Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Welcome to the human family - defining human

In the same article I just blogged about from New Scientist May 2010, the editorial refers to the comment by the anthropologist Louis Leakey who wrote the following having been told about chimps used sticks to scoop up termites
Now we must redefine tool, redefine man or accept chimpanzees as human.

What is going on here? Do we now define 'human' as using sticks to scoop up termites? Ha! But is this editorial serious that we define humans by their being able to use things such as tools? Isn't it better to say, humans have the ability to create tools, and not merely use a stick, perhaps that is closer to the point? Otherwise we get into conundrums associated with anthropomorphic language.

This editorial goes on to point out that all this raises the question of what a species is. And they point out that this in itself has been vexing question which has flummoxed [ that is, baffled and confused! ] even Linnaeus and Darwin. And yet with authority they declare a truism!
fertile offspring is a hallmark of a species

Wow - of course that's a truism, for if there were no fertile offspring there'd be no species to even consider! And then, without providing the evidence they declare that "there is plenty more evidence to support giving them the status of Homo sapiens Neanderthals."

We read "We cannot know the mental life of a Neanderthal, but it may not have been so different from our own."
And this is based presumably on the fact that the Neanderthal genome differs little from ours, encoding fewer than 100 changes that would affect the shape of proteins.

It is then the writer speaks of the concept of being human that involves traits of thinking and talking and love and belief and art and language.

I just would like a bit more on those who hold to a materialist worldview being able to account for these latter concepts of humanness. Even for Leakey it's a long way from using a stick to concepts such as love, belief, art and language.


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