–We share 99% of our genes with apes. Is the difference really in the remaining 1%?

If it were that simple we would have already located it. But it’s not just the genes that count, it’s how we use them. The genes that make us human could also be carried by other primates. The difference is in how they are regulated, that is, in how they interact with each other.

–Has biology detected something that clearly distinguishes us from other animals?

Our brain consumes much more energy than that of other animals. It is working at a much higher rate than other primates. This fact has to be connected with consciousness and intelligence, which are located in the brain.

“The rhythm of our brain’s work has to be related to consciousness and intelligence”

Salvado Macip, biologist and author of “What makes us human?” (Arcade, 2022)

–How does consciousness arise?

One of the keys would be to understand what area of ​​the brain it is in. It was assumed to be in the cerebellum or frontal lobe, but lesions in these areas do not dampen consciousness. It is possibly the result of a diffuse pattern of brain activation.

–Understanding intelligence is even more complicated.

Quantifying intelligence is a big problem. Intelligence tests measure ability to test, not actual intelligence. It is surely a complex factor, defined by hundreds of genes and modified by environmental factors.

–You. He affirms that, biologically, we tend to xenophobia, machismo, totalitarianism and castes.

We tend to blame our current social structure on patriarchy, violence, inequality. But these patterns also appear among primates. At the same time, justice, empathy and collaboration also appear. If we want to be humanists and improve society we have to understand all this. All animals have social patterns determined by biology and if we don’t like them we have to understand where they come from.

“To escape biological patterns that we don’t like, we have to understand them”

Salvado Macip, biologist and author of “What makes us human?” (Arcade, 2022)

–We have to get out of our biological cage, in his words.

Biology is decisive and if we did nothing we would return to it. But the history of humanity is the history of a struggle against this dictatorship. Violence continues to be exercised mainly by males of a certain age. That is biological. Do we have to settle? To run away from it we have to understand where it comes from in the first place.

–Does biology really serve to understand a different level of complexity, the social one?

Biology alone does not explain everything. But neither is humanism by itself. If we want to understand humanity we have to bring biology into the equation. It is not one thing or the other, but both together.

–It does not seem that biology has clear answers.

We don’t even have 10% of the answers. But if one day we are going to achieve them, science is going to be essential in it: we have to mix science and philosophy.

–More humanities are being requested in scientific careers, to avoid aberrations such as artificial intelligence, for example. Your book asks otherwise.

No. What I ask is to break the barrier between science and letters. It is essential that humanism has more relevance in a career as medicine. But also the opposite: you cannot study philosophy without taking courses in genetics or evolution. We need intellectuals who can speak both languages. We must return to classical humanism, in which everyone tried to know everything.

“We can reproduce human traits even before we understand them perfectly”

Salvado Macip, biologist and author of “What makes us human?” (Arcade, 2022)

–In 2010 the first living being was created in the laboratory. What does that imply for human nature?

The Synthia, or Mycoplasma Laboratorium, is a living being created from scratch. His DNA was assembled and put into an empty cell. But, more than creating humans from scratch, the most immediate thing is the manipulation of their DNA. This is the case of the Chinese twins. [En 2018, un investigador manipuló con la técnica CRISPR los embriones de unas gemelas, para que fueran resistentes al sida, en teoría]. Redefining the human being, something that two days ago was science fiction, is a possibility for the second half of the 21st century. What do we do? Do we have to create posthuman beings? Here is a great philosophical debate.

–Another milestone is the mini-brains.

Organoids are a small-scale version of an organ, created in a culture dish: liver, eyes, and so on. It has also been achieved with neurons. These mini-brains have electrical activity similar to neurons in the brain. That doesn’t mean they’re thinking. But, in a few decades, we could have something that behaves like human neurons. That redefines the concept of consciousness.

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–How are we going to achieve all that if we don’t even understand cancer or Alzheimer’s?

We can reproduce human traits even before we fully understand them. That often happens in biomedical knowledge: for example, when you discover a drug that works, without knowing why. There are things we know how to do without understanding them.

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