What Makes Us Human?

Posted on Sun, Apr 27, 2008 @ 03:10 PM
Is it our capacity for developing a wide range of interpersonal relationships?

On Monday and Tuesday a special conference will convene in Los Angeles to discuss the topic, "What Makes Us Human?"  While panelists will discuss a variety of ideas about what makes humans unique among living things, it will be interesting to see how many of the relevant traits could be said to arise from one overarching and uniquely human aspect: our drive to build deep and meaningful connections to others via interpersonal relationships.

Participating in the interdisciplinary discussion are experts from all over the world, each having a unique perspective to bring to the table.  One panel, titled Human Origins, will feature Ian Tattersall, Donald Johanson, John Shea, and Craig Stanford discussing how the simple human origins of our complex social structures, cultures, laws and politics have become what we know today, and how human origins differ from those of other species.

Another panel focusing on human creativity will include Miguel Angel Corzo of the Colburn School and artist Barbara Lambert, and still another chaired by Dr. Charles Pasternak of the Oxford International Biomedical Centre will investigate how curiosity and communication add to human uniqueness. Author and journalist Christine Kenneally and Biochemistry professor Bruce Weber of California State Fullerton will round out the discussion group.

Vision's David Hulme will chair a panel exploring the question of what makes us human from the perspective of Hebrew thought. Religion, after all, stems from the seemingly innate human need to believe in (and relate to?) something greater than ourselves. He will be joined in this discussion by Dr. William Hurlbut, consulting professor at Stanford University's Neuroscience Institute and Jeffery Schwartz, Research Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine.

Other topics will include humor and emotion (John Allman, Raffaella Commitante and Frans de Waal), biology and the brain (Bruce Lahn, John Allman, Antonio Damasio, Frans de Waal and Marc Hauser), and even the dark side of humanity—that pesky trait we often try to disinherit by referring to it as inhumanity. Arnold Schwartzman's background as creator of such award-winning films as Genocide and Liberation promises particular interest for this latter panel.

The two-day conference is sure to contribute a great deal of valuable material for this blog. It's hard to imagine that any of the topics likely to be discussed could be divorced from this important human need to form reciprocal relationships with comparable minds. 

Tags: What Makes us Human, human origins, interpersonal relationships