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Carl von Linné, subsequently designated type of the species Homo sapiens

Carl von Linné , subsequently designated type of the species Homo sapiens

Superfamily : Human (Hominoidea)
Family : Apes (Hominidae)
Subfamily : Homininae
Tribe : Hominini
Genre : homo
Type : human
Scientific name
homo sapiens
Linnaeus , 1758
Infant , 10 days old
25% under 15 years
16% from 15 to 24 years
50% from 25 to 64 years
9% over 64 years
49.5% women
50.5% men
~ 0.2% transgender

The human ( Homo sapiens , latin for "understand Direction, intelligent" or "wise, clever, smart, reasonable person") is after the biological systematics a type of the genus Homo from the family of apes that the order of primates and thus to the belongs to higher mammals . General characteristics of people and special forms of human coexistence are examined in anthropology , ethnology and sociology .

In the course of human tribal history , hominization and socio-cultural evolution , characteristics have emerged which formed the prerequisites for human beings to be highly dependent on socialization and culture . This includes a long childhood , the ability to acquire languages and collaborative work, and the ability to enter into particularly complex social relationships .

Through their awareness , people discover the temporal dimension of existence and a reflected relationship to themselves. This gives rise to questions relating to their own existence, such as personal freedom , human position in nature , moral principles of the Coexistence and a meaning in life . As part of the reflection on the relationship to other living beings, many cultures in the course of the history of mankind have developed an image of man that separates mankind from the animal world and contrasts it with it. Such a special position was justified, for example, by creation narratives , which assign humans a separate origin, or by the determination of humans as rational beings . But it also finds an echo in modern ideas such as that of human dignity .

Humans are the only recent species in the genus Homo . It has been fossilized in Africa for around 300,000 years and developed there, via an evolutionary link known as archaic Homo sapiens , presumably from Homo erectus . There are further, but much more recent fossil records for the species from all continents except Antarctica . Of the still living great apes, the chimpanzees are most closely related to humans in ancestral history , before the gorillas . The world population of humans comprised around 7.63 billion individuals in October 2018. The development of technological civilization led to an extensive anthropogenic influence on the environment (progressive hemerobia ), so it was proposed that the current geological age be called the Anthropocene .

Etymology and species name

The word human has been used in Old High German since the 8th century in the spelling mennisco ( masculine ) and in Middle High German in the spelling human (e) (masculine or neuter ), meaning "human". The word is a noun from Old High German mennisc , Middle High German mennisch for "manlike" and is traced back to an Indo-European word stem in which the meaning man and human fell into one - still preserved today in man . The neuter (man) had no derogatory connotation until the 17th century and until then referred to women of lower social rank in particular.

The name of the species Homo sapiens (classical [ ˈhɔmoː ˈsapieːns ], common pronunciation [ ˈhoːmo ˈzaːpiəns ], from Latin homo sapiens 'insightful / wise man') was coined in 1758 by Carl von Linné in the tenth edition of his work Systema Naturae . From the 1930s to the 1990s, modern humans were referred to as Homo sapiens sapiens and Neanderthals as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis . However, this classification of the Neanderthals as a subspecies of Homo sapiens is currently considered out of date.

Characteristics of the body

Human bodies depilated except for the hair on their heads: women and men, viewed from the front and back

Anatomy , human biology and medicine , among other things, deal with the human body . The number of bones in humans is 206 to 214 (depending on the individual) in adults. The skeleton of infants still has more than 300 bones, some of which grow together over time.

The height of humans is partly inherited, but also depends on living conditions such as diet. Gender also plays a role: on average, men are taller than women. Since the 19th century, the average height in Central Europe and Germany has increased from 167.6 cm (men) / 155.7 cm (women) to 178 cm (men) / 165 cm (women).

For the body weight of the people there is no medical consensus that "desirable" or should apply "natural", especially as the body weight also depends on body size. Nevertheless has the World Health Organization (WHO) in the alternative based on the Body Mass Index (BMI) a normal range ( normal range ) is defined which comprises a BMI from 18.50 to 24.99.

Below are some of the most important characteristics of the species, especially when compared to other great apes and other primates.

Walking upright

Popular depiction of the evolution of the upright gait

Humans have an upright gait ( bipedia ), which in itself is nothing unusual in the animal world, but is rare in mammals. The upright gait enables people to stand , walk and run on two legs . He has two gaits. Especially in infancy, however, he still has a large repertoire of further movement sequences (crawling) and can also develop his own (e.g. hopping run ).

Like most other primates, humans do not have a griffin foot , but rather a foot with shortened toes and a close-fitting big toe. Instead, the human hand is no longer used for locomotion. Atypically for a monkey, the arms of humans are shorter than the legs . As with all humans , the tail is absent. Another consequence of the development of the upright gait in humans is their double S-shaped spine and the strongly developed buttocks , which are what make upright posture and movement possible.

The upright gait must first be learned individually, which takes about one to one and a half years from birth.


Rotationally animated model of a human brain (without right cerebrum ; frontal lobe marked in red)
Brain skull of a recent Homo sapiens

The structure of the human brain is similar to that of other primates, but it is larger in relation to body size. The number of nerve cells in the brain of an adult human is about 86 billion, in the cortex of the cerebrum about 16 billion. In comparison, the brain of a rhesus monkey has approx. 6.4 billion nerve cells and the brain of an elephant approx. 257 billion, of which 5.6 billion are in the cerebral cortex (cortex cerebri). But in the pilot whale , the number of neurons in the neocortex alone is around 37 billion, around twice as many as in humans.

What is particularly pronounced in the human brain is the cerebral cortex, especially the frontal lobes , to which executive functions such as impulse control, emotional regulation, attention control, targeted initiation and sequencing of actions, motor control, observation of action results and self-correction are assigned. The area of ​​the cerebral cortex that is responsible for vision , as well as zones that play a role for language , are also significantly enlarged in humans.

On the basis of fossil finds it can be proven that the upright two-legged gait of humans developed much earlier than the great enlargement of the brain. The enlargement of the brain occurred at the same time as the reduction of the masticatory muscles.

The human face is flatter than the skull of an ape, which has a protruding snout . On the other hand, people have a protruding chin due to the retraction of the upper and lower jaw. With the sharp increase in brain volume, a high forehead and its characteristic skull shape emerged .

Skin and hair

Humans have a particular ability to dissipate heat through sweating . No other primate has such a high density of sweat glands as humans. The cooling of the body through sweating is supported by the peculiarity that, unlike most mammals, humans have no (thick) fur . While his body hair is only slightly developed, his scalp hair grows without a naturally limited length. Some of the remaining body hair does not develop until puberty : pubic and armpit hair , as well as chest and beard hair in men.

One consequence of the lack of fur is the rapid cooling down in the cold due to the lower thermal insulation . However, humans learned to compensate for this by using fire and making dwellings and clothing . Both enable it to survive in colder regions. Another disadvantage of being furless is the increased risk of skin damage from ultraviolet light , as fur is an important sunscreen . The skin color , which varies depending on the region of origin, is interpreted as an adaptation to the radiation of the ultraviolet light coming from the sun, which varies in intensity depending on the geographical latitude (→ evolution of skin colors in humans ).

Way of life

Diet and teeth

According to current knowledge, modern humans are “naturally” neither a pure carnivore ( carnivore ) nor a pure herbivore ( herbivore ), but a so-called omnivore ( omnivore ); What is controversial, however, is what proportion of food consumption in the various times and regions was accounted for by meat and vegetable foods. The omnivorous way of life made it easier for modern humans to develop almost every ecosystem on earth as a living space.

Humans have omnivorous teeth with parabolic rows of teeth. Like most mammals, it changes teeth . The deciduous dentition of humans has 20 teeth, the permanent dentition 32 (including wisdom teeth ). The dental formula of man is like all Old World monkeys I 2 C 1- P 2 M 3. Man, however, has reduced incisors and canines.


The onset of fertility ( sexual maturity with reaching menarche or spermarche ) is considerably delayed in humans compared to other (also long-lived) primates.

A peculiarity of human sexuality is hidden ovulation . While fertility in female mammals is usually communicated through physical or behavioral signals so that fertilization can take place in this phase, it is "hidden" in humans. As a result, sexual intercourse is less closely related to reproduction in humans. In addition to the recombination of genes , human sexual behavior has numerous social functions and shows a variety of sexual orientations .

Another specialty is menopause in women. In many animal species, both males and females are usually fertile until they die. However, there are only a few animals whose fertility in females is limited in time.

Pregnancy and childbirth

Newborn human

The pregnancy , as the pregnancy is called in humans is from fertilization to birth an average of 266 days.

Because of the large brain volume of people at the same time determined by the upright posture demands on his pelvic floor is born a particular problem: A human birth can be far more painful than in animals, even compared with other primates, and can easily lead to complications. In order to reduce their occurrence and to be able to treat those that have already occurred, methods of obstetrics were developed.

Newborns are born in a particularly immature and helpless state. The babies have in the first months of life only through (neonatal) reflexes . They cannot move on their own and are therefore largely passive carriers .

Life expectancy

Humans are among the longest living animals and are the longest living species among primates.

In addition to genetic predispositions, the quality of medical care, stress, diet and exercise play important roles in human life expectancy. On average, women have a life expectancy that is several years longer than that of men. Life expectancy has increased continuously in most of the world's countries over the past few decades. Under good conditions, people can live to be 100 years or older.

Taxonomy and genetics


Pedigree of the apes (Hominidae)
Family tree from archaic humans ( Homo ) to modern humans ( Homo sapiens )

Until the late 1980s, were orangutans , gorillas and chimpanzees in the family of great apes together (Pongidae) and the family of Real People (Hominids) compared. Genetic comparisons showed that chimpanzees and gorillas are more closely related to humans than to orangutans; Since then, humans, chimpanzees and gorillas, along with all their fossil ancestors, have been assigned to the common taxon homininae and this has been placed next to the taxon of the orangutans (Ponginae).

Homo sapiens can be distinguished from the other great apes still alive today by its genotype , its phenotype , its ontogeny and its behavior . In addition, there are considerable differences with regard to the duration of certain stages of life: the development of the infant is slower in Homo sapiens than in the other great apes - with the result that humans have a significantly longer childhood and adolescence . This, in turn, has the consequence that the person only becomes sexually mature relatively late and the effort of parents for the benefit of their children is very high; in addition, the interval between births is shorter and life expectancy is higher.

From the 18th century (Linné) to the late 20th century, the species Homo sapiens was divided into different races or varieties (see race theory ). However, from the 1970s onwards, this turned out to be questionable on the basis of population genetic studies and is no longer tenable today. In the late 1920s, the Russian biologist and animal breeder Ilya Iwanowitsch Iwanow attempted crossbreeding between chimpanzees and humans.


The genetic information of man is in the cell nucleus in the DNA at 46 chromosomes , two sex chromosomes , as well as stored in the DNA of mitochondria . The human genome was completely sequenced between 1998 and 2005 . According to this finding, the genome contains around 20,000 to 25,000 genes and 3,101,788,170 base pairs .

The human genome (like that of every other eukaryote ) contains both coding and non-coding DNA sequences, which are often homologous to those of related organisms (“same” gene) and often with the DNA sequences of very closely related species - like that of others Great apes - even completely agree. The similarity of the DNA sequences of different species can also be used to calculate their degree of relationship : In this way, genetic analyzes confirmed that the chimpanzee species ( bonobos , common chimpanzees ), gorillas and orangutans (in this order) are the closest recent relatives of humans are.

Further genetic analyzes showed that the genetic diversity in humans is low compared with the other great apes. This finding is explained by a temporarily very small population (on the verge of extinction) (compare: Mitochondrial Eve , Adam of the Y chromosome ).

In the meantime, several studies have indicated that archaic relatives of anatomically modern humans have left traces in small amounts (1–2%) in the genome of different populations of modern humans. Initially, this was proven for the Neanderthals in Europe and West Asia, a little later for the Denisova people in Southeast Asia and finally such gene flow from archaic humans to Homo sapiens was also postulated for Africa.

Missing definition of Homo sapiens

Description of the human being in the first edition of Linnés Systema Naturæ

When Carl von Linné in his writing Systema Naturæ in 1735 assigned humans to the animal kingdom and in this to the genus Homo , Linnaeus - in contrast to his usual approach - dispensed with a description of the genus based on physical characteristics. Instead, he noted: Nosce te ipsum (“Know yourself”) and therefore assumed that everyone knows exactly what a person is. He divided the genus Homo into four variants: Europæus , Americanus , Asiaticus and Africanus and gave each of them color characteristics - albescens , rubescens , fuscus and nigrans , synonymous with light, reddish, brown and black. In 1758, in the 10th edition of Systema Naturæ , Linnaeus also referred to humans as Homo sapiens for the first time and also listed various alleged character and physical features of the variants, but continued to refrain from describing the similarities, i.e. a diagnosis (definition) of the kind.

In 1775, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach described in his dissertation De generis humani varietate nativa (“About the natural differences in the human race”) the variants introduced by Linnaeus as the four “ varieties ” of man and described some of their common characteristics. He attributed these similarities - more than 80 years before Darwin's The Origin of Species - to the fact that they originated from a common “genus”. However, these features also proved to be unsuitable for deciding whether fossils are to be assigned to the species Homo sapiens or not.

The botanist William Thomas Stearn went one step further and in 1959 declared Carl von Linné himself ( Linnaeus himself ) to be the lectotype of the species Homo sapiens . This definition is correct according to the current rules. Carl von Linné's remains (his skeleton buried in Uppsala Cathedral) are therefore the nomenclatory type of anatomically modern man.

Nevertheless, there is still no generally recognized diagnosis of the species Homo sapiens : "Our species Homo sapiens has never been the subject of a formal morphological definition that would help us to identify our conspecifics in any useful way in the documented fossil finds." In the absence of clear morphological criteria fossils are often assigned to Homo sapiens primarily on the basis of their dated age, a mere paleontological auxiliary criterion.

Evolution and spread of the species

Spread of anatomically modern humans (red) over the earth and previous colonization by Homo erectus (yellow) and Neanderthals (ocher); the numbers are years ahead of today.

The development of humans probably led to Homo sapiens via species that were at least similar to the species listed below : Ardipithecus ramidus , Australopithecus afarensis , Homo rudolfensis / Homo habilis and Homo ergaster / Homo erectus .

315,000-year-old skull bones from Morocco are currently considered to be the oldest fossils that are undisputedly assigned to anatomically modern humans . For a long time the species Homo sapiens lived in Africa parallel to the primarily European and Near Eastern Neanderthals , who were particularly adapted to life in temperate to arctic zones.

Numerous finds support the so-called out-of-Africa theory , according to which humans spread from the African continent during the last glacial period . The speed of propagation averaged 400 meters per year. The Atlantic coast on the Iberian Peninsula was reached by Homo sapiens no earlier than 41,000 years ago , perhaps later.

The alternative, previously more widespread hypothesis of the multiregional origin of modern humans assumes that Homo sapiens evolved from Homo erectus independently of one another in several regions . However, according to recent molecular genetic studies, this thesis has only a low probability.

Paleoanthropology , archeology and genetics , in particular, deal with the history of human development from its beginnings to the present . In addition to biological evolution , human beings were also influenced by their cultural development, which manifests itself in the use of tools and spoken language , among other things . The level of cultural development of the early ancestors of modern humans was initially almost constant for thousands of years. It was not until around 40,000 years ago that - based on current knowledge - cultural innovations accelerated, and since the advent of agriculture and livestock farming , humans have been intervening in their surroundings on a large scale.

The human being as a social and culturally capable living being

Research into humans as a culturally and socially shaped living being is concerned with anthropology with its various sub-disciplines (including social anthropology , cultural anthropology , philosophical anthropology , medical anthropology, theological anthropology , paleoanthropology ), the social sciences , philosophy and psychology , which Ethnology , but also parts of behavioral biology .

The human being as a social being

With the Aristotelian characterization of humans as zoon politikon , that is, as a living being, which by its nature is related and dependent on a social and political coexistence, a main classification is valid until today. The newborn human child is particularly dependent on the comprehensive care of his social partners in order to be able to live and develop. Only in a human community can it receive and process the learning incentives that enable it to participate in social life. Language acquisition is linked to growing into a certain form of human culture that has emerged from the traditions of the respective social association. History and historical consciousness arise because the awareness of such societal-specific traditions can be passed on orally and in writing in the succession of generations . In adapting to or dealing with his natural and social environment, the individual takes shape and attains his position in human society .

Sociality as a consequence of biological evolutionary features

In the evolutionary process on which the incarnation is based, some features relating to physical development are of particular importance: With the upright gait, the front extremities are no longer needed for locomotion and can thus serve a variety of purposes. The human hand is not only capable of gripping powerfully, but is also suitable for various forms of sensitive precision work. The differentiated interaction of eye and hand established in this way leads to the primacy of the sense of sight and touch over the sense of smell. The jaw apparatus, which is no longer needed for grasping, protrudes even less like a snout than in the other primates and enables differentiated sound formation with the other organs involved in voice production.

In comparison with the gestation periods of higher mammalian species, human birth takes place noticeably early. 21-month pregnancies would be expected, which is why Adolf Portmann described the first year of human life as the “extra-uterine year of the embryo”, in which the maturation and development of important vital functions still take place. Because at birth most of the nerve cells in the brain are created, but in some areas of the brain they are still unconnected. The signals picked up by the sensory organs only configure large parts of the cerebral cortex. Seeing, for example, can only be learned at this early stage, as experience with the blind-born has shown. Compared to animals born largely viable in terms of their organ functions and drives, humans are incomplete, less instinctive, dependent on learning and human affection, naturally “undetermined” ( Friedrich Nietzsche ) and therefore cosmopolitan.

The stimulus-response scheme that is pronounced in many animals does not apply in the same way to humans. Between signal and reaction, between need and satisfaction, people have the opportunity to create a distance, to break through the automatic stimulus-reaction mechanism and to react and act variably . Humans do not live in "closed functional circles, but in open spheres of activity." The cognitive ability even enables them to assess the conditionality of their knowledge as a consequence of their own sensory apparatus and their cerebral processing methods.

The consideration of options for action and the examination of alternatives do not determine the human behavior repertoire alone. Much of the everyday chores are so used and practiced that there is usually no need to think about them. The relief associated with the routines is, so to speak, the secure basis of behavior that creates space for reflection on options and alternatives for action.

For orienting incentives to develop their own behavior, however, the newborn is dependent for a long time on the attention of their caregivers and on interaction with them. Above all through imitation, community emerges and the human child becomes part of the community; in defiance and demarcation it experiences itself as independent.

Language as a consciousness builder

As human condition as such, man is distinguished from all other creatures by which applies from time immemorial the language . Its beginnings go back 100,000 to 200,000 years. A well-developed language ability is assumed around 35,000 years ago, at the time of the Lascaux cave paintings . The innate ability to speak, like seeing, must be learned at an early stage; Original language learning is no longer possible at an advanced age. Each of the approximately 6,000 languages ​​consists of a pool of phonetic signs and rules for combining these signs. This is not a rigid structure, but one that can be changed in use.

The spoken language that precedes every other form of linguistic utterance simultaneously activates hearing , both one 's own and that of the other. “The binding of language to the voice and ear, which is based on the structure of the human body, enables language to make“ infinite use ”of“ finite means ”.” It is the primary means of establishing contact and exchanging information and opinions among people from childhood. But all large functional areas of society based on differentiated cooperation , such as economy, administration, politics and science, are fundamentally dependent on the linguistic understanding of those involved.

The linguistic processing of sensory impressions can help the individual to record what they have experienced beyond current perception as well as to preserve their own fantasies : "Without narration - a linguistic form that fixes units and creates connections - what can be remembered breaks down into isolated scraps of a memory Reliability quickly disappears. [...] And when the mentally Geschaute not to sink again, it needs the, Recovery 'in the linguistic forms of the concept of metaphor serve the sentence, the structure of sentences. "In addition to oral treatment and disclosure of the various reading skills are manifestations , be it e.g. B. biographical records, instructions for use , scientific or poetic texts.

For the individual to grow into a culture connected to his social environment, his enculturation , certain generally widespread and firmly established texts are also decisive, some of which are also recited or sung, such as proverbs , songs , poems , formulas of belief and prayers . Language is therefore linked to the respective lifeworld in which it is spoken.

Culture and history skills

In addition to speech and hearing, the images resulting from the ability to see are among the most important influencing factors that determine people's perception of the world. The “external” images recorded through the eyes are in a reciprocal relationship with the “internal” images generated by the brain. However, people themselves have only limited access to the images they perceive with their eyes (and the inner images generated from them). “Where the gaze lingers, what it excludes, what people record in their memory so that they can remember it, is only partly dependent on their consciousness. [...] People are at the mercy of their inner images, even if they keep trying to gain control over them. These images fluctuate and change over the course of human life. Images that were once important lose their meaning and are replaced by new ones. But what all the pictures have in common is that people experience themselves in them and with their help make sure of themselves. "

Especially the man-made part of the world of images in which we live, which has grown colossally in the age of television and the various image storage media, is strongly influenced by these special cultural contexts . In them our worldview and the view that we humans develop on basic questions of our existence, such as love or death, are formed. The interpretation of love, which is closely linked to the sex drive, depends on the myths and rhetorical forms of a society, and it is socially controlled in different ways. “The essence of love appears when you talk about it. How it is spoken of determines the way in which it is experienced. Like love, speaking about love is infinite […]; it searches incessantly for its secret, without being able to grasp it or be able to let go of it, and seduces by its promises without being able to ensure fulfillment; it points to an emptiness to which it also owes itself. "

The different forms of perception and handling of death, which the living encounters on the one hand as a painful experience of loss, on the other hand, as that worrying void that eludes all life experience, are also culture-specific. With the most varied of rites , myths and images, people have always tried to cope with and endure the phenomenon of death. And yet: " No matter how many images and metaphors the imagination creates to deal with this void, it only succeeds inadequately."

Birth and death limit the lifespan of the individual. The human experience of time is initially based on the experience that something takes a while, one (too) short, the other (too) long - up to and including boredom . It takes shape, for example, in the various ages from childhood to old age and is individually tailored through special events and experiences such as starting school, falling in love for the first time, starting a career or losing a partner. “Since nobody lives alone, everyone is involved in stories: the stories of the people in war and peace, in prosperity and poverty, the stories of the family, the stories of relatives, friends and enemies. Some of these stories come from afar, branch out endlessly. We carry their weights around with us for good as well as bad, are steered by them in certain directions and steer them one way or another until 'our' time is over and the time of other generations comes. "

All human activity in the present takes place between a fixed past and a partially shapable future. The empathy and imagination acquired in human interaction and through appropriate suggestions opens up opportunities to put yourself more or less in the shoes of the past and to develop plausible expectations for the future. The human ability to gain useful insights for coping with everyday life as well as for shaping the future is, however, endangered by various obstructive influences: by forgetting and fading out, one-sided perspectives and hasty generalizations, by sinking into details or disorganized information overload, by interest-based concealment or fatal underestimation of ignorance in relation to knowledge: “Seen in this way, truth can only be achieved in a constant struggle against the ever-growing power of appearances; what we grasp of it is always only fragmentary, which moreover to a certain extent disintegrates by itself if it is not kept fresh all the time. However, as Socrates understood, this skeptical knowledge is not the end but the beginning of all true culture of knowledge, in life as in science. "

Human issues

In some respects, people have remained a mystery to themselves, even with intensive self-examination and varied scientific research. The unresolved or highly controversial questions include the phenomenon and the conditions of the human mind - especially the relationship between body and mind - the problem of free will , the future role of genetic engineering and artificial intelligence in human development, how to deal with anthropogenic changes natural environment as well as the question of the meaning of human life .

Body and mind - inextricably linked?

Whether the human mind exists or can exist independently of the individual body is the basic question of the mind-body problem, on which opinions have been divided since Plato and Aristotle. Not only in philosophy, but also z. B. in psychosomatic medicine and religion this question plays an important role. While Plato, in accordance with his theory of ideas, ultimately separates the spiritual from the physical in a dualistic manner (the modern-classic variant of this is Descartes ' formula: Cogito ergo sum ), Aristotle represents the unity of human body and soul , which could not exist independently of one another.

Like Aristotle, the two masterminds of philosophical anthropology, Max Scheler and Helmuth Plessner , derive the special quality of mental processes in humans from comparison with plants and animals. In contrast to plants, animals and people are not tied to a specific location, but can move around in space. But only man can mentally take a detached, reflective position to their own bodies: for he had firstly a body is , secondly, a body with soul and inner life and could the third exercise of one outside of himself lying "not real" point of view. However, this position is used by other philosophers such as B. Charles Taylor rejected, who see in it only a self-description of the special image of man in western civilization since the end of the 19th century.

Free Will or Determination?

Because of his “eccentricity”, humans - unlike animals in general - not only follow the instinctive urge to live, but can also behave variably, strive for goals they have set themselves and have control options in their lives. It is true that there is a wide range of everyday activities that take place automatically in the usual ways and require little attention. In addition, however, decisions based on the situation and occasion have to be made, which in the short, medium or long term mean certain course settings. In such decisions and the resulting actions (or in corresponding omissions) the potential of human free will is contained as a component. This potential can express itself in momentary actions without any further-reaching meaning, in an intentional, more frequently recurring behavior or in a permanent design program for this or that area of ​​life.

Some determinists (including physicists, psychologists and neuroscientists) deny the existence of free will. They assume that individual action is always the result of a more or less extensive chain of causes that steer human consciousness in this or that direction. The individual decision-making process is only apparent; the outcome is fixed in advance; there could be no question of free will. Others criticize this view because it is based on the idea of unconditional free will, which is not conceptually coherent. You oppose a causal factor including conditional free will .

In social practice, there is much to be said for sticking to the concept of free will decisions with care. Only then can the question of individual guilt and innocence be posed in a meaningful way in case law, for example. Without such a concept of freedom, however, there would also be no expectation "that there is a real future that is not just an extension of what has been."

From creature to self-product?

The future of mankind has recently also been a question of how to deal with developments in biotechnology and bioethics . While the genetic makeup of the individual has been an unchangeable, natural specification in the course of human history up to now, which helped to determine his life course and his fate, now biotechnologically new horizons are being opened up through genome analysis , cloning and testing of interventions in the germline . Depending on the area of ​​application and personal location, they are welcomed as a promise or feared as a threat. Thus, the prospect of preventing and curing illnesses contrasts with other perspectives, which show the possibilities of “eugenic selection and breeding as well as the reduction of humans to a carrier of genetic information and an object of economic interests”.

The optimization efforts in the overlapping area of neuroscience and biotechnology are directed not least to the human brain as a place of production of spirit and intellect and as an emotional control center . In addition to the conventional and newer psychoactive substances , psychotropic drugs and stimulants for influencing brain activity, neuroimplants are also playing an increasingly important role in the discussion about the compensation of brain dysfunction and in the planning of a perfected cognitive performance. The relevant debate already deals with implants for optimal adaptation to modern work processes. “Such considerations on neuroenhancement are obvious because a corresponding procedure is analogous to the artificial optimization of the performance of the human body (for example in competitive sports). So this would only be an extension of a common practice. ”If one may be skeptical about reprogenetic and computer- technical visions of a“ new person ”- a very old idea -, on the other hand, one can probably expect to get used to neurosurgical interventions and electronic implants , because: "The fact that we are dissatisfied with what exists, including ourselves, is an anthropological constant."

While on the one hand research has begun that could turn humans as culturally shaped natural creatures into more or less biologically programmed creatures, there are various approaches to the development of extra-human or artificial intelligence in the course of the digital revolution . In addition to the ability of chess computers to process large amounts of data and logical calculation, it is about the automation of intelligent behavior in various areas of application and the related development and optimization of robots . For the time being, one can only speculate about the progress and outcome of such projects: “Biotechnological research thrives on the traditional dreams of mankind and is working on their realization. In a future open to development, an equation could emerge from the analogy of man and machine at the interface between the natural artificiality of technologically optimized human organisms and the artificial naturalness of organic-technological systems. "

From environmental design to environmental destruction?

Since the Neolithic Revolution at the latest , humans have begun to significantly change the natural environment they find through the transition to sedentarism and agriculture and the creation of urban living spaces. As a result of the industrial revolution and a rapidly growing world population , human interventions in the natural order are increasingly becoming an ecological problem that, in connection with global warming, calls into question the natural foundations of human life at all . This challenge is all the more serious because air and atmosphere like the oceans as common property ( commons ) are traditionally subject to everyone's free use, but the sacrifice of individuals to protect them is hardly significant: the tragedy of the commons . Whether the reversal process that has started in the use of fossil fuels in terms of climate protection will adequately alleviate the problem could also depend on which human potentials predominate in this question: the individual tendency towards optimistic, illusory self-assessment and future expectations or an enlightening way of thinking that Shadows of the Future ”becomes a fundamental measure of action in the present.

The cultural environment of many people is also exposed to change, which is perceived as threatening in the course of globalization , which is driven by worldwide economic and media networking, bringing about changes of a socio- cultural nature as well as new ways of life and living environments. If, on the one hand, this feeds hopes for a world society with a universal democratic culture, then for others the expectation of a loss of identity is in the foreground and, associated with this, the insistence on the necessity of cultural difference.

Does human life have a purpose?

Raising the question of meaning is again only possible for humans as a being who does not get absorbed in life, as is the case with other living beings, but can create a distance to one's own actions and adopt an observing attitude towards itself. What and what a person is therefore one of the basic questions of religion and philosophy . The reflection of the question of meaning can start on different levels: on individual life situations, on the meaning of a certain individual life as a whole and on the existence of people in general. Such a question, however, eludes a generally applicable answer - for example as a result of scientific investigations: “This search is up to each individual, mostly to the extent that he is able and urged to do it by his disposition and his history. Because of the great diversity of life's fates and because of the essentially personal and practical nature of the apprehension of meaning, general anthropological science and reflection are overwhelmed here; it cannot relieve the individual of his personal search, error and finding by providing him with reliable theoretical information and practical instructions. "

Even for the individual, the question of meaning does not arise constantly or in such a way that it has to be answered once and for all, but mainly in decision-making situations in which a meaningful choice has to be made. In order to ensure that the question of the meaning of life can be answered positively by the individual, self-acceptance and the acceptance of one's own life situation as well as an attitude towards death are favorable. “Those who have a full life are ready to go, and those who have lived the least stick to survival the most. He who does not know what it is really worth living for suppresses death; and whoever knows something that is worth risking your life for if necessary, also knows what it is worth living for. "


  • Axel W. Bauer : What is a person? Attempts to answer medical anthropology (revised version of the opening lecture of the conference "What is man? How medical progress changes the image of man" by the Evangelical Academy Baden in Bad Herrenalb on November 11, 2011). In: Specialized prose research - Border Crossing 8/9, 2012/2013, ISBN 978-3-86888-077-9 , pp. 437–453.
  • Charles Darwin : The descent of people , Swiss beard, Stuttgart 1875, Fischer paperback, Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-596-50900-9 . (First German translation of the original English text from 1871).
  • Gerd Haeffner : Philosophical Anthropology. Stuttgart / Berlin / Cologne 2000.
  • Friedemann Schrenk : The early days of man. The way to Homo sapiens (= CH Beck knowledge ). 5th, completely revised and supplemented edition. CH Beck, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-406-57703-1 .
  • Herbert Wendt, Norbert Loacker (ed.): Kindler's Enzyklopädie Der Mensch. 10 volumes, Kindler, Zurich 1981–1985.
  • Christoph Wulf : Anthropology. History, culture, philosophy. Rowohlt, Reinbek 2004, ISBN 3-499-55664-2 .

Web links

Commons : Human  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Mensch  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

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  19. NCBI MapViewer Statistics
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    Not my type.
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    Oldest Homo sapiens fossil claim rewrites our species' history. In: from June 7, 2017.
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  41. Haeffner 2000, p. 56.
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  47. Wulf 2004, p. 257.
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  56. Cf. Axel W. Bauer : Man as a product of genes and the inviolability of his dignity. In: Deutsche Richterzeitung . Volume 80, 2002, Issue 5, pp. 163-169.
  57. Wulf 2004, p. 144.
  58. Gerald Hartung : Philosophical Anthropology. Basic knowledge of philosophy. Stuttgart 2008, p. 119.
  59. Christian Thies: Introduction to Philosophical Anthropology. 2nd, revised edition. Darmstadt 2009, p. 144.
  60. Gerald Hartung: Philosophical Anthropology. Basic knowledge of philosophy. Stuttgart 2008, p. 123.
  61. Bernhard Verbeek: The anthropology of environmental destruction. The evolution and the shadow of the future. Darmstadt 1990, p. 238 f.
  62. Bernhard Verbeek: The anthropology of environmental destruction. The evolution and the shadow of the future. Darmstadt 1990, pp. 79, 244-246.
  63. “What is the human being?” This is, for example, one of the classic questions by Immanuel Kant , once again asked by Wolfhart Pannenberg from a religious perspective .
  64. Haeffner 2000, p. 220.
  65. Haeffner 2000, p. 231.