Tag Archives: what makes humans different

What Makes Us So Special? by Mike Simpson

“Horse sense,” Mark Twain wrote, “is the remarkable quality that prevents horses from betting on people.” Twain was well known for asserting in his speeches and literature that, despite our assumptions to the contrary, it is not the intelligence of human beings that sets us above all other creatures on our planet.

In actuality, humans do have the greatest raw intelligence of any species. When it comes to evaluating the true worth of our intellect, however, our natural smarts may not be our best calling card. The wise psychiatrist Murray Bowen was able to demonstrate that virtually every decision made by human beings is emotionally driven—that is, we decide what we believe, what we want, what we’re going to do and then we use our significant brain power to justify the decisions we’ve made. One of Bowen’s students famously referred to this process of rationalizing our decisions as “cerebating”; and, in its way, it really does make you blind.

So assuming it’s not really our brain power that sets us apart from all other creatures, what does separate human beings (in a positive way) from the rest of the animal kingdom?

In my youth, I can remember it being said that people were a higher species because, unlike animals, we weep. It was said that, “human beings are the only risible animal” (the only one that smiles and laughs).

I guess the underlying assumption of these assertions is that animals don’t experience emotions, but human beings do. If Facebook and YouTube have taught us anything, it is that animals—lots of species—experience and express emotions just as people do. Spend an hour scrolling the posts on Facebook and you’ll see dogs, elephants, deer, primates, lions-and-tigers-and-bears, even (bless their hearts) cats express a great range of emotions: joy, fear, indignation, rage, courage, guilt and grief. We all remember watching clips of the house cat taking on and scaring off the dog that had attacked a little boy. To recognize the full depth and power of the emotional states animals experience, I recommend watching the short video of Jane Goodall and her co-workers releasing a captive ape back into the wild. The appreciation, relief and joy expressed by that primate in the video are beyond denial.

And while I’m on this, I get so tired of pundits telling us not to “anthropomorphize” animals by attributing human emotions and characteristics to them. What hooey. When you get down to it, animals can be a lot more “human” than a lot of people I know. In our best moments of compassion, courage and goodness, we human beings should say how proud and humble we are to act out the goodness we have seen in animals.

Well if it’s not our intelligence and it’s not our emotions that make us a superior species, then what is it?

I believe what sets humanity apart from the other species on the planet is our ability to create. Take, for instance, the places where creatures dwell. When you walk around a barn and you see a nest hanging from the eves, you know it was make by swallows. Those who study spiders are able to determine from the shape of a nest what variety of arachnoid created it. Ever moron who has ever gone noodling knows exactly where in the muddy water to stick an arm to snag a catfish.

Like every other creature, human beings also need safe places to dwell, but—from thatch huts to high rise apartments to brick farmhouses—the dwellings we call “home” reveal a dizzying array of creativity, responses to the environment around us and our own innate need to be a least a little bit different from the folks next door.

Human beings create. Musicians, engineers, writers, neurosurgeons, seamstresses, artists and entrepreneurs—regardless of their ideals, faith, politics, personalities or vision—all have this one thing in common: they create. They build upon the foundation of the creatives who came before them and expand the vision they received with their own new, keen insights. And the purist, finest, most revolutionary creativity in every field of human endeavor in each generation advances our species as a whole.

Accordingly, if I’m correct that it is our ability to create that sets up apart and above all other species, then logically the highest form of human activity is creation—that is, being immersed in the creative process. Thus those human beings who have to greatest value to our species are those who create, followed by those who empower creators. And therefore, those human beings who are the most deadly to the potential and survival of our species are those who ignore, demean or impede the creative process.

I believe human beings were created to create. Learning, developing, exploring, meditating and sharing your creative endeavors is not just what sets us apart as beings, it is the purpose for our being. When you create—in whatever of the billion forms of creativity there are—you affirm the existence of us all. Thank you, creative soul.

—Mike Simpson

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Stories Are as Necessary to Us as Love

Ever since humans first noticed they were different from the other creatures, they (we) have been trying to figure out what specific quality sets us apart. Opposable thumbs? Awareness of self? Awareness of death? It can’t be; other creatures share, or at least seem to share those characteristics.

From the beginning, as humans huddled around the fire, they exchanged stories, and the best storytellers were revered. That is the one trait we humans alone have: the ability to tell and appreciate stories. Stories are our foundation, as necessary to us as love. Stories help us figure out who we are as individuals, and who we are as a people. Stories take us away from our problems, yet they also help us solve them.

We cry at the misfortunes of people we’ve never met, people who never were, people who seem more real to us at times than our own families. And we rejoice in the successes of those story people as if they were our own successes.

With all our sophistication and technology today, we haven’t come far from our primitive beginnings. Where once we huddled as a group around flickering fires, we now huddle singly before our flickering screens, but the need, the basic human need for stories is the same.

With the internet, we all have a chance to reach others with our vision of the world, with our interpretation of it.

There is satisfaction in that, though, to be honest, getting paid is even more satisfying.

Pat Bertram is the author of More Deaths Than One,  and A Spark of Heavenly Fire now available from Second Wind Publishing, LLC.

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