Just another UMW Blogs weblog

The process of evolution pushed humans to the top of the chain of advancement.  However, are we really all that different from our primate relatives?  Those areas which are said to clearly establish us as more advanced than other animals—art, music, tool use—do not necessarily provide solid proof of our qualitative superiority.  Also, partaking in harmful behavior is not limited to humans.  The matter is too complex to limit an answer to a simple yes or no.  Shades of gray exist as both humans and animals have the capabilities to create art and music, use tools, or engage in bad habits.  In order to fairly and sufficiently evaluate the similarities between humans and animals with respect to artistic expression, tool use, and undesirable habits, degrees must be used to differentiate.

Art is an aspect of humanity that “ranks as even nobler than language” (Diamond 1992).  Although it does not serve any purpose for survival, humans produce art for aesthetic enjoyment.  This behavior can also be seen in other animals as well.  Chimpanzees in captivity have been known to paint merely for what seems to be their own enjoyment or, as with humans, a mean by which to relieve boredom.  In nature, art is not limited to paper and paint.  Bower birds, for example, masterfully create their own works of art when creating their hut-like structures.  Although their carefully constructed bowers serve a purpose in the process of reproduction, it takes a sharp eye to select colors and arrange ornaments in a fashion that will attract a mate.  Humans may be able to take art to a more sophisticated level, but that does not mean that the creations on the animal level have less merit.

Another major area that is used to differentiate humans from other animals is the use of tools.  Tool use is “the employment of an unattached environmental object to alter more efficiently the form, position, or condition of another object, another organism, or the user itself when the user holds or carries the tool during or just prior to use” (Breuer 2005).  By this definition, it would be unreasonable to suggest that the devices animals create and use to assist in their endeavors do not qualify as tools.  In the wild, chimpanzees and orangutans have frequently been observed stripping twigs to use to gather insects.  Recently, tool use was even observed in wild gorillas.  In one case, a female used a stick to test water depth.  Another instance demonstrated a tree trunk used to act as a bridge in a particularly swampy area of the gorilla’s habitat.  Such insights made by these creatures cannot be overlooked and deemed coincidences.  The tools humans use on a daily basis will undoubtedly be of higher caliber, but it would be ignorant of man to claim that only humans adapt objects to better suit their needs.

Drinking and smoking, prevalent habits in society, interfere with biological processes, and yet the exact reason for partaking in such activities is unknown.  Bad habits are not only limited to humans.  Animals have been known to consume fermenting fruits and become drunk from the alcohol, affecting them in the same manner alcohol consumption influences humans.  Zahavi’s theory which applies to “costly or dangerous human behaviors aimed at achieving status in general” (Diamond 1992) may explain, on some level, the tendency of humans, and even animals, to take part in dangerous, unhealthy habits in order to assert themselves socially.  Costly behavior among animals is exhibited in handicaps such as large plumes of feathers or a gazelle’s “stotting”.  Humans and animals alike exhibit behaviors which are detrimental to their health, and yet both groups continue to act in such manners.

Although humans may partake in art, tool use, and poor behavior in different, more complex ways, it should not take away from the evidence supporting animals behaving in the same fashion.  Humans may, in many ways, be qualitatively different, but evidence is too compelling to claim that human and animal differences are not a matter of degree.

Comments

2 Responses to “The Question of Quality”

  1. svt dreamer on August 26th, 2010 1:59 am

    You gave great points here. I did some research on the subject and have found nearly all people agree with your website.

    Sent from my iPhone 4G

  2. mgodfrey on December 4th, 2010 5:59 pm

    Thank you!