What Makes Us Human?
A large percentage of the human genetic code is shared among nearly every complex organism on earth. Our rock, water, and land are common grounds; our sun, moon, and stars are common shelter. In terms of evolution, everything considered alive came from the same single flagellated prokaryote. What, then, could possibly make humans unique enough to cause debate as to whether or not we are animals? The idea that one single species could have a philosophical branch of nature all to itself may at first sound dubious, but becomes entirely reasonable with further study on the topic. Though still connected at its roots, human nature is strong enough to branch off from the rest of nature, because of its unique ability to both teach and learn. It is through our ability to educate and be educated, the variance in intelligence, and the recognition of rhetoric as power, among several other factors, that the human race has dominated its planet. In order to understand education as the root of human nature, it is imperative to first understand intelligence. However, according to Rolf Pfeifer and Christian Scheire in their book, Understanding Intelligence, “It is hard to define intelligence, and not much agreement has been achieved. They go on to explain a study conducted in which, “The Journal of Educational Psychology (Vol. 12, pp. 123-147, 195-216) asked fourteen leading experts in the field at the time to provide their definitions of intelligence. As one might expect, the journal got 14 different answers back” (Pfiefer & Scheire 6). Though definitions vary greatly, for the purpose of this paper, intelligence will be defined as a combination of natural and acquired abilities to memorize, conceptualize, and recognize. The human race has made attempts to model its own thought processes through computational models. However, David Lohman, professor in the department of Psychological and Quantitative Foundations in the College of Education at The University of Iowa, and author of “Human Intelligence: An Intro to Advance in Theory and Research,” states that, “Computational models of thought are in principle no different from computational models of the weather” (Lohman 337). Extensive research is conducted on a daily basis in the fields of psychology, biology, and neurology, but the brain is an organ yet to be understood. The often random firings of neurons make the brain unpredictable and difficult to establish absolute claims. Of course, among the uncertainty are several generally accepted facts, one being that environmental stimuli can actually alter the makeup of the brain. In her article, “Neuroscience and Education,” Cambridge University Professor Usha Goswami in the department of psychology, tells of the varying effects of musical training on the brain among different instruments. In her example, she tells of how “fMRI studies have shown that skilled pianists (adults) have enlarged cortical representations in auditory, specific to piano tones… Similarly, MEG studies show that skilled violinists have enlarged neural representations for their left fingers, those most important for playing violin” (Goswami 9). In some ways, such as in the case of musicality, we become what we educate ourselves with. It cannot be denied that brain development is affected by our surroundings and what we choose to study. It must be noted that in other animals, teaching and learning is rarely, though occasionally, present. While some may point out that there are in fact cases in nature in which a mother teaches her young, the function of this teaching process is entirely different than that of humans. David Premack is Professor of Psychology at University of Pennsylvania. In his article, “Why Humans Are Unique (Three Theories)”, Premack writes, “Teaching in [animal] species is an adaptation: it serves only one goal” (Premack 29). This goal is survival. Humans are able to teach and learn an indefinite number...
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