Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Human Animal

Being able to self-regulate our emotions and our behaviors is a large part of what makes us human.
-John Cacioppo (2008), Social Neuroscientist

In the early 1960's part being human meant, among other things, being able to use tools. That theory, debunked by etymologist Jane Goodall's observations of wild chimpanzees, is no longer part of the "what makes us human" list. Today's list is focused on two main, apparently only human, attributes: Our extremely complex social systems and our ability to regulate our emotions. Yet, this new short list also begs editing.
Yes, we are socially complex, you may say. But aren't bees and ants extremely socially organized as well? They are. But they exhibit no where near our level of social interconnectedness. So, I guess, our humanness requires a certain of degree of complexity, a certain societal tipping point that occurred long ago and eventually led to the formation of the modern human brain.
But how about the emotion control point? You probably know at least one person who is frequently "out of control" emotionally. Are the emotionally volatile less human? Of course not. So, can you really make a list to define humanness? I think so, but not quite yet. Neuroscience is still in its infancy as a science and the human brain is not yet fully understood. One thing is clear, humans have huge brains and therein lie the differences between us and them.


  1. It can be very difficult to find clarity when attempting to attain absolute definitions while navigating the blurred lines between human nature and human conditioning. "Duality in man" is undoubtedly a concept that, despite an abundance of "evidence" to the contrary, keeps getting eclipsed by what is possibly the most profound of human traits, altruism.
    Of course, it seems plausible that conditioning was a needed stepping stone on the path to uniting us towards our common goals, which includes expanding our horizons and living more symbiotically. With the challenges we face ahead, we're going to need to embrace these strengths and use them to the best of our abilities.

  2. So, you would add altruism to the list of characteristics that define humanity?
    And, would it be possible to substitute the word socialization for "conditioning"?

  3. Maybe a list that describes, not defines.

    "And, would it be possible to substitute the word socialization for "conditioning"?"

    You say tomato...but why?

  4. Sorry if I sounded rude; I didn't mean to be. I know it can be hard to detect sarcastic humor from written text. But to reply more directly, of course. It can be more useful to describe things in terms that make sense to you.