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Humankind: Closer to Beast Than Angel

Focusing on human uniqueness is like having eyes only for the tip of the iceberg, whereas we need to grasp the whole submerged mountain to know where we come from.

FRANS DE WAAL: ‘Nonfiction sections of our bookstores feature two radically different kinds of books on the human condition. They update the age-old question — do humans soar with the angels or grovel with the beasts — by arguing for or against human exceptionalism. The first kind of book still assumes humans are the crown of creation, but now resorts to highlighting our “glorious” free will, consciousness, morality, culture, and so on… The second kind of book resolutely insists on a biological framework, describing us as one animal among many and stressing our kinship with other species…

As a student of animal behavior, I won’t hide my overwhelming preference for the second approach, especially after the last few decades when cognitive science has blown big drafty holes in the wall supposedly separating us from the rest of nature. Focusing on human uniqueness is like having eyes only for the tip of the iceberg, whereas we need to grasp the whole submerged mountain to know where we come from… So long as these books resist the temptation, so prevalent in our culture, to treat the human mind as its own creation, they will, I hope, over time encourage us to embrace our kinship with both the beast within and the beasts without’. SOURCE…

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