So I'm sitting here, contemplating the nature of humanity, and consequently, procrastinating from studying for a math exam, and asking one of those great hypothetical questions: what really does separate man from the animals? What? Don't you ponder this in your spare time?
Point being, I was going down the list, looking at various ideas, as it were: Was it the ability to use tools? Well, no, that had been found in many animals, and is not all that particular to humans. Is it the ability of humans to imagine things, as suggested by Micheal Crichton's book, Sphere? Well, maybe. But who knows what bears dream as they lay in winter slumber, or what crosses a bored chipmunk's mind as he gathers nuts for the winter. Is it language? Not really, dolphins and whales, at least, seem to have the ability to communicate with each other. How about opposable thumbs? Not bloody likely: all primates have them, I think, and, though it would be difficult, we could probably make do without them.
So a solution occured to me: humans are the only animals who can do things that are unnatural. Now "unnatural" is a pretty loose term and one could make a pretty good argument that everything is "natural," but bear with me. I don't think animals have a lot of the practices that humans do. For instance, contraception. I haven't researched this, but it seems unlikely that the average squirrel worries a lot about how it, er, procreates or about sexually transmitted diseases. And, though again I have not actually done any work toward this idea, I don't believe that all that many animals commit suicide.
It seems that the suppression of natural instincts and feelings by our
"rational" mind is what truly sets us apart. Now, whether this makes us any happier or better is still a question. But it seems to me at least a feasible explanation why we seem so different. ?
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.