The other day, while driving around the poverty laced backwoods of central Connecticut and listening to Nine Inch Nails as I am wont to do, I started thinking about what makes humans so amazing. I'm not a fan of most people, and I don't think most of them are particularly impressive - both intellectually and physically. But the kind of "amazing" I decided on is applicable to pretty much everyone.
From science to philosophy, we seek an answer to the question of what sets us apart from the rest of the animals. There's a pretty fair consensus among rational and non-combative people (so, likely not most philosophers) that we have something that goes above and beyond what animals are capable of. The simple answer is, well, "Humans can think. We have bigger brains and we're capable of cognitive functioning that entails learning and memory. Most importantly, we are the only creatures that are self-aware."
The conclusion I came to in the car (the place where I am most lucid) is that humans are unique because of our ability to change. We morph, we repair, we become damaged, we despair over the past, and we hope for the future. And all these emotions are driven by our ability to alter ourselves. We choose new clothes, ditch old friends, choose to forget the most painful memories (or perhaps replay them over and over, forcing ourselves to feel the sting of self-loathing) listen to different music. No other creature engages in these behaviors.
Not only can we do all this changing, but there is some strange property in our minds that allows for change but also never lets anything quite slip away. The Nine Inch Nails song I was so enjoying, Somewhat Damaged, used to speak to exactly everything I felt about life and myself. I really felt a connection to it. Yet somehow, the other day, I was able to appreciate and love it, but the sentiments expressed no longer exist in me actively. They're still present, and I can still remember what I felt; sometimes I still feel that way, but it's just...different. I've changed! Humans can change. It's what makes us different.