Humans as a model for understanding biological fundamentals
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
© 2017 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.
How special are humans? This question drives scholarly output across both the sciences and the humanities. Whereas some disciplines, and the humanities in particular, aim at gaining a better understanding of humans per se, most biologists ultimately aim to understand life in general. This raises the question of whether and when humans are acceptable, or even desirable, models of biological fundamentals. Especially for basic biological processes, non-human species are generally accepted as a relevant model to study topics for which studying humans is impractical, impossible, or ethically inadvisable, but the reverse is controversial: Are humans “too unique” to be informative with respect to biological fundamentals relevant to other species? Or are there areas where they share key components, or for which our very uniqueness serves to allow novel explorations? In this special feature, authors from disciplines including biology, psychology, anthropology, neuroscience, and philosophy tackle this question. Their overall conclusion is a qualified yes: humans do tell us about biological fundamentals, in some contexts. We hope this Special Feature will spur a discussion that will lead to a more careful delineation of the similarities and the differences between humans and other species, and how these impact the study of biological fundamentals.
During the writing of this manuscript, SFB was supported in part by NSF grants SES 1123897 and SES 1425216 and EP by Swiss National Science Foundation grant 31003A_159462.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from the Royal Society via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 284 (1869), article 20172146.