Archive for November, 2010

What characterizes the human race?

Sometimes I wonder what really sets us apart from all the other species that inhabit this planet. Ofcourse our brain-capacity is somewhat more powerful than any other species’ brain-capacity, but what really makes us different?

When compared to other animals and primates, humans have a highly developed brain, capable of abstract reasoning, language, introspection and problem solving. This mental capability, combined with an erect body carriage that frees the forelimbs (arms) for manipulating objects, has allowed humans to make far greater use of tools than any other species. Humans are distributed worldwide, with significant populations inhabiting most land areas of Earth. The human population on Earth is greater than 6.7 billion, as of February 2009.

For starters there are (far too) many of us on this planet. The difference in numbers. The sum of people walking the face of the earth is not in accordance with the natural balance. Not at all.
Most species have natural enemies, are eaten and thus their numbers cannot grow at a spectacular rate. Other species do not reproduce very fast and thus their numbers are limited this way. They are all subject to diseases and all their numbers are more or less in a natural balance (well, they are supposed to be, weren’t it for external influences (often human)). The human race however, hasn’t got any of these problems or has reduced them significantly. We have cures for most of our diseases and are finding solutions for the ones we can’t yet cure. Our food problem is reduced in such a way that there is more or less plenty to feed our staggering number of more than 6 billion individuals. We also haven’t got any natural enemies. Back in the days when we still had those natural enemies we were depending on our fellow human beings and they were the only ones we could trust in our battle to survive the constant threat of nature. Nowadays it is almost entirely the other way around. There are few human beings in every individuals life that one can trust (if there are any) and there is virtually no threat from nature that we can not handle or overcome.

So we can conclude that because of our highly developed brain and our ability to use our hands freely since we are walking on only two feet, we have overcome most of the problems a species in the natural environment of our planet faces. In fact, we have more or less created a whole new natural environment (villages, cities) that suites our demands (which have been and are rising beyond anything imaginable) perfectly well and basicly makes our survival a piece of cake. Survival of the fittest is no longer the rule. Because of all this we are able to reproduce (faster) in safe (without natural threats) environments and live longer (the mortality rate of infants is massively reduced (in the best part of the world)).

So first there is our ability to survive because of our highly developed brain. But there is something else that our brain is able to do, that sets us apart, characterizes us, defines what are, what we do and why we do it. Our mind. This is such a powerful thing that we have yet to fully understand what it is capable of. The only thing we know for sure is that the mind and the body (/brain) are related, which is quite obvious.
Our mind is responsible for our memory, will, thought, imagination, perception and emotion, and controls our conscious and unconscious cognitive processes. For example our mind interpretes percepted stimuli, digs into our memory (unconscious cognitive) for experience with these stimuli, attaches emotions, makes us think certain thoughts, makes us want to respond by action or non-action (will) and starts imagining about this. So our mind (perhaps based upon previous life-experiences and our character as it is genetically inherited) literally builds our thoughts, emotions, opinions and actions. This way all individuals are strongly defined by their minds. The most fundamental difference between the human mind and the minds of other species is that the human mind possesses knowledge. We are theoretically aware of our surrounding environment whereas other species fully rely on their instinct. Because of our mind’s ability to use knowledge we produce desires. Human beings are also the only species who have desires. We always want to know more in order to gain more control in the external world. Call it greed if you will.

Because of these desires we have gradually build an extremely complicated society. So we have actually shifted our priorities in life. Initially we only had the urge to survive and procreate. In some parts of the world this has not changed or is a mix of the initial priority and the new complicated society. However, in the best part of the world our priority gradually shifted from surviving, to easier surviving, to luxurious living, and eventually to a point were surviving (as the main priority) seem nothing more than a vague memory from prehistoric days.

As a species we are a point now that we are so far from that sense that survival is our main job on this planet, that our knowledge of how-to-survive has decreased significantly. Will we be able to survive if for some reason, the society as we know it will collapse and we will have to rely on one another and our knowledge of survival as a group?

Now, getting back to our incredibly capable mind. We are capable of dreaming, planning, reflecting, reviewing, remembering, learning, etc, like no other species. The ways of our brain and mind are so complicated that even we ourselves haven’t been able to grasp it. Some people try to figure our mind out in a strictly scientific way, while others do so in a more spiritual way or even a combination of both. Regardless of how it’s done, I’m convinced that very interesting knowledge of our brain and mind will be gained in the future. Perhaps even greatly influencing the way we conceive the possibilities of our brain and mind.