Are we homo superior?

In response to Brian Cox’s Human Universe presents a fatally flawed view of evolution:


Are human beings superior to all other animals? Can homo sapiens be said to be at the “top” of the evolutionary tree, rather than just another iteration? To answer this question, one must identify some universal criteria, rather than a species-dependent one. (For example, an obviously species-subjective perspective might be that human women are the best-looking.)

The current mainstream view seems to be that this is impossible. It is therefore wrong to say that humans are “more advanced” because we have space stations, because space stations are only important to humans. Dolphins might blow beautiful bubbles and they are just important to dolphins, while giraffes value having the longest neck as the most valuable aspect of an animal. To me, this view (that many philosophers and biologists actually believe) is absurd.

I think there are some obvious essential instrumental skills which make humans special. These essential instrumental skills are universal in that they enable the achievement of many other goals. Reasoning, technology, and social organization are important not because they are important to homo sapiens, but because they are essential to a wide range of value achievement as such. If lions learned how to domesticate and breed gazelle, they would still be achieving a lion’s values, but they would do so using a superior, more energy efficient process. This applies especially to human ability to contextually transform the environment at large scale to support higher population – an instrumental skill held by no other species.

In fact, humans exceed the intellectual abilities of all other species by orders of magnitude – a fact that some biologists mislead about when presenting science to the public because they think this view serves either their personal interests or the species they praise.

To the extent that our biology has enabled these instrumental skills, we can indeed say that the human line “ascended” the evolutionary ladder.

One thought on “Are we homo superior?”

  1. This is interesting, David. And I think I agree with you, at least mostly.

    Yes, as Cox’s critic, Henry Gee, seems to say, all species are unique in their own ways. But the kind of uniqueness we humans have seems to be really unprecedented, sui generis.

    Obviously, humans are the most successful large animals on the planet, and obviously we’re much smarter than any other creature (even a chimpanzee can only achieve the language ability of a human pre-schooler).

    But evolution itself is a value-free process. It’s not clear to me that we can talk scientifically about one species being “more advanced” or “higher” than another.

    I’m still scratching my chin about this one …

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