Just How Wise Is Homo Sapiens?
Homo sapiens: The modern species of humans. Archaic forms of Homo sapiens probably evolved around 300,000 years ago or earlier in Africa, and anatomically modern fossils are known from about 100,000 years ago. All humans now living belong to the subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens. The closest living relative of Homo sapiens is the chimpanzee. Neanderthals in Europe and Solo man in Asia are usually classed as archaic humans. Though archaic humans belong to the same species as modern humans, not all archaic groups or populations are necessarily ancestral to Homo sapiens sapiens. According to certain models of human evolution, modern humans replaced archaic populations throughout Asia and Europe after migrating out of Africa in comparatively recent times.
– The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2005
How wise are you if you didn’t know the proper name of your own species, Homo sapiens sapiens? Don’t feel insulted, there is a point here.
What does the species name mean?
Homo – Latin for man, human (the scientific name always begins with a capital letter, even if it is written as H. sapiens)
sapiens – Latin for wise (Sapiens is both singular and plural, not always plural as many assume because it ends with s)
So the human subspecies to which you belong is technically called “wise, wise man.” No doubt the additional “wise” is intended as an intensifier.
It will come as no surprise to you to learn that our species name was given to us by a man (not by any other animal). The man, Carl Linnaeus, was born in southern Sweden, in 1707.
Linnaeus, botanist, zoologist and physician, is known as the father of taxonomy. That means giving names to organisms, not stuffing dead animals.
No doubt Linnaeus was wise. Those with whom he consulted in his professional and personal lives were surely wise. Or at least knowledgeable, for their time. But how wise is the species he called super-wise, across the full spectrum of people? Linnaeus lived in an environment surrounded by wise men, and presumably wise women whose wisdom was not as well recognized or acknowledged. (How wise is that?)
In reaction to a post I made on Facebook recently, which included the name of our species, a Facebook friend who lives in Rwanda, Africa, commented “hahahah homo sapiens are unwise because they think their wisdom is to kill each other,hate each other,…” Humans are, generally speaking, the only species that kills for reasons other than food or defence.
We have been known to kill for sport (think of the Beothuk, of Canada, the true “red men,” who were hunted to extinction). We kill in acts of genocide, infanticide, patricide, matricide, murder and in support of our religions, our tribes and our nations. We kill, in some cases, because we are told by our leaders or commanders to kill. Let’s not forget suicide, another act of killing that is almost unknown elsewhere in the animal kingdom.
How super-wise is that? Or even just wise? Despite all that killing, our species is expanding so fast that we add another billion people to the planet every few years. Human population now is five times what it was 100 years ago. How? Mostly by slowing down the rates of death from disease and childbirth.
Our ancestors adapted so well that from our genetic beginnings in east Africa (genetic Adam about 150,000 years ago, genetic Eve about 120,000 years ago–each of us can date ourselves genetically back to one or the other of them) we now populate almost every chunk of land on the planet, no matter its climate or other forms of life used for food.
No doubt we have been successful by adapting. But how many of our ancestors were actually wise enough to help their peers with these adaptations? Not many. Only after we had settled most of the world’s land mass did we reproduce enough to gain the power of numbers we have today.
How many among us are wise today? We have television shows that broadcast activities some of us do that are not just dangerous, but downright stupid. Many of those acts of stupidity are scripted, planned, choreographed.
Many people today risk their lives doing things that are not just dangerous to health, but risky to their lives. All to get attention or money. Our species is unique, for certain, in that way. Wise?
Our species is especially known for its tool making and use and for its written knowledge. These are relatively recent in human history, comprising no more than 2% of the time we have existed. How many of us have actually created a tool, or could use one unknown to us previously without training with a manual or by watching others? How many of us have actually read any number of the millions of books that sit lonely in our libraries?
We have entire industries based on values that were created from nothing by people who knew how to make money by exploiting naiveté and stupidity. For example, the fashion industry that creates items of clothing that are titillating or ugly, items that may well only be worn once though they cost thousands of dollars to buy. It’s not as if these could be donated to clothing collections for the poor.
We have giant pharmaceutical companies that cater to people who live unhealthy lives, selling them drugs that guarantee to keep them enslaved to drugs until they die. And giant agribusinesses that create many foods so unhealthy that they feed customers constantly to the pharmaceutical companies.
These industries are all enormously wealthy. And powerful enough that they can influence governments to create laws or regulations that allow them to function and to put those who oppose them into prison or ruin their reputations.
I am not saying these industries should not exist. I am saying their customers could hardly be called wise. We could teach people to be wiser. But we don’t. How wise is that?
If a rabbit created a system of taxonomy, I have no doubt that rabbits would be at the top of the scale of development. Impossible? How would you know? You can’t even communicate with rabbits. Rabbits might be the most sophisticated animals species on the planet, but we would not know it because we have already dubbed ourselves the most highly developed.
Think about it. They are cute, cuddly, they love to have sex, they have no trouble finding food for themselves or shelter for their families and they can withstand any weather in any climate. Can you say that about yourself?
Before you accept our self-ordained title as the smartest, most developed and most sophisticated animal on the planet, drive to a supermarket and watch people jockeying for the parking places closest to the door, even if the space is designated for people with handicaps and they aren’t. Or follow a few people down the aisles and watch how they position their carts as they gaze over goods on shelves.
Homo sapiens sapiens. Just a name. Don’t take it too seriously. Other animals and plants are probably laughing at us and we don’t even know it.
Among our brightest and best educated fellow humans are those who want to visit planets in other star systems. Not a single one of these people can communicate in the language of any other living things on this planet.
Yet a few of them have learned many words in human languages.
Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want their children to grow up well balanced as well as just smart.
Learn more at http://billallin.com