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Are humans less determined by their biology than non-human animals?

+4 votes

So part of the primitivist critique of civilization is that it created hierarchy and specialization, but can't we find both of those things in animals in the state of nature. For example, a pack of wolves has hierarchy. Honey bees are extremely specialized, etc. I feel like I'm missing something pretty basic here.

edit: Maybe what I'm trying to ask is do you think do you think humans are less determined by their biology than non-human animals? (I can't figure out a way to phrase that without lumping all non-human animals into one category). I guess this could also bring up questions of human nature, and various other animals nature...

asked Aug 7, 2015 by anonymous
edited Aug 7, 2015

No and Yes. Some other animals have a diversity in their behaviors and engage in social organization and hierarchies. I don't know if their biology makes humans more inclined to do so compared to other mammals, but humans more capable of creating these complex organizations and/or social structures.

Humans are more adept at using systems of communication for self-expression, exchanging of ideas, organization, and manipulating their surroundings or objects...etc, compared to say a Bonobo (type of chimpanzee). I believe it has something to do with how the human brain and body is structured compared to the structure of other mammal's brains. Although, Bonobos can do similar, but not as 'advanced' you could say. They're capable of communication and/or self-expression, which are either done by visual cues/facial communication and/or vocal (pitch and type of sound (i.e. bark, grunt, whine...etc). They do have social organization usually with the female as the alpha or at the top and sexual behavior is used for more than reproduction, but also for status in the hierarchy, games, stress relief, and all around fun. The male alpha must gain the acceptance of the female alpha to be the male alpha. They use basic tools and can manipulate their environment also, but not as complex as humans. 

tl;dr humans are more advanced and capable than bonobos.

I don't know if that even came close to a rational response to your question. If this is your reaction, I don't blame you. :P I took inclined (or allow) to mean capable and I like Bonobos.

very interesting question.

the problem with saying that an animal's behavior is determined is that your implying some sort of a god figure or programmer in the question, when the only figure that determines the behavior is the animal itself. Sometimes they are controlled by/attracted to external forces but they are still determining the behavior themselves.

This reminds me of dogs....according the various scientific research with domesticated foxes and dogs (discovering that dogs are more or less passive wolves) it seems that dogs became dogs due to wanting their left over food, and ending up developing "cuter" more infantile faces along the way.....did we manipulate therm, or did they manipulate us, or both?

sg, thanks for the question. a few of the unspoken presuppositions within 'determined by biology' include:

time and our sense of it, limitations and our sense of them, our (western) sense of who is alive and who isn't (who gets to play in the game of Life), and so on.

(edit #2) i'm reminded here of a quote by james hillman which makes sense here (no, i don't necessarily endorse his work, but i like the quote, k?) : "It was only when science convinced us the Earth was dead that it could begin its autopsy in earnest." 


edit 1: when i say 'time (and 'limit' and 'alive') and our sense of it' i mean that 'time' and 'our sense (meaning)' are interwoven yet also somewhat distinct conceptual presups, particularly within western/scientific thinking.

@af: "...our (western) sense of who is alive and who isn't (who gets to play in the game of Life)..."

i love that point.

There are two kinds of determination to be considered. Certainly, human being are just as subject to the laws of nature as anything else in the world, but those laws have determined that the character of agency will differ in different species. Human beings happen to be constrained by nature in such a way that we are forced to make a lot of choices, and our organism is constructed in such a way that choice makes some sense. Because of that, the only hierarchies that are meaningful to us are ones for which we can recognize some rationale. We may look to an animal's pack behavior or pecking order as a possible model to adapt to our own circumstances, but our adaptation would not be the same thing, or even perhaps really the same kind of thing, as the pack-behavior we have observed in other animals.

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