What Separates Us From the Animals? : The Mind and Darwin

One of the outcomes of thinking about Darwin's theories was to question our relatedness to animals. As our knowledge of this relatedness and differences has increased, a basic question remains: How much of our biology provides an ultimate explanation of human nature?

We recognize that we seem to have minds different from those of animals. We list these differences as self-awareness, emotions, culture, and a sense of ethics. As early biologists and other scientists accepted evolution, they tried to understand how these differences could have evolved from animals. They began to think of higher and lower mental abilities as a way of classifying animals and relatedness.

"Nature versus Nurture" has long been shorthand for the argument about how much of "who we are" is our biology. Biologists, physiologists, and psychologists have used comparative studies to classify and understand animal brains so we might build a representation of the essential parts of our brains.

Other thinkers felt that we should be asking, "What are the best traits of the human mind?" Natural Selection and evolutionary theories were applied to try to understand thousands of years of thought about who we are. Philosophers applied Darwinian ideas to classifying the order in which abilities evolved and determining what was the most highly evolved form of mind.

As self-conscious beings, we experience complex emotions and live in an intricate society of other conscious beings. In an attempt to explain how such complexity could arise, researchers looked at behavioral traits at the genetic level. Sociobiology is the theory that we are driven by innate behavioral mechanisms, therefore certain complex behaviors may be programmed into all life, as a way for a specific set of genes to be passed on.