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June 8th, 2009
Spark Blog: Share Your Spark!
Share Your Spark

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. Our Sparks, that is…

For the past few years, Alan Alda and our production team have been traveling the world, speaking to experts who have shared their visions about what make humans unique from all other animals. Different experts have different views, and they don’t all necessarily agree, but each new interview we’ve done has provided a little bit more insight into the evolutionary and neurological abilities that only we have.

You’ll see all this insight in the programs and the web-only video on the Human Spark site, but we’re also hoping that you’ll tell us what being human means to you. Drawings, photos, videos or text are all welcome, and we’re hoping for some really thoughtful and interesting responses. Do our brains make us human? Our language? Our imaginations or our belief? Visit the Share Your Spark submission page to get started.

Your responses will be posted on the web site and a selection of the best will appear on-screen when the series airs. For kicks, I’ll start things off with a Haiku:

Chimps show a few signs
Neanderthals never did
Insight defines us

- Jared Lipworth
Executive Producer, The Human Spark

  • Leslie Sutton

    Insight defines us to ourselves; but it takes interaction for us to express our definition, which is then uniquely interpreted by others who define themselves through insight. That is why I am tempted to bring myth to bear on Neanderthals in response to your haiku; and also why I dare not, since the myth is nothing more than generational sense-making of the world, including the past.
    That being said, the difference may be that animals are what they are; and we are multi-faceted individuals expressing ourselves in a collective that the animals are not interested in. (I think animals have interests, otherwise they wouldn’t search for food.)
    We are spirit. Or energy, whatever you want to call it; and we don’t die. At least no myth that I know of says we have in the past.
    We have temporary “bodies,” which we participated in the creation of, along with that bit IT thing I call “GOD reconciling itself.”
    So while we are in bodies, and while this particular collective is evolving socially (since we are lucky enough to be on earth in temporary bodies during a renaissance) then I think we should think about exploring our sparks (our true selves) by exploring how we work in this environment we find ourselves in.
    So, I like what you are doing. Thanks for asking.

  • Grace

    I like this unique look at what makes us human. Seems both psychological and scientific. Well said!

  • Sara Morsey

    You say I can share art or videos, but I don’t see how to do that on the site

  • B

    This is wonderful! Can’t wait to watch it.

  • Human Spark Online

    You can submit art or videos by following the simple instructions on our submission page. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/humanspark/share

  • Laura

    We are not that special really, and perhaps it is our arrogance to think that we are that defines us. So we have thumbs to wreak havoc in the world…. I’d rather have wings. It’s not laughter, other creatures have that as well. I suggest it’s nothing more than the way our frontal cortex is wired to interact with the rest of our brains. Other creatures have their own unique brain functionings. So how’s about we get over ourselves and get on with learning how, as a species, to be responsible critters with the gifts we evolved to have.

  • Ann

    I concur with Laura @ 11:14:53am … with all of our so-called advanced understanding we are not even able to communicate effectively with our closest genetic relative and other intelligent species here on our planet…that said, I love being human ! all the pain and pleasure that our brains are wired to feel makes this a fascinating lifetime indeed.

  • Dan Yavuzkurt

    Maybe we’re the only species that thinks it’s unique, or even has a concept of ‘unique,’ or even has concepts at all instead of just paying attention to what’s really important – happiness. For a lot of species, happiness comes from eating other species, and for those species, happiness comes from escaping the predators. None of them gets what they want all the time, just like us, but they don’t let it ‘bother’ them like we do.

    Maybe extended unhappiness in the absence of problems is what defines humanity.

  • rbrooku

    The uniqueness is the ability to look back at ourselves, the relative mind able to recognize the absolute mind and together recognize itself. Now, make a discussion for why chimpanzees don’t do the same thing and you have the answer as much as words can say it…

  • josefina Doumbia

    What makes us humans. Eh!!!!! The feeling one gets when hearing a little kid laughing, a pair of birds playing/caressing, and old couple holding hands

  • Tom Alexander

    THE SPARK OF SEXUAL SELECTION

    The first females in our lineage, to become sexually receptive year round, changed everything (probably while we were still in the trees).

    A single dominant male fathering most of the offspring, produces a genetically homogeneous population with a small gene pool and is wasteful of non-reproducing males genes and resources.

    Once males no longer had to waste their energy competing for scarce females in heat, they could start cooperating with each other to help provide for their individual mates, producing more child care, survivability and higher birth rates.

    Because the females were now competing for the best available males, this sexual selection by each female for intelligence, strength, industriousness, hunting and running ability etc. rapidly produced a large heterogeneous gene pool. A large variety of sustainable traits in the population then made rapid evolution possible. Female sexual selection made it inevitable.

    As long as life is easy, evolution has little to do. When the African climate dried out and the trees disappeared from the jungle the apes were in trouble. They had no choice but to live on the ground. The few successful surviving species of this challenge rapidly evolved to energy efficient upright bipeds freeing the hands for fighting hunting tool making etc. Like chimps we already lived in large social groups which require larger brains. This helped contribute the extra brainpower for the transition, along with the rapid evolutionary power of female sexual selection.
    Similarly, Bonobos also evolved female sexual receptivity when they also split off from the chimps long after we did. They however, still live successfully in the trees like the chimps and are more peaceful and cooperative.

    Once the Hominids were successful hunter-gatherers on the ground their evolution slowed while they spread out of Africa to Eurasia. Still without language and not yet human, the real evolutionary challenges lay ahead. A couple of long decimating ice ages necessitated further rapid evolution to avoid extinction. With the power of sexual selection in this harsh environment, we evolved larger modern brains capable of creating new technologies on the coast of south Africa by first beginning the difficult exploitation of the sea with shellfish. After the ice ages the new Homo sapiens displaced the old hominid populations around the world and continued to rapidly evolve language and culture to this day, still emphasizing the importance of proper mate selection.

    Few animals other than chimps can see themselves in a mirror like we can i.e. from another chimps point of view (two degrees removed) looking back at himself and know the image is himself instead of another animal. This objective thinking, from an artificial point of view outside of ourself, allows us to substitute artificial mental symbols for the real thing and manipulate them by age three. With language we can think five degrees removed from, chimps two-degree objective point of view.

    We can’t turn our brains off either. They are always doing something. I like to make use of this by asking questions for it to work on while I am busy. I am always amazed by what it finds. It is the source of my most creative non-linear ideas. We owe it all to female sexual selection and hard times.

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