05 June 2005

Becoming human

According to the theory of human evolution, our social drives developed long before we developed intellectually. Which means, these social drives – like mother-love, compassion, cooperation, curiosity, inventiveness and competitiveness – are instinctive; not intellectual.

“Not intellectual” means they cannot be modified through education – i.e. by presentation of knowledge for future assimilation and use. Yet, the principle of “survival of the fittest”, which is clearly evident in our evolution and in our behaviour, suggests we can modify our behaviour to suit the need of the hour… slowly growing (evolving) into a smarter (higher order) animal.

Does this mean the intellect developed as a “control” over instincts to provide adaptable behaviour? If so, it means that control – or self-control – is a major differentiating factor between us humans and lower order animals (i.e. those who apply only instinct to their behavioural decisions).

This also means "control" is an important measure of our human-ness (being human). The more control we have over our instincts, the more human we become. The more we display behaviour disciplined by intellect, the more human we become. Sounds reasonable, right?

“Becoming Human” is an interactive documentary on the human evolution created by Arizona State University’s Institute of Human Origins. In it, Dr David C Johanson, a leading paleo-anthropologist, guides us through four million years of human evolution in a beautiful easy-to-understand presentation. Take a look; you may find some of the answers here.

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