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“If you dropped a dozen human toddlers on a beautiful Polynesian island with shelter and enough to eat, but no computers, no cell phones, and no metal tools, would they grow up to be like humans we recognize or like other primates? Would they invent language? Without the magic sauce of culture and technology, would humans be that different from chimpanzees?
Nobody knows. (Ethics bars the toddler test.) Since the early 1970s, scientists across the biological sciences keep stumbling on the same hint over and over again: we’re different but not nearly as different as we thought. Neuroscientists, geneticists, and anthropologists have all given the question of human uniqueness a go, seeking special brain regions, unique genes, and human-specific behaviors, and, instead, finding more evidence for common threads across species.
In the old days, the main hypotheses were behavioral. “Humans are the only animals to use tools.” “Humans are the only animals to have culture.” “Humans are the only animals to teach their young.” But over time most of those guesses have turned out to be wrong. It’s become even more mysterious because almost everything we have found points in the opposite direction, toward what biologists call conservation—evolution’s tendency to use many of the same genes, neurotransmitters, and brain circuits, over and over again.”
JJ Editor's Daily Picks
"With many other countries already studying the Asian playbook, the United States and Europe could benefit from doing the same."
"Trump's cursing is one of the most straightforward parts of his appeal... Trump is not the only politician whose profanity has stood him in good stead."
"‘If we get all of this because Netanyahu wants to make Trump happy, that’s fine with us,’ says local council rep in Golan Heights as plans ramp up for ‘new’ neighborhood honoring U.S. president..."
"...there is something worth paying attention to in this latest petition from fans keen to have a creative work made the way that they want it. The comments on the petition are instructive."
"The sunny job numbers and steady growth hide the fact that most people think the economy works only for people in power."
"Like many other Americans, I now wear AirPods all day at my desk to combat the awful tyranny of the open office. Since they don’t cancel noise, they provide me with writing music..."
"The logic of attributing mental states to nonhuman animals is complicated. We cannot use deductive inference, because there are no general rules..."
"As the canon of English literature slowly, gradually opens itself up to books by women and authors of color, Modern Library and Penguin Classics have just launched two new series..."
"Egalitarian couples assume their progressive ideology will carry the day. Sociologists know that it doesn’t.... sharing child care is associated with valuing gender equality..."
"Business Booms for Sephardic Food: Women are leading the way as small businesses bring traditional recipes to the commercial marketplace..."
"With most animal populations, the niches that encase the populations are of constant size. Animal societies growing in a given niche have dynamics neatly fitted by equations with a constant limit or ceiling."
"Now some 200,000 Jews live in Germany, a nation of 82 million people, and many are increasingly fearful.... 85 percent of respondents in Germany characterized anti-Semitism as a “very big” or “fairly big” problem..."