What Makes Us Human

Monday, January 11, 2010

Alan Alda, talks about hosting—and participating in experiments for—the three-part PBS series "The Human Spark." It looks into the question "what makes us human," from anthropological, social, and scientific viewpoints.

In addition to serving as the host, Alda also participates in experiments, including one on his brain. "The Human Spark" is airing on PBS January 6, 13, and 20, at 8:00 pm.


Alan Alda

Comments [11]

Ed from Larchmont, NY

You're asking science here to go a little beyond its bounds. It can ask 'How do humans differ from other species in behavior, activity, etc.'. But the question 'What makes us human' is a larger question. What makes us human is that our nature is different, we have a human soul. It is expressed in our behavior, etc.

Jan. 11 2010 09:55 PM
Ed from Larchmont, NY

Hasn't the genome been traced to Africa, to two people?

Jan. 11 2010 01:56 PM
kai from NJ-NYC

@ Tim - There are two pronunciations for Neanderthal; listen to them both here:

Jan. 11 2010 01:54 PM
Stuart Davis from Upper West Side NYC

is anyone familiar with Terence McKenna's "Stoned Ape Theory" from his book "Food Of The Gods" in which he postulates that the ingestion of Psilocybin mushrooms as early man followed cattle throughout the African Savannah was the causative factor in the rapid development of that "Spark" of intelligence that defines humanity's difference from all other creatures?

Jan. 11 2010 01:53 PM
Amy from Manhattan

It's been a long time since I read this, so I could be remembering it wrong, but I thought Neanderthal gravesites had been found w/flowers in them, w/possible cultural implications. Could they have had art that didn't leave traces that survived to be found by archaeologists? (Or maybe they were--thanks, Stephanie [1]!)

Jan. 11 2010 01:49 PM

Inter-group sex spreads not only technology, but humanity itself.

Jan. 11 2010 01:46 PM

I've always been amazed at the amount of sexual interaction of disparate cultures meeting for the first time, ie, say, Jamestown, VA.

Could a lot of the impulse to intergroup communication be sexual?

Could the strength of our seemingly universal drive for strange sex be what makes us human?

Jan. 11 2010 01:42 PM
Tim from Tappan, NY

"knee-an-der-THAL"!!!! NOT knee-an-der-TALL! Eeesh I had to turn the show off last night hearing him say that.

Jan. 11 2010 01:37 PM

Does Leonard realize he himself often asks "is it this or is it that" type question? Amazing.

Jan. 11 2010 01:33 PM
RCT from NYC

I will be at meetings this afternoon and will miss this segment, but just wanted to let Alan Alda know how much I enjoy his science shows and what a great contribution such programs make to educating the public about real science.

Remember "Mr. Wizard"? I learned more about science from this children's show that aired back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, than in my NYC elementary schools. My husband remembers it, too. Way to go, Alan!

Jan. 11 2010 12:15 PM
Stephanie Longo from Colorado

Watching the first episode in this series my husband and I both got the impression that the ideas of the Neanderthal researchers were totally accepted science, specifically, that Neanderthal never made beads or other symbolic objects. We were therefore surprised to hear about the scientists who have found, at Neanderthal sites in Spain, shells used as beads, as well as red and yellow pigments possibly used to color the shells and human bodies. We would have preferred to have both views re: Neanderthal capabilities presented in the series.

Jan. 11 2010 12:10 PM

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