According to the well regarded Harvard evolutionary biologist, we’re talking symbolism, creativity, recursiveness*, and language. In this article from the latest Harvard Magazine, Hauser does a good job in describing how language is qualitatively different in humans than in animals. Noteworthy is his point that animals possess “laser-beam” intelligence in specific areas; including chimps and tools, rhesus monkeys and their ability to distinguish singulars versus plurals, and songbirds’ ability to create different combinations of songs for specific things such as marking territory. Many things that we can do animals can do too. The difference is that while they possess laser specific abilities, we possess a “floodlight” of human intelligence that can use single systems of thought in multiple ways, and apply information cross contextually. To begin the quest for our great feat’s origin, read the article.
* language recursion = the ability to extend language, potentially infinitely, by such means as embedding sentences within other sentences. Click here for more on recursion.