as Homo sapiens started utilizing brains more than the other species. This led to the enhancement of abilities and survival skills. This explains why Homo sapiens were able to evolve and survive while the other contemporary primate species got wiped out. This bigger brain can be credited with the complex reasoning abilities we have, says Tattersall.

It is unclear how and when humans began to speak

There was a time when the Homo sapiens were on the same level as the Neanderthals. About 80,000 years ago, some unexplained changes took place. Homo sapiens started making significant progress in spheres of art, culture, and technologies. They developed geometry and languages, leading to further evolution. Neanderthals only made some rudimentary progress. Still, many aspects related to human development are still not well understood. For example, it is unclear how and when humans learned to speak as they do now. 

Face of a Neanderthal.
There was a time when Homo sapiens were on the same level as the Neanderthals. (Image: via Natural History Museum, London)

Comparative studies on humans and chimps reveal both have social skills, but we outshine apes in the level of social interaction and cooperation. Leipzig’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology’s Michael Tomasello thinks we became increasingly reliant on other humans through evolution. For example, humans learned teamwork and developed social values to help grow and sustain the community. We also developed the skill to analyze and learned to interpret and predict. 

The answer to the query-what makes us human has evoked diverse explanations and views from scientists. The documentary created by The Leakey Foundation provides a multifaceted explanation. It includes the views given by eminent scientists such as Eugenie Scott, Richard Wrangham, Robert Sapolsky, and Jane Goodall. 

While other primates and animals also communicate using their languages, only humans are capable of linking their minds together. University of Queensland’s evolutionary psychologist Thomas Suddendorf says humans like connecting their minds and have vivid imaginative capabilities, and their minds work harder and better than that of other animals. Consequently, they can acquire knowledge and pass it on to fellow humans efficiently. 

However, not everything about us is good. While we are far more intelligent and possess enhanced analytical skills than other animals, sometimes we fail to use our skills and traits in the right ways. We also use the same technology used for progress for destructive purposes. Despite knowing the harmful result of certain things, we keep on using these technologies. Examples include continued usage of fossil fuels, smoking, and activities that keep harming the ecology. In addition, due to uncontrolled rampant hunting, humans have caused the extinction of numerous species. 

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