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Why do humans see themselves as different from animals?

Posted: Fri Apr 14, 2017 10:29 pm UTC
by Mega85
While humans are scientifically classified as animals, we frequently see ourselves as being something different from the animals. Why is this?

Re: Why do humans see themselves as different from animals?

Posted: Fri Apr 14, 2017 11:16 pm UTC
by Xanthir
We're the only animal that has invented message boards, obviously.

Re: Why do humans see themselves as different from animals?

Posted: Fri Apr 14, 2017 11:49 pm UTC
by commodorejohn
Because people get mad when I urinate in public.

Re: Why do humans see themselves as different from animals?

Posted: Sat Apr 15, 2017 12:03 am UTC
by Deva
Likes feeling important. Guesses a tribal-like effect too. Views your group as better than others.

Appears to read Physics Forums, also.

Re: Why do humans see themselves as different from animals?

Posted: Sat Apr 15, 2017 3:40 am UTC
by ivnja
Does this question really have a scientific answer?

Conjecture: I don't know when the idea would have really started, but by the time any of our ancestors would have worried about consciously classifying things as plants and animals (and from there, bird, beast, fish, etc), there would clearly have been something different about us - societies would still have been tribal, but humans were wearing clothing, using tools, and building structures, and societies would have been growing increasingly complex. It's not a particularly unreasonable position for early humans to take, especially without the scientific knowledge of cells and DNA and all that we have today. At some point, the belief in humanity's uniqueness was codified in religion (for example, in the Abrahamic traditions God creates man in His image, gives us dominion over the animals, etc), and from there it's an article of faith for a lot of people, tied in with disbelief in evolution and all that, so even people who you could argue should know better see us as something separate.

Plus, even knowing where we do fit in the animal kingdom, it's not difficult to look around at what we've built and say that we have reached a unique level of development.

Re: Why do humans see themselves as different from animals?

Posted: Sat Apr 15, 2017 4:05 am UTC
by Copper Bezel
Needn't be anything philosophical or hierarchical. "Non-human animals" is a commonly useful category of things. We usually exclude animals and people from the category "objects" and so on as well. We know what is referred to.

At a basic level, the way in which conspecifics are useful or notable is not generally the way in which members of other species are. Brain wants to know right away whether it can be fucked or eaten.

Christian religious tradition also has a very low place for nonhuman animals in its hierarchy, though. That is bound to have an effect in Western culture.

Does not strictly correlate, though. "Living things" is a common enough phrase obviously including both humans and other animals. We're no more or less likely to think of humans as fundamentally similar or dissimilar with other animals based on the use of one term or another.

Re: Why do humans see themselves as different from animals?

Posted: Sat Apr 15, 2017 7:55 am UTC
by Soupspoon
It's just egocentrism, at a given scale. Tighter and broader egocentrisms exist.

(At times, those guys living across the street are beyond the pale, despite all their similarities to us in so many respects. Whilst if energy beings from the universe next door turned up, however, we'd probably even feel fraternal kinship with the gasbag-blimp-things from 51 Pegasi b and team up with them against the (stranger) strangers, if push came to shove.)

Re: Why do humans see themselves as different from animals?

Posted: Sat Apr 15, 2017 9:19 am UTC
by Copper Bezel
Egocentrism on this level of abstraction is just practical, though. In an everyday context, when we need to invoke the concept of "animals", it's rarely useful to include human beings.

God, the vast majority of people rarely think of birds as dinosaurs most or any of the time and birds aren't even us. It's just about practical categories.

A van is a kind of truck, but if you call a van a truck, you will be corrected, because it stops being a truck when it's a van.

Re: Why do humans see themselves as different from animals?

Posted: Sat Apr 15, 2017 12:49 pm UTC
by Soupspoon
It may be a more practical separation, but only by current standards. During the heady days of the slave-trade, the region of "us" was far more restricted than now, and at various times of war it could be pulled yet further in as 'Johnny Foreigner' or 'The Other Within' is dehumanised for the sake of either practical warfare or impractical genocide. Heck, sometimes it seemed that the gender-gap ("women are not capable of rational thought and are only creatures of habit") or the class one sufficed to render bonefide humans as little more than animals, or cherished pets at best.

There's various Primate Rights campaigns being seriously attempted to bring 'personhood' to (currently) the pan homonids, with no real reason to stop there when there's at least gorilla and pongo in the line to gain such recognition, as long as there's still time to do so.

I know we can't breed with them (well, definitely not naturally!), but that's never been the (sole) limit on a clade, let alone a kingdom. It'd be made more interesting if there were any way in which neanderthalensis, or floriensis were encountered, somehow. (Especially if they were the visitors from the dimension next-door, especially especially if they were the ones who had actually worked out how to get here...)

But, even without that last bit of fantasy, "My fellow humans" might well be intended as "My fellow non-animals", but its the size of the noose thrown around that determines how much the speaker may be destined to hang himself.

Re: Why do humans see themselves as different from animals?

Posted: Sat Apr 15, 2017 1:20 pm UTC
by Copper Bezel
Perhaps so, and perhaps the usage communicates or reinforces our illusory separation from the animal kingdom. I don't think that's the cause of the usage, at the very least.

On your aside, I'd have every reason to believe that at the very least H. neanderthalensis would be very difficult to think of as a nonhuman animal in person. I know "human" can be treated variously as just our species or the entire genus in a scientific usage, but ... there are other members of homo who would seem like "apes", while Neanderthals were a race of people with brains our size and larger who had culture and with whom we occasionally interbred. I imagine they were psychologically somewhat different from us, but.

Re: Why do humans see themselves as different from animals?

Posted: Fri Apr 21, 2017 9:43 am UTC
by madaco
Humans ask why humans see themselves as different from animals.

"It is customary to insist that man resembles the other creatures. Yes; and that very resemblance he alone can see. The fish does not trace the fishbone pattern in the fowls of the air, or the elephant and the EMU compare skeletons." - G. K. Chesterton , in "The Everlasting Man"

Or, if you want another source for the same general idea, take this smbc:

http://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/we-are-special

"Humans, alone among all creatures, are obsessed with whether or not they are special."

Re: Why do humans see themselves as different from animals?

Posted: Tue May 09, 2017 2:34 pm UTC
by monkey3
We are more intelligent 8-)

Re: Why do humans see themselves as different from animals?

Posted: Tue May 09, 2017 4:11 pm UTC
by Soupspoon
But we still think that digital watches are a good idea...

(Also: arguable. We (probably) have superior extelligence, but intelligence is hard to value beyond the few commonalities we can establish, and where we find such a commonality we often find an intelligence not unlike our own. So what about the untestable) intelligence?

Re: Why do humans see themselves as different from animals?

Posted: Tue May 09, 2017 4:28 pm UTC
by SDK
Copper Bezel wrote:At a basic level, the way in which conspecifics are useful or notable is not generally the way in which members of other species are. Brain wants to know right away whether it can be fucked or eaten.

This is likely the core of it, though it's now been reinforced in various ways through our culture. I suspect it's largely based on genetics, and almost certainly not confined to our species. Dogs, for example, certainly see themselves as different. My dog sees himself as part of my pack, but he has no confusion recognizing that the Chihuahua over there has more in common with him that he does with me (despite my dog looking more like a wolf than a rat). I wouldn't be surprised if whatever thoughts he has on the subject portray himself as being superior in many ways. I can't run, I can't bite things or smell things, I don't even mark my own territory. Clearly dogs are superior to humans (and other animals) in general.

Re: Why do humans see themselves as different from animals?

Posted: Tue May 09, 2017 10:25 pm UTC
by Copper Bezel
Superiority seems like a very abstract concept, though. Except when it's connected with dominance, which it isn't in this case. Dogs definitely recognize that human members of their pack have different abilities, including ones they don't have, like turning doorknobs and refilling the food bowl. I doubt it really has to do with a true sense of superiority. Of course, it also seems like that'd be the inevitable extension given a certain capacity for abstraction and culture, so it's probably a grade with a few inflections like most things.

Re: Why do humans see themselves as different from animals?

Posted: Wed May 10, 2017 6:03 pm UTC
by SDK
Copper Bezel wrote:...like turning doorknobs and refilling the food bowl.

Yeah, but he's just using me for that. Humans use/have used animals (ie: other animals) for lots of things we can't do too, yet we are clearly superior to horses in our own minds. Obviously I can't prove that he thinks of me that way, but it just seems so fundamentally ingrained in our own minds, so I wouldn't be at all surprised to find it ingrained in his as well.

Re: Why do humans see themselves as different from animals?

Posted: Wed May 10, 2017 10:22 pm UTC
by Copper Bezel
Valid point. It's entirely possible that a lot of what I assume is cultural or abstract about the sense of superiority isn't, and is built into the underlying emotional perception.