Humans are Unique Animals

“Biologically we may be part of the primate family, close cousins of the apes. Ecclesiastes, we recall, said as much: ‘Man has no pre-eminence over the animals.’ But humans remain unique. We are culture-producing animals. There are other social animals, but none that produce – except at the most rudimentary level – cultures, symbols, systems of meaning. It is this that gives us our unique adaptability. Other animals are genetically conditioned to act in certain ways under certain conditions. We have something more powerful than genetically encoded instinct. We are culture-producing, information-sharing, meaning-learning animals. Nature built us for culture. No animal painted the bonobo equivalent of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. No animal said, ‘To be or not to be.’ No animal philosophised that he or she might be nothing more than a hairy human. No animal was even an atheist, as far as I know. We may share many of our genes with the primates, as we do with fruit flies, bananas and yeast. The stones of an ancient cottage have mineral similarities to those out of which Chartres Cathedral was built. But there the resemblance ends.”

The Great Partnership, Chapter 11, p. 200