Animal Sapiens

2003, Nature  -  49 min Leave a Comment
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Indeed, great questions have practically characterized our cultures. At times they've taken us down some rather strange paths. They've given rise to religions and of course, they've given birth to and destroyed entire civilizations. But, curiously the most important questions, the greatest ones of all have yet to be answered and as long as we don't surrender, as long as we continue asking ourselves these questions, no matter that we might even suspect finding an answer to them is impossible, we will continue being human beings.

We will continue evolving and growing. There are many ways to formulate the very same question, and the first question is, what are we? Are we animals? We live immersed in the reality of a technological world that no other living being has been capable of creating. However, if we think that this makes us some kind of super being, a kind of culmination of evolution itself, we'd be making a very big mistake.

Many people believe that man was the irrefutable destiny to which life simply had to lead in its process of changing overtime, as if we were the center of the universe to which all else was subject. But, it isn't quite like that. The fact that our modernity, for instance, has enabled us to communicate over incredible distances is nothing more than the fruit of the needs of our species. It is the same need that has enabled butterflies to communicate with their mates by chemical means over dozen of miles, which for them is an incredible distance as well. It's the same imperious need that has allowed bats to invent their radar-like vision or fungi to invent penicillin.

Every invention responds solely to the demands for survival of the species that invents it. However, inventions don't make one species different from another. By that yardstick, all creatures whether simple or complex, would be nothing more than biological organisms, some simple, some more complex, but organisms all the same. Throughout the course of human knowledge there have been a series of events or developments considered key in demonstrating a kind of dividing line, a cut-off point between human beings and other living things. But, for many people these historical occurrences have lost the strength of their argument as human knowledge has increased in a variety of different areas.

One of these classical key events was the advent of language. No other species could speak. No other being could wander about its conscience or its transcendence. We are Homo Quaerens, the being that interprets itself. Philosophy has also tried to define man as Homo Faber the being who manipulates tools. We have been called Homo Ludens, those who play, and of course, we're also Homo Orans, beings who pray to a higher being.

But, let's not get into that, not for now anyway, because metaphysics aside, none of these definitions fits our reality quite as neatly and exclusively as they were originally thought to. For starters we could have an exhaustive debate in an attempt to establish the unique characteristics of our principal form of communication - the word. Written, spoken, or imagined, it is without a doubt the most complex and perfect means of expression. It describes symbols and intangible things. Even things that don't exist in the physical world.