How different are we from other animals?

Often, I am still wondered when I hear people claim we are different form animals. Of course, from the outside we are different and I can understand people find themselves better than other species, it is only necessary for our survival. E.g. as a scientists I killed many animals for research to understand the working of cells and organs in the hope it would result in curing diseases although I never liked it; therefore, whenever possible I used alternative methods such as research on cells or on tissues that I collected in an abattoir as the animals (pigs) would be killed for consumption. I have also eaten lots of meat in my life. But what I don't understand is that some people don't understand why those animals should be treated as good as possible because they claim it are only animals. Apart from the fact that stress may cause greater errors in the results, we should show respect because these animals improve our lives. However, I think there is one main difference between humans and other animals.


1. Are we human and different from animals because - we can laugh and be happy?


I don't think so. Tickle a monkey and the animal will laugh. Often people even wonder whether their dog can be happy. But then they say it is not real, because we were always told only humans can laugh consciously while it's the animal's reflex that make them feel good. However, when I am tickled or hear a joke I laugh because of a reflex, not because I think I want to laugh. But indeed, we can choose to try not to laugh when a joke is told. We can also pretend we laugh while inside we may fume because someone humiliated us in front of others. In the latter case, animals would probably react angrily when they feel attacked.

2. Are we human and different from animals because - we can mourn and cry?

Large numbers of people are convinced animals can't mourn and feel sad and that sadness is typically human. On the other hand, many people say they can see when their pet is sad for whatever reason. Many people claim that when an animal dies the others simply continue their life. But everyone knows that animals often react differently when their boss is away and are happy upon his/hers return. I saw ones a wood pigeon standing next to its death partner. When a man past with his dog, the pigeon moved out of the way but returned to the death bird afterwards as if it was mourning. Another famous example many are elephants who mourn and even bury their death. Most animals mourn their child when it dies (often making sad noises) or search for a missing pup; some animals even attack predators to protect their child. Many people say this is nothing more than their instinct while humans are sad because their relation is over or someone died and we know this happened thus they say it is not an instinct. But people can decide not to show their sadness in public, even when something bad happened to them.

More in general, people claim only humans have emotional feelings. But people who love animals understand whether their pet has a good day or is grumpy because of its facial expression and behaviour it can't hid. But humans can decide not to show their feelings and to pretend the opposite of what they feel.

3. Are we human and different from animals because - we can feel pain?

Some people (still) claim animals don't feel pain, that it is only a reflex when they make angry noises, run away or attack after being hit. But, it is only normal that animals feel pain (even when no obvious pain system is found as it seems is the case in some animals) because otherwise animal would never learn to know danger and thus would disappear from this planet. Indeed, the behaviour of animals after feeling pain is a reflex but humans show the same reflex (scream and run away from pain if possible or attack when necessary while feel miserable when there is internal pain and then learn to avoid the pain in future). But humans can decide not to show their pain.

4. Are we human and different from animals because - we can communicate via speech?

Many people still believe animals can't speak with each other. People claim animals only make noises. But I think animals understand each other and know what the other animal of the same species (and to some extend of other species) tells them. A group of wolves hunting for prey work together to catch the animal; is this only instinct or by means of communication? By the way, many foreign languages such as Chinese or Arabic sound like noise while the people understand each other very well. But in the past people regarded each other as nothing more than an animal because their language sounded as a noise. Often, people know by the noise an animal makes what it tries to tell us. Moreover, animals can be trained to understand some of the words we say and thus are able to learn different languages. Studies show that the noise animals produce is much more complicated than we think they are because they make noises we can't hear. Recently I read an article that groups of whales have their own name and exchange them when they meet other groups of whales. But, not only animals communicate with each other, we start to understand that even plants communicate with each other, e.g. plants under attack warn neighbouring plants so they can produce molecules that make them less tasty for animals or vulnerable for diseases.

5. Are we human and different from animals because - we can think and use tools?

People claim only humans are able to think and make and use tools and thus we are superior to other animals. And while it is correct we can think and design a large number of tools to make our lives easier, we notice when we observe animals that many use tools and even make them. E.g. birds use branches (or other things) to built nests, hermit crab use shells of other animals to protect them, ... . People claim these behaviours are the animals' instinct and these animals can't do anything else. This may be through but building houses is also part of our instinct and most houses are identical: kitchen, living room, toilet and bathroom and bedrooms. Even when animals do not think when they use tools, they still use tools. And animals that hunt have to use their brain in order to optimise their chances to eat the animal, although many people will claim that is their nature. Humans behave similarly to hunters when we hunt but then we claim it is not our instinct that we use but our brains. Nevertheless, people who observe animals are often amazed with the variety of tools used by animals and how they sometimes use new tools if necessary.

6. Are we human and different from animals because - we look differently anatomically?

Indeed, humans walk on two legs and can use their two arms with hands to hold things. Not many other animals are able to do this. Even monkeys, our closest relatives, are not built to walk continuously on their legs. But all the rest of our bodies are quite similar to animals: head, torso and limbs. Heads contain amongst others a brain, eyes, nose and a mouth; torsos contain amongst others lungs, heart, stomach and guts while limbs are more different between animal species, even the numbers can differ. During our embryonic development we look even similar to other animals (see other post). The advantage of these similarities is that animal tissues can be used in research to find curses against diseases.

7. Are we human and different from animals because - we can eat almost everything?

Carnivores eat meat, herbivores eat plant material while omnivores can eat both plant and animal material. The first two kind of animals can't chose, they either eat respectively meat or plants. E.g. the teeth of lions are so developed it would be very difficult to eat grass because its incisors (first teeth) are too small to cut grass. Further, its digestive system is such that the lion would digest too little and the animal would starve to death and thus the animal has no other choice than to eat meat. Equally, herbivores have no canine teeth and thus can't tear meat while their incisors are large, even their digestive system is adjusted to digest plant material; therefore herbivores have no other choice than to eat plants.

But omnivores such as humans have both incisors and canine teeth and are able to eat plants and meat. Thus, humans have a choice whether they eat meat or plant material and most people eat both. But firstly, I think our canine teeth are too small to suggest we are meat eaters. Secondly, we can't run very fast. Indeed, can you imagine we were running after deer, jumped on them and bit them in the neck until they died. Would probably take a long time if we were ever able to jump on the animal. I think we ate insects as these are small and slower than us or we ate dead animals. And many "primitive" civilisations still eat insects. Most omnivores eat both meat and plant depending on whatever is available. But humans have the intellectual capacity to choose what they eat. If we had decided to be vegetarian, not so many animals would have disappeared from our planet (even today we continue to hunt animals until extinction e.g. tuna fish).

In summary

Thus, I think we are similar with animals in almost everything except we look differently but a much more importantly difference (I think) is that we can make conscious decisions whether or not we do something in a certain way. Similar to what (some) animals do that live in a certain place and eat almost everything before moving to the next area, we can continue destroying the planet until so few food is left we will starve ourselves to death and as a result the earth can recover; we can also accept we have to take our responsibility and change our behaviour.
We can continue to invest in old technologies such as burning oil (what will happen one day with those gigantic holes in the earth?) and thus increase the chances we will face climate change one day; we can also accept we have to take our responsibility and invest in the development of new technologies (also better for ourselves as less toxic gasses will be released).

We can decide we can no longer tolerate bullying because maybe in the past that was important in our survival but nowadays people who use their brain and reason are much more respected. We can decide to continue the current financial system with its greed that results in poverty for many (until a tipping point is reached that people may revolt against the system and forces it to change) or we can decide to voluntarily change the system with a better distribution of the wealth over the planet (this doesn't mean all people will earn the same as some people work harder than others).

We can continue to produce lots of offspring as animals do during certain seasons and thus increase our population (e.g. in Turkey the PM calls for at least three children born per woman so his country can continue to grow) until our planet can't produce enough food and materials anymore or we can decide to moderate our growth in a controlled way.

That is what I believe is our main difference with animals: we can consciously make or break our own and our planet's destiny. But often, people continue to behave like animals until they feel the punishment for their bad behaviour and are forced to change, such as animals are forced to leave their living space when they eat all food.

Comments

Pascal said…
An article appeared on the BBC website about birds mourning their death (http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/19421217) (as I described I saw ones a pigeon doing) and still it can't be accepted that those animals may mourn a beloved one or maybe even attack a hated one. Even scientists were always told only humans can reason and thus find it difficult to accept that maybe indeed animals can mourn because that involves the knowledge of death and we were always told animals have no knowledge, they only do things because of instinct. I think more research will show also animals know the basic facts of life: reproduction, birth, food and death.

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