A human’s ability to shape their environment, make tools and develop technology are some of the most distinctive features that separate us from other animals. Yet these traits have been the subject of debate for decades, and some scientists still seem reticent to acknowledge their uniqueness.
But there is a growing body of evidence that indicates humans are unique. Here is a brief look at six key attributes that make us special:
1. Opposable thumbs
Opposable thumbs are one of the most distinctive features of primates. They allow us to use tools and grasp objects easily.
Most primates have opposable thumbs, but some animals do not have them. Examples include raccoons and monkeys that have hands like ours but do not have opposable thumbs.
The thumbs of primates, chimpanzees, and gorillas are longer than the fingers on their hands. This length, plus the fact that our thumbs can move farther across the palm than any other primate, allows us to grip with strength and fine control.
This long thumb lets us hold and manipulate things that other primate thumbs cannot, including a baseball bat or a handwritten name on a paper. It also allows us to use our hands to climb trees.
In the early years of human evolution, we lived in trees where climbing was necessary. Our ancestors used claws to grab branches, which evolved into flat fingernails and larger fingertip pads as their hand assembly evolved.
Over time, as our ancestors forsook tree climbing and began making tools, their hands got longer and more powerful. Our ancestors probably started to make tools from bone and stone, which requires the ability to grip with force and precision.
Our ancestors also developed muscle attachments to our hand. These muscles are called opponens pollicis and opponens digiti minimi.
But before our ancestors evolved the human thumb, we may have had a different version of the same muscle attachment, a study suggests. Researchers compared the first metacarpals of chimpanzees, fossil hominins (Australopithecus africanus) and two early hominins (Australopithecus sediba) with human hands.
Our ancestors’ hands were more robust, with more muscular attachments and less metacarpo-phalangeal joint expansion than their fossil relatives. But the powerful opposability of our thumbs did not appear until about two million years ago, when tool use became more important for humans.
Humans have an incredibly unique ability to communicate through a system that includes words and systematic rules. It is called language, and it is one of the main reasons why we are different from other species.
Language is the ability to combine a small number of meaningless sounds, or phonemes, into words and parts of words that carry meaning, or morphemes. These morphemes are then recombined into infinite possible combinations of messages such as phrases and sentences, according to rules known as syntax.
This level of combination is utterly lacking in the communication abilities of all other animals and is what makes language such a unique ability. It is also what differentiates human languages from other kinds of communication, such as postures, movements, and odors.
The earliest evidence for the existence of language dates from around 100,000 years ago, when early hominins began to develop a theory of mind and shared intentionality. Anthropologists believe that this development led to a change in the brain and a reorganization of its functions.
In recent years, a number of theories have been proposed that might explain how language evolved. Some have argued that language emerged in a single leap, while others suggest that the changes took place over many millions of years.
While the origins of language are debated, many linguists believe that it emerged in an evolutionary process similar to the evolution of other types of animals. Specifically, humans may have developed language through a series of mutations that made changes in the vocal tract and in how the brain interprets auditory signals.
These changes would have enabled a greater range of speech sounds and an increase in the frequency of those sounds, allowing for a larger vocabulary. In addition, they would have made it easier for individuals to invent new terms that could be used to describe a variety of objects and situations.
Other researchers suggest that this process may have occurred in stages, with changes in the vocal tract enabling a gradual increase in the range of sounds and expressions that could be used. This may have been accompanied by the formation of new areas in the brain for the processing of sound and meaning, especially in Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas.
3. Invention of technology
Invention is an important part of our human experience and one we’ve come to take for granted. We can count on a number of innovations over the centuries to help us do things like navigate cities, communicate with other humans and survive. But it’s only been recently that we’ve started to understand exactly what makes some innovations more impressive than others.
It turns out that there’s an illustrious new theory about what really makes our technological achievements so special. According to Stanford University researchers, it all comes down to the smallest unit of energy known as an idea. And, surprisingly, it’s not as difficult to figure out as it might first appear.
So let’s have a closer look at this little secret and how it might have played a key role in enabling the modern world to function as we know it.
A simple simulation, using a number of simulated individuals and their data, has shown that the most significant innovations were not derived from some complex genetic code, but rather a simple mathematical formula. Specifically, it turns out that if you take the time to calculate the number of small steps needed to turn a big idea into a single unit of energy, the result is actually pretty close to zero.
Self-awareness is a human unique trait that gives us a way to look at ourselves and recognize our behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. It also allows us to grow and improve our lives. People who are more self-aware have stronger relationships and feel more confident, empathetic, and satisfied with their lives.
A lot of self-awareness comes from our earliest years, when we learn how to interact with others. We develop a set of defense mechanisms that help protect us from the harsh realities of the world. These coping mechanisms may be helpful at the time, but when they are not challenged, they can lead to unhealthy behaviors and problems in our relationships.
The ability to recognize our weaknesses and strengths is essential for being able to work on them. For example, if you are struggling to understand how to develop an idea for a new project at work, self-awareness can help you identify what your challenges might be and what you need to work on.
It can also help you see what other people think about you, especially those you work with or lead. Being able to look at the situation objectively and realize that your tone of voice, the number of times you repeat yourself, or the lack of engagement with others is making them uncomfortable, can be a big difference in your relationship with them.
Some research suggests that self-awareness is a trait that can be learned and improved through practice. To start, consider setting an intention to become more aware of your internal and external self.
You can do this by observing yourself in as many situations as possible, without judging or resisting what you are seeing. This can be a difficult task, but it is an important one.
Another way to improve your self-awareness is to ask for feedback from the people in your life. It can be intimidating, but asking for honest feedback is an excellent way to know if you are doing things right or if you need to change them.
While the process of self-awareness can be challenging, it is a valuable skill that can help you live a more fulfilling and happy life. It can also help you understand yourself better and work on overcoming your challenges, which can build a strong sense of self-confidence and confidence in the world around you.