Humans as a Concept Research Paper

Pages: 8 (2565 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 12  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Animals


Furthermore, this cultural production results in subsequent cultural diversity, such that whales can be seen to exist in a social environment as robust as any human establishment. For example, "one of the best-known example of marine culture comes from killer whales [because] pods of killer whales have highly varied dialects and ways of life, even while sharing the same habitat -- the aquatic equivalent of a neighborhood populated by two different ethnic groups" (Keim 2009). However, whales are not the only large mammals to exhibit this high level of cultural interaction and by looking at an instance in which animal culture is breaking down one may hopefully understand just how widespread culture really is. Though almost too terrifying and tragic to be believed, "decades of poaching and culling and habitat loss […] have so disrupted the intricate web of familial and societal relations by which young elephants have traditionally been raised in the wild, and by which established elephant herds are governed, that what we are now witnessing is nothing less than a precipitous collapse of elephant culture," such that "young male elephants in Pilanesberg National Park and the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa have been raping and killing rhinoceroses" and "all across Africa, India and parts of Southeast Asia, from within and around whatever patches and corridors of their natural habitat remain, elephants have been striking out, destroying villages and crops, attacking and killing human beings" (Siebert 2006). Not only do elephants have culture, but the continued insistence that humans are uniquely capable of this kind of culture has led humans to inadvertently decimate the cultural and societal structures that organized the lives of elephants for thousands (and maybe millions) of years.

Research Paper on Humans as a Concept. The Assignment

Thus, the two most common traits identified as evidence for the uniqueness of humans, tool use and cultural production, have been shown to exist in other species, subsequently invalidating arguments for the uniqueness of humans based on these traits so that now one may continue on in order to show that even the less obvious traits, such as thinking about the future or non-reproductive heterosexual intercourse, are nonetheless exhibited by species other than humans. In the case of the former, monkeys have actually been shown to exhibit regret, demonstrating their ability to imagine possible alternate outcomes of a decision and respond emotionally to those possibilities, a behavior which necessarily includes the ability to think about the future in a more substantial way than is commonly ascribed to animals (Harmon 2009).

In the case of the latter, there is ample evidence for non-reproductive intercourse in animals. Most obviously, "various forms of same-sex sexual activity have been recorded in more than 450 different species of animals by now, from flamingos to bison to beetles to guppies to warthogs," but even non-reproductive heterosexual intercourse, such as the kind Sapolsky proposes as uniquely human, may be found in a wide variety of animals species (Mooallem 2010). Sapolsky himself notes that this behavior has been observed in bonobos (although he discounts its importance just as quickly), but more recent research has shown that even birds engage in relatively risky, non-reproductive intercourse (Sapolsky 2009, Munger 2011). Thus, even the less commonly cited traits may be seen exhibited in animals other than humans, leaving the theory of the uniqueness of humans entirely without evidence.

The supposed uniqueness of humans is an attractive notion, both because it celebrates the human species as something uniquely wonderful and obviates any ethical obligations to other animals, because it allows other animals to be considered as something fundamentally less than humans. For much of human history, the supposed uniqueness of humans has been the consensus view, and each time evidence has arisen to the contrary, the standards have been changed such that when behaviors previously thought to be unique to humans are observed in other life forms, those animal behaviors are deemed somehow less complex or otherwise not "genuine" in the same sense as human activity. However, over the last decade a torrent of research and observation has provided so much evidence against the supposed uniqueness of humans that any reasonable observer is forced to conclude that humans constitute only one of a number of complex animal societies living on the planet Earth, and furthermore, that certain species lead as robustly social lives as humans, using tools, engaging in culture and symbolic interaction, and even experiencing emotions like regret. In short, the supposed uniqueness of humans has been shown to be a self-aggrandizing fantasy at best and a destructive, ignorant fallacy at worst.

Works Cited

Binns, Corey. "Case Closed: Apes Got Culture." Live Science. 28 Feb 2006. Web. 16 Jun 2011.


Harmon, Katherine. "Monkey see; Monkey regret." Scientific American. 14 May 2009. Web. 16

Jun 2011. .

Joyce, Christopher. "Great Ape Culture Finding Narrows Divide Between Humans, Ape

Ancestors." NPR. 03 Jan 203. Web. 16 Jun 2011.


Keim, Brandon. "Hidden Whale Culture Could Be Critical to Species Survival." Wired Science.

Wired, 24 Jun 2009. Web. 16 Jun 2011.


Khamsi, Roxann. "Whale song reveals sophisticated language skills." New Scientist. 23 Mar

2006. Web. 16 Jun 2011. .

Mooallem, Jon. "Can Animals Be Gay?." The New York Times. 31 Mar 2010. Web. 16 Jun 2011.





ANIMAL "PERSONHOOD.." Seed Magazine. 17 Mar 2010. Web. 16 Jun 2011.





Magazine. 26 Jan 2011. Web. 16 Jun 2011.


Retica, Aaron. "Dolphin Culture." The New York Times. 11 Dec 2005. Web. 16 Jun 2011.


Sapolsky, Robert, Perf. The Uniqueness of Humans. TED: 2009, Web. 16 Jun 2011.


Siebert, Charles. "An Elephant Crackup?." The New York Times. 08 Oct 2006. Web. 16 Jun

2011. .

Shaw, Kate. "Animal connection" helps separate humans from other species." Ars Technica.

29 Jul 2010. Web. 16 Jun 2011.


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APA Style

Humans as a Concept.  (2011, June 17).  Retrieved September 21, 2020, from

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"Humans as a Concept."  17 June 2011.  Web.  21 September 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Humans as a Concept."  June 17, 2011.  Accessed September 21, 2020.