What makes us human?

February 2, 2016 -

In last week’s Communiqué [hyperlink attached communique here], I referred to a developmental psychologist, Michael Tomasello, who has proposed that shared intentionality is the essential human trait, the defining characteristic that separates humans from other species. That item generated a number of responses, so we have posted it here for your comment and discussion:

One More Human Trait: What makes us human? Is it our brain, rationality, language, our ability to design, appreciate beauty or translate the secrets of nature? According to developmental psychologist Michael Tomasello, co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, it is the fact that “humans alone are capable of shared intentionality <http://nautil.us/issue/1/what-makes-you-so-special/cooperation-is-what-makes-us-human>.” That is, “they intuitively grasp what another person is thinking and act toward a common goal.” “This supremely human cognitive ability, Tomasello says, launched our species on its extraordinary trajectory. It forged language, tools and cultures — stepping-stones to our colonization of every corner of the planet.” According to the research, cooperation is the one trait that is essentially human. Is there really only one trait that explains the differences between humans and other species? How do you balance these human traits in your own lives.

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