Human Uniqueness

on Jan 13, 2010

In Spring 2007, I took a course at Stony Brook University on “The Biology of Being Human”, taught by Professor Paul Bingham and Instructor Joanne Souza. The course seemed harmless enough at first but boy was I in for a shock. I had two major revelations. The first being what “science” really meant and how it worked. It is the the tool naturally ingrained in us to make sense of the world. The second revelation was the application of science in colossal proportions. Evolutionary biology transcended the natural sciences and reared its head into the social sciences. Psychology, history, economics, sociology; they were all joined together in a fascinating understanding of what it means to be human.

In a nutshell, the [scientific] theory stated that humans became unique when they began to cooperate with each other in large numbers. This was facilitated by access to coercive weapons that allowed conflicts of interest to be managed. All other uniquely human traits evolved soon after. Culture formed. Elite communication (language) was feasible because information from others could be trusted. Large brains made sense because of the information available from others. Every time new coerive technology controlled conflicts of interests on a greater level, human advancement shot up. Concepts of economic systems, governments, and morality could be realistically understood. And, most importantly, we could use this knowledge to practically better the world in all manners of life.

Until recently, all I could really tell people was such a brief story (or tell them to take the course if they were students). However, the instructors have published a book on this incredible material and it is meant for a mainstream audience: Death from a Distance and the Birth of Humane Universe: Human Evolution, Behavior, History, and Your Future. There’s more information on it on the website. I highly advise you to check it out.

The instructors are also offering a fully-online graduate level version of their course. Information on that is also on the website.

As a matter of transparency, I should note that I’m involved with these professors in several ways. I’ve done research with them (some of which is touched on in the book!) and am in the process of coauthoring a manuscript for publication. I’m also doing work for them on the technology end. Lastly, I have and still instruct parts of their course. Although I’ve received financial compensation for the latter two, it’s work that I really care for and feel strongly about. I truly hope that this theory succeeds in bringing for a brighter, more humane future.