Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Will humans have the last laugh?

We humans, when looking around at all the creatures who we share the Earth with, have since time immemorial have considered ourselves to be special. The chosen ones. The cool kids. And we've had plenty of good reasons to think so. We use tools, we make fire, we socialize, we have good memory, we have concepts & reason, and, of course, we have breakdancing. Aristotle went so far as to define Man as "the rational animal". It's no wonder, given all of our special abilities, that we have concluded that we are divine, in some sense. We look at the world around us, and we "get it" in a way that a dog or a giraffe does not. We must have something extra that accounts for this awareness—a soul. A divine Creator who considers us to be his finest creation.

The more we have studied science, the more it has challenged our special status on Earth and within the cosmos. Copernicus had to convince everyone that the universe does not revolve around us, literally. We are just one of a handful of big rocks revolving around the Sun. The Sun, it was found out, is nothing but your average middle-aged star. In the last quarter decade, we have found hundreds of planets scattered throughout the galaxy. The more we looking out into space, the more it seems were no more special than a grain of sand on a vast beach. But at least we humans are the king of our little grain of sand, right?

Well…even on Earth we're finding out that humans aren't so special. We've always tried to set ourselves apart from the species we share the planet with, but nearly every unique characteristic of humanity apparently has its example in the animal kingdom as well.

Using the wonders of the world wide internet, something the animals haven't caught onto yet, I have accrued a some amazing videos featuring animals doing things previously thought unique to humans. Enjoy, and thank god for opposable thumbs!!

Tool Use:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtmLVP0HvDg This crow decides to bend a wire into a hook to get some food

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RpOGYYKdaQ This crow figures out it can use a stick to get some food across the cage

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfRqYjv9QgA Finally, an octopus that can open my beers for me!

Problem Solving:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySMh1mBi3cI This chimp is smarter than me, I'll tell you that.

Problem Solving by Cooperation & imitation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOrgOW9LnT4 These chimps solicit help to complete tasks they can't do themselves. They also step in to help others, too! Nice chimps.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhG-_KsDYTA These chimps keep up with the Jones'—they learn to use a complicated device by watching their neighbors.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GOb3nFpewM These dolphins help out the local fishermen


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-pc_M2qI74 Chimps can recognize themselves in a mirror…humans can't do this in general until they're 2 or 3.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jz3sQsTE5tA These dolphins understand 60 words and thousands of sentences, including word order.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SN5igku_kGk Wild honeyguide birds, who speak specifically to humans! This is my personal fav...

Play & Laughter:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myuceywaOUs Rats laugh when they get tickled! I guess we just never knew because we were never really tempted to tickle a rat…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMCf7SNUb-Q Dolphins blowing bubble rings & playing with them…very cool!

Culture & Medicine

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ghocsuXVVU These chimps have tribe-specific cultural knowledge, including smooching, shaking hands, and herbal medicine!

Symbolic language: These apes not only draw to communicate, they also start fires, play Pac-man…lookout!!


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