What Makes Us Human?

What is it precisely that makes us human? What characteristics that we as humans share that differentiate us from the animal world? What makes us better (or worse) from animals…Or to be more specific, other animals, because for all our human arrogance and pride in ourselves, we are after all still animals, mammals that share the planet with other animals…So why is it that we consider ourselves the superior species, of all the species of animals that roam the planet? What makes us so special, after all is said and done?

To tell the truth, I am not so sure that we ARE the superior species….Research has indicated that members of the dolphin family for instance, may have a superior intelligence to us…They may even be telepathic, and they hunt in supremely well coordinated packs and communicate with each other and recognize each other just as we do…. Elephants are supremely intelligent, and they also communicate with each other, care for their offspring and mourn the loss of one of their own….Certain species of monkeys and gorillas also share in a community and work together to solve problems and communicate with each other….

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So it is none of the above characteristics, the recognition of one of us from the other, the sharing of thoughts, feelings and emotions, the cooperative methods that make enterprises successful and worthwhile, the nurturing, feeding and care of our offspring, the sense of loss and grief that overwhelms us when we lose a loved one that sets us apart from any of the other animals that I have mentioned….

Yet somehow, there is more…I do not know if this is an entirely valid reason, but I think that one of the main reasons that we as humans consider ourselves to be superior to other creatures is the fact that we as human beings have one gift that these other species lack: The written word…Whether it is a novel, a short story, a newspaper, even a comic book, we as humans can read and write and thus communicate with each other in far more lasting ways than the day to day interchanges among other animals….

But the written word is not confined to just literature, it extends to music, great art and statues and paintings, visual representations of the human spirit, tangible expressions of solidarity and communication that can last for centuries…We have printed books, hand written manuscripts dating far back into antiquity, papyrus scrolls and clay tablets and visual impressions of our lives at hand to us at all times…

We can now today in our enlightened society of 2015 AD at the touch of a computer keyboard access all the great wisdom of the past, all the beautiful works of art from the past, all the main religious themes that motivate and inspire millions of people all over the world, we can visit and ponder all the great philosophers and thinkers of the past, from the ancient Egyptians and Greek scholars, to the stone pillar establishing the law of the venerable Hammurabi, one of the oldest preserved documents of all time…

From my Google sources: “Hammurabi is the best known and most celebrated of all Mesopotamian kings. He ruled the Babylonian Empire from 1792-50 B.C.E.”An eye for an eye …” is a paraphrase of Hammurabi’s Code, a collection of 282 laws inscribed on an upright stone pillar. The code was found by French archaeologists in 1901 while excavating the ancient city of Susa, which is in modern-day Iran.

But the Code of Hammurabi is well known, here is a little more, again drawing on my Google sources, on why he wrote all this down in the first place: “The prologue or introduction to the list of laws is very enlightening. Here, Hammurabi states that he wants “to make justice visible in the land, to destroy the wicked person and the evil-doer, that the strong might not injure the weak.” The laws themselves support this compassionate claim, and protect widows, orphans and others from being harmed or exploited.

The phrase “an eye for an eye” represents what many people view as a harsh sense of justice based on revenge. But, the entire code is much more complex than that one phrase. The code distinguishes among punishments for wealthy or noble persons, lower-class persons or commoners, and slaves.”

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A quick check of ancient history reveals that: “Homo sapiens, or human beings, have been around for nearly 300,000 years. For most of that time, however, they had no written history. During this time of “prehistory,” humans spent most of their lives moving from place to place, hunting for food, building crude shelters, and protecting themselves from wild animals.

Around 5000 BC, things slowly began to change. For the first time, humans started to settle down in one place. They began growing their own food and building permanent homes. The first cities were formed. People began using metals, such as copper and bronze, instead of stones to make tools. Then, around 3000 BC, they created a system of letters and began to write. This new form of living was called civilization. King Hammurabi, who ruled around 2000 BC, drew up the first recorded set of laws, The Code of Hammurabi”….

But the kingdom of Mesopotamia was not alone… “Over 4500 years ago, the Egyptians built the great pyramids at Giza…Another early civilization was founded by the Egyptians in the Nile River valley. It wasn’t enough for a pharaoh, the god-kings rulers of Egypt, to live in a great house; he also had to be buried in one. The pharaohs used slaves to build massive tombs called pyramids. Each new pharaoh wanted a grander tomb than the last pharaoh’s. The pyramids kept getting bigger and bigger. The largest tomb, called the Great Pyramid, was built in 2530 BC. Its base covered 13 acres.

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The Egyptians developed their own system of writing called hieroglyphics. This system was based on a series of pictures showing common objects such as a human eye. Later, a group of people known as the Phoenicians used pictures or symbols to represent sounds. This was the first alphabet.

A final early great civilization, and considered the launching pad that led to our present day way of life was that of the ancient Greeks: The pharaohs in ancient Egypt held absolute power. About 500 BC, the Greeks set up a very different form of government that became known as a democracy. In a democracy the people rule themselves. (Even so, not everyone in Greece was equal since only free men were allowed to vote.) Each Greek city-state was like an independent country because each one had its own government and its own laws.

The Greeks made many major contributions to the development of Western civilization. For example, Greek architecture is still copied today. Modern theater is based on the principles established by the Greeks. They also made key discoveries in mathematics, science, and medicine. Euclid discovered the basic rules of geometry. Archimedes found out how to measure the circumference of a circle as well as the law governing floating objects in water. Hippocrates attacked the use of magic in medicine and wrote a code of ethics for doctors.

But the greatest contribution of all was in the field of philosophy. The word philosophy means “love of wisdom.” The ideas of Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, who lived in the city-state of Athens, have shaped and guided the way Westerners have thought through the ages. They asked hard questions about the meaning of life, the true nature of the world, and the proper role of citizens.

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So you can see that dating back to antiquity, it is the written word that differentiates us humans from animals…Not only all the words, but the ancient artifacts, the art treasures, the sculptures and paintings that embodied and glorified the indomitable human spirit are still around to bear witness to the fact that:

It is the written word, able to be passed down from generation to generation, that most clearly separates us humans from the rest of the animal kingdom….

Just leave it like it is right now

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