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The skeels o Jock Tamson’s bairns

Humans is animals like ony ither in that we eat, sleep, muive aboot and dae the auld hochmagandie. But, at the same time, we arnae the same as ither animals, pairtly acause we are the anely species that can unnerstaund whit I’m scrievin. We are the anely species that haes gane fae bein an endangert species in an East African glen tae bein the anely species tae bide on theirsels on aw the continents; the last ane, Antarctica, designtly, and it isnae even acause it haes onything tae eat on it. And we’re the anely species tae transmogrify the face o a feck o the globe. And even the anely species tae send itsel and its companions intae space. Hou is that humans did that and no ony ither species? Whit maks us homo sapiens sae sonsie?

A few thochts tae stert wi wad be weel-kent physical attributes includin strang opposable thoums and a muckler brain. A muckler brain wad seem a help, inspecially confeerance wi ither primates, but wir brains haes scrinkit ’ithin the past twinty thoosand year.

As for opposable thoums, there is a few definitions o whit that constitutes but they aw involve bringin yer thoum the conter side o yer ither fingers. It is a potential aspect o human beins that expleens hou we got sae sonsie. It’s wi opposable thoums that we can mak aw wir technology. This capacity can be fund in ither primates an-aw: aw the great apes, mony lesser apes; even Auld Warld monkeys like the macaques.

And it isnae even restrictit tae primates aither, even gif the ither tetrapods wi sic haudin haunds dinnae uise them sae weel as primates: pandas, opossums, koalas and some tree puddocks like the waxy monkey leaf frog hae the same distinctive gresp that we associate wi wir ain species. But human opposable thoums is obviously the best anes acause they’re mair advanced acause the thoum is faurer fae the ither fingers and can turn aw the wey roond on the ithers.

The technology we uise wir opposable thoums for tae create isnae specific tae humans itsel, aither: while the technology o humans is och that bit mair spectacular, ither animals can uise technology an-aw. Ither mammals, inspecially primates, and birds (inspecially craws) and octopuses is amang the animals that can uise technology. Hooseomiver, there is major differs atweesh human technology and maist ither animal technology in that humans fashion their ain, and wir technology is perqueer and iver-chyngin.

The iver-chyngin naitur o human technology is due tae wir creativity. Creativity is a new-fangle o the Homo genus, wirsels and wir naurmaist forbears. Humans is that innovative that, fae aichty thoosand year syne on, chynge haes become ordinar in humans. Creativity is connectit wi adaptability and humans is maistlike the maist adaptable species, capable o bidin in mony different environments atour the warld, pairtly due tae wir ingenious development o technology. We can even gang intae caulder environments nor whit wir Neanderthal cousins war uised wi, and they war uised wi the geal. This new-fangle and creativity can be seen in airt, whilk can anely be conclusively seen in humans.

Airt isnae the anely cultural activity that appluises the naitur o humanity: cultur itsel is anither thing that could be seen as specific tae humans. It haes been uphauden that Japanese macaques haes cultur: lair and pratticks passt doun throu the generations. Resairchers commune yet anent whither thir behaviours is cultural or no.

A major aspect o human cultur is leids. Language is wir creative cultural capacity for communication. I say it’s creative acause wirds can be uised in new-fangelt weys thereby expandin the realm o the leid; animal noises cannae be uised in new-fangelt weys like the noises o us humans can. And the cultural aspect o leids is partícular important acause humans haes different leids dependin on the kintra, or whiles even the clachan. This is in contrast tae ither animals wha aften haes the same caw ower several continents. This cultural and linguistic diversity is therefore pairt o wir skeels specific tae wir species and something tae uphaud.

Anither contrast we can mak wi ither species is that they can communicate but no in a abstract mainer. Wirds itsel is specifically human: the wey we structure wir communication intae discrete units isnae something we can see in ither inhabitants o the planet Yird. Polysemy is a notably human characteristic, as is uisin different sounds ’ithoot waitin on a stimulus for them. The wey we pit sentences thegither uisin the wirds is unique an-aw: we can produce a infinite nummer o utterances, unalike ither animals that haes a fixed set o cries.

Anither human characteristic that isnae fund in ither species is the wey fowk spiks specifically for tae spik; it isnae juist a rackless eftercome o anither behaviour. This means that this is a central aspect o wir behaviour; it isnae juist a wee extra on the tap. We communicate for tae communicate.

The meanin o wirds isnae relatit tae the form. This can be seen in some bird caws an-aw, but birds lack ither chairacteristics o human language, like productivity. Likewise, whan bees dance, they shaw that they communicate anent events that isnae there.

Wir leids is uised for tae interact in society and we humans is gey and sociable. Wir sociability is ane o the vicks that distinguishes us fae wir naur relatives, the Neanderthals. And it enables divison o labour, something that allous fowk tae focus on specific tasks, preferably tasks that we’re better at and we’re greeshochie aboot.

The foresaid social skeels includes cooperation and skairin, naitural human skeels that even bairns daes. Whit we skare isnae juist objects, but thochts an-aw, enablin thochts tae spreid fae ae body tae anither. Anither o the social skeels that distinguishes us is wir cognitive empathy, the ability tae unnerstaund whit ither fowk is thinkin, is forby specific tae humanity, and fair helpfu for haein meaninfu interactions.

I wad hypothesise that, for tae empathise wi ithers, we wad need tae uise abstract thocht. Abstract thocht, thinkin on things that isnae here the nou, is a important aspect o the human essence, that distinguishes us fae wir primate maiks. This can be linkit wi language in that wirds is specifically human, but abstract wirds like ‘freedom’ and ‘equality’ is even faurer remuived fae the capacities o ither animals. There is different degrees o abstraction an-aw: dates seem abstract for a bairn, but quantum physics is even mair abstract.

This abstract thinkin is manifest in the wey we can think aheid o time and back in time. Baith reminiscin and imaiginin is ane o the maist fundamental human vicks. And the connection atweesh wir thinkin anent the futur and anent the past is stranger nor we realise acause we big wir ideas anent the futur wi wir mindins o the past. We uise mair or less the same pairts o the brain for thinkin anent the past as for the futur and, gif we forget wir mindins, we lose wir capacity tae imaigine wir futur an-aw. And, imperfect as human memory is, humans haes a spectacular memory ower a lifetime whan compared wi ither animals. This gies us a richt guid advantage ower ither species acause we can plan for the futur and be better prepared for it.

Sae Jock Tamson’s bairns is bairns that spiks leids, and sicweys we communicate in multiple iver-chyngin new-fangelt abstract weys. In the communication sýstems, we can descrive no juist whit we see, whit we hae seen and whit we will see, but even things that we could niver ken even gif they could exist. And aw the vicks can be seen in the behaviour o wir species in ither weys an-aw. Jock Tamson’s bairns wirks thegither, cooperatin and skairin mair nor ony ither species on the Yird. We are forby creative and innovative, wir society chyngin ilka day acause o wir ain thochts. Abstract thocht, thinkin anent the futur and the past, is forby a vick that gars us humans a lanerly species, as is wir capacity for adaption. Leids is therefore the kythin o several o humanity’s heichmaist capacities. Sae lat’s haud on bein the cooperative, creative-thinkin, adaptive animals we are.

Social media image: Girl with a Book by José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior.

Glossar

atweesh between; anent aboot; appluises makes available to; atour all over; big build; caw call; clachan village; confeerance wi in comparison with; descrive describe; designtly deliberately; eftercome effect; feck large proportion; gars makes; geal extreme coldness; gif if; greeshochie enthusiastic; haud on carry on; hochmagandie fornication; hooseomiver nevertheless; kythin manifestation; lair learning, knowledge; lanerly exceptional, unique; leid language; maiks relatives; mindins recollections, memories; perqueer skilfully made; pratticks habits, customs; rackless accidental; scrinkit shrunken, shrivelled; sicweys thus; skairin sharing; sonsie successful; vicks traits; whiles sometimes; Yird Earth