Do you believe humans are special?
What depressing, sad answers.
It seems people insist on limiting themselves to the most naturalistic perspective possible. Which is all fine and dandy; Habib did it in his excellent way, and deserves recognition for it; but there are other ways to look at it, and I shall endeavour to present one.
Do I believe humans are special? Yes! A resounding YES!
Oh truly, in biological terms we aren't much to brag about. Language, culture, many other phenomena previously thought to be exclusive to mankind are found in other species as well. That is not what makes us special.
But my Teacher would say that what is beautiful in man is not that he is so high above other animals. Rather, what is beautiful in man is that the highest man is higher above the lowest man, than the lowest man is above the highest animal. What is beautiful in man is that we have potential for such greatness, or such pettiness.
We range from great philosophers, scientists and moral teachers; to average Joe's, plumbers and homemakers; and down to the lowest of the low, the vile opponents of education and foes to good taste, the boastful braggarts inciting nuclear war. And it is terribly beautiful.
Animals have no such range within one group. Among humans, the same family can produce the highest and lowest examples of humanity. We are diverse as can be. A veritable rainbow of potentials and distinction.
What many things we have created, how high our spirits have soared. Such multitude of religions, and views on religion, from within and without! What art, and what great interpretations of art, often in conflict with one another. And what stories we tell! Such imagination! Truly my friends, we are special!
We like to value ourselves better because we are more intelligent than other animals, but who said intelligence is something adding to our worth /dignity? There is no objective reason to think so. We value intelligence precisely *because * we are the most intelligent species. It's our own mind telling ourselves that it is so important (it even influences our fears - most humans would rather lose their legs than get severe dementia). So any intelligence based argument of human superiority is circular.
They say, King Cobras compare each other's lengths when they meet, and the loser crawls away in shame. To them size is what to us intelligence - we easily accept being weaker or smaller than someone else, but we (by "we" I mean an average human) are not easily accepting being dumber than someone else (let alone dumber than average. Half the population has, by definition, an IQ in double digits, yet rarely someone admits to having one. Another trick of our mind in ourselves).
We identify ourselves with our consciousness and our character. We build our personality around them. We build our definitions of death around the death of the brain. But are we really just our minds? Is the body unimportant (what about the very same mind being uploaded on some future computer chip? Is it still me?)? I don't think so. I think we are just tricked by our own mind into believing it. And the same trick gives us the feeling of superiority over other animals.
All animals have special qualities that enable them to survive. Will Bond outlines several human specialties, but does that make us special? Only to ourselves, I suggest. Birds can fly unaided. I've read that rats make better parents than us on average. Many animals can run faster, have greater endurance, have more acute hearing, sight, smell and taste. Most animals, left in the wild, can take care of themselves unaided by tools. All animals defend themselves and their territory unaided by tools, but only humans have been observed to take pleasure in torture. Other animals [in their natural state] seem to be content when they have enough space, food, shelter... humans are special in that they can never have enough and live in a constant state of dissatisfaction, which has the obvious result of endless wars of acquisition. All animals feel themselves to be special, and have similar instincts as humans, otherwise they'd just lie down and die. If sometime in the future we are replaced by sentient creatures, we'll probably be remembered as the mammals who were too stupid to realise they were destroying the environment in which they evolved, and so extinguished themselves. Now that's really special.
I'm really surprised by the number of NO answers.
Do you expect animals to go to university?
Do you expect them to build a civilization?
Can you imagine them getting dressed by themselves, out of their own will?
Do you consider it even thinkable for them to understand maths? Physics? Outer space? Algorithms?
I know that animals can learn. But human intelligence is orders of magnitude higher than that of any animal out there.
And intelligence is the most powerful weapon. We don't need strong teeth. We don't need fast legs. We can be inferior to animals in every other way, yet, we are stronger due to intelligence.
So, yeah, humans are special. At least compared to the rest of the living creatures on this planet. Not considering aliens.
Yes, I believe humans are special. In the following, written in 1911, the word "man" is used to mean "humankind."
"Intellect is, in truth, the most precious gift bestowed upon man by the Divine Bounty. Man alone, among created beings, has this wonderful power.
"All creation, preceding Man, is bound by the stern law of nature. The great sun, the multitudes of stars, the oceans and seas, the mountains, the rivers, the trees, and all animals, great or small-none is able to evade obedience to nature's law.
"Man alone has freedom, and, by his understanding or intellect, has been able to gain control of and adapt some of those natural laws to his own needs. By the power of his intellect he has discovered means by which he not only traverses great continents in express trains and crosses vast oceans in ships, but, like the fish he travels under water in submarines, and, imitating the birds, he flies through the air in airships.
"Man has succeeded in using electricity in several ways-for light, for motive power, for sending messages from one end of the earth to the other-and by electricity he can even hear a voice many miles away!
"By this gift of understanding or intellect he has also been able to use the rays of the sun to picture people and things, and even to capture the form of distant heavenly bodies.
"We perceive in what numerous ways man has been able to bend the powers of nature to his will.
"How grievous it is to see how man has used his God-given gift to frame instruments of war, for breaking the Commandment of God ‘Thou shalt not kill,' and for defying Christ's injunction to ‘Love one another.'
"God gave this power to man that it might be used for the advancement of civilization, for the good of humanity, to increase love and concord and peace. But man prefers to use this gift to destroy instead of to build, for injustice and oppression, for hatred and discord and devastation, for the destruction of his fellow-creatures, whom Christ has commanded that he should love as himself!
"I hope that you will use your understanding to promote the unity and tranquillity of mankind, to give enlightenment and civilization to the people, to produce love in all around you, and to bring about the universal peace.
"Study the sciences, acquire more and more knowledge. Assuredly one may learn to the end of one's life! Use your knowledge always for the benefit of others; so may war cease on the face of this beautiful earth, and a glorious edifice of peace and concord be raised. Strive that your high ideals may be realized in the Kingdom of God on earth, as they will be in Heaven." Paris Talks | Bahá'í Reference Library, Thursday, October 26th, 1911.
Yes, we have proven it in comparison with other animals. We have navigated environments incapable of sustaining life. We have engineered new organisms first through breeding and now through genetic modification. We have established planet-wide communications, and archives that will outlast our lives. We have asked the purpose of this existence. We have augmented human ability with technology, starting with the spear but leading to things like glasses or more recently robotic prosthetics. We have reached a level of mastery of our environment where we can afford to work a set number of hours in a day and take weekends off. We have shaped our environment into a mapped layout of functional locations, connected by transport networks. We have figured out a lot of what happened before our species even existed, right back to within a second of the beginning of the universe, as well as what will happen long after our species has gone. We have survived more than 50 years since gaining the ability to extinguish all known life with the press of a button. We have created fictional worlds that cannot exist. We have begun the chart the processes governing thought itself.