What separates human from other forms of life?
There are many views, like:
1. We Make Tools
2. We’re Killers
3. We Share Food
4. We Trade Food for Sex
5. We Cook Food
6. We Walk on Two Feet
7. We Adapt
8. We Unite and Conquer
So what’s wrong with all these theories?
Many of these ideas have merit, but all are at a loss, when it comes to the question, what caused its adaptation by humans. Why did humans resort to such deviations from the norm, that too choosing activities that are not only not essential, but also dangerous for life and longevity?
I am of the opinion that there has to be a driving force behind everything. Just as there is something to promote whatever happens in life, whether among plants or animals, in case of humans too, there has to be an agent. For example, hunger promotes eating, or, fear promotes shelter, and there in nothing in nature, which is not widely advertised and rigorously promoted. We therefore need to look for a driving force, one that is responsible for making us behave the way we behave.
Let us see. How did we acquire humanness? I mean erect posture and bipedal locomotion; manual dexterity and increased tool use compared to other animals; and a general trend toward larger, more complex brains and societies. What enabled our ancestor species to, create complex social structures composed of many cooperating and competing groups, like families, kinship networks, and political states? And start social interactions between themselves, establish an extremely wide variety of values, social norms, and rituals, which together form the basis of human society?
I think there is an easy answer. Walking on two feet is certainly more time taking compared to movement on all fours. Both for the one learning, and for the other who is in charge. So is the case with eating. It takes more time to fetch, prepare and have food in the manner we do presently, than the pattern followed by rest of the animal kingdom. Further habits in this regard, like maintaining access to food surplus, domestication of animals, and the use of metal tools, might have triggered the formation of permanent human settlements. Complex brain and a multi faceted society have opened up a plethora of things to keep ourselves busy in activities other than those necessary for metabolism.
Basis of this idea is my book, The Unsure Male. As I explain in that book, rather than the influence from an external force, what made us willingly choose the path of acquiring distinctive marks is the advantage we derived from those. In that process, we happened to be enamored by the irrational (since it served us better), and therefore are constantly in its search. Many of our escapades turn out to be rational later, which routinely lead to big celebrations, great names, and extraordinary ideas. A few of those ideas from our distant past still remain, causing consternation at will, especially when the original environment where such ideas would have been of help, is no more present.
What caused us to choose this path, and for what gain? Yes. It is the ability of humans to substitute at will, one’s needs, desires, and fulfillments, with real or unreal things. Perhaps this is what we see today as the power of abstraction. We mastered the art of using this talent to suit to one’s convenience, unlike all other species of life. Which I think, is what can be called the distinctive human quality, the one that separates us from the rest of life.
(Now also we are behind the irrational; some of it helps us in maintaining peace and harmony, some of it leads to great inventions, and some others to alarming situations, rivalries, or wars, quite regularly)