From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Humans, or human beings, are social animals belonging to the mammalian species Homo sapiens (Latin: "wise man" or "knowing man") in the family Hominidae (the great apes). Humans also have a marked appreciation for beauty and aesthetics which, combined with the human desire for self-expression, has led to cultural innovations such as art, literature and music.
Humans are also noted for their desire to understand and influence the world around them, seeking to explain and manipulate natural phenomena through science, philosophy, mythology and religion. This natural curiosity has led to the development of advanced tools and skills; humans are the only known species to build fires, cook their food, clothe themselves, and use numerous other technologies.
The human brain, the focal point of the central nervous system in humans, controls the peripheral nervous system. In addition to controlling "lower", involuntary, or primarily autonomic activities such as respiration and digestion, it is also the locus of "higher" order functioning such as thought, reasoning, and abstraction. These cognitive processes constitute the mind, and, along with their behavioral consequences, are studied in the field of psychology.
Generally regarded as more capable of these higher order activities, the human brain is believed to be more "intelligent" in general than that of any other known species. Some are capable of creating structures and using simple tools—mostly through instinct and mimicry—human technology is vastly more complex, and is constantly evolving and improving through time.
Although being vastly more advanced than many species in cognitive abilities, most of these abilities are known in primitive form among other species. Modern anthropology has tended to bear out Darwin's proposition that "the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind".
Consciousness and thought
Humans are one of only nine species to pass the mirror test—which tests whether an animal recognizes its reflection as an image of itself—along with all the great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos), Bottlenose dolphins, Asian elephants, European Magpies and Orcas. Most human children will pass the mirror test at 18 months old. However, the usefulness of this test as a true test of consciousness has been disputed, and this may be a matter of degree rather than a sharp divide. Monkeys have been trained to apply abstract rules in tasks.
The human brain perceives the external world through the senses, and each individual human is influenced greatly by his or her experiences, leading to subjective views of existence and the passage of time. Humans are variously said to possess consciousness, self-awareness, and a mind, which correspond roughly to the mental processes of thought. These are said to possess qualities such as self-awareness, sentience, sapience, and the ability to perceive the relationship between oneself and one's environment. The extent to which the mind constructs or experiences the outer world is a matter of debate, as are the definitions and validity of many of the terms used above. The philosopher of cognitive science Daniel Dennett, for example, argues that there is no such thing as a narrative centre called the "mind", but that instead there is simply a collection of sensory inputs and outputs: different kinds of "software" running in parallel. and that what are commonly seen as mental processes may be better conceived of as forms of covert verbal behavior.
Humans study the more physical aspects of the mind and brain, and by extension of the nervous system, in the field of neurology, the more behavioral in the field of psychology, and a sometimes loosely defined area between in the field of psychiatry, which treats mental illness and behavioral disorders. Psychology does not necessarily refer to the brain or nervous system, and can be framed purely in terms of phenomenological or information processing theories of the mind. Increasingly, however, an understanding of brain functions is being included in psychological theory and practice, particularly in areas such as artificial intelligence, neuropsychology, and cognitive neuroscience.
The nature of thought is central to psychology and related fields. Cognitive psychology studies cognition, the mental processes' underlying behavior. It uses information processing as a framework for understanding the mind. Perception, learning, problem solving, memory, attention, language and emotion are all well researched areas as well. Cognitive psychology is associated with a school of thought known as cognitivism, whose adherents argue for an information processing model of mental function, informed by positivism and experimental psychology. Techniques and models from cognitive psychology are widely applied and form the mainstay of psychological theories in many areas of both research and applied psychology. Largely focusing on the development of the human mind through the life span, developmental psychology seeks to understand how people come to perceive, understand, and act within the world and how these processes change as they age. This may focus on intellectual, cognitive, neural, social, or moral development.
Some philosophers divide consciousness into phenomenal consciousness, which is experience itself, and access consciousness, which is the processing of the things in experience. Phenomenal consciousness is the state of being conscious, such as when they say "I am conscious." Access consciousness is being conscious of something in relation to abstract concepts, such as when one says "I am conscious of these words." Various forms of access consciousness include awareness, self-awareness, conscience, stream of consciousness, Husserl's phenomenology, and intentionality. The concept of phenomenal consciousness, in modern history, according to some, is closely related to the concept of qualia. Social psychology links sociology with psychology in their shared study of the nature and causes of human social interaction, with an emphasis on how people think towards each other and how they relate to each other. The behavior and mental processes, both human and non-human, can be described through animal cognition, ethology, evolutionary psychology, and comparative psychology as well. Human ecology is an academic discipline that investigates how humans and human societies interact with both their natural environment and the human social environment.
Motivation and emotion
Motivation is the driving force of desire behind all deliberate actions of humans. Motivation is based on emotion—specifically, on the search for satisfaction (positive emotional experiences), and the avoidance of conflict. Positive and negative is defined by the individual brain state, which may be influenced by social norms: a person may be driven to self-injury or violence because their brain is conditioned to create a positive response to these actions. Motivation is important because it is involved in the performance of all learned responses. Within psychology, conflict avoidance and the libido are seen to be primary motivators. Within economics, motivation is often seen to be based on incentives; these may be financial, moral, or coercive. Religions generally posit divine or demonic influences.
Happiness, or the state of being happy, is a human emotional condition. The definition of happiness is a common philosophical topic. Some people might define it as the best condition that a human can have—a condition of mental and physical health. Others define it as freedom from want and distress; consciousness of the good order of things; assurance of one's place in the universe or society.
Emotion has a significant influence on, or can even be said to control, human behavior, though historically many cultures and philosophers have for various reasons discouraged allowing this influence to go unchecked. Emotional experiences perceived as pleasant, such as love, admiration, or joy, contrast with those perceived as unpleasant, like hate, envy, or sorrow. There is often a distinction made between refined emotions that are socially learned and survival oriented emotions, which are thought to be innate. Human exploration of emotions as separate from other neurological phenomena is worthy of note, particularly in cultures where emotion is considered separate from physiological state. In some cultural medical theories emotion is considered so synonymous with certain forms of physical health that no difference is thought to exist. The Stoics believed excessive emotion was harmful, while some Sufi teachers felt certain extreme emotions could yield a conceptual perfection, what is often translated as ecstasy.
In modern scientific thought, certain refined emotions are considered a complex neural trait innate in a variety of domesticated and non-domesticated mammals. These were commonly developed in reaction to superior survival mechanisms and intelligent interaction with each other and the environment; as such, refined emotion is not in all cases as discrete and separate from natural neural function as was once assumed. However, when humans function in civilized tandem, it has been noted that uninhibited acting on extreme emotion can lead to social disorder and crime.
Sexuality and love
Human sexuality, besides ensuring biological reproduction, has important social functions: it creates physical intimacy, bonds, and hierarchies among individuals; may be directed to spiritual transcendence (according to some traditions); and in a hedonistic sense to the enjoyment of activity involving sexual gratification. Sexual desire, or libido, is experienced as a bodily urge, often accompanied by strong emotions such as love, ecstasy and jealousy. The extreme importance of sexuality in the human species can be seen in a number of physical features, among them hidden ovulation, the evolution of external scrotum and penis suggesting sperm competition, the absence of an os penis, permanent secondary sexual characteristics, the forming of pair bonds based on sexual attraction as a common social structure and sexual ability in females outside of ovulation. These adaptations indicate that the importance of sexuality in humans is on a par with that found in the Bonobo, and that the complex human sexual behaviour has a long evolutionary history.
Human choices in acting on sexuality are commonly influenced by cultural norms, which vary widely. Restrictions are often determined by religious beliefs or social customs. The pioneering researcher Sigmund Freud believed that humans are born polymorphously perverse, which means that any number of objects could be a source of pleasure. According to Freud, humans then pass through five stages of psychosexual development (and can fixate on any stage because of various traumas during the process). For Alfred Kinsey, another influential sex researcher, people can fall anywhere along a continuous scale of sexual orientation (with only small minorities fully heterosexual or homosexual). Recent studies of neurology and genetics suggest people may be born with a predisposition to one sexual orientation or another.
Culture is defined here as a set of distinctive material, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual features of a social group, including art, literature, sport, lifestyles, value systems, traditions, rituals, and beliefs. The link between human biology and human behavior and culture is often very close, making it difficult to clearly divide topics into one area or the other; as such, the placement of some subjects may be based primarily on convention. Culture consists of values, social norms, and artifacts. A culture's values define what it holds to be important or ethical. Closely linked are norms, expectations of how people ought to behave, bound by tradition. Artifacts, or material culture, are objects derived from the culture's values, norms, and understanding of the world.
The capacity humans have to transfer concepts, ideas and notions through speech and writing is unrivaled in known species. Unlike the call systems of other primates that are closed, human language is far more open, and gains variety in different situations. The human language has the quality of displacement, using words to represent things and happenings that are not presently or locally occurring, but elsewhere or at a different time. In this way data networks are important to the continuing development of language. The faculty of speech is a defining feature of humanity, possibly predating phylogenetic separation of the modern population. Language is central to the communication between humans, as well as being central to the sense of identity that unites nations, cultures and ethnic groups. The invention of writing systems at least 5,000 years ago allowed the preservation of language on material objects, and was a major step in cultural evolution. The science of linguistics describes the structure of language and the relationship between languages. There are approximately 6,000 different languages currently in use, including sign languages, and many thousands more that are considered extinct.
Spirituality and religion
Religion is generally defined as a belief system concerning the supernatural, sacred or divine, and moral codes, practices, values, institutions and rituals associated with such belief. The evolution and the history of the first religions have recently become areas of active scientific investigation. However, in the course of its development, religion has taken on many forms that vary by culture and individual perspective. Some of the chief questions and issues religions are concerned with include life after death (commonly involving belief in an afterlife), the origin of life, the nature of the universe (religious cosmology) and its ultimate fate (eschatology), and what is moral or immoral. A common source in religions for answers to these questions are beliefs in transcendent divine beings such as deities or a singular God, although not all religions are theistic—many are nontheistic or ambiguous on the topic, particularly among the Eastern religions. Spirituality, belief or involvement in matters of the soul or spirit, is one of the many different approaches humans take in trying to answer fundamental questions about humankind's place in the universe, the meaning of life, and the ideal way to live one's life. Though these topics have also been addressed by philosophy, and to some extent by science, spirituality is unique in that it focuses on mystical or supernatural concepts such as karma and God.
Although the exact level of religiosity can be hard to measure, a majority of humans professes some variety of religious or spiritual belief, although some are irreligious: that is lacking or rejecting belief in the supernatural or spiritual. Other humans have no religious beliefs and are atheists, scientific skeptics, agnostics or simply non-religious. Humanism is a philosophy which seeks to include all of humanity and all issues common to humans; it is usually non-religious. Additionally, although most religions and spiritual beliefs are clearly distinct from science on both a philosophical and methodological level, the two are not generally considered mutually exclusive; a majority of humans holds a mix of both scientific and religious views. The distinction between philosophy and religion, on the other hand, is at times less clear, and the two are linked in such fields as the philosophy of religion and theology.
Philosophy and self-reflection
Philosophy is a discipline or field of study involving the investigation, analysis, and development of ideas at a general, abstract, or fundamental level. It is the discipline searching for a general understanding of reality, reasoning and values. Major fields of philosophy include logic, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, and axiology (which includes ethics and aesthetics). Philosophy covers a very wide range of approaches, and is used to refer to a worldview, to a perspective on an issue, or to the positions argued for by a particular philosopher or school of philosophy.
Art, music, and literature
Artistic works have existed for almost as long as humankind, from early pre-historic art to contemporary art. Art is one of the most unusual aspects of human behaviour and a key distinguishing feature of humans from other species.
As a form of cultural expression by humans, art may be defined by the pursuit of diversity and the usage of narratives of liberation and exploration (i.e. art history, art criticism, and art theory) to mediate its boundaries. This distinction may be applied to objects or performances, current or historical, and its prestige extends to those who made, found, exhibit, or own them. In the modern use of the word, art is commonly understood to be the process or result of making material works that, from concept to creation, adhere to the "creative impulse" of human beings. Art is distinguished from other works by being in large part unprompted by necessity, by biological drive, or by any undisciplined pursuit of recreation.
Music is a natural intuitive phenomenon based on the three distinct and interrelated organization structures of rhythm, harmony, and melody. Listening to music is perhaps the most common and universal form of entertainment for humans, while learning and understanding it are popular disciplines. There are a wide variety of music genres and ethnic musics. Literature, the body of written—and possibly oral—works, especially creative ones, includes prose, poetry and drama, both fiction and non-fiction. Literature includes such genres as epic, legend, myth, ballad, and folklore.
Tool use and technology
Stone tools were used by proto-humans at least 2.5 million years ago. The controlled use of fire began around 1.5 million years ago. Since then, humans have made major advances, developing complex technology to create tools to aid their lives and allowing for other advancements in culture. Major leaps in technology include the discovery of agriculture - what is known as the Neolithic Revolution; and the invention of automated machines in the Industrial Revolution. In modern times, the invention of the Internet has allowed humans to share information faster than ever before. The use of electricity as power is vital in the modern human world.
Archaeology attempts to tell the story of past or lost cultures in part by close examination of the artifacts they produced. Early humans left stone tools, pottery and jewelry that are particular to various regions and times.
The sexual division of humans into male and female has been marked culturally by a corresponding division of roles, norms, practices, dress, behavior, rights, duties, privileges, status, and power. Cultural differences by gender have often been believed to have arisen naturally out of a division of reproductive labor; the biological fact that women give birth led to their further cultural responsibility for nurturing and caring for children and households. Gender roles have varied historically, and challenges to predominant gender norms have recurred in many societies. As a whole, partriarchal societies (i.e., in which men hold the greater degree of economic and political power) have been predominant, and matriarchal or egalitarian societies less common.
Race and ethnicity
Humans often categorize themselves in terms of race or ethnicity, sometimes on the basis of differences in appearance. Human racial categories have been based on both ancestry and visible traits, especially facial features, skin color and hair texture. Most current genetic and archaeological evidence supports a recent single origin of modern humans in East Africa. Current genetic studies have demonstrated that humans on the African continent are most genetically diverse. However, compared to the other great apes, human gene sequences are remarkably homogeneous. Thus the scientific concept of variation in the human genome is largely incongruent with the cultural concept of ethnicity or race. Ethnic groups are defined by linguistic, cultural, ancestral, national or regional ties. Self-identification with an ethnic group is usually based on kinship and descent. Race and ethnicity are among major factors in social identity giving rise to various forms of identity politics, e.g.: racism.
There is no scientific consensus of a list of the human races, and few anthropologists endorse the notion of human "race". For example, a color terminology for race includes the following in a classification of human races: Black (e.g. Sub-Saharan Africa), Red (e.g. Native Americans), Yellow (e.g. East Asians) and White (e.g. Europeans).
Referring to natural species, in general, the term "race" is obsolete, particularly if a species is uniformly distributed on a territory. In its modern scientific connotation, the term is not applicable to a species as genetically homogeneous as the human one, as stated in the declaration on race (UNESCO 1950).
Genetic studies have substantiated the absence of biological borders, thus the term "race" has de facto disappeared from the scientific terminology, both in biological anthropology and in human genetics.
What in the past had been defined as "races"—e.g., whites, blacks, or Asians—are now defined as "ethnic groups" or "populations", in correlation with the field (sociology, anthropology, genetics) in which they are considered.
Society, government, and politics
Society is the system of organizations and institutions arising from interaction between humans. A state is an organized political community occupying a definite territory, having an organized government, and possessing internal and external sovereignty. Recognition of the state's claim to independence by other states, enabling it to enter into international agreements, is often important to the establishment of its statehood. The "state" can also be defined in terms of domestic conditions, specifically, as conceptualized by Max Weber, "a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the 'legitimate' use of physical force within a given territory."
Government can be defined as the political means of creating and enforcing laws; typically via a bureaucratic hierarchy. Politics is the process by which decisions are made within groups. Although the term is generally applied to behavior within governments, politics is also observed in all human group interactions, including corporate, academic, and religious institutions. Many different political systems exist, as do many different ways of understanding them, and many definitions overlap. Examples of governments include monarchy, Communist state, military dictatorship, and theocracy. All of these issues have a direct relationship with economics.
War is a state of widespread conflict between states or other large groups of humans, which is characterized by the use of lethal violence between combatants and/or upon civilians. It is estimated that during the 20th century between 167 and 188 million humans died as a result of war. A common perception of war is a series of military campaigns between at least two opposing sides involving a dispute over sovereignty, territory, resources, religion, or other issues. A war between internal elements of a state is a civil war.
There have been a wide variety of rapidly advancing tactics throughout the history of war, ranging from conventional war to asymmetric warfare to total war and unconventional warfare. Techniques include hand to hand combat, the use of ranged weapons, and ethnic cleansing. Military intelligence has often played a key role in determining victory and defeat. Propaganda, which often includes information, slanted opinion and disinformation, plays a key role in maintaining unity within a warring group, and/or sowing discord among opponents. In modern warfare, soldiers and armoured fighting vehicles are used to control the land, warships the sea, and aircraft the sky. These fields have also overlapped in the forms of marines, paratroopers, naval aircraft carriers, and surface-to-air missiles, among others. Satellites in low Earth orbit have made outer space a factor in warfare as well, although no actual warfare is currently known to be carried out in space.
Trade and economics
Trade is the voluntary exchange of goods and services, and is a form of economics. A mechanism that allows trade is called a market. The original form of trade was barter, the direct exchange of goods and services. Modern traders instead generally negotiate through a medium of exchange, such as money. As a result, buying can be separated from selling, or earning. The invention of money (and later credit, paper money and non-physical money) greatly simplified and promoted trade. Because of specialization and division of labor, most people concentrate on a small aspect of manufacturing or service, trading their labour for products. Trade exists between regions because different regions have an absolute or comparative advantage in the production of some tradable commodity, or because different regions' size allows for the benefits of mass production.
Economics is a social science which studies the production, distribution, trade, and consumption of goods and services. Economics focuses on measurable variables, and is broadly divided into two main branches: microeconomics, which deals with individual agents, such as households and businesses, and macroeconomics, which considers the economy as a whole, in which case it considers aggregate supply and demand for money, capital and commodities. Aspects receiving particular attention in economics are resource allocation, production, distribution, trade, and competition. Economic logic is increasingly applied to any problem that involves choice under scarcity or determining economic value. Mainstream economics focuses on how prices reflect supply and demand, and uses equations to predict consequences of decisions.