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June 26th, 2009
Your Sparks: June 26, 2009

The following are submissions to Share Your Spark! Tell us what YOU think makes us human in text, photos, artwork, or video by submitting your spark. Go to Share Your Spark!

I keep thinking about it, but everything I have come up with also occurs in the animal kingdom. Art, language, tools, emotions, music, building on former knowledge (my cat did this!), even learning from one another. Yet the one thing I could think of that we, as of yet, have no proof with any other creature is the belief of the divine. Our understanding of God, in any form you wish to give her, is what I believe makes us truly unique.

–Sara Schulz
Lake Geneva, WI

We all became human when we no longer were hairy little beings swinging from trees and throwing poo at each other, now we are naked beings walking upright throwing bombs and oppression; thankfully most of us have evolved further and no longer have this primal trait… my human spark is being a good father, friend, brother and companion to my beings in this world.

–Ian Smit
Worthington, OH

I’m sure curiosity, the unmoved mover inside us all, is the basic human spark. From the “hot stove” to the first kiss, it’s what leads to pain, and pleasure then peace and suffering. In humans discovery is predicated by curiosity but as a paradox of truth it’s our universal child-like wonder that’s waiting to be discovered as we’re born. So then from there: fire, the wheel, language, the Earth’s horizon, space, love, life, and death. The monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey: 2001 is a symbol for our common internal muse of basic curiosity. It brings us each into existence and somehow as it begins to die, we begin to die. Beyond that, over time, curiosity has taken our human race into the halls of science, religion, and philosophy. It’s the tiny living spark at the near end of a long waiting fuse.

–Brad Burkley
Diwaniya, Iraq

What makes us human is our ability to care for one another. We anthropomorphize nature and deify it but compassion is not a physical law but a human construction. There are not many vegan Tigers that fight for equal rights and fair wages. Human nature is your Aunt Katrina that bakes you chocolate cookies. Physical nature that other Katrina, merciless hurricane. I choose Aunt Katrina.

–Chris Hellstrom
Staten Island, NY

What makes us human is our delusion of superiority amongst all the living beings in this planet we called Earth.

–Syntia A.
Phoenix, AZ

  • Hannah Schoenberger

    What makes us human, is our ability to read.

  • Tom Reynolds

    Back so many 10K years ago,we learned how collecting seeds,planting them within our domains,and irrigating them provided grains, which made breakfast.Meat in the morning bad.Oat meal good.Irrigation good.Try squash.Umm.Squash good.What makes us human is our inner ear & eye wiring to our advanced brain and our opposable thumbs, which work together to observe, perform deductive reasoning, and plant and irrigate seeds.

  • Tom Reynolds

    Back so many 10K years ago,we learned how collecting seeds,planting them within our domains, and irrigating them provided grains, which made breakfast. Meat in the morning bad. Oat meal good. Irrigation good. Try squash. Umm. Squash good.What makes us human is our inner ear & eye wiring to our advanced brain and our opposable thumbs, which work together to observe, perform deductive reasoning, and plant and irrigate seeds.

  • cinnamonape

    This is a “toughie” as it would have to be something that is found in every “normal” human being [and there will be huge debates about this] and certainly normal in every human culture…while at the same time absent in our nearest non-human relatives and other mammals (and all other organisms). I think it’s probably the combination of features more than any one…language- which gives a way to communicate about events in the future or the past. That places us in a world of symbols…bound with other humans in a human society.

    The capacity to see oneself as another organism might (and also the belief that one can enter the mind of other non-human organisms) . This was useful both to play the Machiavellian chess-games in the social world, but also to make a good hunter…since it allows one to predict an animals movements and responses (including anthropomorphizing and personification). But this also allows us to impose minds and purposiveness into inanimate objects (”Damn Car!”) or into nature or the power behind nature [the "deity"].

    But other organisms constantly surprise us – ants raise aphids like we do cattle, and harvest fungus like plants. Apes make tools, mentally map their environments returning to fruit trees as they go into fruit years down the road. Japanese macaques passing on inventive ways of manipulating food from one generation to the next.

  • Amanda

    The show points out that the ones left behind in Africa is where the “spark” started. They started decorating their clothes with beads, teeth etc. Using more complicated stone tools. Then, slowly, those “people” moved into Europe and squished out the neanderthals. The question that occured to me is why did the “spark” then stop in Africa? If you’re looking at the spark as the human’s ability to develop tools and technology – the humans in Europe and China clearly surpased most of the humans left in Africa. Why? Was it the climate that made European humans more adaptable because they had to be? Was it because Europe is smaller and therefore ideas are easier to communicate? (Of course, China is rather large…) I wonder if anyone is looking into that?

  • Ralph Varney

    An interesting show that touches on but did not answer, a question I have had forever.

    Had North America / South America “not” been discovered would the Native Americans ever have reached the level of what we now call civilization? Perhaps that society would have lived every bit as long as the “Neanderthals”

    Is that “spark” inevitable? and the bigger question.. will it survive as long as the non spark version of “us”

  • C Murdock

    The entire perspective of this series is that human beings are superior to animals, but we don’t know if that is true. Yes, humanity has developed a certain kind of intelligence which is suited to language and manipulation of material objects, but it’s possible that animals have other kinds of intelligence that we don’t have.

  • Bridgit N.

    The brain. The human brain.
    Energy (kinetic matter) + Consciousness = the Brain.
    Emotions. Language. Ideas. Preferences. Neurotransmitters.

    We are “successful” mutations of evolution,
    depending how you look at it I guess.

    The brain is what sets us apart, makes us human.

  • Gregg Bremers

    In your interview with the woman from the Max Plank Institute, toward the end of the show #2 about Chimps, she stated that wolves don’t know or understand a point as with the human finger.
    I can state that they indeed Do Know a point with a finger or even a look or glance with the eyes.
    I lived with a (full blood) Wolf and a German Sheppard dog for thirteen years. The wolf was as trainable as the dog and even had better verbal understanding skills. The only difference in the training was that I had to take-on the part of the ‘Alpha Male wolf’ so that he could be the ‘beta’, the dog stood-in for the ‘pack.’
    For those thirteen years we lived mostly as a wolf society. He had great learning and reasoning ability.
    He died one week to the hour that the German Sheppard did. The dog died from an old-age infection the wolf from loneliness.
    Perhaps your interviewee needs to live in a social setting with wolves as she might with dogs before making such a statement.
    Respectfully Submitted,
    Gregg Bremers

  • Mike Jacobs

    Two comments:
    First, one of the researchers said that only humans teach, but surely primate mothers teach their children all sorts of things, no?

    Second, I’ve long wondered whether humans are the only species that understands the connection between sex and reproduction. Anyone know?

  • paul herrick

    There are seven adjutant mind spirits. They are: 1) intuition, 2) understanding, 3) courage, 4) knowledge, 5) counsel, 6) worship, and 7) wisdom. Only humans have the last two. Another indicator is perfection-hunger. Only humans have that also.

  • Tom Alexander

    Our rich emotional life as animals predates language and as such I find that I am able to read animals emotions and communicate with them and people instintively because we are related through an earlier species. I read body language and understand how they are feeling instinctively. I only once met a psychopath. instinctively I sensed it and planed my escape. This level of deep inteligence helped me survive.

    Tool making and, language(construction and sequencing), go together. Both require the same kind of visualizing of what you want to build or say while you are building or saying it.
    Projectile technology and beads can be found to build a time line.

  • Peter Allen

    Here’s something I tried “submitting” a couple of times. If it showing up somewhere, I apologize:

    What the human spark Is: Humans share thoughts.

    It may not be apparent, but when one considers other animals, it can be seen that they communicate about things in the immediate environment; only humans speak about anything, anywhere, any time.

    This ability exists not in the individual but in the group which is perhaps why it eludes students of this question. One individual understanding that others have thoughts just as they do can do nothing about it. At least two individuals must understand that the memories and hopes/fears that float across their minds are made of the same sort of stuff as those of others and then must recognize that the other also understands this.

    When they achieve this mutual understanding, two things happen. They can begin to work out tokens (words) to indicate characteristics of these thoughts so that they can share them with each other. But even more immediately: each individual begins to hold on to their own thoughts (as potentially sharable) and becomes an observer of their own mind. It is the first part (sharing thoughts) which allows humans to achieve more of what they can imagine but it is the second part (reflecting on one’s own thoughts) which allows humans to imagine more than what already is.

  • Beth

    What makes us human is that we can wonder why we are human… but then again who really knows what animals are thinking? Anyway, love, love, love this series. Alda is so passionate about pondering these etheric questions. Hope there’s more.

  • Mark

    I agree with Gregg Bremers, but I would probably give the dog / wolf even more credit for human evolution than he did. Why did the diet of early man consist solely of large animals, and not vegetables or fish or .birds? Because dogs don’t fish and they can’t catch birds! Wolves and dogs (African, Asian, European, etc.) hunt in packs because a pack can howl and bark to all the scattered members over relatively long distances. When part of the pack loses their prey, and the other part has cornered its prey, both parts howl and then converge on the cornered prey. Early man witnessed this and must have yearned to join the pack. Maybe the humans used arrows to finish off the cornered prey, a task that the dogs considered worthy enough to domesticate us. And the rest is history!

  • Rafael Harlie Llave

    My question in the other page of this site is my own Spark! In addition to being Human, we also realize (at least for me) that there is still a being that has some capabilities beyond ours. A chimp or a dog would probably not care at all, or knows, if we humans are better or more intelligent than them. But we, despite our already being intelligent in our limited way, are still aware of the existence of a higher being – even if the details as to how different or better than us are unknown to us.

    Perhaps, without going religious or delving into the divine, the next sequel for this show is to find out if there is really a being higher than humans. Not necessarily beings with higher or advanced technology, but beings with capabilities beyond human.

    Dare?!?

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