Humans, Homo Sapiens, Human beings, the Human Race. They all describe the same thing. As humans, we are associated with consciousness, thought, dreaming, motivation and even love. We often find ourselves questioning the meaning and origin of complex and possibly out-of-reach concepts such as the presence of a higher being (God), the origin of our species and the future of our race and planet. But, what makes us human? Is it these traits? Is it our genome? Or is it how we interact with each other and our environments? This is how to be a human.
Have a backbone, produce milk, care for young and be hairy
As humans, we are similar to a lot of things on Earth, but this too can be observed through different perspectives:
Through a genetic point of view, we are akin to our fellow Earth-dwellers as we identify as Chordates (had a notochord (nerve cord) at one point), Vertebrates (due to the presence of a backbone) and Mammals (mammary gland and motherly love). This narrows down to the approximate 65,000 chordates, 40,000 vertebrates and 6,495 mammal species present today. The number gets smaller and smaller as you can see, so really, we're a unique bunch. Of the small 6,495, we are part of a cute family called the Hominids, with the Gorilla, Pongo (Orangutans), Pan (Chimpanzees) and Homo genuses. So the taxonomy here shows that we are only unique on a species level as we have a relationship with the majority of Eukaryotes from Class upwards.
In addition, homeobox genes are involved in the regulation of patterns of anatomical development (morphogenesis) by coding for the homeodomain protein. This specific gene is shared within the eukarya domain with plants and fungi for example for the same purpose of regulating genotypic expression and cell differentiation, which, being very important roles to manage, leads to developmental disorders due to the slightest mutation, as the protein being coded, if not degenerate, would code for a different functioning protein or an incomplete one.
So if anything, all of our fellow Eukaryotes experience similar or even the same effects of the homeobox genes, making our species not-so-unique after all.
Duolingo and Babbel exist for a reason, to develop our amazing language skills. Why you ask your phone or computer screen? Because "an infinite number of meanings can be produced by combining a limited number of symbols". But our languages as behavioural mechanisms are homogenous to the other forms of communication used by other life forms. For example, the male peacock and its display towards the peahen. This builds upon the 'Signalling Theory', whereby for the signal to be maintained in a population, the sender and receiver of said signal should benefit somehow from this interaction. In the example above, this is clearly seen as the peacock displays his feathers during mating ritual or courtship displays, hence the peahen benefits by acknowledging this display and understanding that it is time to boogie. One of many examples that could be given, but still effective in providing evidence for the use of communications and languages in human and other organismal ecosystems.
I find that of the various mechanisms of communication, they all require at least 1 of 5 senses to be used, sight, smell, taste and hearing. But the most unique, yet abundant form of communication is through the medium of light.
Bioluminescence is the production of visible light from an enzyme (luciferase) mediated oxidation of a molecular substrate called luciferin, because of its extensive use by certain organisms. It is the most common form of communication on the planet with almost 100 million species living in the deep sea, most of which would use this mechanism. Like human language, this technique relies on the receiver of the signal to use one of its five senses, in this case sight, making it similar to human languages to a small extent. Although, it is only those 100 million species that are capable of understanding this complex web of luminescent signals, just like how different humans can understand different languages (although dogs and other domesticated animals can be trained to act after hearing certain words).
Have a mind, be in a society and have opinions
Our behavioural traits are something about us that baffles me every time. The complexity involved in human behaviour such as social groups, the exchange of ideas and the reflection of one's self into the past, present and future are incomparable within the Animal Kingdom and indeed the other domains.
Art and Communication
Coming back to language for a minute, I spoke about the way that our language is similar to those organisms such as in the twilight zone and on land, however, humans can express their thoughts and feelings with others through different mediums, such as speech and art (dance, music, performance, fine art). But why is this important?
It illustrates how sophisticated our minds are as we have the mental capacity to think about how different people around us would enjoy a specific type of art, such as fine art. Fine art is very subjective, so the artist will have created that piece to please themselves or a specific, targeted group of people who would enjoy it. Creating something and conveying feelings in a different, convoluted or more complex manner than before further enhances my point as we are the only animals to think abstractly.
People create art for themselves or for others to enjoy; it is this level of thinking, as to whether somebody else would enjoy it or not and why they would, that makes us human.
The definition of a society is 'a group of individuals involved in persistent social interaction, or a large social group sharing the same spatial or social territory, typically subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations'. Some may say, "oh, but organisms are arranged into societies and communities within their own respective ecosystems". Yes that may be true, but not to such an extent as we have grown our societies and communities.
Our societies are the largest in the world as they relate to each other on numerous different levels, bonding (on a macroscale like a country) over elements such as:
1. political views,
2. cultural traditions
3. religious beliefs
On a more intimate scale:
self-constructed 'social hierarchy'
These individual areas of our daily lives bring us all together and so, unknowingly congregate to form the largest societies and communities in the world.
But, with love and togetherness comes hatred, segregation and inequality. Indeed there is inequality in the animal kingdom with millions of ants working for one queen bee as well as male-dominated hierarchies in chimpanzee communities. However, the inequality that occurs within our species occurs on a larger scale and encompasses a wider range of factors like religion, political belief, gender and sexual orientation. This is sad, because if our intelligent race still resorts to gender inequality, which the chimps have adopted, then there truly is no hope for humanity.
Human ability such as teaching complex concepts to others, the entire basis of the schooling system is a great example of showing how we are the only ones to have accomplished this. Tell me, do you see any other schools around? And hey, dog training schools don't count!
Ever wondered why Marmite, abortion, drugs and violent video games are such frustrating topics of debate, or why they are even topics of debate in the first place? Well, that's because everyone has their own opinion, for which you can thank our trusty friend, the frontal lobe. Being a human entails understanding and processing complex ideas to which we owe to the cerebrum of the brain. Our enlarged temporal lobe helps with language processing on Duolingo and the prefrontal cortex is responsible for the friends you may or may not have.
And finally, CONSCIOUSNESS !
This is our ability to be aware of our internal and external existence.
We are self-aware, we can think about our own individual futures and pasts too.
This theory ties in to the fact that we can sympathise and empathise and take others' feelings into consideration, the fact that we can imagine ourselves and others in various situations.
The key words you have to consider here, are:
Although some mirror tests have been conducted in the past with hominids and dolphins for example, the extent to which we are capable of having self-awareness is astronomical. If it weren't this way, you'd be talking to your dog right now!
Humans, Homo Sapiens, Human beings, the Human Race. They all describe the same thing. But, now I hope you can see why we are so different yet so similar to the rest of Earth's inhabitants.
Why? Why? This is the word we should be asking ourselves. Why has this happened? Why does that matter?