Origin of human intelligence and thought

Origin of human intelligence and thought

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I've been debating this topic with a friend of mine and we can't get to a common answer. She argues that we don't descend from any Chimpanzee or Orangutan because, if we did, they would also have the cognitive thinking ability that we have. I am arguing that a high protein diet allowed the first humans to have the possibility to develop a higher memory, intelligence and other mental procedures.

But after all, what would be the real origin of the intelligence? And if animals do have intelligence too, why isn't theirs as advanced as us.

How is

  • "we don't descend from any Chimpanzee or Orangutan because, if we did, they would also have the cognitive thinking ability that we have"

not equivalent to

  • "We are not related to the chimpanzee or orangutan because, if we did, they would also have [the same amount of body hair]/[the same sized mouths]/[the same muscular strength] that we have"


Any related species are going to differ in some respects (otherwise they would not be different species, after all), and it is plain to see that intelligence is one of the ways in which species can differ.

Regardless of that (if your friend thinks intelligence is special in a way that hairiness is not), you can make your argument even while sticking to talking about intelligence, and there is no need to go into the reasons for changes (increases) in intelligence to see that.

To make the point with your friend, it might be best to point to two different animals that

  • she recognizes as related, and that
  • she also recognizes as having different levels of "cognitive thinking ability".

In light of such an example, her argument falls flat (unless she further considers only human thinking ability special, in which case you will have a harder time!)

Evolutionary theory is a little over my head, but there are some obvious problems with your question.

We don't descend from any Chimpanzee or Orangutan because, if we did, they would also have the cognitive thinking ability that we have.

  1. We aren't closely related to orangutans, period.

  2. The chimpanzee is considered our closest living relative, but that doesn't mean it's a direct ancestor.

  3. Why would an ancestor have to have the same cognitive thinking ability we have? Isn't cognition something that evolves?

  4. I'm going way out on a limb, but who really knows what kind of cognitive abilities apes have? They probably aren't equal to ours, but still…

I am arguing that a high protein diet allowed the first humans to have the possibility to develop a higher memory, intelligence and other mental procedures.

Gorillas are herbivores, and they rank among the most intelligent species. Come to think of it, a lot of people are vegetarians.

But after all, what would be the real origin of the intelligence?

I'm going out on a limb a bit, but I think many scientists associate the evolution of intelligence in humans with a combination of physical traits - particularly binocular vision, bipedalism and our opposable thumb. Walking upright freed our ancestors' hands so they could manipulate objects, stimulating the brain. Note that octopuses - which can similarly manipulate objects with their tentacles - are considered among the most intelligent invertebrates.

If animals do have intelligence too, why isn't theirs as advanced as us.

Mammals have more complex brains than birds, herptiles and other groups; that gives us a head start.

We're also unique in being completely bipedal AND having opposable thumbs. Which isn't to say only animals with these features can be intelligent; whales may rival us in intelligence. But we obviously have some very unique physical traits.

The human brain is also relatively large and complex - though some might argue that that's a result of our physical characteristics.

Theories of Intelligence in Psychology

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.

While intelligence is one of the most talked about subjects in psychology, there is no standard definition of what exactly constitutes intelligence. Some researchers have suggested that intelligence is a single, general ability. Others believe that intelligence encompasses a range of aptitudes, skills, and talents.

Origins of Dedicated Intelligence

There have been several examples where one specific gene has been linked to loss of function or disease. Sickle Cell Anemia, Hemophilia, and PKU are examples of a mutation in a single gene causing loss of function of a protein that leads to disease. However, intelligence is not dimorphic, there is a broad range of intelligence and there are several genes that govern g. These multiple-gene systems are often referred to as quantitative trait loci (QTLs), which can, contribute interchangeably and additively like probabilistic risk factors (Plomin, 1999).

Historically genetics has utilized mutants to identify the location and function of genes. Due to the slow reproductive rates of humans and obvious ethical issues, it is much harder identify, isolate, and study human mutations. One of the few chances scientists had to look at gene mutations affecting intelligence was in the case of Pakistani families isolated in Yorkshire. For social reasons the Pakistani families interbred and as a result the homozygosity of the group increased. This means that there were more cases of two recessive mutated alleles occurring that were once covered up by a dominant wild type allele. As a result, there was a very high proportion of the group that had microcephaly compared to the rest of the population. Microcephaly is a condition which leaves the patient with an abnormally small head and brain.

The physical size of specific regions of the brain can have tremendous effects on an individual's g. One gene that was linked to the smaller brain size in the microcephaly patients was named microcephalin. This gene was determined to be active only during the fetal stages of development.

Another gene linked to smaller brain size is found in nearly all members of the animal kingdom. The Asp gene is responsible for forming spindle fibers during cell division. The spindle fibers act to separate homologous pairs of chromosomes so that there will be genetic material for both of the daughter cells. In the Pakistani patients that had microcephaly, half of them had two defective copies of the Asp gene. When both copies of the Asp gene are defective, spindle formation and chromosome separation are substantially slowed. This results in much slower growth of the brain, a smaller brain, and therefore a much lower g.

In addition to the rare opportunity to study field mutation in Yorkshire, QTL studies have isolated insulin-like growth factor-2 receptor (IGF2R) as a gene on chromosome 6 which is linked to intelligence because it has, "been shown to be especially active in brain regions most involved in learning and memory" (Plomin, 1999, p. 789). Of the two alleles that are possible, it was found that a group of children with high IQ had twice the frequency of one allele as compared to the group of children with low IQ. More studies are needed to show the direct role that this gene plays in determining intelligence, but it is important to note that genes determining intelligence do exist and can be passed on to offspring.

Origin of human intelligence and thought - Biology

Galton was a man of many facets. Having first started out in pursuit of a medical career, he took a leave of absence from his studies to travel abroad - a pastime that he would find himself coming back to throughout his life. Upon his return to studies, Galton took up mathematics at Trinity College in Cambridge. While there, he suffered a break down in anticipation of the honors exams which resulted in his graduating without a distinguished degree.

He returned to his travels and established himself as an enthusiastic explorer who would later be described as having had a "love affair with Africa" (Allen, 2002). During his travels he carried his passion for statistics and measurement with him. His expeditions throughout the Middle East and Africa were marked with his constant studying of the environment as he recorded various aspects of the land, people, weather and events that surrounded him. These travels would prove to influence his multifaceted career as they "helped to establish Galton's credibility as a serious Victorian man of science" (Bynum, 2002). His many contributions to the fields of geography, meteorology, anthropometry, biology, statistics, criminology, heredity, psychology and education would all have threads of his travels embedded throughout.

In 1865 he began to study heredity, partly brought on by reading his cousin, Charles Darwin's publication Origin of Species (Clayes, 2001). Galton soon discovered that his true passion was studying the variations in human ability. In particularly, he was convinced that success was due to superior qualities passed down to offspring through heredity. His book, Hereditary Genius (1869), outlined this hypothesis and utilized supporting data he had collected by analyzing the obituaries of the Times newspaper, where he traced the lineage of eminent men in Europe. His quest for data and accountability would lead to a series of studies and books on the heredity of mental faculties specifying that "human mental abilities and personality traits, no less than the plant and animal traits described by Darwin, were essentially inherited" (Seligman, 2002).

Ultimately, these findings sparked the formative years of the eugenics movement, which called for methods of improving the biological make-up of the human species through selective parenthood. Galton would even go so far as to advocate human breeding restrictions to curtail the breeding of 'feeble-minded' (Irvine, 1986 Clayes, 2001). "It seemed obvious and even unarguable to Galton that, from a eugenic viewpoint, superior mental and behavioral capacities, as well as physical health, are advantageous, not only to an individual but for the well-being of society as a whole" (Jensen, 2002). Within this mindset led the inevitable value-laden categorization or ranking of populations based on measurable traits and natural ability (Simonton, 2003). It followed that Galton estimated from his field observations in Africa that the African people were 'two grades' below Anglo-Saxons' position in the normal frequency distribution of general mental ability, which gave claim to the scientific validation of Africans' mental inferiority compared with Anglo-Saxons (Jensen, 2002) findings that continued to spark controversy in academia today.

In 1925, Lewis Terman promulgated Galton's theories of natural ability by defining mental ability and genius in terms of scores on the Stanford-Binet intelligence test. In doing so, "Galton's belief in the adaptive value of natural ability became thereby translated into widespread conviction that general intelligence provides the single most critical psychological factor underlying success in life" (Simonton, 2003). However, even Galton took into account energy and persistence as well as intellect when factoring the ingredients of success (Galton, 1869 as cited in Simonton, 2003).

Although Galton is most highly recognized for his heredity studies and his proliferation of eugenics ideology, he also made many other highly notable contributions to the fields of biology, psychology, statistics, and education. Galton is recognized as the "father of behavioral genetics" for his ground laying twin studies where he looked at the differences between monozygotic and dizygotic twins. His observations and testing approaches led to findings examining the nature versus nurture elements of mental abilities. While he may have led claim to this still widely studied dichotomy, his beliefs weighed heavily on the genetic predisposition to abilities in general.

Galton is also hailed as having made lasting contributions to the fields of psychology and statistics. In his passionate drive to quantify the passing down of characteristics, qualities, traits, and abilities from generation to generation, he formulated the statistical notion of correlation which led to his understanding of how generations were related to each other (Bynum, 2002). He also established that "numerous heritable traits, including height and intelligence, exhibited regression to the mean - meaning that extreme inherited results tended to move toward average results in the next generation" (Seligman, 2002).

Galton was the first to demonstrate that the Laplace-Gauss distribution or the "normal distribution" could be applied to human psychological attributes, including intelligence (Simonton, 2003). From this finding, he coined the use of percentile scores for measuring relative standing on various measurements in relation to the normal distribution (Jensen, 2002). He even established the world's first mental testing center, in which a person could take a battery of tests and receive a written report of the results (Irvine, 1986).

Aside from his formidable contributions to several prominent fields, Galton's most impressive legacy, arguably, is his continued influence on these very fields nearly a century after his death. In fact, Galton's publications can be found cited in numerous scientific articles today (Simonton, 2003).

* For more information on Sir Francis Galton and access to his publications available on-line, reference

Allen, G. (2002). The measure of a Victorian polymath: Pulling together the strands of Francis Galton's legacy to modern biology. Nature, 145(3), 19-20.

Bynum, W. F. (2002). The childless father of eugenics. Science, 296, 472.

Clayes, G. (2001). Introducing Francis Galton, 'Kantsaywhere' and 'The Donoghues of Dunno Weir.' Utopian Studies, 12(2), 188-190.

Forest, D. (1995). Francis Galton (1822-1911). In R. Fuller (Ed.), Seven pioneers of psychology: Behavior and mind (pp.1-19). Routledge: London and New York.

Irvine, P. (1986). Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911). Journal of Special Education, 20(1).

Jensen, A. (2002). Galton's legacy to research on intelligence. Journal of Biosocial Science, 34, 145-172.

Seligman, D. (2002). Good breeding. National Review, 54(1), 53-54.

Origin of human intelligence and thought - Biology

Definition of Intelligence

"Intelligence is an adaptation…To say that intelligence is a particular instance of biological adaptation is thus to suppose that it is essentially an organization and that its function is to structure the universe just as the organism structures its immediate environment" (Piaget, 1963, pp. 3-4).

"Intelligence is assimilation to the extent that it incorporates all the given data of experience within its framework…There can be no doubt either, that mental life is also accommodation to the environment. Assimilation can never be pure because by incorporating new elements into its earlier schemata the intelligence constantly modifies the latter in order to adjust them to new elements" (Piaget, 1963, p. 6-7).

Jean Piaget was a precocious child who demonstrated a keen interest in animal life and an encyclopedic knowledge of biology and taxonomy. When he was ten years old, he began volunteering at the Neuchâtel Museum of Natural History. The museum's director, the seventy year-old naturalist Paul Godet, took him on as his assistant and apprentice, and paid him for his work by giving him rare specimens for his personal collection (Vidal, 1994). Piaget continued to work at the museum for four years, and his interest in the natural sciences continued to grow. His professional accomplishments in this area were numerous, beginning at age ten when he published a paper on the albino sparrow, and culminating with a doctoral thesis on the classification of mollusks when he was twenty-one.

After completing his Ph.D., Piaget spent several months studying psychoanalysis at the University of Zurich. He was a promising student, and his contemporaries believed that he would eventually make important contributions to this field (Vidal, 1994). However, a serendipitous opportunity presented itself, and Piaget soon found himself working for Théodore Simon, co-author of the Binet-Simon intelligence scale. Simon placed him in Binet's laboratory, and set him to work standardizing Cyril Burt's reasoning tests on Parisian children.

Piaget thought that the standardizing task was dull, and he never finished it. However, his clinical interactions with the children were not without interest. He began to notice that children of similar ages made similar types of mistakes, and it occurred to him that Simon, Binet and Burt might be asking the wrong question: Perhaps the key to understanding human intellectual development is not in what children get wrong, but how they get it wrong. It was clear to Piaget that childish reasoning is not merely less accurate than adult reasoning it is qualitatively different (Wadsworth 1996). From this point forward, Piaget dedicated himself to answering the question "How does knowledge grow?"

Piaget eventually came to believe that intelligence is a form of adaptation, wherein knowledge is constructed by each individual through the two complementary processes of assimilation and accommodation. He theorized that as children interact with their physical and social environments, they organize information into groups of interrelated ideas called "schemes". When children encounter something new, they must either assimilate it into an existing scheme or create an entirely new scheme to deal with it (Wadsworth 1996).

Piaget also believed that intellectual development occurs in four distinct stages. The sensorimotor stage begins at birth, and lasts until the child is approximately two years old. At this stage, the child cannot form mental representations of objects that are outside his immediate view, so his intelligence develops through his motor interactions with his environment. The preoperational stage typically lasts until the child is 6 or 7. According to Piaget, this is the stage where true "thought" emerges. Preoperational children are able to make mental representations of unseen objects, but they cannot use deductive reasoning. The concrete operations stage follows, and lasts until the child is 11 or 12. Concrete operational children are able to use deductive reasoning, demonstrate conservation of number, and can differentiate their perspective from that of other people. Formal operations is the final stage. Its most salient feature is the ability to think abstractly.

A central tenet of Piaget's Genetic Epistemology is that increasingly complex intellectual processes are built on the primitive foundations laid in earlier stages of development. An infant's physical explorations of his environment form the basis for the mental representations he develops as a preoperational child, and so on. Another important principle of Piaget's stage theory is that there are genetic constraints inherent in the human organism-You can challenge a child to confront new ideas, but you cannot necessarily "teach" him out of one stage and into another. Moreover, a child cannot build new, increasingly complex schemes without interacting with his environment nature and nurture are inexorably linked. As Piaget put it:

Intelligence does not by any means appear at once derived from mental development, like a higher mechanism, and radically distinct from those which have preceded it. Intelligence presents, on the contrary, a remarkable continuity with the acquired or even inborn processes on which it depends and at the same time makes use of. (Piaget, 1963, p. 21)

Attempts have been made to correlate performance on Piagetian conservation tasks with standardized intelligence test scores, and the results have been mixed. (Kirk, 1977). Ultimately, an intelligence test built on a Piagetian framework would have to function very differently from intelligence tests like the Wechsler or the Stanford-Binet. In addition to recording a child's correct and incorrect responses, the test administrator would also have to ask the child to explain why he answered in a given way. Piaget suggested that one way to reconcile these two approaches would be to adopt a method clinique, whereby a traditional intelligence test could serve as the basis for a clinical interview (Elkind, 1969).

*Epistemology: n. a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.

Piaget, J. (1936, 1963) The origins of intelligence in children. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Piaget, J. (1954, 1981). Intelligence and affectivity: Their relationship during child development. Palo Alto, CA: Annual Review, Inc.

Piaget, J. (1963, 2001). The psychology of intelligence. New York: Routledge.

Piaget, J. (1970). Genetic epistemology. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Piaget, J. (1972). Intellectual evolution from adolescence to adulthood. Human Development, 15(1), 1-12.

Piaget, J. (1973). Memory and intelligence: New York: BasicBooks.

Piaget, J. (1974, 1980). Adaptation and intelligence: Organic selection and phenocopy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Costello, R.B. (Ed.) (1992). Random House Webster's college dictionary. New York: Random House.

Kirk, L (1977). Maternal and subcultural correlates of cognitive growth rate: The GA pattern. IN P.R. Dasen (Ed.), Piagetian psychology: Cross-cultural contributions. New York: Gardner Press.

Elkind, David. (1969). Pagetian and psychometric conceptions of intelligence. Harvard Educational Review, 39(2), 319-337.

Piaget, J. (1936, 1963) The origins of intelligence in children. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Vidal, F. (1994). Piaget before Piaget. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

1 Answer 1

We should note that the underlying evidence behind the spiced up modern titles like "seat of the mind, "seat of intelligence", etc., is generally very obscure, and Wikipedia's phrasing is copied almost verbatim from an old and sketchy paper of Gross. SEP's recent account is more ambiguous as to what it was that Alcmaeon thought the brain did:

"There is no explicit evidence, however, as to what Alcmaeon meant by understanding. The word translated as understanding here is suniêmi, which in its earliest uses means “to bring together,” so that it is possible that Alcmaeon simply meant that humans are able to bring the information provided by the senses together in a way that animals cannot (Solmsen 1961, 151). It is possible that we should use a passage in Plato’s Phaedo (96a-b = A11) to explicate further Alcmaeon’s epistemology. The passage is part of Socrates’ report of his early infatuation with natural science and with questions such as whether it is the blood, or air, or fire with which we think. He also reports the view that it is the brain that furnishes the sensations of hearing, sight, and smell. This corresponds very well with Alcmaeon’s view of the brain as the central sensory organ".

But even the brain as the sense central might have been a superficial speculation. In any case, it failed to convince most Greeks who continued to designate the heart as "the seat", following the Egyptians before them:

"Alcmaeon’s conclusion that all of the senses are connected to the brain may have been drawn from nothing more that the excision of the eye and the general observation that the sense organs for sight, hearing, smell, and taste are located on the head and appear connected to passages which lead inward towards the brain. His identification of the brain as the seat of human intelligence influenced Philolaus (DK, B13), the Hippocratic Treatise, On the Sacred Disease, and Plato (Timaeus 44d), although a number of thinkers including Empedocles and Aristotle continued to regard the heart as the seat of perception and intelligence."

At this level of detail and confidence, there are earlier mentions that can be interpreted as assigning "thinking" to the brain in the ancient Mesopotamia (c. 2000 BC). For example, after a long interpretive analysis of the sources, Goodnick and Sigrist conclude in The Brain, the Marrow and the Seat of Cognition in Mespotamian Tradition:

"In conclusion, according to our argument the Sumerians noted the existence of the brain, which they designated ugu-dig, and believed that understanding passed through the ear to the seat of the intelligence. On the other hand, the Akkadians not only collapsed the lexical distinction between the Sumerian lemmas, ugu «cranium» and ugu-dig "brain" but also equated both with the Semitic muhhu «marrow» (of bones including the cranium). The ancient physicians did not know the function of the brain as an organ and it is quite likely that they considered it a type of skull marrow. Nevertheless, the ancient metaphysical interpretations, both Sumerian and Akkadian, place understanding, reason and wisdom in the ear. Thus, despite the heart being seat of will, the head or brain, the place where temu «reason» is found, must be the seat of cognition, whether or not the medical profession understood the functions of the brain as an organ."

A comprehensive review of the early history, with analysis of the sources, including the Smith and Ebers papyri, is the collection History of Neurology. Minds Behind the Brain: A history of the pioneers and their discoveries. According to York and Steinberg's contribution, even with Egypt we have to interpolate:"cavalier treatment of the brain suggests that the ancient Egyptians had no real conception of brain function, or of the primacy of the brain in cognition, though certainty on the subject is not possible". The earliest place that offers something more cogent and definitive than speculative interpolations is the aforementioned Hippocratic treatise On the Sacred Disease (c. 400 BC), discussed by Karenberg:

"I hold that the brain is the most powerful organ of the human body, for when it is healthy it is an interpreter to us of the phenomena caused by air, as it is the air that gives it intelligence. Eyes, ears, tongue, hands and feet act in accordance with the discernment of the brain. Wherefore I assert that the brain is the interpreter of consciousness. Men ought to know that from the brain, and from the brain only, arise our pleasures, joys, laughter and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains, griefs and tears. Through it, in particular, we think, see, hear, and distinguish the ugly from the beautiful, the bad from the good, the pleasant from the unpleasant. "

A theory of human life history evolution: Diet, intelligence, and longevity

Hillard Kaplan is Professor at the University of New Mexico. His recent research and publications have focused on integration of life history theory in biology and human capital theory in economics, with specific emphases on fertility, parental investment, and aging in developed, developing, and traditional settings. He has also conducted fieldwork with native South Americans and southern Africans.

Kim Hill is an Associate Professor at the University of New Mexico. He studies human behavioral ecology with a focus on life history theory, foraging patterns, sexual division of labor, food sharing, and the evolution of cooperation. He has carried out fieldwork in five different South American hunter-gatherer or tribal horticulturalist populations in the past 23 years.

Jane Lancaster is Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. Her research and publications are on human reproductive biology and behavior especially human parental investment on women's reproductive biology of pregnancy, lactation and child-spacing and on male fertility and investment in children. She edits the quarterly journal, Human Nature, which publishes research in human evolutionary ecology.

A. Magdalena Hurtado is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico. She has done research on a wide range of problems in human behavioral ecology and evolutionary medicine among the Ache, Hiwi, and Machiguenga of Lowland South America. She is Co-Director of the Native Peoples and Tropical Conservation Fund, University of New Mexico.

Hillard Kaplan is Professor at the University of New Mexico. His recent research and publications have focused on integration of life history theory in biology and human capital theory in economics, with specific emphases on fertility, parental investment, and aging in developed, developing, and traditional settings. He has also conducted fieldwork with native South Americans and southern Africans.

Kim Hill is an Associate Professor at the University of New Mexico. He studies human behavioral ecology with a focus on life history theory, foraging patterns, sexual division of labor, food sharing, and the evolution of cooperation. He has carried out fieldwork in five different South American hunter-gatherer or tribal horticulturalist populations in the past 23 years.

Jane Lancaster is Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. Her research and publications are on human reproductive biology and behavior especially human parental investment on women's reproductive biology of pregnancy, lactation and child-spacing and on male fertility and investment in children. She edits the quarterly journal, Human Nature, which publishes research in human evolutionary ecology.

A. Magdalena Hurtado is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico. She has done research on a wide range of problems in human behavioral ecology and evolutionary medicine among the Ache, Hiwi, and Machiguenga of Lowland South America. She is Co-Director of the Native Peoples and Tropical Conservation Fund, University of New Mexico.

The Biology of Human Uniqueness

As humans we tend to think of ourselves as rather unique in the created order of things. As Christians, we understand ourselves to be created in the image and likeness of God as we learn in Genesis 1:26. But what does this really mean? Certainly being made in God’s image does not refer to our physical construction God is spirit and therefore does not have a physical body. But God’s plan from the beginning was to rescue us from our sin through the incarnation, God becoming man. Jesus was and is the Son of God, Messiah, the God-Man. Therefore it is not a stretch to suggest that our bodily make-up is meant to be the unique earthly home of Jesus and His Spirit within us. Therefore, I suggest that our biological make-up is unique in the animal kingdom since no other animal is made in His image.

But what does this really mean? I am going to borrow from several sources, principally Michael Denton’s Nature’s Destiny , to discuss the biological uniqueness of humans. The Discovery Institute is also in the process of producing a film series based on Denton’s work, titled Privileged Species: How the Cosmos is Designed for Human Life.

We are able to point out numerous qualitative abilities in the human species found nowhere else in the animal kingdom. I will discuss these in detail below, but I’ll provide a brief overview now to whet your appetite.

First, I’ll be discussing our unique intelligence. Humans’ ability to think abstract thoughts appears to be absolutely unique. It is difficult to arrive at a selective advantage in an evolutionary sense to this type of thinking, so where did it come from?

Second, and related to our intelligence, is our unique language capability. Most animals communicate with their own species, but no other species, including primates, actually use language. As toddlers we accumulate language by simply being around it. Chimps and gorillas have to go through painstaking trial and error and still can’t communicate as a three-year-old does.

Third, our excellent vision allows us to use our intelligence, language and other capabilities to manipulate our surroundings in precise and advantageous ways.

Fourth, our excellent manipulative tool, the hand, is unsurpassed in other primates. We have both strength and fine motor control in our hands, allowing us to combine a strong grip and delicate finger movements that allow a wide range of movements. This, combined with our upright stance, provides an ability to restructure our immediate surroundings as no other species can.

We are also a highly social species which allows for quick distribution of ideas to everyone’s benefit. And all these combine to allow us to be the only species to use and manipulate fire, which brings a host of unique abilities.

Human Intelligence and Language

As I mentioned above, our intelligence separates us from any other primate species. Our brain is three times the size of the brain of a chimp. But beyond that, the number of neurons and connections between neurons far surpasses any other mammal. Michael Denton cites that in each cubic millimeter of the human cortex, are 100,000 cells, about 4 kilometers of axonal wiring and 500 meters of dendrites, and around 1 billion synapse connections between neurons. We have 10 million more of these synapses than a rat brain.

The size and scope is one thing, but our mental capabilities are indeed unique. As mentioned above, humans are capable of abstract and conceptual thought. No other primate exhibits any signs of this capacity. In addition, our mathematical reasoning is completely other compared to other animals. You might suspect that some animals can count. But it is a learned response attached to reward. We don’t really suspect the rat/horse/chimp knows what they are doing. Comparing calculus to simply counting bananas is just no comparison at all.

When you stop to consider our appreciation of the arts, there is no place to go but humans. James Trefil is a physicist fascinated by biology and evolution. But when considering the arts he says, “No matter how hard I try, I can’t think of a single evolutionary pressure that would drive the ability of humans to produce and enjoy music and dance. . . . This has always seemed like a serious problem to me—perhaps even a more serious problem than that perceived by most of my colleagues.”

When we turn to language, our uniqueness is informed even further. Plants and animals all communicate in one form or another, but not by language as humans communicate. We communicate both new information and abstract concepts, something other species don’t even approach. We possess the proper equipment to both produce and receive language and speech. And by proper equipment I mean both the brain processes and the anatomical necessities for actual speech (e.g., teeth, tongue, voice box, etc.). There is also a social ability that can utilize these upper levels of communication.

But we’ve heard about chimps and gorillas learning language. Kanzi, a bonobo chimpanzee, learned words and even symbolic use of a keyboard. Kanzi also learned through hearing the use of new words. But that is where it stopped.

To quote James Trefil again, “If we take the claims being advanced for Kanzi at face value, where are we? We have a member of the most intelligent primate species, a veritable Shakespeare of non-human animals, raised under special and unusual conditions, performing at the level of a human child of two and a half. But remember that in humans, real language begins just after this age. . . . Then we have to conclude that even in this optimal case, animals other than humans cannot learn real human language.”

Human Vision and the Hand

Now I’d like to introduce two features we can easily take for granted, our hands and our eyes.

Ordinarily we don’t think of our hands as being anything special. But just try to think of any other creature that can do the many and diverse things we can do with our hands. The closest match is the hand of a chimp. But
chimp hands are larger, stronger, and even clumsy. Simple things like using all ten fingers to type, peel an apple, or tie a knot are beyond what chimps can do.

The strength in our fingers comes from larger muscles in the forearm and the fine manipulative control comes from much smaller muscles in the hand itself. Our ability to manipulate our environment with our hands is unparalleled. Using our intelligence we even devise additional tools for our hands to further extend our mastery of the world around us. Full use of our hands comes about from our upright and bipedal gait, allowing our hands the freedom not found in any other mammal.

In his book Nature’s Destiny Michael Denton asks about the human hand “whether any other species possesses an organ approaching its capabilities. The answer simply must be that no other species possesses a manipulative organ remotely approaching the universal utility of the human hand. Even in the field of robotics, nothing has been built which even remotely equals the all-around manipulative capacity of the hand.”

But in order to even use our hands well, we need exceptional vision to be able to detect all the little things our minds notice to manipulate. Given the physics of visible light and the dimensions and molecular process of detecting light in our eyes, the resolving power of the human eye is close to the optimum for a camera-type eye using biological cells and processes.

Some animals such as high-flying hawks and eagles detect motion from far greater distances that we can, and some organisms see much better in the dark than we do, but for all-around color vision, detail and resolution, our eyes seem to be the best there is. Combined with our highly interconnected brain, our upright gait for easily seeing straight ahead, a swiveling neck to see side to side, and our overall size, our eyes open the world to us as for no other species.

Developing science and technology, communicating to thousands and even millions through the written word, and simply exploring the world around us, are only possible through an integrated use of our unique intelligence, social structure and speech, hands and vision.

The Use of Fire

As I have explored the biology of human uniqueness, I have focused on some of our individual capacities such as our intelligence, speech, our marvelous hands, and our unique all-around color vision. I have used throughout, the wonderful book by Michael Denton, Nature’s Destiny. Now I’m looking at one of our key distinguishing characteristics which combine all of these. Humans are the only biological creatures that have mastered the use of fire. If you think for a minute, every other animal has nothing but fear when it comes to fire. We are also fearful of fire and the damage it can do, but we have also managed to harness it and use it.

There are a couple of obvious advantages for the use of fire. First it provides additional light after sundown that extends our activity into the evening. Second, fire provides additional warmth in the evening and allows us to venture into colder climates. Third, fire allows us to cook food, particularly meat which is a very significant source of fat calories and protein. Cooking our food certainly distinguishes us from any other creature and has allowed us to add the necessary energy to fully use that big brain of ours which is a major drain on our energy stores, even at night.

But beyond these, if we never harnessed the energy and power of fire, we would not have been able to develop tools involving metal. Using heat to forge ever more powerful hand tools and weapons revolutionized human culture. Without fire we could not have developed any form of chemistry and especially the use of electricity. Electricity has revolutionized human existence in the last 100 years. Fire is an influential and powerful tool indeed.

But how have we been able to do this? First, we need to take advantage of our intelligent capability for abstract thought and reasoning. As I said earlier, we too fear fire, but we need to be able to think about it and be curious enough to not only rationalize that we might be able to harness its power, but that it would also be useful. This ability to deduce the control and use of fire requires high-level reasoning.

Denton also points out that for a fire to be sustainable it needs to be at least 50 centimeters across (or about a foot and a half). To create a fire of this size we need our upright stance to walk the distance to gather the right amount and size of branches. That means that our upright stance, free arms, the manipulative tools of our hands, and our discerning vision work together to allow us to create a sustainable fire.

Therefore, the control and manipulation of fire requires a combined use of most of our unique biological capacities. Think about this the next time you sit around a campfire or grill your supper on a warm summer day. It’s part of what makes us human!

Human Anatomy and Genome

In this article I have been focusing on aspects of human biology that make us unique in the universe of living organisms. I discussed in some detail our unique intelligence, allowing us complex and abstract thought. We have a unique ability to communicate audibly and through a symbolic written word. These combine with our stereo vision and unique manipulative tool the hand, to allow us sole possession of the ability to use and manipulate fire. All of these capabilities are made possible by several unique aspects of our anatomy.

Humans have the largest brain of any primate species. Whales, dolphins, and elephants have larger brains, but size is not the main distinctive. Our human brain is structured like no other. If you were to open up just one cubic millimeter of our brain you would find over 100,000 cells with 4 kilometers of cell wiring and 1 billion connections between neurons. The structure and organization of our brain is definitely without parallel. Studies of our entire genome compared to chimpanzees indicate vast differences in non-coding sequences that influence the production of brain proteins. These changes are in the thousands.

In 1999, famous MIT linguist Noam Chomsky, reflected that “Thus, in the case of language, . . . (new research) is providing interesting grounds for taking seriously an idea that a few years ago would have seemed outlandish: that the language organ of the brain approaches a kind of optimal design, that it is in some interesting sense an optimal solution to the minimal design specifications the language organ must meet to be usable at all.” Without our unique brain structure, our language ability would not be forthcoming.

When comparing our skeletal structure to those of our supposed closest ancestors according to an evolutionary explanation, there are major changes that would have been needed to be accomplished in a relatively short time. Casey Luskin from the Discovery Institute does an admirable job digging into these differences and makes some sweeping conclusions. Numerous studies indicate that between the lineage of Australopithecus and Homo there would need to be significant changes in shoulders, rib cage, spine, pelvis, hip, legs, arms, hands and feet. But of these major transitions, the fossil record is silent.

Luskin also refers to a study by Durrett and Schmidt in 2007 that estimates that a single-nucleotide mutation in a primate species would take 6 million years to become fixed. But what is needed are multiple mutations in multiple segments of the skeletal system and in the physiology of the brain. Homo sapiens are far more unique than many have suspected. The more we learn, the more unique we become.

Since humans are created in the image of God, we expect human biological uniqueness. Even more significantly, bearing His image indicates an affinity for humans by the Creator we cannot fully comprehend.

1. Michael Denton, Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe (New York: The Free Press, 1998).

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Dr. Ray Bohlin

Raymond G. Bohlin is Vice President of Vision Outreach at Probe Ministries. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.S., zoology), North Texas State University (M.S., population genetics), and the University of Texas at Dallas (M.S., Ph.D., molecular biology). He is the co-author of the book The Natural Limits to Biological Change, served as general editor of Creation, Evolution and Modern Science, co-author of Basic Questions on Genetics, Stem Cell Research and Cloning (The BioBasics Series), and has published numerous journal articles. Dr. Bohlin was named a Research Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture in 1997, 2000 and 2012.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at

Further information about Probe's materials and ministry may be obtained by contacting us at:

The work of Jean Piaget

The landmark work in intellectual development in the 20th century derived not from psychometrics but from the tradition established by the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. His theory was concerned with the mechanisms by which intellectual development takes place and the periods through which children develop. Piaget believed that the child explores the world and observes regularities and makes generalizations—much as a scientist does. Intellectual development, he argued, derives from two cognitive processes that work in somewhat reciprocal fashion. The first, which he called assimilation, incorporates new information into an already existing cognitive structure. The second, which he called accommodation, forms a new cognitive structure into which new information can be incorporated.

The process of assimilation is illustrated in simple problem-solving tasks. Suppose that a child knows how to solve problems that require calculating a percentage of a given number. The child then learns how to solve problems that ask what percentage of a number another number is. The child already has a cognitive structure, or what Piaget called a “schema,” for percentage problems and can incorporate the new knowledge into the existing structure.

Suppose that the child is then asked to learn how to solve time-rate-distance problems, having never before dealt with this type of problem. This would involve accommodation—the formation of a new cognitive structure. Cognitive development, according to Piaget, represents a dynamic equilibrium between the two processes of assimilation and accommodation.

As a second part of his theory, Piaget postulated four major periods in individual intellectual development. The first, the sensorimotor period, extends from birth through roughly age two. During this period, a child learns how to modify reflexes to make them more adaptive, to coordinate actions, to retrieve hidden objects, and, eventually, to begin representing information mentally. The second period, known as preoperational, runs approximately from age two to age seven. In this period a child develops language and mental imagery and learns to focus on single perceptual dimensions, such as colour and size. The third, the concrete-operational period, ranges from about age 7 to age 12. During this time a child develops so-called conservation skills, which enable him to recognize that things that may appear to be different are actually the same—that is, that their fundamental properties are “conserved.” For example, suppose that water is poured from a wide short beaker into a tall narrow one. A preoperational child, asked which beaker has more water, will say that the second beaker does (the tall thin one) a concrete-operational child, however, will recognize that the amount of water in the beakers must be the same. Finally, children emerge into the fourth, formal-operational period, which begins at about age 12 and continues throughout life. The formal-operational child develops thinking skills in all logical combinations and learns to think with abstract concepts. For example, a child in the concrete-operational period will have great difficulty determining all the possible orderings of four digits, such as 3-7-5-8. The child who has reached the formal-operational stage, however, will adopt a strategy of systematically varying alternations of digits, starting perhaps with the last digit and working toward the first. This systematic way of thinking is not normally possible for those in the concrete-operational period.

Piaget’s theory had a major impact on the views of intellectual development, but it is not as widely accepted today as it was in the mid-20th century. One shortcoming is that the theory deals primarily with scientific and logical modes of thought, thereby neglecting aesthetic, intuitive, and other modes. In addition, Piaget erred in that children were for the most part capable of performing mental operations earlier than the ages at which he estimated they could perform them.

History of Anatomy

As Early As Stone Age

  • Early evidences of the study of anatomy date back as early as the Stone Age. Cave paintings were made (about 30,000 years ago) depicting simple knowledge of the anatomy of animals. It is assumed that these cave dwellers utilized some of their anatomical understanding to their own bodies [3] .

Around 5th Century B.C.E

The systematic study of anatomy was started by Greek scientists Alcmaeon and Empedocles. Alcmaeon was the first person to perform human body dissection and first to propose that the brain is the center of intelligence. Empedocles, on the other hand, coined the word “pneuma” to which he believed is the “life and soul” flowing through the blood vessels [3] .

Hippocrates was hailed as the “Father of Medicine”. He gathered data and conducted experiments to show that disease was a natural process. He also showed that the symptoms of a disease were caused by the natural reactions of the body to the disease process [4] .

Aristotle was hailed as the “Father of Comparative Anatomy and Physiology”. However, being more of a philosopher than a physician, he believed that the brain cooled the heart by secreting “phlegm”, and that the arteries contained only air. Future discoveries debunked this theory of Aristotle.