What are humans best at?
August 31, 2005 6:48 AM   Subscribe

How are humans different physically from other creatures? What are we best at?

What sort of things are humans best at? I've always heard that while humans can't hear very high or very low, we've got the largest hearing range. As well, I don't think many other creatures have the same range of color vision that we do. I think that humans aren't good at sprinting, but that we're pretty good at endurance activities. Finally, I've been told that humans have pretty huge penises considering their bodysize, along with the weird fact humans don't have penis bones of any kind. Which of these are wrong, and what else are there?
posted by stoneegg21 to Grab Bag (28 answers total)
Bipedal walking. Fine manual dexterity. The physical ability to make speech sounds.
posted by Nelson at 6:51 AM on August 31, 2005

We mate year round, and give birth year round.
posted by leapingsheep at 6:54 AM on August 31, 2005

I've heard we have one of the most precise sense of taste in the animal kingdom (though this is suspicious, because I always thought taste and smell were closely related, and our sense of smell is pretty poor in comparison).
Of course, there's the primary reason for our success: language.
posted by Popular Ethics at 6:55 AM on August 31, 2005

We throw very very well.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:58 AM on August 31, 2005

We're pretty good at tool making and planning.

I asked my dog to hold onto $20 for me one time, I'll never do that again.

We mate year round

You aren't married yet are you?
posted by Pollomacho at 7:09 AM on August 31, 2005

Best answer: There's thinking, naturally. Distance running is a major attribute. Human vision is nothing special - birds of prey see much, much better than we do.
posted by jellicle at 7:13 AM on August 31, 2005

Compared to most other species, Homo sapiens is quite unspecialized, physically. Coupled with our brain/body mass ratio [which is probably our Best in terms of physical attributes] and problem solving ability we're certainly the most adaptable critter around. So while we might not be the Best at a specific thing, we're the Best at doing the largest number of things.
posted by sciurus at 7:20 AM on August 31, 2005

scirurus: There's really no such thing as an unspecialized species. Any species on the planet has any number of specific physical adaptations that make it optimal to survive within its environment (and niche). This is why species flourish. An unspecialized species wouldn't last long competing for resources that other species are better adapted to gathering. I will agree, though, the that human range of motion is very impressive compared to other species, considering that we can walk, brachiate, and swim.

The things humans are best at, from an adaptability perspective, were nailed down by Nelson, with the addendum that jellicle provides- long distance travel has been completely crucial in the way humans have spread across this planet- really no other species can do distances as well as we can.
posted by baphomet at 7:31 AM on August 31, 2005

we are tool-using creatures. And we're the best at it in the animal kingdom!

Opposable thumbs, yay!

Oh, and language. Whilst other animals have rudimentary communication, we (and maybe dolphins and whales) are the only ones to talk to each other.
posted by BigCalm at 7:43 AM on August 31, 2005

really no other species can do distances as well as we can

Um...birds? Sea creatures? Maybe not as many land animals, but birds and whales and the like migrate huge distances every year. Or am I missing the point?
posted by cyrusdogstar at 8:12 AM on August 31, 2005

Smoking. We're way better at smoking than any other creatures.
posted by willpie at 8:21 AM on August 31, 2005

Distance running's been mentioned -- supposedly, we can outrun any other animal given a full day.

Chewing! We have incisors and molars, not merely one or the other.

(By the way, on opposable thumbs: koalas have two on each hand. Not such great distance runners though.)
posted by Aknaton at 8:41 AM on August 31, 2005

baphomet is right. The way we accumulate fat feuls our ability to run long distances.
posted by scazza at 8:43 AM on August 31, 2005

Humans can do almost everything better than all other animals. Name some quality of an animal, and there's a good chance we can develop a tool that will let us beat it. Tool development is a defining quality in humans. I know it's not in the spirit of your question, but you'd be making an unrealistic comparison if you disqualified one of our best features.
posted by Hildago at 8:44 AM on August 31, 2005

From our spring-loaded ligaments to our muscular behinds to our ability to sweat, the human body took the ideal shape of a long-distance runner starting some 2 million years ago, the researchers say. The long, lean build helped us scavenge widely scattered kills and could also have been an advantage when hunting down prey over long distances. ...

How can two legs be better than four when it comes to striding for long distances? Consider the fact that some 334,000 people ran marathons in the United States last year, and then try getting an antelope to run 26 miles, or a chimp, for that matter.
That ABC News story I've linked talks about how our entire bodies are tuned to long distance running.
posted by scazza at 8:49 AM on August 31, 2005

We're best at shortening food chains. That is, we direct food chains towards us, rather than the natural interweaving of the ordinary "web of life." Of course all the things like walking, thinking, talking and planning are what make this possible, but it's the short food chains we manage that make humans so overwhelming for the rest of the world.
posted by anadem at 8:49 AM on August 31, 2005

We're not better at everything. Take reproduction. We have small litters, middling-to-long gestation periods, difficult childbirth due to high birth weight, and an incredibly long period of dependency for our offspring.

Thanks to medicine and agriculture and such, we manage to keep increasing our numbers, so in a sense Hildago's right — technology lets us get over some pretty big hurdles. But don't try to tell me we're better at reproduction than insects or spiders or even small mammals. They'll out-breed us every time, no matter how high-tech we get.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:55 AM on August 31, 2005

But don't try to tell me we're better at reproduction than insects or spiders or even small mammals. They'll out-breed us every time, no matter how high-tech we get.

Just you wait until the uterine simulators, fetal forced-growth treatments, and robonannies come on-line.

And once I can just tell the nano-infested walls to extrude a new baby for me every week, population growth will really take off.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:10 AM on August 31, 2005

Regarding weewees: humans have a pretty high body-size-to-penis-size ratio. Dolphins have us beat, hands down, though.

And remember kids, only bears, bats, and humans have pendulous penises.
posted by Specklet at 9:52 AM on August 31, 2005

I didn't say we're better at reproduction, or that we're better at everything. I don't doubt we could be though, if we really tried.
posted by Hildago at 10:35 AM on August 31, 2005

If I am not mistaken, we are the most capable omnivores. This allows us very high adaptability to new climates and regions.
posted by BeerGrin at 11:01 AM on August 31, 2005

We're really good at getting rid of excess heat, which is part of the "evolved to run marathons" argument. We have sparse body hair, lots of surface area, and lots and lots of sweat glands.
posted by bshort at 11:42 AM on August 31, 2005

we have good color vision, though that's a primate thing. I'm also pretty sure we have the largest social groups of any mamal, but i may be wrong.
posted by afu at 12:46 PM on August 31, 2005

Oh yeah, human's are one of the few species where females have evolved a trait that makes their appearance more sexually attractive to men (titties). In most species it's the male that has the flashy appearance, like male peacocks and antlers on bucks.
posted by afu at 12:50 PM on August 31, 2005

Adaptability is our best trait.
posted by deborah at 1:07 PM on August 31, 2005

scazza: "The way we accumulate fat feuls our ability to run long distances."

According to the book I've just finished reading, it also fuels the development of our brains, allowing them to be massively more interconnected than other apes, which don't have anywhere near the fat processing abilities we do. This makes a lot of sense when you realise that most of the dry weight of our brains is fat :)
posted by Freaky at 1:11 PM on August 31, 2005

cyrusdogstar: Silly me, I was thinking in terms of land-based creatures and failed to specify that. Thanks for pointing out that oversight.
posted by baphomet at 1:40 PM on August 31, 2005

Not exactly physical (maybe, metaphysical?) but aren't we the only creatures that laugh?
posted by Rash at 4:41 PM on August 31, 2005

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