Humans vs. (Other) Animals

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Humans vs. (Other) Animals

Post by Gyrohawk » Tue Sep 13, 2011 5:46 pm

So this isn't religion, per se, but I felt like this was the most relevant board.

I'm guessing that most people think that humans are significantly different than other animals. If you believe in an Abrahamic religion, that difference is probably something along the lines of a "soul." Correct me if I'm wrong, because this is an unfamiliar topic for me. Even if you aren't religious, you still might think that there is something intangible that humans may <<possess>> that animals don't.

So question 1 for the general audience: Is there some specific thing that separates humans from animals? Or are humans just more <<intelligent>>?

On a related note, what word do you (personally) use to describe humans that doesn't describe animals? That's worded confusingly, so I'll give examples.
In the Animorphs series, creatures are generally "sentient" or "non-sentient." Humans, Andalites, Hork-Bajir, Leerans, etc. are "sentient" while dogs, cats, Kafit birds, etc. are "non-sentient." Apparently whales and dolphins are sentient?
In Isaac Asimov's works, I think (I'm not certain), that the word to describe humans and other equivalents is "conscious."
I think Current (not to single you out or anything) uses the word "sapient" in this context.

So question 2: What's the difference between these words? Which do you think best describes a human (or aliens) that doesn't describe other animals?

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Re: Humans vs. (Other) Animals

Post by Current » Wed Sep 14, 2011 11:45 am

Gyrohawk wrote:I think Current (not to single you out or anything) uses the word "sapient" in this context.

So question 2: What's the difference between these words? Which do you think best describes a human (or aliens) that doesn't describe other animals?
That's me!

Sentient basically means something that can have subjective experiences, whereas sapient means something that can reason on a roughly human or superior level. Sentience is an unclear concept and hard to test for, because ultimately all you can see are reactions to a subjective experience rather than the subjective experience itself. I.e. you can kick a dog and see that it runs away and whimpers, so you argue it's because the dog felt the experience of pain and someone else says it's because the dog has an automatic reaction towards being kicked. Taken to the extreme, you have people who say that ultimately the only person you can know to be sentient is yourself, everyone else could be a philosophical zombie. I don't buy that argument, but it's just an illustration of why the concept is difficult.

Concious is another related concept. Sometimes it's equated to sentient, sometimes to self-aware, which is having a concept of yourself. It's similarly hard to test.

Sapience is comparatively straightforward. We know other people reason, we know some animals have rudimentary skills in that point that aren't the equal of humans, and the rest simply don't. 'Tis the reason I prefer to talk about sapience rather than sentience, conciousness or self-awareness. Plus it feels more relevant for most purposes.

The general consensus, I think, is that many animals have subjective experiences like pain or pleasure, a few are self-aware, and only humans are sapient. Aliens like the Hork-Bajir which are usually dumber than your average human are still considered sapient.

Anyway, that's for question 2. My answer to question 1 is that humans are simply more intelligent or capable of reasoning or however you want to call it.
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Re: Humans vs. (Other) Animals

Post by Tobias_Marco » Tue Sep 20, 2011 11:48 am

<I would say that having a soul makes a life-form sapience, this being the same thing as being self-aware.>
<However in the past I have used the word sentient for this, however it looks like Current's definition says that I may not be using the correct word in this case.>
<I have made it no secret that I am a Christian, a "Follower of Christ" if you will. This means that I believe that The Lord God Almighty wrote The Holy Bible (actually he told many different human beings what to write), and this means that anything in the Holy Bible is true.>
<The Holy Bible says that The Lord God Almighty spoke the universe and everything in it into be.>
<However when the time came to create the first human he got down on his hands and knees and formed us out of the clay in a work of love.>
<Then to put the finishing touch on this first human being The Lord God Almighty "breathed the breath of life into him" this gave the first human being a soul.>
<The Lord God Almighty put more time into creating us then he did anything else that he made. He was also willing to "get his hands dirty" so to speak to create us.>
True education, true science, true religion is the search for truth.
Matthew 28:16-20, John 3:14-20

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Re: Humans vs. (Other) Animals

Post by Blu » Sun Oct 30, 2011 10:49 am

This is a difficult issue and too often I see people leaping to conclusions without evidential backing. Sentience is something that we are not yet sure about, but the further into the brain we delve, the clearer the answer will become.

Was there a point in evolutionary history where sentience came about? To me it seems like a slow transitional. For analogy sake, non-sentience is red, and sentience is blue. Over the colour spectrum there is no defined point where the colour changes from red to blue. We can safely say that is fly is unlikely to be sentient, and that a human is, but what about a frog? What about a lizard or a buzzard? Vertebrate (and some invertebrate like the octopus) show signs of memory, to what extent, we don't really know. Some even show an ability to judge a situation. It is ignorant to claim one way or the other, and in this area, at this current time, I believe the only reasonable answer is that we simply don't know.

It also could be said that there is no such thing as sentience, and that every action I currently make is an inate reaction to what is happening around me. We may think that we are in control of our own brains, but the decisions we make and the thoughts we think may just be unchangeable reactions.

That latter point is not necessarily one I agree with, but it is still a possibility.

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Re: Humans vs. (Other) Animals

Post by Blu » Tue Nov 01, 2011 12:30 pm

I must also add that the word sapient is completely useless, and, Current, I'm quite surprised that you use it. Using this word implies that humans are different in some special way from animals, and as far as I'm aware there has been no evidence provided that supports this. Before even using the word "sapience", you must first show that there is something superior (for want of a better word) to sentience.

Scrap the word sapience. Not only is it useless, but it hasn't actually been defined. Could you define it for me and show how it is separate from sentience?

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Re: Humans vs. (Other) Animals

Post by Current » Tue Nov 01, 2011 3:43 pm

I already provided a definition: Sapience is the ability to reason on a roughly human level. This is of course a non-technical definition, but I think it's quite clear what it refers to. Humans have a level of cognitive skill that isn't found in other animals. To say evidence for that proposition is plentiful would be an understatement of vast proportions.

To give just one example: This morning, I was in a class where a human taught a group of other humans (on a subject of which humans have an understanding far exceeding any other animal), using mathematical abstractions that no non-human animal could even begin to have a concept of, let alone understand, let alone develop. This is not unusual for me; I do it five times a week. It's part of my routine to engage in reasoning no non-human animal could understand, using cognitive tools developed by humans for humans. And it doesn't take an unusually intelligent human to do this.

Show me one non-human animal that can understand the concept of the derivative of a function. Until then, I'll go on with my smug conviction that human reasoning is far superior to anything else in the animal kingdom, and thus a word to set it apart is useful.
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Re: Humans vs. (Other) Animals

Post by Blu » Wed Nov 02, 2011 12:25 pm

This was the initial question for the thread: So question 1 for the general audience: Is there some specific thing that separates humans from animals? Or are humans just more <<intelligent>>?

Your word sapience is completely useless in this context. Is it something apart from sentience? Or sentience to an extreme? Your "deritive of a function" example is, for want of a better word, terrible. Being able to derive is simply a more able intelligence. I could equally say that a leopard is superior to any other animal because it is "superfast". It can run faster than anything else. So what? Do you think my word "superfast" is relevant or even helpful. If so, keep your word "sapience".

Humans, I agree, are superior when it comes to intelligence, but in the same way that I shouldn't set the leopard apart because of its speed, i shouldn't set apart humans for being more intelligent.

"Sapience is the ability to reason on a roughly human level."

Current, I am actually disappointed that you would say such rubbish. Where is the limit? How would you test for "sapience"? The whole point of this debate is to discuss whether there is a major separation between humans and other animals, and your first move is to define them separately, as if the verdict is already decided. Before leaping to such conclusions, a better move would be to discard these definitions find something to define. What causes "intelligence"? How does it work? What does it require? Work TO a conclusion. not FROM a conclusion.

Also, you forget to answer how Sapience is significantly different from Sentience. Again, I'll use the superspeed example: Superspeed is different from Speed because Superspeed is speedier than Speed. Same logic applied. Sapience is different from Sentience because Sapience is more sentient than Sentience.

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Re: Humans vs. (Other) Animals

Post by Current » Wed Nov 02, 2011 6:46 pm

Blu wrote:This was the initial question for the thread: So question 1 for the general audience: Is there some specific thing that separates humans from animals? Or are humans just more <<intelligent>>?

Your word sapience is completely useless in this context. Is it something apart from sentience? Or sentience to an extreme?
Your "deritive of a function" example is, for want of a better word, terrible. Being able to derive is simply a more able intelligence. I could equally say that a leopard is superior to any other animal because it is "superfast". It can run faster than anything else. So what? Do you think my word "superfast" is relevant or even helpful. If so, keep your word "sapience".
A leopard is superior to any other animal, in the subject of speed. And a human is superior to any other animal, in the subject of intelligence. I didn't mean to imply any "universal" superiority, only superiority in terms of intelligence. That's why my answer to the first question was:
...humans are simply more intelligent or capable of reasoning or however you want to call it.
Sapience talks about intelligence, and intelligence is a distinctive characteristic of humans, so it clearly satisfies the requirements of the second question: "what word do you (personally) use to describe humans that doesn't describe animals?"
Humans, I agree, are superior when it comes to intelligence, but in the same way that I shouldn't set the leopard apart because of its speed, i shouldn't set apart humans for being more intelligent.
What do you mean by "set apart"? It is a simple fact that one difference between humans and other animals is intelligence, much in the same way that one difference between tardigrades and other animals is resilience, and one difference between whales and other animals is size. I set apart humans for their intelligence in the same way I set apart other animals for their own unique characteristics, when they are relevant.
"Sapience is the ability to reason on a roughly human level."

Current, I am actually disappointed that you would say such rubbish. Where is the limit? How would you test for "sapience"?
Take an animal, set it a problem it can physically solve if it can think of the right solution. Food inside a locked box with the key inside a second box, that sort of thing. The better the animal's reasoning, the more complex the problems it can solve. Admittedly that only works for animals that can in principle understand there is some goal to be achieved, but if it can't even do that, that's more than grounds enough to disqualify it from sapience.

The whole point of this debate is to discuss whether there is a major separation between humans and other animals, and your first move is to define them separately, as if the verdict is already decided.
Well, you see, I wasn't making an argument there. I was defining terms, so I could make an argument later on. I didn't consider it was a point in contention that human reasoning is superior to that of other animals, frankly it seems obvious to me, so I wasn't trying any sneaky tricks with the definition. I did not define humans and other animals separately, I only remarked upon one aspect in which humans are clearly different. My justification for focusing on that particular aspect is that it's much easier to observe than sentience or consciousness and it seems more relevant for most purposes. I can elaborate on that if you want me to.
Before leaping to such conclusions, a better move would be to discard these definitions find something to define. What causes "intelligence"? How does it work? What does it require? Work TO a conclusion. not FROM a conclusion.
None of those questions seem to be the point of the debate. I don't claim to understand how intelligence works, I have almost no clue from the hardware side and very little from the software side. But I can recognise it, much in the same way you don't need to understand combustion to know when something is on fire. And I observe humans to be the best at it, so I consider that their distinguishing characteristic.
Also, you forget to answer how Sapience is significantly different from Sentience. Again, I'll use the superspeed example: Superspeed is different from Speed because Superspeed is speedier than Speed. Same logic applied. Sapience is different from Sentience because Sapience is more sentient than Sentience.
Sapience is not "more sentient than sentience". Sapience talks about intelligence whereas sentience talks about subjective experiences, they are separate concepts. I'd even guess you can create something sapient without sentience. In nature, they seem to be correlated, probably because they are subject to similar selection pressures, but I never implied them to be on the same scale.
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Re: Humans vs. (Other) Animals

Post by Blu » Thu Nov 03, 2011 6:05 am

I understand where you are coming from, but I still see it as a pointless exercise. I assume that you agree that animals have a degree of intelligence. As do humans, of course. Why complicate things by creating two definitions for the same phenomenon at extremes? 2,3 and 4 are numbers, but I want to call 4,000,000,000,000 a SUPERnumber because it's a lot bigger. What is the point?

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Re: Humans vs. (Other) Animals

Post by Visser 5 » Thu Nov 03, 2011 1:17 pm

WHat about religion?
As far as I know humans are the only 'animals' that have religion.
Without going into if one religion is true or if another one is, we are the only ones that have it.
As far as we can tell ants don't have religion, nor do rinos, loins, tigers, or bears.
This sets us apart from them.
Maybe there is no 'true religion', but humans have religion and we tell stories.
Does this set us apart?
Also, and this might be conected to the religion thing, as far as I know, only humans have 'morals'.
In the animal world everyone does whatever it takes to get food and shelter for themselves.
Sometimes they also include their family into it, making sure to have food for them as well.
Humans do more then that.
Humans will look at another human who has been 'mistreated' and say "Hey wait a second! This person needs justice!"
Doesn't that mean that we are better then the animals?
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