You might think that we humans are special: no other species has, for example, landed on the moon, or invented the iPad. But then, I personally haven’t done those things either. So if such achievements are what makes us human then I must be relegated to the beasts, except in so far as I can catch a little reflected glory from true humans such as Neil Armstrong or Steve Jobs.
Fortunately, there are other, more inclusive, ideas around about what makes us human. Not long ago, most people (in the west) were happy with the account found in the Bible: we are made in the image of God ”“ end of argument. But the theory of evolution tells a different story, one in which humans slowly emerged as a twig on the tree of life. The problem with this explanation is that it is much more difficult to say exactly what makes us so different from all the other twigs.
Indeed, in the light of new research into animal intelligence, some scientists have concluded that there simply is no profound difference between us and other species. This is the stance taken in new books by Henry Gee, palaeontology editor of the leading scientific journal Nature, and by animal behaviour expert Marc Bekoff. But other scientists of equal eminence argue the opposite: that new research is finally making the profound difference between humans and animals clear ”“ and two of them, the psychologists Michael Tomasello and Thomas Suddendorf, have written new books purporting to tell us exactly what it is.