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Human self-reflection

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Human self-reflection is the capacity of humans to exercise introspection and to develop self-awareness.

What does it mean to be able to reflect?

Clinical uses of reflection

Educational uses of reflection

Developmental aspects of reflection

Evolutionary aspects of reflection

Biological basis of reflection

Comparison to other species

Various attempts have been made to identify a single behavioral characteristic that distinguishes humans from all other animals, e.g. the ability to make and use tools, the ability to alter the environment, language and the development of complex social structures. Considered in isolation, however, these differences are not absolute, as ethologists have recorded such behaviors in many species. Apes and even birds, for example, are known to "fish" for insects using blades of grass or twigs, and even to shape the tools for that purpose. For these reasons, the idea that making and using tools is a defining characteristic of humans is often considered outdated. Similarly, other animals often have methods of communication, but the degree to which humans create and use complex grammar and abstract concepts in language has not been seen in any other species (see also universal grammar).

Some anthropologists think that these readily observable characteristics (tool-making and language) are based on less easily observable mental processes that might be unique among humans: the ability to think symbolically, in the abstract or logically, although several species have demonstrated some abilities in these areas. Nor is it clear at what point exactly in human evolution (bearing in mind that evolution is a hotly contested scientific theory and is by no means definitively accurate) these traits became prevalent. They are probably not restricted to the species Homo sapiens, seeing that the extinct species of the Homo genus (e.g. Homo neanderthalensis, Homo erectus) were also adept tool makers and may also have had linguistic skills.

The existence of other species that shape tools or use sign language may shed light on human evolution, but from the biological viewpoint the question "What single characteristic distinguishes humans from all other animals?" is peculiar: while superlatives are often also used for the description of other species (e. g. Whale, Cheetah, Hummingbird), the wish to find unique human characteristics is a matter of human self-reflection more than one of zoology.


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