The prevailing view of the human species is that we are in most ways distinct from the rest of nature. We are distinguished from other animals by our capacity for reasoning and logic. We make decisions by thinking them through, whereas other animals act solely on instinct. We are the only species that has evolved the true capacity for language, and this is our primary means of communicating with one another and organizing socially -- by exchanging information verbally. In short, we are rational, verbal creatures who determine our actions in conscious terms, unlike all the rest of living nature whose creatures act more or less mechanically and on the basis of instinct.
The view expressed above is extremly flattering. it can be traced by to the Christian myth, in which the universe and all in it was created for the use of mankind. It can also be traced back to the Enlightenment period, in which the grat philosophers determined that man had the capability to improve his life by using his ift for reason to separate him from all else in nature. This view continues to have a tremendous influence throughout all social science and elsewhere, in all aspects of the science of man. But it is completely wrong. We are not nearly as rational and calculating and conscious as we think. Much of what we do, including out interactions with others, derive largely from unconscious and nonverbal activity of which we largely remain unaware. Developments in neuroscience, psychology and other sciences are showing that we are also largely instinctual in our behavior -- we are simpler and less sophisticated than we normally think.
I'll soon be exploring this idea in a feature for New Scientist. Hard-boiled rationalists will hate it!