I never stop looking for ways to explain how human beings are completely separate beings from the animal kingdom. If we continue to think of ourselves as advanced animals, we will never understand our true nature. Misleading concepts block the way to truth.
I listened to an interview on the radio yesterday with Professor Nick Enfield, a Professor of linguistics at Sydney University. He spoke of the way words connect us with each other, allowing us to communicate in ways that animals do not.
One thing he said made a lasting impression on me. The interviewer told him that her child had not begun to speak yet but does an extraordinary amount of pointing.
Prof Enfield responded by saying that pointing is a fundamental human capacity that seems simple but it is a special skill. For example, you drop your keys, and someone points to them, attracting your attention and telling you something – this is shared attention. Prof Enfield compared this with advanced animals like Chimpanzees who do not have the capacity to follow and use pointing the way that we do.
He said, “If we had two cups and we reach for one, the Chimpanzee will be interested; if we point, they don’t get it.” He mentioned that dogs get it because they are more involved with humans. “Pointing,” he said, “is a precursor to the capacity to learn language.” Podcast link https://radio.abc.net.au/programitem/per3aOMAqL?
This speaks to me about the human ‘I’, the higher element that distinguishes us from animals. We can become aware of ourselves as I-beings if we understand the significance of pointing. The thing over there is separate from me, it is over against me, and in that moment I experience myself as an individual ‘I’. I refer to myself as “I” and you are “you”. This gives rise to the need for language enabling us to communicate. To communicate we need thinking, and so it is thinking and speaking (and standing fully upright on two legs) that makes us human and differentiate us from the three levels of life below us; animals, plants and minerals.
Is it the significance of pointing that Michelangelo is telling us about in the Sistine Chapel ceiling panel, “The Creation of Adam”?