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ETpro's avatar

What does Human Exceptionalism really mean?

Asked by ETpro (34195 points ) December 19th, 2013

It took solid, empirical evidence centuries to finally convince humanity that the Sun, not OUR Earth, is actually the center of the Solar System. Ptolemy argued for Geocentrism meaning that the Earth is not just the center of the solar system, but the center of the entire Universe. To this day, 21% of Americans agree with Ptolemy. In their minds, observed evidence is irrelevant. We humans are so special and wonderful that it is patently obvious everything revolves around us—or the person being surveyed, to be more precise.

We constantly dis other creatures as being inferior to us. We have examples like “Sweat like a pig…” when the truth is pigs have very few apocrine or eccrine glands, the little wellsprings in the skin that produce sweat, and humans are covered with eccrine glands and have an ample supply of pheromone producing apocrine glands to boot. Humans aren’t the kings of animal sweating, but we are way beyond pigs in that respect. Perhaps it should be “Sweat like a human.” We falsely claim to the only animals capable of communication when the truth is ants and bees are very good at it, and even E. coli bacteria pass chemical messages among themselves and with other bacteria, allowing them to work in coordinated efforts to obtain food and avoid danger.

How about the widely held view that humans are the apex predator? Wrong. Predators are rated on a scale from 1 to 5. We humans come in at 2.21.

Well, if we’re not the apex predator, at least we are at the top of the evolutionary ladder, right? Sorry, but that’s just another false conceit held by humanity. And as for topping the more proper conception of an evolutionary tree, that conceit is wrong as well. In fact, the fossil record is not complete enough to even draw such a tree. Our concept of the tree of evolution looks very much like a tree, and one that defines a clear path to humans at it’s top. But the real picture is like this. Images are from British paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Dr. Henry Gee’s recent book, The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution, which I highly recommend to all interested in the topic.

So we sweat more than pigs, often communicate less effectively than ants, aren’t anywhere near the top of the food chain, are not at the center of the universe, and aren’t the sole purpose of evolution—which doesn’t even have a purpose. Are we humans really exceptional at anything beyond rampant self importance?

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25 Answers

Seek's avatar

I think we’ve got the building tools thing down.

I don’t know of any ants, pigs, or whales that have chucked probes at other planets or put a telescope in orbit.

ETpro's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr Our technology may be our undoing, though. If we use it to render Earth uninhabitable for humans due to global warming and pollution, the more resilient, adaptable species like the roaches may have the last laugh about human exceptionalism. I think we’d build a far better Earth if we recognized that the current winners in the contest of survival of the fittest are all admirably adapted to survive in their ecological niche.

Coloma's avatar

We excel at rampant destruction and egotistical self importance.
I have long thought that we are quite inferior to most other creatures and that our “evolution” is but a random crap shoot of the cosmic dice. The truth is we are an organism, not any more or less important or mysterious or special than any other organism IMO.
So we were born human, could just have easily been born a grapefruit or a catfish or a water buffalo.

Lucky us, think I’d rather be running from lions as a buffalo than living in a world full of sociopaths. lol

glacial's avatar

We outcompete just about every other organism on the planet. I’m not sure that any other metric is more meaningful than that. Sure, a single human would lose against a tiger in a knuckle fight, but real life is not just about teeth and claws. It’s about knowledge and intelligence, and tools and habitat destruction and pollution. Who cares if a single tiger is stronger than a single man? Humans stills come out on top.

Unless maybe you’re a virus. Then you might have us beat. Might.

Seek's avatar

@ETpro The roaches won’t laugh about anything, as they aren’t sentient and have no sense of humour.

jerv's avatar

In certain fantasy/sci-fi settings, the real advantages we have our our egos, drive, and versatility.

I’m inclined to believe that fiction has this one at least partly right; what other species can compete with us in self-importance? I can only think of one, and they aren’t that physically imposing; Felis Domesticus

josie's avatar

Maybe nothing more than the desire and the ability to know.

If we didn’t know it before, now we know that pigs don’t sweat. A pig doesn’t even know what sweat is, even if we tell it.

ETpro's avatar

@Coloma If my species turns out to be the one that triggers the next great extinction (something no other species ever existing has achieved) I will not feel good about having reached such a pinnacle of destructive, sociopathic behavior.

@glacial I’m not so sure. The aforementioned E. coli are equiting themselves quite well. We could not survive without them, and when we come in contact with the wrong branch of their family, we can’t survive with them. A full 90% of the cells in a human body are microbes, and most of those we could not survive without.

@Seek_Kolinahr And you know this how? A roach confessed to you? :-)

@jerv OK, there are two species that think they are king of the mountain.

@josie Actually, as the OP details disclose, pigs do sweat a bit, just nowhere near enough to keep their body temperature regulated. And did you hold your last conversation with a porcine in Pigese or English? Pig Latin doesn’t count. Latin is a dead language in the porcine world as well as the human one.

KaY_Jelly's avatar

@ETpro You come up with some of the most interesting questions.
;)

Have you seen the trailer for the documentary Revolution?

Amazing and informative documentary.

Sharks have survived 5 major extinctions!

@ETpro Now check out this 8 min video on overfishing from the documentary Revolution.

I actually think you will find it very interesting.

I could start hurling a bunch of bible quotes at this point but I won’t.:-D

I’ll just say that Jesus was the one who spoke of God as our creator.

Jesus spoke of eternal life and suffering, good and evil and knowledge of any of it and ironically all of these things are in the very fibers of us all and, imho, those things make us who we are, regardless if you believe in God or not.

If that doesn’t make sense, honestly, dont worry about it.O:-) Lol.

Coloma's avatar

@ETpro Agreed. Shameful, conscienceless creatures we are.

Coloma's avatar

@KaY_Jelly Jesus was a wise and enlightened individual but was he the immaculately conceived son of ” God.”?
I don’t believe that.
I do believe Jesus was a teacher, a guru, an intelligent man.

KaY_Jelly's avatar

@Coloma That’s the big question alright and one that certainly has most people in a hullabaloo.

He was a man. IMHO, that was the point.

If we could trace Jesus DNA, but again I think that also was the point. Because if we knew the answer people would not faithfully go to God, they would go to God because they have no choice.

Uh oh I said I wasn’t going to give bible verses, but I only do it because they are relevant to what I’m talking about.

Luke 1:34

34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

We question today how that happened and even Mary questioned it she Got the most simple answer:

Luke 1:37

37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.

I just want to add, imo us as humans take that last script literally. And we want things done our way, we do not want to wait for His way. But apparently He will do it in His time, it is very true He coukd end all the suffering right now, and I believe He has in times, we just do not like how the end of suffering is accomplished for the people left alive to pick up the peices and keep suffering.

If we are made of God He has feelings just like us He is just more in control and more powerful because He created them.
That is just my opinion. You can take it or leave, mostly leave it, lol. :)

Seek's avatar

Yep. Right before I used my exceptional human invention of Combat Source-Kill Max to end his pathetic existence, and that of several thousand of his closest compatriots.

josie's avatar

@ETpro
My point exactly

KaY_Jelly's avatar

Cockroaches could rule the world.

Did you know there are about 4000 different species of them?

They are also pretty efficient. They can live a month or more without food. Yes they can only live a week without water.

Cockroaches can live anywhere in all conditions, I guess assuming they have water which they seem to have no issue finding.

Also they are nocturnal. They aren’t afraid of light they run because they fear what’s coming after them.

After the die they release methane gas for up to 18 hours. So :/ killing them contributes to global warming.

A cockroach can last headless for awhile..now that’s ultimate survival 101.

Coloma's avatar

@KaY_Jelly True story.
Years ago when I lived in San Diego I found a mammoth cockroach in my apt. I sprayed it with Raid until it was dead. Literally it was floating in a dixie cup of raid.
I put it in a matchbox to save and show my ex when he got home from work.

3 hours later when I opened the matchbox it jumped out! Amazing! I had a new found respect for cockroaches and let it go. Radioactive roach. lol
Years after my daughter kept Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches as pets, they were extremely cool little critters.

ETpro's avatar

@KaY_Jelly That’s an astounding trailer on Revolution. Thank you for sharing it. As it turns out, I’ve already watched the part on over-fishing. and it is deeply disturbing.

@josie I am deeply gratified that in critiquing the problems with your point (whatever it may have been) I was able to make it more clearly for you. That still doesn’t answer the question posed in my response.

@KaY_Jelly & @Coloma Cockroaches have navigated their way through one after another mass extinction, and they are still here. They are an admirably resilient life form.

KaY_Jelly's avatar

@ETpro your welcome for sharing it. It is amazing. Actually when you click on the little revolution subscribe icon when on the YouTube channel it will bring you right to the revolution videos and from there you can watch pretty much the entire documentary at your leisure.

In case you or anyone is interested.

Another interesting fact about cockroaches is that some can actually fly.

Talk about adapting.

Also if they run away not because they are afraid of light but what will get them, technically that would make them sentient beings, in my books anyway.

A really nice man at the gym who knows how I feel about animals made my day one day a while back.

I had just got to my car and he walked by and he said,

“don’t go anywhere yet, there is a huge spider in front of your car, if you leave you’ll run it over!”

“Let me put my bag in the car and I’ll move it for you.”

When he came back he showed it to me, it had to be the size of a small beetle.

I can’t believe he got it moved in the right direction, but he did and he got it in the bushes.
That made my day.

Bill1939's avatar

While many exceptional people have existed, as Mark Twain said, “God must love the common people, He made so many of them.” (I may have paraphrased this quotation.) It is not necessary to believe in the many miraculous moments depicted in the Bible to be a follower of Christ . Whether or not Mary was a virgin when Christ was conceived or that he physically resurrected from the grave is moot. He was and is exceptional, and I am glad that to know He exists in Spirit today.

ETpro's avatar

@KaY_Jelly Definitely an exceptional person, as gym participants go.

@Bill1939 If Jesus actually existed, and actually said the things attributed to him, I have to agree he was exceptional and probably one of the brightest people of his day. I’m far less convinced his spirit is with us today or that there even is such a thing as spirit. If I told you a pink unicorn showed me that spirits don’t exist, would you believe me?

Bill1939's avatar

@ETpro, the likely issue here is what one means by the term spirit. I am not inclined to believe that a spirit is a being in the same sense that you and I are beings. A spirit may merely exist within the mind, or it may have a transcendent existence; Some physicists think that the greater part of gravity exists outside of our physical universe, for example. The visions of Samuel Clemens and Albert Einstein have an influence on us today. In this sense, at least, their spirits exist. While I might not believe that pink unicorns exist, I would accept that you believe they do and that you believe what you think they told you. I might also ask you to pass the dooby to me.

ETpro's avatar

@Bill1939 The works of great minds, their thoughts and contributions, clearly survive them. No argument there. But we know enough about brain function now to know absolutely that damage to a particular region will rob a person of a particular brain function. One part is responsible for your being able to put thoughts into words. Even an electrical probe can temporarily turn it off, and you cannot think of the word for even the simplest of things. Another part remembers names. Turn it off, or damage it, and you don’t know who you are, or who your dearest relatives and loved ones are. So it goes for all brain function. Lose an area, and you lose its function.

I cannot understand how some phantasm or invisible, unmeasured homonculus resides inside the brain, and only after complete brain death, emerges full blown with all our thoughts, feelings and memories intact; but is incapable of pinch hitting for even the tiniest corner of our living brain when it is damaged by a stroke. To believe that without a shred of evidence to support it strains even my credulity.

Bill1939's avatar

I doubt any part of who I am (or think I am) will exist after my body’s demise. I would like to think that ideas that I have had a part in the development of will continue, and maybe carry a reference to whom I had been in life (unlikely as that is). We agree that the characters we are seen as by others and ourselves as being is dependent upon the biomechanics of our brain.

I never suggested that I am the product of my spirit. I imagine my spirit, moment to moment, to be a reflection of me. I view spirit to be somewhat analogous to momentum. The force of my character continues long the occurrence of my actions. The effect of witnessing an act of mine, or hearing about the act, can alter the character of the observer (albeit subtly). Egotistically, I wish that something that I have written will be important to the positive development of someone’s character (equivalent to what I think of as spiritual growth).

ETpro's avatar

@Bill1939 Thanks for the clarification. In that case, I believe the same and want the same. It appears I also share your concerns that I may fall short of that lofty mark.

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