what sets humans apart

A common question posed and confronted by scholars, thinkers, writers, anthropologists, scientists, even theologians; alternatively "What makes humans unique?"

I wonder if a book or resource exists that surveys a wide swath of the answers to this seminal question. No doubt it does and I will soon find it.

Here in my Commonplace I'll begin to collect and connect the various perspectives that are currently available.

Notably, some recent and ancient thinkers answer this question in the opposite: are humans unique? why do we imagine ourselves as separate?

For one, Carl Safina studies how animals think and feel in Beyond Words and how they form culture and teach each other lessons in Becoming Wild.

Proposed Answers

A living list of the qualities that various humans have posited to make us unique and exceptional among terran denizens or beings in the universe at large.

  • Mind
    • Thought
      • abstract thought
      • lateral thinking
      • systems thinking
      • logic
    • language
      • speech
        • larnyx with descended hyoid bone 350 kya (thousand years ago)
      • writing
    • Reason
    • Memory
  • Body
    • emotions
      • Love & Hate
      • Embarrassment => Blushing
    • hands - fully mobile opposable thumbs
    • brain
      • not unique or superlative among mammals
      • much cortex, dense neurons, heavy
    • sweat glands
    • naked skin
  • Spirit
    • Creativity
    • Art
    • Imagination
      • Lying
      • Fiction
      • Storytelling
  • Society
    • Elders
      • grandparents are unusual in nature
    • Culture
      • Learning
      • learnings passed down
      • customs and mores
      • habits and rituals
  • Technology
  • Morality
  • Adaptability
  • Consciousness
    • Self-consciousness
  • Unpredictability (Hitchhiker's Guide spaceship engine)
  • Nothing

Books on the Topic

A Natural History of Human Thinking by Michael Tomasello of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Harvard Publishing

The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals by Thomas Suddendorf, psychologist at the University of Queensland, Basic Books

The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution by Henry Gee, University of Chicago

Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed by Marc Bekoff, New World Library

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noel Harari

The Storytelling Animal by Jonathon Gottschall

Articles and Programs

what sets humans apart