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For thousands of years, us members of the homo genus have struggled to figure out exactly what a human is, and whether our body and soul (if the soul is indeed separable from the body) are truly unique. And while we may never reach a full understanding, we can see how similar we are to our fellow creatures—no matter how much our egos long to be “more” or “better” than the rest.

Like it or not, you are an animal—and that’s OK. Like all animals, you move about the Earth with the help of your sensory organs; for humans, that includes eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin. If you were a cat, the world would be a far louder place; if you were a falcon, you could spot a mouse from 1.5 kilometers away. And if you were a bee, you’d even have the power to sense magnetism.

But despite these differences, all of us animals sense in similar ways, guided by specialized organs and nervous systems (with the exception of the sponge, seemingly the only nerve-less animal.) And we also have plenty of other defining characteristics in common. All animals are composed of the same types of cells with a nucleus, mitochondria and the works. We all need to eat foods filled with energy, or calories, and drink a steady stream of water to survive. Most of us have sex and feel lustful urges, although us lucky humans seem to derive more  pleasure from intercourse than other species. All animals are able to move our bodies through space, and we will all feel it—and then react promptly—if you poke us with a stick. We are born, we live, and then we die.

And we all evolved, through tiny changes over thousands, millions or billions of years, into what we are today.

So the short answer for “what is a human?” is simply, “an animal.” And while obvious differences exist among species, surely some “human” rights extend to the rest of the world’s fauna…like the right to live a cruelty-free life.

In the next few blog posts I will explore more thoroughly what it means to live as a human. I will compare and contrast our characteristics with those of our fellow creatures, and try to decipher what it all means.

image: Jose Antonio Tovar