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Opposable Thumbs – Uniquely Human? Not hardly.

May 7, 2009

I saw a reference to this on a TV show a couple of nights ago, I’ve heard it said for years and I just did a web search and there are hundreds of web sites and blogs out there that assert the notion that opposable thumbs is what separates us humans from the rest of the animal kingdom.  This belief is actually the entire premise of some of the sites I saw.  One tuber like named satirical news source even has a story about opposable thumbs having recently evolved on the pectoral fins of dolphins, based on the idea that most of us accept as fact.

opposable-thumbsThis is just one of the many many things out there that really bug me and I finally got around to saying so, because, well, I have nothing better to do at the moment.  How sad is that?  Anyway, there are lots of animals out there with opposable thumbs, some even have opposable toes as well.

Even if we were the only species with opposable thumbs, why is it that we think that that one thing is what would separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom?  We have the ability to walk upright, but that’s not unique.  Our brains are large, but not the largest out there.  Some would argue that we have the ability to reason, but many animals have that ability as well to some degree.

Others might argue that we have the gift of speech, but other animals talk to each other too.  With regard to speech though, I would go so far as to say that no species other than humans use different languages like humans; Japanese dolphins communicate with each other in the same language as Caribbean dolphins.  And they certainly don’t have the ability to write about it, a task in which by the way is best performed with opposable thumbs.

Stereoscopic vision, depth perception, certain emotions and other perceptions, and the ability to stretch our thumbs farther than most other species, the ability to build and destroy things, and many other traits individually or in combination separate us from other species, not necessarily all species though.  The more I write on this the more research I realize I’ll have to do, which I don’t want to do, even though I have nothing better to do, so I’ll just cop out and say it’s because humans have accomplished more, for better and worse, than any other species and we’re at the top of the food chain too, so, there’s that.

Other animals with opposable thumbs include gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, and other variants of apes; certain frogs, koalas, pandas, possums and opossums, and many birds have an opposable digit of some sort.  Many dinosaurs had opposable digits as well.  Granted, most of these are primates, as are we.  I wonder if rationalization is something unique to humans.  The ability to ponder may be as well.

The above picture of opposable thumbs is from

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