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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.

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

Posted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 8:35 am UTC
by simplydt
Are there any official statistics that show that this is generally true? What's the split? 50/50?

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

Posted: Fri Jun 02, 2017 12:22 am UTC
by Copper Bezel
Do you mean statistics for whether or not people consider themselves animals, or something else?

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

Posted: Fri Jun 02, 2017 11:31 am UTC
by simplydt
Copper Bezel wrote:Do you mean statistics for whether or not people consider themselves animals, or something else?


Exactly, and I bet this would correlate well with their religion, but I'd hope we live in a day and age where most of us accept that we are, after all, animals! :mrgreen:

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

Posted: Fri Jun 02, 2017 2:38 pm UTC
by SDK
You can accept it, and I would certainly argue that it's good for people to accept it, but it's not the natural course for humans at least. Little kids learn about all kinds of different animals growing up - they're among the first things most kids do learn about. Despite that basic learning, I've never met a kid whose mind wasn't blown when you first explain to them that humans are animals too.

If you gave a random survey that asked the vague question "Are humans different from other animals?", I strongly suspect you'd get over 90% of people saying yes, and not just for religious reasons. I know that humans are animals. Doesn't stop me from immediately coming up with a long list of things that make us different in response to that question. It feels much more instinctual to come up with a list of differences than it does to come up with a list of similarities. That list of similarities feels like science.

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

Posted: Fri Jun 02, 2017 2:52 pm UTC
by Sizik
SDK wrote:If you gave a random survey that asked the vague question "Are humans different from other animals?", I strongly suspect you'd get over 90% of people saying yes, and not just for religious reasons. I know that humans are animals. Doesn't stop me from immediately coming up with a long list of things that make us different in response to that question. It feels much more instinctual to come up with a list of differences than it does to come up with a list of similarities. That list of similarities feels like science.


How many positive responses do you think you would get to a similar question like "Are {insert animal here}s different from other animals?"

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

Posted: Fri Jun 02, 2017 4:17 pm UTC
by SDK
Ha, good point. Okay. Nevermind then.

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

Posted: Fri Jun 02, 2017 7:24 pm UTC
by jewish_scientist
I wrote a college paper (which I plan on eventually posting here) on animal ethics and these were my primary sources(1). My personal favorite is the argument by Kant(2). He says that only humans, and possible angles and extraterrestrial aliens, are capable of basing actions on rights and duties. It is VERY important to note that he is saying that this can happen, not that it always does. Someone can have other motivations behind their actions, but the possibility that they can conceive of rights still exists. The part I slightly differ from him is regarding how this effects human's duties to animals and the animals' rights, but that is a subject for a different thread.

Another thought that I had while reviewing this tread is the Kardashev Scale. If we extend the scale backwards, we can classify humans above animals. All negative values on the Kardashev Scale represent organisms that independently harness the given forms of energy and have not formed societies that can collective do so. Type -4 would be organisms that utilize interatomic forces (e.g. viruses(3) that bind their parts together using covalent and hydrogen bonds). Next up would be Type -3, which are organisms that can harness biochemical energy (e.g. plants, algae). Type -2 could be the ability to harness kinetic energy (e.g.a monkey dropping a coconut in order to break its shell) and Type -1 can harness thermal energy such as sunlight and fire. No example of a Type -1 organism is known to me.


(1) http://www.iep.utm.edu/anim-eth/ and https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-animal/

(2) Disclaimer: I am just going to acknowledged right now that I do not understand his reasoning, because anyone claiming to understand any position taken by anyone on any subject based on 2 paragraphs of research is in a state of extreme denial.

(3) I recognize that the scientific community does not classify viruses as living, but I would argue that viruses are an acelluler form of life.

(4) This is debatable because of the possibility that aliens and robots could be classified as living.



P.S. 'How are humans different than animals?' is a loaded question for the same reason 'How are humans different than other animals?' You may want to talk to a sociologist on how to phrase the question to keep your study impartial. However, even if you did do this, your question is about the wrong subject. The result will be a list of properties (e.g. wear cloths, have 2 legs, posses large brain to body ratios, build airplanes), not a list of properties that make humans inherently different than animals.

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

Posted: Fri Jun 02, 2017 8:14 pm UTC
by Copper Bezel
Sizik wrote:How many positive responses do you think you would get to a similar question like "Are {insert animal here}s different from other animals?"

To be fair, I think (self-knowledge being of course a bitch) that my subconscious is pretty convinced that cats aren't "animals" either, because they talk and emote and make friends with humans and have their own reasoning process and so on, and because I'm familiar with them in a way I'm not familiar with dogs, chimpanzees, or dolphins.

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

Posted: Fri Jun 02, 2017 9:18 pm UTC
by commodorejohn
Admittedly, I could see a fair argument being made that cats are moral beings, because they're clearly capable of deliberate transgression.

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

Posted: Fri Jun 02, 2017 10:48 pm UTC
by Copper Bezel
That actually might be the reason, come to think of it. If my computer misbehaves, I fundamentally know it's a simple fault, regardless of how frustrating it might be. There's no meaning to a non-domesticated animal "misbehaving", it's a non sequitur. But when Attenborough poops on my bed because he's upset, he's opted to do so, and he's less likely to do so if he remembers the spray bottle....

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

Posted: Sat Jun 03, 2017 3:49 pm UTC
by morriswalters
Maybe because science chose poorly when picking the classification name, since the word was in common use among the general population meaning something slightly different. In point of fact humans are are different than animals. A fox is not a human. In that meaning it was a common characterization, like fish and plant.

Morality happens between human ears. I wouldn't place any money on the line that you cat feels anything remotely about it other than some kind of dominance thing. He craps or doesn't, and you use a bottle or you don't, to either reward or punish some behavior. That, I believe is a form of synergy between us and the species which we are in close contact with. In the wild your cat would either kill you or avoid you. He can't do that as your pet.

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

Posted: Sat Jun 03, 2017 4:16 pm UTC
by notzeb
Step 1: Figure out why mice see themselves as different from other animals.
Step 2: Since humans are no different from mice, the answer will be the same.

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

Posted: Sat Jun 03, 2017 4:38 pm UTC
by Soupspoon
Then we smell differently, obviously

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

Posted: Sat Jun 03, 2017 4:42 pm UTC
by commodorejohn
morriswalters wrote:I wouldn't place any money on the line that you cat feels anything remotely about it other than some kind of dominance thing.

Clearly, you've never owned a cat.

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

Posted: Sat Jun 03, 2017 7:08 pm UTC
by morriswalters
commodorejohn wrote:
morriswalters wrote:I wouldn't place any money on the line that you cat feels anything remotely about it other than some kind of dominance thing.

Clearly, you've never owned a cat.
You would be mistaken. Three of the last ones we shared our house with, my wife and I had for 14 years. They are all buried in my yard. I was broken hearted when they passed.

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

Posted: Sat Jun 03, 2017 8:08 pm UTC
by Copper Bezel
I'm aware of the studies showing that dog shame is really just submissive behavior, for instance, which are as much about the human tendency to anthropomorphize as they are about dogs.

I think "real" morality implies a fairly advanced theory of mind. Just following the perceived "rules", or not, does seem a matter of dominance and submission. I guess I do have a somewhat low view of human morality broadly....

I'm not making a serious argument for cats as moral agents, and commodorejohn didn't make one, either, just said that it would be possible. It's more that subjectively, I know I perceive cats as a different class, and I'm recognizing why, because they take on a social role in human social units, as illustrated by the fact that it's possible for them to misbehave.

So, like, there's a mindfulness axis and a social proximity / relatability axis to "special"....

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

Posted: Sat Jun 03, 2017 9:36 pm UTC
by morriswalters
Perhaps I am over sensitive on that point. I have a young child who visits my household and I have to constantly remind her parents that my 12 year old pet is a dog. My dog is old and the child has almost been bitten twice.
Copper Bezel wrote:I'm aware of the studies showing that dog shame is really just submissive behavior, for instance, which are as much about the human tendency to anthropomorphize as they are about dogs.
Well I wouldn't know since I was speaking as a pet owner, I've read no papers. Just speculating idly, exactly what do they think human shame is?

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

Posted: Sat Jun 03, 2017 10:18 pm UTC
by Copper Bezel
morriswalters wrote:Perhaps I am over sensitive on that point. I have a young child who visits my household and I have to constantly remind her parents that my 12 year old pet is a dog. My dog is old and the child has almost been bitten twice.

Yeah, that's fair. There's a real danger to anthropomorphizing too much or failing to try to understand things from the pet's perspective.

morriswalters wrote:
Copper Bezel wrote:I'm aware of the studies showing that dog shame is really just submissive behavior, for instance, which are as much about the human tendency to anthropomorphize as they are about dogs.
Well I wouldn't know since I was speaking as a pet owner, I've read no papers. Just speculating idly, exactly what do they think human shame is?

I agree that at base the emotion is almost certainly the same, which is itself misrepresented not only in the press about the study, but so far as I can see, in the original study itself. But humans attach a higher-order concept of guilt or innocence to it that modifies their submission response when scolded, which dogs don't seem to do.