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What it means to be Human Luke van Gemert

Maryann

LS: 05

Humans are everywhere around us, every single day, and we take them for granted.
We have learnt to acknowledge that we are humans and we do not question it. But
when we think about it, what exactly defines us as a human being? Everyone will tell
you different things. Biologists will tell you its about the genetic makeup of our
bodies, psychologists will say it is our emotions and feelings that define us as humans.
Everyone has their own opinion on what it means to be a human being, and maybe
that is just one of the reasons as to why we are human. To approach this question,
humans have to be separated from all the other animals. The differences between the
two are what makes us humans. This essay will explore some of the aspects of what it
means to be human.
Firstly, looking at the question from a biologists point of view, what it means to be
human can be brought back to the structure of our DNA, the way our bodies behave
and how our bodies look. In the womb, the foetus is classified as a human being after
3 months of development. At this stage, it doesn't have emotions or feelings, it just
has the basic form of a human being, but it is still a human. This means that someone
does not have to have emotions or feelings to be a human being, it just has to have
the basic DNA structure of a human. This can be very difficult as the genetic structure
of apes are 98% the same as humans. Our closest relatives, the chimpanzee, even
shares a lot of the mental capabilities that humans have. Unlike most other mammals,
chimpanzees can recognise themselves in a mirror and even clean themselves using
the mirror. This has only been seen in few other animals, and the tests have been
inconsistent. What this means is that chimpanzees are indeed very close to being
human. There are some distinctive differences between humans and animals, but the
differences can be so miniscule that they may not be able to fully define a human as
being human.
So if our genetics can't define us as a human being, what can? For many years,
scientists have been studying how other animals behave compared to humans. We all
know that humans have strong emotions, the ability to express sympathy to other
humans and even other animals has been thought to be a human- only trait for a long
time. For example, when animals live in herds, they do this because they are safer in
large numbers. When a predator comes to hunt, it will target one specific animal and
hunt that one down. The other animals in the herd then run away from that target,
making it every animal for themselves. They show no emotions, hence the theory that
only humans have emotions. This however, has been proven wrong multiple times
when tests have been done on dolphins, whales, dogs, elephants, and once again,
chimpanzees. All have shown sympathy towards other animals, and some have even
sacrificed their own privileges to those of who they felt sympathetic towards. For this
to occur, there have to be emotions present. This means that even the humans
emotions and feelings cant really define them.
So even things like emotions cant define us as human, but what about our
intelligence? It may seem like we are more intelligent than all other animals, including
chimpanzees. Yes, we are more intelligent, but not by much. The chimpanzees brain
has 99.8% the same as humans. The 0.02% is what makes the difference between
stick tools and the mega structures that we have built as humans. Perhaps that is what
defines us as human, our ability to think at a more advanced level than our closest
relatives. Humans have the ability to develop speech, which can lead to solving
problems in other ways than violence and therefore has led to the significant
differences between humans and other apes.

What it means to be Human Luke van Gemert


Maryann

LS: 05

Even though everyone has their own opinion on what it means to be human and it is a
very open ended question, it certainly can be narrowed down by looking at the
question from these perspectives. Alone, these perspectives are not able to define
humans as the differences are too small to be significant. Together however, the
differences add up and a more clear perspective can be seen on what it means to be
human. Their DNA is slightly different to the chimpanzee, their emotions are slightly
stronger than other animals, and our most defining feature, our intelligence is
advanced compared to other life forms. Although a human is more advanced in some
ways, the fact that it is so hard to define a human being is proof of how similar we are
to other animals, and how important it is to live alongside them instead of separating
and slowly destroying their world.
Useful Links and Information:
1) Suddendorf, T 2013, Clues about the evolution of our extraordinary minds: Thomas
Suddendorf at TEDxUQ, online video, 22 May, accessed 13 March 2015,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLBfJYnXFU4
2) Human Characteristics: What does it Mean to be Human? n.d., Smithsonian National
Museum of Natural History, accessed 19 March 2015,
<http://humanorigins.si.edu/human-characteristics>