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Bio 103, Week 6, Evolution and the "Specialness" of Humanity ....

Paul Grobstein's picture

Glad you're here, to share explorations of life. If you're registered in Biology 103, remember to log in before posting here. Others are welcome to contribute without logging in. Such comments though will be checked to avoid spam postings and so be delayed in appearing.

In any case, remember that this isn't a place for polished writing or final words. Its a place for thoughts in progress: questions, ideas you had in class (or afterwords), things you've heard or read or seen that you think others might find interesting. Think of it as a public conversation, a place to put things from your own mind that others might find useful and to find things from others (in our class and elsewhere) that you might find useful. And a place we can always go back to to see what we were thinking before and how our conversations have affected that. Looking forward to seeing where we go, and hoping you are too.

You're free to write about anything that came into your mind this week. But if you need something to get you started, any last (for now) thoughts about evolution and what it says about humanity? Are we (as per Friday spontaneous discussion) "special" or not?
Rachel Tashjian's picture


I am having a difficult time grasping what this argument is really even over. Kaitlin said earlier in a post that everything that does what it's supposed to do is special, and I agree. It seems pretty miraculous that something can fill such a specific niche. So how can one say that humans are "special"? Maybe this sounds weird, but to me it makes more sense to say humans are "interesting," because of things like intricate speech, cities, technology, the ability to extend life times, etc.
ekoike's picture

That's a really interesting

That's a really interesting point, Rachel.

I think I completely agree with you... the whole idea of using the terms "special" or "superior" doesn't quite fit when we are talking about categorizing humans versus other species. "Interesting" or maybe "Complex" might be a better term to use.

LaKesha's picture


I think we are very special in the things we do...I know a big confusion was what we meant by special. I mean special in that sense that we are unique not superior. I think that there a lot of species out there that are special. We all have traits and do things different than each other that makes us special.
PS2007's picture

I was in the "yes" group on

I was in the "yes" group on Friday, and I still believe that humans are special, but I think that a problem we ran into during class was that we didn't define the word special. Some people took it to mean unique, others took it to mean better. Humans are definitely unique, but better is a relative term. We are better in some ways than other animals, and worse in some ways. This all depends on what skills you value and consider important. Still, I think it is very impressive that we might not be the fastest or strongest animals but we have used our brain to create technology that has helped us rise to the top of the food chain. Looking around at all we have built for ourselves, I think it's irrefutable that humans are special in whatever way you define it.
Catrina Mueller's picture

I enjoyed the discussion we

I enjoyed the discussion we had on Friday. Although I still side with the "no" group, the "yes" group had many valid points.

The idea of humans being the only beings that can reason is obviously a good point. Why can't other animals reason like we can? Is it that they are not capable? Is it possible that in the future other animals could devolop this skill? What are the brain functions that we have that we use for our reasoning that animals do not have?

eharnett's picture

Are humans special?

Honestly, I am still not sure.  As other people above have posted, I believe both sides to the special vs. non special debate are legitimate.  Right off the bat my intuition says yes, humans must be special.  But the more I think about it the more unsure I am of my position.  I don't believe that humans are superior, but that is not what we are discussing in this debate.  So I guess I have to think of what makes us unique.  And, as the pro-team discussed in the debate, I believe that art, culture and religion seems to make humans unique to other organisms (as far as we can tell).  I don't necessarily believe that these characteristics make us superior, but rather just unique and different.
Kendra's picture

are humans special?

although i was absent from class on friday, i looked through the previous posts and found the responses to the debate over whether humans are special or not very intriguing. Looking at the reasoning behind the "yes" and "no" group, I'm stuck in the middle. I think it is very elitist of us to say that humans are special but in saying that we are not special likens us to simpler organisms like bacteria. 

Over the course of the past few weeks, I have been wondering whether are not humans are in fact special, or different, from other organisms around us. It is so easy to agree with the points made by the "yes" group especially the points about the complexity of our language skills and aesthetic qualities but it is also good to realize that we are still vulnerable to outside elements that other organisms are. I agree with previous posts, we are special but that does not make us better than the next organism. Though Humans have found their own way of adapting above and beyond other organisms, in comparison with other those other organisms, we are possibly not invincible. 
Ruth Goodlaxson's picture

"yes" group list

hey guys... sorry i forgot to post this list until just now. here is the list of why the "yes" group thought that humans are special. or at least why we thought humans are more special than other organisms:

-sense of morality

-awareness of our own emotions and thought process

-complexity of emotions

-sense of religion or spirituality

-many different complex and written languages

-complex tools

-art, need to pursue beauty, sense of aesthetic

-recording/awareness of history

-greed, as in we take more than we need


-domestication of animals

These are from me, Samar, Andy, Lakesha, Elizabeth Harnett, Jen, and Paige


Personally, I find the art and religion ones the most convincing and important. They are univeral throughout human cultures, and both suggest an interest in the intangible, unseen part of life; there is no evidence that other organisms are aware of this. Also, I should note that we do not mean to say that other organisms can never and will never possess these qualities, only that right now humans are the only organisms to have developed them.

ekim's picture

on being special.

although i dropped in late for the debate on whether or not humans are special, i thought most of the things that the two teams were arguing were legit.

one of the groups talked about how we're special in the sense that we have "culture": means of art & music & literature & what not. and they claimed that animals did not have that same thought of expression.

but the thing is, how are we to know what animals are thinking? and how are we to know what they do is not out of intention or expression of feelings?

by even assuming that other animals may not think like we do is making the assumption that we are superior. but i don't think that's the point in being special; special is just different.

but here's the deal: in the end we're all the same.

Sharhea's picture

Are we Special?

I cannot say if we are special or not before we define what is special. Special do not necessarily mean that we are superior, but that we are individuals that stand out on this world we know as Earth. Humans cannot maintain without the other species and vice versa for some species. We all do have a purpose, but what is the problem with refering to us as special? I like the idea that we are a unique species, we are not superior to anything else in nature but we do stand out.
Kee Hyun Kim's picture

humans are special

It may look like i am beating a dead horse but since the response from the yes group isn’t posted yet; i will try to explain my reasoning why i believe humans are special. ( when i say special, it doesn't mean they are either better nor superior than others since such definitions are highly subjective and are more appropriate for a philosophy class rather than a biology class)         

Although there are many difference between us and other organisms on this planet, I think that the consciousness and greed are the two characteristic that truly distinguishes us from others species and make us special. Although some in the yes group argues that pleasure is also a differentiating factor, I took this out because there seems to be other species that commit acts just for the sake of it ( one such example would be the dolphins, which are believed to be the only other specie  beside us that have sex for pleasure )            

However, no other species is yet know to posses anything even remotely similar to consciousness nor greed. Unlike animals, us humans have a endless desire, whether it may be for material goods or for fame, and will be held slave to this desire until the very day we die. The same thing applies for consciousness as well, animals do not feel bad nor hesitate before killing their prey because they are merely obeying their instinct.            

These two make us unique because no other organism posses anything even remotely similar to them. Yes each species have difference among each other but they tend to be degree in how far or which way that characteristic has developed ( a example would be herbivores and omnivores, both take energy by consuming other organisms, they just differ on which type of organisms they consume)

Like I said in class last Friday. The difference between other organisms is their hardware. Some may have a extremely advanced Pentium quadruple core super ultra platinum edition while some may have a mere 286 processor; they all have chips just different kind. Humans are uniaqe because we have a clear differentiation from others in that we have a software called consciousness and greed when they do not. So far no organisms have anything even reomtley similar and this is why humans are uniqe and special


ekoike's picture

The definition of being "special"

After this week's class, it made me question whether we would find a set definition or a set "answer" on what makes us special. Each individual person has their own definition on what is "special" and what makes you different from other organisms.

Each person's unique set of definition definitely makes it harder for us to find a "correct" definition that everyone can agree upon. Perhaps there is no correct reason why we're different than others. In my Anthropology 101 class, we were talking about the different between the genetic makeup between humans and other primates... and our professor told us that in fact we're 99 percent similar. That made me seriously wonder what in that 1 percent of genetic makeup makes us distinguish ourselves as a superior being over chimps and gorillas?

If we just looked at the genetic information in our system, we can't necessarily say that we're that different or "special" from other primates... so how do we exactly define "special" or the idea of superiority over others?

kcough's picture

I think this is an

I think this is an interesting debate and certainly one that we should touch on in the future. I'm pessimistic, however, to us ever finding an answer. I think one of the first questions we need to answer is what "special" means. If we define it in different ways it is impossible to come to a conclusion. I think that if we take it to mean "superior" I would have to disagree that humans are "special." One of the most important reasons for that would be that we are not the "goal" of evolution. Evolution is a way to figure out what works and what doesn't, not necessarily to find the "best" organism. So if single-celled organisms work for what they need to do, and we work for what we need to do, and elephants work for what they need to do, everything is special, in a way.
kcough's picture

from the "No" group...list of reasons...

Catrina Mueller

Luisana Taueras

Crystal Reed

Kaitlin Cough


From the "No" Group, our list of reasons: (we took special to mean "superior" in some way)

-everything does exactly what it needs to to survive

-everything is special in its own way

-we're still vulnerable to the environment

-we aren't the end product or "goal"

-we're all made of the same thing (atoms & stardust)

-we're interdependent

OrganizedKhaos's picture

The idea of special

The idea of special organisms and better organisms is an unclear debate. Yes, it can be argued that species are special but as we discussed in class does that make them better? We then came upon some type of consensus and decided that certain species are better suited to adapt to certain situations than others and because of that they can be labeled "better", but only when the organisms are compared in a certain situation.

In general species may actually not be able to be compared because they are so different and special in their own ways. Because of this I feel that it makes sense to simply state that all species are special and evolve in their own ways to better suit their own situation. 

Samar Aryani's picture

Are Humans Special?

Are humans 'special'? I don't think there will ever be a definite answer for this question because there always seems to be a counter-argument for every argument.  I don't think that this is necessarily a bad thing because as seen throughout our studies, science is a story-telling process and that good stories are the ones that can be challenged.  So, in reference to this question of whether humans are 'special' both answers discussed in class can be seen as correct.  I really liked the idea that every species is special, but that does not mean that one is better than another.  I think it is best to believe that every species is unique and 'special' in their own way, therefore, in this respect species should not be compared to one another; this is because the debate will probably turn into a debate of how the two are different (and maybe even how one is better than another).