What Makes us Human?
HSP3M: Introduction to Anthropology, Psychology and Sociology Mrs. Maxwell
June 8, 2012
What makes us Human? This is the ultimate question in which social scientists are still trying to solve today. This question is one which stumps Anthropologists, Psychologists and Sociologists alike, as the question itself is said to have originated from Aristotle himself while others argue that it was always there. As even more facts about this topic rise even more as social scientists find more and more evidence of our relationship to our primate counterparts. Over the centuries this has been one of great interest and a question that has been widely debated and will continue to be widely debated for years to come. As social scientist look more into this topic at hand they find that human DNA only varies 1-2% from chimpanzees our closet relative. It can be said that social scientists such as Charles Darwin and how he was able to build upon the theory of evolution, Sigmund Freud and his personality or even Karl Marx and the Conflict Theory was what helped shape our views on what makes humans unique. Within Anthropology, the study of humans past and present, there are two main points that define humans as unique and sets humans apart from chimps: physical characteristics and our creative ability. Bipedalism and opposable thumbs are arguably the most important differences between us and chimpanzees. Bipedalism is the ability to walk upright over long distances, allowing humans to carry objects and perform tasks while standing. This defines us as humans because only humans can stay upright on their feet while also performing other tasks such as reading a book, holding a cup or even picking items up, and humans can do this for infinite periods of time without the need to go down into a four legged stance to assist our leg muscles. Even the act of walking on two legs is a defining trait for humans because it gives us a slight advantage over those who use four legs. By walking on two legs we are exposed to less sunlight and therefore we could forage and scavenge in the searing heat of the savannah longer. Bipedalism has been discovered to be inherent in even the oldest of human ancestors when Raymond Dart, an Anthropology teacher in South Africa, who found the skull of a juvenile in 1924 in South Africa. This juvenile was actually a fossil of a long dead ancestor of humans which “Dart named this newly discovered species ‘Australopthicus africanus’, or ‘Southern Ape of Africa.’” (Maxwell, 2) it is also nicknamed the “Taung Baby”. An opposable thumb is “a thumb that can be placed opposite the fingers of the same hand. With the ability of bipedalism freeing our hands it allowed us to develop opposable thumbs which allowed our hands to bend in many different ways enabling us to grasp objects such as a baseball or a saw and use them to our advantage. Opposable thumbs allow the digits to grasp and handle objects and are characteristic of primates (Maxwell, 2)”. This is one of humanity’s more important traits as we have developed opposable thumbs to assist us in grabbing and holding on to items better which eventually led to humans being able to use these digits of our hands to create tools that help ease our lives. An example of this tool would be the primitive spear which humans developed to help us hunt more efficiently for food, this tool allowed humans to hunt from afar and kill even the mightiest of beasts for food or clothing where as other animals have to rely on close-quarters to kill an animal for a meal. This trait makes humans unique because humans are the only animals able to properly use it to our advantage whether it is making tools or weapons. Another characteristic that makes us unique, within Anthropology is human creativity which allowed for the making of tools/inventions to assist us in our everyday lives. Humans have taken advantage of our bipedalism and our opposable thumbs as well as our...
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