A well-written article by Carl Zimmer in the NYT
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/26/science/in-the-human-brain-size-really-isnt-everything.html?hp discusses recent research into what makes the human brain different from the brains of other mammals. He writes that “Once that cranial growth was underway, our forerunners started leaving behind signs of increasingly sophisticated minds, like stone tools and cave paintings. ”
But is that sheer narcissism on the part of human scientists (and perhaps Mr. Zimmer as well)? Consider the wonders produced by what we like to think of as “lower animals.” Before modern humans existed, animals were producing art and architecture. Beavers built dams, bees built intricate hives and birds built beautiful (and very functional) nests. Still other animals, although we tried to deny it, used sticks and stones as tools. Could they have been the teachers of early man?
Moreover, if you watch your pet dog or cat sleeping, you will see that they dream, and their dreams may cause their legs to respond as though they are running. As much as we might wish to deny it, those are clear signs of consciousness. Moreover, compare the faces of animals that have endured abuse with those who have been well cared for and you will see the not-so-subtle expressions of fear and uncertainty on the former, and joy in the faces of the latter.
To the best of my knowledge, the one thing that truly distinguishes mankind from other animals is that we produce weapons which we use to kill other people and animals. Is that something to be proud of? I think not.