20 March 2014

Perhaps humans aren't so different.

When listing the traits of what makes humans different from the rest of the animal kingdom there are a plethora of physical attributes listed. We stand up straight, have dexterous hands, can create a multitude of sounds, enjoy long childhoods and even blushing made the list. Those are all lovely, but the one element that gets the most attention is our brain. We are smarter and more aware of ourselves and the world we live in than any other creature on the planet which often fuels the not so subliminal perspective of being "better". In the centuries ahead, we will find more success if we get that perspective out of our intelligent noggin.

This idea, where we are the gifted ones, has certainly helped our  masters of the planet reign, even when we, the descendants of Adam and Eve, were convinced this 6000 year old world was flat. Historically it has been the men (and sometimes women) who have little concern about walking on and sometimes destroying other creatures (including fellow humans) to get their way that has allowed them to lead and conquer. Whether it is Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Hitler, Margaret Thatcher, Steve Jobs or Vladimir Putin - they all reached the pinnacle of their success, at least partially, through their perspective of being better than those around them. This trait continues to fuel the mindset of humans being smarter, but could be nothing more than survival behavior.

The fact is that homo sapiens (it is Latin for "wise man") do not have the biggest brain of any creature on the planet - the whale has us beat. We do not have the most grey matter to body weight, either - those annoyingly brilliant crows on my front lawn decimate us there. Even learning ability and language could be called into question when you consider the brilliance of numerous sea creatures like the dolphin, especially when we note our microscopic understanding of their communication skills.

It is reasonable to question our brilliance when we see the impact and lack of desire to change our ways next to the damage being made on our planet or our continuous need to lash out at each other. We have discovered so many things that we could be doing better to protect ourselves and the world for generations of humans to come and yet we would seemingly rather blow each other up or argue about it than change our ways. Is that the definition of intelligence?

The gift of being "self aware" is perhaps the most galling example of our hubris. We have no idea if other life forms on this planet are aware of who they are and we likely never will. Why is it heresy to assume that the tiniest single cell organism and the largest red wood tree have the same desire to live and prosper? Every living thing grows, changes, reproduces and may well be aware, at least in some cosmic sense, of who they are and what they are doing. Even if we step away from evolution and believe that there is some higher being that granted us the ability to reason, why would we not believe that they granted the same to all living creatures?

I certainly subscribe to the belief that our brains have allowed us to explore the universe like no other life form we have yet encountered. But if we are truly as brilliant as we say we are, we need to be open to the perspective that there is intelligence and awareness that we cannot yet comprehend. I have faith in humanity to continue to probe the world and life around us while also being deeply concerned that we do not accept all life with love and understanding for that which we do not yet understand. The crow that knows your potato chip bag contains delicious morsels is far more brilliant and self aware than we may ever fully comprehend.