Human Humans and Human Animals

In no case is an animal activity to be interpreted in terms of higher psychological processes if it can be fairly interpreted in terms of processes which stand lower in the scale of psychological evolution and development.” Morgan’s Canon

Photo by Andrew Turner

The truth is, we are animals with the potential to develop humanness. The behavioral trait that defines humanness is our ability to advance higher order critical thinking and empathy skills.[1] [2] While other animals have been shown to demonstrate both critical thought and empathy, the human capacity for cultivating these skills to high levels can distinguish Human Humans from Human Animals and all other animals. Again, higher order critical thinking and empathy are skills that require development. So, though genetics determine whether or not one falls into the biological category of Homo Sapiens, a subspecies in the Great Ape family,[3] the characteristics that define true humanness are not present in all members of the group, Homo Sapiens.

Human Animals share the following behavioral traits with other species within the Great Ape family:

1.     Formation of social structures

2.     Establishment of pecking orders through demonstrations of dominance

3.     Cooperation within social ingroups (groups of apes/people with whom one member identifies and belongs)

4.     Competition/conflict with social outgroups (groups of apes/people that are different from the ones within which a single member belongs and identifies)

5.     Use of language and development of unique cultures[4]

Examples include communications and social interactions between ingroups and outgroups of baboon troops, religious organizations, chimpanzee communities, civics clubs, armies, orangutan congresses, indigenous tribes, and academic institutions.

So, like all  Great Apes, Human Animals form families and social groups. We LOVE our ingroups whether they be political, religious, regional, national, or sports related. We establish pecking orders within these groups based on dominance. On the playground, human dominance is often determined by who is biggest. As adults, dominance may be determined through superior IQ, physical strength, wealth, attractiveness, ambition, narcissism, or any number of other factors. Like chimpanzees, we will often cooperate with our ingroup, but we tend to view outgroups with suspicion. Our nature is to consider them threats and often to classify them as “lesser than” or even “evil.” This instinctual behavior is at the root of all forms of bigotry. From an evolutionary standpoint, it is easy to understand that a “go to” position for early humans of assuming people who are different are threats would be more adaptive than assuming their benevolence. In the natural environment, early humans were constantly at risk, so tendencies resulting in cautiousness aided in their survival. defines critical thinking as, “disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.”[5] The scientific method was born of critical thought. It is a process designed to factor out emotional human bias, such as ingroup/outgroup behaviors. Prior to the advent of the scientific method, our natural tendencies towards emotional bias and superstition were the primary stumbling blocks to the advancement of our species.[6] [7]

By nature, critical thinking leads to more questions than answers. For a skilled critical thinker, issues are rarely simple. Because critical thought requires approaching a problem from many angles and many perspectives, solutions tend to come in shades of gray rather than black and white. H.L. Menken wasn’t far off the mark when he said, “For every complex problem, there is a simple solution… and it is always wrong.” The Human Animal within us is highly attracted to simple solutions.

Prior to the Enlightenment, humans used a simple catch-all to explain phenomena beyond our understanding, “God.” Few seemed to notice that “God” really wasn’t much of an explanation as, it simply moved the goal post back one yard. If God causes all things, what causes God? “God” is still the catch-all for unexplained phenomena. Fortunately, science been able to provide evidence based, rational explanations for most of the physical phenomena we encounter on a daily basis. The expanse of ignorance that Human Animals now use God to explain has shrunken to a tiny area.

Human Animals are not inclined towards critical thinking, and therefore, have a much greater tendency to see things in concrete, black and white terms. For them, conforming to a solution posed by dominant members of their ingroup is obviously the "right thing to do." They may interpret the failure of critical thinkers to do likewise as "crazy" or "stupid." Conforming to the decisions of dominant members of one’s group is a trait Human Animals share with their ape cousins. Critically evaluating the relative merits of dominant group members’ decisions is inherent to Human Human behavior.

Higher order critical thinking does not come naturally to any species. It requires ongoing training and self-discipline. The difference between the skilled critical thinker, or Human Human, and the average thinker, or Human Animal, is as dramatic as the difference between the physique of a pro bodybuilder and that of the average couch potato.

Teach's Precepts for Higher Order Critical Thinking:

1. High levels of certainly often correlates to low levels of critical thinking

2. Objective evidence and logic outweigh popular views and intuition

3. "Feelings" are not evidence. "Common Sense" is not evidence. "Faith" is not evidence. "How I was raised" is not evidence. "Anecdotes" are not evidence.

4. Changing positions when opposing evidence outweighs supporting evidence is the hallmark for critical thought.

5. Ego is the greatest obstacle to critical thought.

Examples from the Left and the Right of failure to critically evaluate an issue:

1. On the Left: "All of my friends at the health food store say that immunizations are dangerous and cause autism. There are scientific studies that prove it. Immunizations are part of a conspiracy generated by the medical industrial complex."

Actually, there was a single flawed study linking immunization to autism. The results have not been replicated, and overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the need for immunization reflects the consensus of the scientific community.[8] So, if you believe that immunizations are bad, this belief is likely based on anecdotes, your need to conform to the group with whom you identify, failure to acknowledge objective evidence, and on your intuitive feelings of paranoia. In this case, you are demonstrating the behaviors of a Human Animal.

2. On the Right: "The guys on Talk Radio say that climate change is a myth. Many scientists agree. The whole global warming thing is a conspiracy perpetrated by liberal scientists who want grant money."

In truth, there has never been a more researched natural phenomenon in history than climate change. Overwhelming scientific evidence supports the validity of climate change caused by human activity and, again, this view is supported by a consensus of the scientific community. If you believe that climate change is not occurring or that it is not caused by human activity, this belief is likely based on anecdotes, failure to acknowledge objective evidence, your need to conform to the group with whom you identify, and on your intuitive feelings of paranoia.[9] Again, this line of reasoning (or absence thereof) is a manifestation of the Human Animal and NOT the Human Human.


That said, alternative theories to the scientific consensus are a VERY good thing. On occasion, the scientist who disagrees with the consensus will be able to demonstrate strong opposing evidence. As opposing evidence accumulates and eventually outweighs supporting evidence, the scientific consensus will shift to the new position. So, if and when evidence opposing immunization and opposing climate change theory accumulates to the tipping point, good critical thinkers (like the scientific community) will shift to the new position.

I was once trying to teach a particularly difficult theory to a class. About half the class understood the theory and the other half didn't get it. When polled, 100% of the students who understood the theory said they found the theory “very interesting,” while 100% of those who failed to understand the theory described it as "stupid." It takes time and effort to become informed on complex issues and no effort at all to have a gut level response. Ironically, the informed individual is more likely to be uncertain about his/her position than is the uninformed individual.

All organisms demonstrate a tendency to avoid harm. Even amoeba will avoid aversive stimuli. This is one of the basic premises of operant conditioning. Behaviors that yield pleasing results tend to be repeated. Behaviors that yield aversive results tend to not be repeated. Amoeba have no need for morality, only self-preservation.

But, we are not amoeba. Humans are social animals requiring the assistance of other humans in order to survive in the natural environment. For Human Humans and Human Animals, self-preservation is interdependent with preservation of "the tribe." Other social animals like wolves, lions, and buffalo will predictably behave in ways that promote the health and safety of the ingroup over the health and safety of the individual. These animals engage in what might be considered benevolent behaviors even without benefit of higher cognitive functioning.

Humans are the only species capable of higher order empathy. Empathy does not mean sympathy. Many species demonstrate sympathy. Higher order empathy requires the complex ability to cognitively attempt to see through the eyes of another. With huge effort, it is possible to put our collective ego aside and on some level understand the world from another person's perspective.

Research on feral children has shown that empathy is a learned behavior.[10] Empathy is an extremely difficult cognitive skill that Human Animals rarely try master. If all people were Human Humans and regularly employed this skill, conflict with each other and the destruction of other species could be virtually eliminated.




Understanding what others are feeling because you have experienced it yourself or can put yourself in their shoes.

Acknowledging another person's emotional hardships and providing comfort and assurance.


I know it's not easy to lose weight because I have faced the same problems myself.

When people try to make changes like this (e.g. lose some weight) at first it seems difficult.



Friends, family and community ( the experience of others) .

Nursing context

Relating with your patient because you have been in a similar situation or experience

Comforting your patient or their family


Personal, It can be one to many in some circumstances

From either one to another person or one to many (or one to a group).


Children raised in an environment devoid of contact with people, demonstrate neither of the behavioral traits that define humanness.[12] So, while all people are Human Animals not all people are Human Humans.

Take a look in the mirror. Are you a Human Human? If so, you are likely experiencing deep, meaningful relationships with other people. And, you also suffer deeply when you become aware of social injustices (homophobia, racism, genocide, intolerance, man’s inhumanity to man, etc.). You are not easily duped by the barrage of manipulative, emotionally charged, nonsense you receive from the media, the pulpit, and the political arena. You are likely able to override primitive emotions to some degree, enabling you to maintain a healthy body and a stable mind. Your moral code comes from evaluating an ideal based on universals such as “harm done,” “fairness,” and “empathetic understanding” rather than from “how you were raised,” cultural norms, or some religious or law text.

We are all Human Animals, and this is not a bad thing. We are literally wired to be such and wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. However, some of these animal traits are not adaptive in a civilized culture. With hard work, metacognition, courage, and a tireless commitment to intellectual honesty, we can all come closer and closer to being truly human.

[1] Nussbaum, Martha Craven. Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1997. Print.

[2] Elder, Lina. "Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines." Inquiry Winter XVI.2 (1996): n. pag. Web. 28 May 2014. 

[3] "Mammal Species of the World : A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference."(Book, 2006) []. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 June 2014.

[4] Kappeler, Peter M., and Joan B. Silk. Mind the Gap: Tracing the Origins of Human Universals. Berlin: Springer, 2010. Print.

[5]  Open Source. (2014 ). Critical Thinking. Available: Last accessed 28th May 2014.

[6] Harris, William. "How the Scientific Method Works." HowStuffWorks., 14 Jan. 2008. Web. 09 June 2014.

[7] Killeen, P. R. "Superstition: A Matter of Bias, Not Detectability." Science199.4324 (1978): 88-90. Web.

[8] Destefano, Frank, Cristofer S. Price, and Eric S. Weintraub. "Increasing Exposure to Antibody-Stimulating Proteins and Polysaccharides in Vaccines Is Not Associated with Risk of Autism." The Journal of Pediatrics 163.2 (2013): 561-67. Web.

[9] Anderegg, W. R. L., J. W. Prall, J. Harold, and S. H. Schneider. "Expert Credibility in Climate Change." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107.27 (2010): 12107-2109. Web.

[10] "Feral Children and Clever Animals: Reflections on Human Nature." Choice Reviews Online 31.08 (1994): 31-4641. Web.

[11] "Empathy vs Sympathy." Diffen LLC, n.d. Web. 1 Jun 2014.

[12] Plessis, Susa Du, and Jan Strydom. "Chapter 7." The Right to Read :Beating Dyslexia and Other Learning Disabilities. N.p.: n.p., 2000. N. pag. Print.

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Comment by Edward Teach on June 18, 2014 at 11:12am

@Michael  Hahahahahaha... Duck Dynasty trumps Water! Here's hoping that all of their fans make the same choice!

Comment by Michael Penn on June 18, 2014 at 8:12am

As humans we are all human animals, but I got new insight into "human animals" just the other day. I was paying my water and sewer bill and the clerk brought up the fact that several families in town are so pressed for money that they let the water bill go and only pay the cable TV. This creates some fees and jockeying back and forth causing a need of more money just to get the water turned back on. I can see it now.

"We'll get the water again later. Come on in here with me and watch Duck Die Nasty."

I don't think I could live like that. A moron could plan better.



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