21 April 2008

Are humans animal enough?

(This isn't really a creative post, more of an argumetative post. Something I've been asked to think about for a class, but I think it's really interesting and I would like anyone who has an opinion to comment.)

There are certain characteristics of human beings that would be difficult to attribute to other animals. Researchers agree that humans are the only animals that have emotional tears (contrasted with tears from irritation), for example. Overall, one would have to argue that human habits are relatively similar with those of all other animals, only maybe more intricate. Our complex languages would have to be seen on par with the communication methods of other animals, in that language for humans does just as much as chemical cues do for fish; simpler brain, less of a need for complex messages.

Comparing modes of communication is one method that may aid in deciding whether the principles of animal behavior can be applied to human behavior. Our complex brain allows for our complex language, and our complex brain is what really distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

There is one notable difference between the communication of most other animals (if not all) and that of human beings. Human language is capable of discussing objects and events that are in the past or the future . Animal communication, on the other hand, only appears to be capable of exchanging information about the present moment. There is no known vocalization, chemical cue, or movement of the body that an animal uses to indicate what it did yesterday or what it will do tomorrow. This idea can be applied to animal behavior in general, in that animals are only concerned with the present moment rather than the past or the future. Human beings, alternatively, sometimes dwell in the past or the future and have trouble living in the present.
On the level of communication, humans differ greatly from other animals. But one may argue that this concern for the future and the past that humans possess is really just another evolved trait of our species and that other animals would not benefit from having such a trait. I believe it worth an attempt to use the techniques of animal behavior to elucidate the behavior of human beings because, all in all, it’s not really a matter of whether we’d get it right with humans, but whether we get it right at all. Humans are no more elusive that the rest of the animal kingdom.