Thursday, 9 July 2015

Humans are nowhere near as special as we like to think

Kanzi has good taste. He likes oranges, cherries and grapes.

He points to what he wants on a lexigram, a computerised touchscreen device on which each symbol represents a word. Kanzi can use 500 words and when he is talked to, he can understand a few thousand.

We once viewed ourselves as the only creatures with emotions, morality, and culture

He also likes marshmallows. He will strike matches to light a fire, then warm some on a stick.

Kanzi is not human. He is a kind of ape called a bonobo, which along with chimpanzees are our closest living relatives.

Although he cannot talk like us, Kanzi transformed our ideas about our primate relatives – and in turn, our ideas about ourselves.

We once viewed ourselves as the only creatures with emotions, morality, and culture. But the more we investigate the animal kingdom, the more we discover that is simply not true. Many scientists are now convinced that all these traits, once considered the hallmarks of humanity, are also found in animals.

If they are right, our species is not as unique as we like to think.

Of course not everyone agrees. Read part two, Why humans are unique, to discover the other side of the argument.

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