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Dec 13

While backpacking through Bolivia's Isla Del Sol a few years ago, I found myself wondering how many animals walk for pleasure rather than necessity—not to hunt or feed, not to find shelter or warmth, but only to enjoy the act of walking itself.

I asked about this on Quora and got mostly unhelpful answers. The topic came up again on our last Abel Tasman trip, and it got me wondering whether there are any other species that share our planet yet lack these supplementary traits.

As a result, I read a fascinating compilation of essays about the human condition from a bygone issue of New Scientist magazine, centered on the six universal activities. It's obvious that some of them are true, while others are just comical. They all make you feel like a part of something bigger and more intimate.



It is often held that humans and dolphins are the only two species who mate only for pleasure. In spite of what you may think, this is not the case. Some creatures are unable to reproduce because of their sex. Aside from humans, very few other creatures like to congregate in large groups.

All mammals play, but no other species partakes in as many different types of play or spends as much time doing it, claims New Scientist.

Humans have a wide range of interests, from the physically active (sports, games, dancing, and even tickling) to the linguistically and musically experimental (jokes, original music). Only humans keep our sense of humor until old age.



Even as early children, we show signs of pattern recognition. It's possible that we'll realize a two-piece brick can be assembled by slotting it over another two-piece brick, at which point we'll know to collect all the red Lego bricks together. We constantly classify the world around us, make predictions about how things will function, and then put these hypotheses to the test.

Everything from the development of timekeeping and calendars to the adoption of metric and SI units and the search for cosmological understanding can be traced back to this, claims New Scientist.


Man on mountain



A wide variety of animals adhere to primitive behavioral norms (usually revolving around territory and dominance), but no other species has the same elaborate set of rules, taboos, and etiquette that humans have.

The only way to know for sure whether every civilization has rules is to study every culture in the world, yet humans are hardwired to conform to social standards. Legislation is a human characteristic because it regulates conduct in these three fundamental domains.

The first is the bonds of family, which include a sense of obligation to and protection from one's relatives as well as the right to certain benefits and privileges (e.g. a daughter inheriting land from her mother, or a father legally obligated to provide for his son).

Second, because of the universal preoccupation with personal security, all societies have codified the circumstances under which it is acceptable to kill or hurt another person.

Third, there's the problem of who can and can't use certain objects at different times and in different places; although there is no universal idea of "private property," cultures all over the globe have established norms for such matters.



Adjective used to describe someone who is very particular about what they eat. Most animals see food just as a means to an end: keeping their bodies functioning. Humans have the capacity to transform the preparation of a meal into a labor of love, an artistic creation, a means of seduction, or a special occasion. Dinnertime is a time for socializing and argument resolution between families as well as amongst friends who have stopped by for a meal.

Our differences extend well beyond the ways in which we see and interact with food. The impact of one of humanity's greatest inventions, the kitchen stove, is not to be underestimated.

The primary innovation that enabled our ancestors to develop into intelligent, social animals was cooked food, which contains more calories and needs less chewing, according to Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham.

He makes the point that although chimpanzees spend almost six hours a day chewing, people only spend around an hour on this activity, freeing up more brainpower for learning and development.



After visiting the San Cristóbal, Galápagos, tortoise breeding station, I now have a different outlook on these fascinating animals. When I first heard about them, I imagined a wise, kind animal that moved through life carefully and gently. After the visit, they changed into huge, horny creatures who engaged in loud, grunting, terrible sex in public.

Obviously, they're just like every other species, with the possible exception of humans, who do not share this preference. Experts feel that there is a deeper explanation, which may be traced back to years of social indoctrination. Research conducted by University of Florida psychology professor Clive Wynne suggests that animals with intense inter-male competition are more likely to engage in covert mating.

According to Donald Symons, anthropologist and author of The Evolution of Human Sexuality, men see sex as a valuable commodity and engage in it "covertly to avoid arousing covetousness."

Harvard professor Steven Pinker concurred, saying, "This is the same reason why somebody holding food during a famine is prone to enjoy it in isolation."

In other words, the true drivers of covert sexual activity are not inhibitions but rather competitiveness and pride.



It was once remarked by a female writer that all you had to do to win a lady over was to ask her opinion on Keira Knightley. You'll get closer in the torrent of anger that follows.

Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language author Robin Dunbar claims that humans utilize gossip to strengthen relationships. He thinks that gossiping is the human equivalent of monkey grooming.

We talk instead of maintaining our many connections, which would take too much time. For Dunbar, "gossip arose for the aim of lubricating the gears of social interaction," and this holds true for everyone from elementary schoolers to heads of state.

It may come as a surprise, but not all rumors are malicious. Over the course of his research, Dunbar found that negative comments about an individual were much less common than positive ones. We don't really want to complain; we simply like to speak. Except when the topic is Keira Knightley, in which case the answer is obvious.