The Traits That Make Us Human


Piero P. Giorgi, Ph.D. - TRANSCEND Media Service


11 Oct 2023The Conversation has the following small subtitle: “Academic rigour, journalistic flair”. I follow it because of its academic rigour.

The Conversation article on Science and Technology of 28 Sep 2023 by Cameron Shackell attracted my interest with this complex title: Will AI kill our creativity? It could – if we don’t start to value and protect the traits that make us human.

The article touched many aspects of the relationship between artificial intelligence and creativity (even trade unionism) except the important ones, those that characterise Homo Sapiens, that is “the traits that make us human”, so well stated in the title but so badly ignored in the text.

Lack of academic rigour? Yes and no, because that reference to human nature was expanding the topic too much, but it was also very important. The trouble is that “recently” we seem to have decided to limit the knowledge of Homo sapiens only to its last 5,000 years (interestingly, after we invented violence), while our species appeared around 300,000 years ago. By doing so we miss the best part of our achievements and our true nonviolent nature.

Below I will try to explain by whom and why this choice of a short-sighted historical awareness was made.

In this contribution I will refer to well-known scientific data available in university textbooks for first-second years students of Anthropology and for university students of Neurobiology. On the other hand, the same scientific knowledge is kept accurately hidden from the public, who otherwise could ask embarrassing questions about the well-known nonviolent characteristics of “recent” Palaeolithic Homo sapiens, for example.

Enjoy this new world that will be briefly unveiled to you.

The beginning of a new species

First mistake to be corrected: we did not descend from monkeys, as many popular sketches of human evolution often represent. We descend from Hominins such as Australopithecus afarensis living in Tanzania about 4,000,000 of years ago (Stringer and Andrews, 2011, p. 118). They could walk on two legs as well as climbing trees to collect fruits, but they had a small brain.

The subsequent evolutionary improvement concerned the increase of the brain, as in Homo erectus, who soon left Africa to reach Asia.

In a relative short time, many new species of Homo appeared in several places of Europe and Asia, until Homo sapiens first appeared in East Africa about 300,000 years ago and rapidly moved out to explore all continents (Stringer and Andrews, 2011, from p. 166).

The important discovery of human nonviolence

The first Homo sapiens have been nomadic hunter-gatherers for 200.000 years. Strangely, paleoanthropologists have demonstrated little interest in that stage of our life.

Fortunately, something interesting evolved in the human brain around 50,000 years ago: artistic skill emerged and Homo sapiens started painting the walls of caves, carving images on pieces of wood, on flat stones and building small solid images mostly of female human beings. These images, sometime of exceptional artistic quality, attracted much interest among anthropologists with two subsequent aims: first simply describing those images and subsequently interpreting the aim of the artist. These descriptive images practically extended of 40,000 years the history of human beings (Anati, 2008), as earlier historians had previously limited themselves to the availability of written documents, that means only 5.000 years of history.

Interestingly, rock art essentially described scenes of hunting animals, fishing, collecting fruit and vegetables and sometime love making, no scene of violence (human against human), while written documents used by historians until 2008 were simply confirming the existence of violence, war, and social injustice in the last 5,000 years.

The sterile debate about the nonviolent interpretation of rock art (“perhaps social violence could have existed without being immediately translated into art”) terminated when Bonta (1993) first reported about the surprising existence of about 20-25 small nomadic, hunter-gathering, and nonviolent cultures who, therefore, were paleolithic people survived from the attacks of violent cultures by hiding in remote places of the earth. To obtain more information about this important topic see also Bonta (1996), Giorgi (2008), Fry and Souillac (2017), Fry (2018), Giorgi (2020), Sponsel (2021), and Bonta (2023).

The invention of violence

I find it extraordinary that practically nobody in 2023 is aware of the very special historical trends human beings are experiencing since the invention of food production (independently in three places of the world: 10,000 years ago in the Middle East, 7,000 years ago in Southern China and 5,000 years ago in Central America).

This clever innovation was followed almost everywhere by several obvious and “innocent” consequences: loss of nomadism, establishment of small cities, rapid increase in size of cities and rapid stratification of societies due to the new diversification of individual roles in the production of services (professions). In fact, some professions were more advantageous in bartering. At this point subsequent changes in society following food production lost their “innocence”.

A very rich minority of people deliberately placed themselves at the top of society, organised and subsidised a police service that imposed rules and regulations to the subjected population and gave to themselves obvious titles of power, such as King, Minister, Judge, General, etc.

One very important characteristic of these new self-promoted people needs to be stressed: they were all belonging to the male gender of our species. I will not develop this topic in this short presentation, as I have already done it in a book chapter intitled “The centrality of women in the human adventure” (Giorgi, 2015).

It became soon obvious that it was convenient for Kings in power to challenge nearby cities with the purpose of enlarging their own area of control and their own wealth. The new terrible type of human violence called war was invented.

The weak democracy of “modern” States

War is simply the extension of structural violence, the system thru which little known power systems control the population even of modern democratic countries, those who have Parliaments and elected Governments. Power systems maintain such officially unknown power by investing much money in local mass media, a very effective way of controlling public opinions.

In 2023 we are still at this patriarchal and violent stage (therefore not human), but nobody knows it, except a few anthropologists and one neurobiologist, as already listed above (end of chapter 2).

Historians have naively contributed to such a dangerous situation of public ignorance: when they became aware of what happened (violence and war) since the appearance of the first large cities surrounded by defensive walls, historians decided to describe them with the positive term of Civilisation to hide what really happened:  they stressed the rapidly increase in technological knowledge, while hiding the parallel rapid loss of human characteristics (mostly loss of nonviolence and solidarity, very present before Food Production). To be more realistic and honest, in our publications we prefer to describe the same phenomenon as the Human Tragedy, rather than Civilisation.

Modern developments of “Civilisation”

To complete the understanding of such a failure in scientific knowledge about the invention of violence (chapters 3 and 4) deliberately caused by power systems to maintain their influence on so-called free people (beginning of chapter 4), one should consider an interesting phenomenon: the important role of Sigmund Freud in the study of the unconscious (a great discovery) and the creation of Psychology (as alternative to Neurobiology) and Psychoanalysis (later modified by his numerous followers).

At the University of Queensland, I have taught for several years neurobiology for psychology students (“Functional Neuroanatomy”) and I have had friendly collaborations with my psychologist colleagues. However, I noticed how they were avoiding talking about Freud’s 1929-30 book “Das Unbehagen in der Kultur” (English literal translation: the uneasiness in civilisation). My page references are from the good 2004 edition by Penguin Books “Civilization and its discontents”.

With this work Freud has clearly declared his believe in the violent nature of Homo sapiens, but he has done so with his usual lack of proper academic references. For sake of brevity, I simply indicate some page numbers where the reader will find obvious statements: pp. 61, 64, 101, 106.

I was therefore surprised to find a recent entry about “Civilisation and its discontents” by Wikipedia that defines it “… one of Freud most important and widely red work ….”. The author uses practically only references to Feud himself and lacks one of the usual warning of Wikipedia “This works lacks references to existing alternative opinions”.

I will provide a criticism and I hope others will also contribute with modern scientific ideas about human nature.

Violence also against nature

Three years ago, I was imagining a possible extinction of our species caused by a Third World War carried out by nuclear weapons (Giorgi, 2020).

Now I realise that a different scenario has become more likely: our weak democracies are more interested in local political power than in the courageous and innovative world projects that could save humanity from the disastrous climate changes that are killing more people than the many small wars also appearing everywhere on the Earth.

We must first become aware of the Human Tragedy we have created (end chapter 4) and, if we really love our grandchildren and want to spare them the beginning of human extinction, we must do what suggested below (chapter 7).

But the preliminary “simple” steps to initiate all these innovations are:

  • to become aware of the existence of hiding power systems (beginning chapter 4),
  • stop our current unaware obedience to them through the “socials”,
  • reconstruct the human communities (places and practices) rapidly removed soon after WW2 as the first step taken by the initial power systems.

The possibility of avoiding a total extinction of our species

The total or partial extinction of Homo sapiens must not be accepted as unavoidable. After the considerations presented above (chapter 6), the relative optimism of the present author is based on the following two additional possibilities:

It is possible that, after many more disastrous damages caused by climate changes, a substantial number of thinking people in the world (especially those living in developed countries) decide to change rapidly and radically enough their lifestyle to reduce and then stop their unreasonable discharge of CO2 in the atmosphere. The world will have to undergo a long process of reparation, but humanity will somehow survive.

It is possible that the population living in very large and densely populated cities will not survive the effect of disastrous climate changes (and of new viruses), while human beings living in the small towns or villages of very sparsely populated areas of the world could have a better chance to survive.

Our planet started to be populated by a relatively small number of Homo sapiens. With the memory of the stupid errors made by their recent ancestor, the surviving humans may form again small communities characterised by empathy, solidarity, cooperation, and nonviolence, as humans had before the production of food and the invention of violence by males (see chapter 3).


Good luck to everybody.


Anati, E. (2008) The civilisation of the stones. Trad. by Piero P. Giorgi. Edizione del Centro, Capo di Ponte, Brescia.

Bonta, B. D. (1993) Peaceful people – An annotated bibliography. The Scarecrow Press. Metuchen (New Jersey).

Bonta, B. D. (1996) “Conflict resolution among peaceful people – The culture of peacefulness”. Journal of Peace Research, vol. 33 (4), pp. 403-420.

Bonta, B. D. (2023) Peaceful societies – Alternative to violence and War. Foreword by Dale Hess. Center for Global Nonkilling, Honolulu (Hawai’i).

Freud, S. (2004) Civilization and its discontents. Penguin Books Ltd, London.

Fry, D. P. and Souillac, G. (2017) “The original partnership societies: evolved propensities for equality, prosociality, and peace”. Interdisciplinary Journal of Partnership, n. 4.

Fry, D. P. (2018) “The evolutionary logic of human peaceful behaviour”. In: Peace ethology: behavioural processes and systems of peace. Ed. Peter Verbeek and Benjamin A. Peters, pp. 249-265. Wiley & Sons, New York.

Giorgi P. P. (2008) La violenza inevitabile – Una menzogna moderna (The inevitable violence – A modern lie). Editoriale Jaca Book SpA, Milano.

Giorgi, P. P. (2015) “The centrality of women in the human adventure”. In: Gender and power. Toward equality and democratic governance. Ed. Mino Vianello & Mary Hawkesworth, Chapter 9, pp. 154-170. Macmillan Publishers Ltd, New York.

Giorgi, P. P. (2020) La rivoluzione nonviolenta (The nonviolent revolution). Gabrielli Editori (Verona).

Sponsel, Leslie (2021) Nonkilling Anthropology – A new approach to studying human nature, war, and peace. Centre for Global Nonkilling, Honolulu (Hawai’i).

Stringer, C. and Andrews, P. (2011) The complete world of human evolution. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London.


Piero P. Giorgi gained a BSc Hons in Biological Sciences (1965, University of Bologna, Italy), a PhD in Neurology (1974, University of Newcastle/Tyne, UK) and was elected a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Biology (1998). As a neuroscientist he has introduced scientific concepts and different research methods into peace studies, a discipline usually operating within humanities and social sciences. With other colleagues at the University of Queensland, Piero introduced in 1991 the first program in Australia for a Degree in Peace and Conflict Studies (Social Sciences), which is still offered in 2021. He retired in 2005 to promote peace studies in Italy, as a member of the Centre for European Studies of Gargnano, Brescia: University of Otago – National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. Email: Website: (Detailed Academic CV – Peace Studies)

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 16 Oct 2023.

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One Response to “The Traits That Make Us Human”

  1. The author of this contribution apologises for a typing mistake: in the chapter “The invention of violence” (third line) the number 100,000 should be 10,000. (It has been edited accordingly)

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