Robert Sapolsky is a professor of biology and neurology. His analysis is based on thirty years of studying baboons in East Africa.

quoteHumans can no longer be considered the only animal that:

  • makes tool
  • kills members of its own species (though we are the only one that kills remotely)
  • has a theory of mind (though we are the only one with a "secondary theory of mind"*)
  • understands something like the Golden Rule (we are the only one with the capability to understand it in a broader perspective taking into account the particular circumstances)
  • shows elements of empathy (though we are unique in the range of empathy that we feel toward strangers, members of other species and even abstract representations)
  • is motivated by reward, even uncertain one (but we are the only one that has long lag times between stimulus and reward that could happen even after death)
  • cultural transmissions of behavior or cultures (but we are the only animal able to transmit complex cultures)

Robert Sapolsky notes our difficulty to accept our nature and to overcome our human-centrist reasoning which considers man as an exceptional species and the pinnacle of the evolutionary process. “We try to make sense of what we are as a species and where we fit into the animal world. We have a few challenges recognizing there is nothing fancy about us at all, that we have the same basic building blocks and plumbing than any mammals, we simply use it in ways that are unprecedented."

* The theory of mind is the ability to understand the intentions, beliefs and knowledge of another person. This capacity requires to understand that someone else has different mental states than oneself. The secondary theory of mind has a higher degree of complexity than the theory of mind: "X understands that Y believes this because he has only spoken with Z who does not know what W thinks".

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