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Homo Sensus-Sapiens: The animal that feels and rationalizes

“We modern humans, taxonomically define ourselves as Homo Sapiens Sapiens, that is, wise-wise beings. Apparently, we can dominate the influence of natural forces, no matter if they are instincts, viruses or storms. Homo Sapiens Sapiens represents the overconfidence of the enlightened man who understands and manipulates nature, while making the best decisions. However, we cannot avoid destroying natural resources while consuming more than we need. We cannot control excessive ambition. We cannot avoid surrendering to the power of sex or money. Despite our evolved brain, despite our capacity to argue and think in abstract ways, despite the amazing power of the neocortex, inner feelings are still at the base of our behavior.

The WisdomX2 characteristic typically does not coincide exactly with our neuropsychological reality. To discover it, you can pay attention to your everyday actions, you can trust neurological observations showing how instinctive areas of the brain are active most of the time or you can trust evidence showing how our nervous system is constantly at the mercy of neurotransmitters and hormones determining levels of emotional responses.

Observations from experimental psychology and behavioral economics also show that people do not always try to maximize present or future profits. Rational expectations, once thought as the main characteristic of Homo Economicus are not neurologically sustainable anymore. Sometimes people care nothing about future or profit; sometimes, we only want to satisfy a desire, right here, right now, no matter what.

Human beings have unique rational capacities indeed. No other animal can evaluate, simulate and decide for the best, like humans do. However, “having” the capacity doesn’t imply “executing” it.

The inner and oldest areas of human’s brain, the reptilian brain, generate and regulate instinctive and automatic responses, which have a role in preserving the organism. Because of these areas, we move without analyzing the consequence of each action; we move like a machine of automatic and unconscious induction. We walk without determining if the floor’s structure will remain after each step and we run faster than normal when we feel a threat, not because of rational planning, but because of automatic responses.

Only a strict training allows us to dominate instincts. However, for most of us, the “don’t panic” advice only works when we are not in panic. Most of us should be defined as beings firstly moved by instincts, social empathy and automatic responses resulting from perceptions, instead of sophisticated plans and arguments.

Homo economicus and Homo Politicus are, therefore, normative entelechies, behavioral benchmarks instead of descriptive models. Always calculating utility and always resolving social disputes through civilized debates are behavioral utopias instead of adjusted descriptions of what we are. However, for decades we’ve been constructing policies, models and sciences based on these assumptions not coinciding with reality.

Homo Sensus Sapiens is a more accurate image of the human being.


The concepts of the liberal hyper-rationalist man and the conservative hyper-communitarian man are hypertrophies of a single human facet. The first one is the hypertrophy of the neocortex: the idea that rationality dominates instincts. The second one is the hypertrophy of the inner reptilian brain: the idea that social empathy and cohesive institutions define humanity. However we are both at the same time. We are the tension of the sensus and the sapiens.

The concept of Homo Sensus Sapiens allows us to realize that we are at a point somewhere between overconfidence on rational capacities, and resignation to instincts. Homo Sensus Sapiens reminds us that we cannot surrender or escape from rationality or instincts. But this concept is not only about criticizing overconfidence or resignation. It is about improving explanations of social phenomena. Social Scientists should not always choose between rationality/irrationality. They should get out of the comfort zone of positivist fragmentation, and integrate scientific areas to explain an analogue human being, not a digital one, defined by the continuum between sensitivity and rationality. Better inputs for public policy would be proposed with this adjusted image.

The first character of this Homo, the Sensus, allows movement, reproduction, atomization of his biology, and preservation of the species. The second part, the Sapiens, allows this Homo to psychologically oscillate between the ontological world of matter and energy, and the epistemological world of socio-cultural codification, imagination, arts, technology and symbolic construction. This combination allows understanding of the nature of a hominid characterized by the constant tension between emotions and reason, and the search of a middle point of biological and cultural evolution. We are not only fears, not only plans. We are Homo Sensus Sapiens, the animal that feels and rationalizes." "
Eduardo Salcedo-Albarán (Colombian philosopher, Ms. in political science and social scientist), answering the question What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?, Edge: The World Question Center 2011.
See also: ☞ Viruses, information and functionalism