i've heard lots of arguments to this effect. "but of course humans are much more advanced than other species. it's obvious." is it? well, of course, if you believe in god, then humans are above animals, and then there really is no argument. but even then, why did god chose to make us the "chosen species"? why choose humans, and not, say, gibbons? we must be the most advanced species, right? p.s. what DOES "advanced" mean, anyway? i use the word "advanced" in the broadest sense. i cannot accurately define it, as it used in a more abstract sense here.

well, let me give some examples of "proofs" i have been given that humans are more advanced, and explain why they are all crap. if you have some more, tell me and i will be happy to explain why they, too, are probably crap (unless they are so specific they cannot be refuted, like "humans are the only animals that have invented computers". yeah, well, cows have four stomachs.)

  • humans have the largest brain of all animals.

    bollocks. the sperm whale has a brain weighing 20 pounds. a human brain weighs about 3.

  • humans employ intelligent use of tools.

    p.s. this was a leading argument for a long time in many fields. of course it is bullshit. chimpanzees lick the end of a stick and put it in an anthill to catch ants. oh, hell, we don't have to go to such "advanced" (and i use the term cynically here) species. just look at the spider's web.

  • humans are social animals.

    human society is absolutely embarrassing compared to many insect societies. look at ants. or bees. who is more social? humans or bees?

  • humans show emotions.

    octopuses show emotions.

  • humans are the only creatures who communicate using language

    well, maybe humans are the only creatures who communicate using german, but by today it is well known that dolphins have quite a complicated language. actually, ants use thousands of chemicals to convey information. that is just as much a language as human vocal (or written or whatever) language.

  • humans are the most intelligent of all creatures

    here we're getting into a rather dodgy area. one i usually don't like to go into. what is intelligence? how do you measure it? in any case, there is no evidence to show that humans have cognitive skills that are unique to us. dolphins, for example, are known to be extremely intelligent, and there's no way to compare human and dolphin intelligence. there is no acceptable universal test for human intelligence yet (people who grew up in an isolated african tribe will hardly be able to perform simple arithmetic, but does that mean they are less intelligent?), so how can we tell the difference between two species?

    and the last (and my favourite) "proof":

  • humans can cut an onion, but an onion can hardly cut us

    what the people who use this argument are trying to say is that we are killing off many species, which makes us superior. a man can kill a lion more easily than a lion can kill a man (using a stinger missile, for example). Well, i guess that simply means that the Human Immunodeficiency Virus is more advanced than humans. we have no idea how to kill it, and yet it kills us quite easily. (there are tons of other viruses and bacteria who are more advanced than us using this reasoning, HIV is just one example).


Carthag - aware and able to prove it? prove to me you are aware. you are no more able to do it than i can prove my moisturising cream is aware.
also, one of the most striking developments in primate research has been to show that primates are self aware. (you can watch some national geographic channel and see what i'm talking about)
humans have a way of living off earth? come on, some viruses can live in 150 degrees centigrade. that argument is going nowhere.
i agree that having a "largest brain relative to body size" is interesting. however, it might just mean that we have small bodies. seriously, though, more interesting is that we have a very developed cortex. but still, that is only one criterium.

mcewanca - the "fittest to survive"? i don't think so. there are more bacteria in a cow's gut than humans on earth. we've been around only several millions of years. ameobas have been around about, oh, a thousand times that long. who is fitter?
and btw, not many animals kill each other. humans do it quite efficiently. and btw2, humans have a generation span of about 20 years. that hardly seems to me able to adjust to the environment very fast. we evolve exponentially slower than bacteria. think again.

shine-shine - the fact that we have these abilities shows nothing about advancement. i've just shown few (very few) criteria. i can list about 100 criteria that make eagles more advanced than humans. why eagles? why not? they fly, they see quatrochromatically (they have 4 color receptors, we have 3). their fovea is much deeper, allowing for much greater resolution. they can acheive much faster speeds. they can see 360 degrees. we see only about 210 degrees. etc. etc.

brazil - abstract thought is too abstract a term. there is no proof dolphins are not capable of abstract thought. and how do we know if some animals are capable of different types of thought we cannot even fathom? and please, bacteria are MUCH more capable of killing us than we are of killing them.

Templeton - nests, spider webs.

Tmaq - come on. advanced is a measure of who can leave the planet? next.

Mr. Frog - digging in the dirt. seriously - eagles kick our asses in so many criteria it's not even funny

Termite - oh. we CREATE tools? i didn't know humans could create matter. like the chimps, we take what there is and remove and add to it. also, nests are a great comparison to something like the taj-mahal except that nests are slightly better designed to hatch eggs in.

I'm not sure we are the most advanced, but I have a few points to make: I think most people like to think that humans are more advanced for the same reasons stated by Footprints (God chose us).
I am not religious, btw.

Reply to Footprints: Now we are into the philosophical arena. But I started that with the self-awareness, so I shall attempt to do a proof. So far, only humans pass the Turing test, which states that one must be able to convince a board of psychologists and other experts that you are intelligent. This is a not complete test however, so that makes the point somewhat moot. I can't say I am able to proove it to anyone but myself. I still think we are self-aware, though.
On the note of bacteria being able to live in 150 degrees, I'd say that there isn't a single species/race of bacteria that is currently as widespread as humans, that is, without actually living in the humans. Because, we are actually the environment they live in, they aren't very widespread in that sense.

The key to this question is almost entirely in the interpretation of the question: what does advanced mean? What does 'advanced species' mean?

If we decide that to us, 'advanced' is defined in terms of intelligence or self-awareness, we're in a 3-way tie with the dolphins and chimps.

My interpretation of 'advanced species' is the probably the evolutionary one; the species fittest to survive. Which humans do very well, and often by killing off our closest competition.

By this definition, humans are the most "advanced species", but it's nothing to be proud of.

"Advanced species" could also be interpreted as "closest (proportionally) to the end of their existence as a species". In which case it's unlikely to be us to take that honour. Unfortunately.

Additionally, the pedantic answer to the question, is "No, since Homo Sapiens is not a species at all, but a subspecies." which is a useful diversionary tactic when you get bored listening to unfounded religious reasoning when debating the point with someone else.


Note, 2001 06 06
The purpose of this writeup was to point out the subtleties in interpretation of the original question, and present my (2¢ each) shots at potential answers to specific interpretations.

Perhaps the fact that there's been so much to-and-froing in this node may be a reflection of this subtlety: half a dozen noders and as many different shades of interpretation?

I do not disagree with Footprints' original point (that most of the arguments put forward on the topic are at best subjective and more often than not in support of some personal agenda or prejudice). Posting a neutral writeup in repsonse to someone else's could easily be misinterpreted as implicitly taking a contrary stance.

That said, Footprints' subsequent comments seem touchy and reactionary, and ill thought-out. 'we evolve exponentially slower than bacteria' is one fine example that should probably be sumbitted for the Everything Quote Server ;-)

Now, feel free to downvote this for undue pomposity, but for Pete's sake someone vote Templeton's insightful and tactful wu back up again.

Instead of comparing with other species each of the qualities humans posses, let's look for another species which has in its possession all human qualities. There is none.

Sure, you can claim some other species has a more advanced linguistic skill (and by all accounts you'd be wrong), and some may have a brain which outweighs ours, but while bees are far more social than humans, they don't utilize tools, now do they?

You have to look at that list as a single bundle. Yes, separately many are proven to be more advanced in another species, but humans are the only ones to have 'em all.

Maybe that makes humans superior to other species, and maybe not. After all, remember that these criteria were also set by humans. Who is to say cats don't believe walking on all four is as advance as you can get.

It all boils down to what exactly you mean with the word advanced. Humans are quitely obviously the most advanced in the use of technology: our tools are infinitely more sophisticated than sticks used to get ants out of their hill. Through technology, we're also by far the most adaptive to inhospitable environments. Actually, it's the other way round: humans usually adapt the environment to fit them. They do that on a scale totally unmatched by any other species.

Intelligence may be hard to define, but I'm pretty sure any meaningful definition would include self-awareness, abstract thought, and the ability to communicate either, So far, the only animals that have shown these traits are other primates, and only on a very low level.

If you think that any other species is "more advanced", define exactly in what way they are more advanced, and why.

By the way, Humans are quite capable of killing any known virus or bacterium - we just can't kill a million of them that are hiding inside a host without also harming the host, at least not in the case of HIV.


Footprints: Well, maybe a rock also has thoughts we "can't fathom". If you postulate the existance of something, it's your responsibility to prove it, not everyone else's to disprove it. As for bateria, that's a pretty vague claim, depending on circumstances and definitions.

You still haven't touched the core of the problem: how do you want to define "advanced"? If you don't fix it clearly, this discussion is moot, as you can (like you have done so far) keep changing the definition to support your current case.

The idea of taking all of the arguments for humans to be the end all supreme species instead of using each on individually to disprove it would be my first approach. I mean, with the initial noder's logic, anything seems like it can be disproven by throwing what seems to be a handful of random rocks at the sun. By listing statements and then quickly disproving them, it seems like we are expected to just agree wholeheartedly, only to find that we had no legs to stand on in our argument and have made no headway. The existance of God can be disproven thus, for the individual, as many other things. But again, what is the point? That's all I ask here, what is being acomplished?

However, I do see Footprints' point that all of the arguments laid bare by other donations to this node are not succeeding. I doubt my own will suffice, but I will have to try, as humans amaze and confound me every day too. The following idea came to me after a reading of the book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander (I will be making direct quotes if I ever get my friggin' copy back):

The human world, everything we see and wear, everywhere we live (except for a small percentage), most of what we eat and how we move about all came to be in the physical world from an idea in a human brain.

You might be able prove that other animals do this, that they envision something that does not yet exist and somehow make it into being. I am interested to see what "proof" you can get, since even though animals communicate and use their own language as we do ours, we seldom have ability to understand their dissertations on the matter. By saying this I am not addressing those things animals create out of necessity. I'm talking the grand scale to which humans create and the scope of our creativity, creation as means of understanding and expressing our understanding about the world.

Humans are, as far as I know, the only species who can imagine something that does not yet exist and create it into being, literally taking things that exist and organizing them into a completely different thing, eventually making things (machines) that make things which are in themselves new and have never existed before on this planet (alien visitation theories aside). It's the God complex we have, and there's reason for that.

Sure, we have emotions, we have sentient thought, we're social, and yes, all animals can do these things. Perhaps animals possess remorse, guilt, regret too, perhaps they mourn, express joy and anger as well, perhaps they build nests, eat the flesh of other animals as well as their own kind, fucking only the strongest species and never for love, and perhaps for all these reasons we are indeed much like them.

Even if an animal could imagine things that don't yet exist, has an animal been able to not only create it, but perfect it through generations of his kind? What proof have you of that?


To respond to Footprints response, I thought I was making it pretty clear that what humans invent vs. what animals invent are significantly different. I'm not saying that animals do not create, I'm saying that they do not create (nor desire to) to the extent that humans do. A nest or a spider web serve specific functions brought about by self preservation. We invent things often because we're bored and not because we need them to survive. On the contrary, humans have not "needed" condos and duplexes for quite some time, and I've yet to see a spider web that, as a construct, had undergone change or evolution to the extent that man's inventiveness has in a much shorter evolutionary span of time. I don't understand why my node seems like it's the only one being downvoted. I thought I was making sense and expressing it pretty well and since I don't want to assume someone's just out to get me, I'll assume I'm just speaking some strange strain of moronspeak.
Each of the examples, above, of what makes humans (more) advanced than other life forms, on the basis of uniqueness uses either a human viewpoint, or a human-scale standard of measurement.

As illustration, consider that termites can imagine (in whatever way they do) their tunnels and hives, and build them perfectly, each time. Do you know any humans who can do the same?

The same point applies to the creation of various bird-nests, particular protien structures, or even chlorophyll. Each of these items matters only to the species involved, or their dependents, so using them as a measure of 'advanced' or 'unique' is suspect, as 'advanced' implies a relation - a measure relative to other species.

So there are some activities which humans can do, which, so far, no other organism is capable of, just like every other (or many other) species.

However, one of those functions is both important in global terms, and far larger, in time and space, than the merely human scale.

Humans can leave the planet, and spread life elsewhere in the Universe

In terms of evolution, and the progression of life in this corner of Existence, there is nothing more important, as it may be our unique job to convert the entire Universe into self-replicating matter.

If we don't do it, it may not happen at all, save for our single, teeny, finite world.

shine-shine was onto something there. Footprints suggests that humans are not the most intelligent, not the only tool makers, don't have the biggest brain, are not the most social, etc. This is entirely true. However, humans have the best balance among these attributes over all of the different species in existance.

Imagine a house. Qualities that make a good house are qualities such as the sturdiness of the house, the architecture, the ground the house is on, and the surrounding neighborhood. I'm sure there could be more, but for these purposes those listed are enough.

A house that holds one of these qualities is hardly a good house. A sturdy, but ugly, house in a terrible section of town with dead plants comprising the 'garden' is not my idea of a picture perfect house. Neither is a house that only lacks one aspect. Take a house that is sturdy, beautiful neighborhood, beautiful architecture, but a garbage dump for a yard. Hardly a nice place.

This analysis can be applied to the topic at hand. A species that has only one aspect that Footprints has noted is hardly an 'advanced' species. Many of the aspects can be found in humans. We are intelligent, make tools, communicate, and the like. Granted, we are not the most intelligent, nor the only ones that communicate, but we can do both, and much more.

Another thing, there is much discussion about bacteria being more advanced than humans because it can live in many different environments. Carthag mentions that a single species of bacteria cannot live in varying environments. Humans, on the other hand, can. This is simple to see, the equator versus Antarctica. There are people on both. Granted, the people on Antarctica are living in houses with heaters and are delivered supplies and such, but I believe that a test of an 'advanced' species. Being able to manipulate one's surroundings to better suit them. If thrown into an 'inhospitable' area, an 'advanced' species should be able to survive.

One last comment. About Footprints' "humans can cut an onion, but an onion can hardly cut us" statement. We can kill other animals quite easily, yes. I think the important aspect is not that we can kill, but that we can control. The domestication of animals is humans controlling and training animals, not to better the animals, but to better the humans. How many animals have trained humans (besides cats training their owners)?

Footprints' arguement for technology does not hold up. Sure, a chimpanzee uses sticks to catch ants. It's also theorized that many early hominids used this method. The difference between the Homo Habilis and the Australopithecus is that the Homo Habilis began creating his or her own tools. They were crude though, usually unifacial stones. Then the Homo Erectus came along, and they broadened the gap technologically. Instead of taking large flakes of stone off at once, they would take off smaller flakes. This is also part of another characterization of hominids where one organizes patterns into ideas. This is much more advanced than breaking off a stick from a tree and using it to catch ants. It's not the use of tools that matters, as many other species in the world use tools, but the actual creation of tools that seperates us from the less advanced species. Spider webs are irrelevant, as they are not technology, but merely a natural process the spider undergoes. I also hardly see nests being a good comparison to something like the Taj Mahal.

Humans are not advanced, we are physically weak (a chimpanzee, our closest relative could rip us in half), half blind (see the eagle), deaf (see big cats), dumb (elephants can communicate over longer distances than us) our sense of smell is non-existent (see dogs), and our reflexes are painfully slow. Yet we dominate the earth, that fact is indisputable – no other species has changed the planet as dramatically as we have.

Humans are capable of changing and influencing the environment around them on a massive scale. I am “proud” to say we are also capable of destroying the entire planet with relative ease. No other organism at all, no bacteria, virus, plant, fungus, protoctista, or ferret comes close.

No organism can live in a radically different environment without slowly evolving to fit a new niche but we don’t need to wait to evolve wings to fly. A chimpanzee cannot live in water, but a human can – by using technology we can live in space, underwater, in extreme cold etc…

Though some bacteria may be capable of living at huge pressures and temperatures at geothermal vents, take them to sea level and they explode. Only one species has been to both places in such a short amount of time.

It is our capacity to adapt to different environments, adapt different environments to suit us, and use “tools” that allow us to circumvent evolution and that quality makes us the most advanced species on earth.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.