Every single time I hear this formulation put forward in one of its multiple permutations (e.g., “Language is what distinguishes us from other species”; “Creativity is what differentiates us from animals”; “No, wait. It’s intelligence!”), I go through a series of automatic reflexes:
1) Yawn. Yes, it’s boring to hear the same refrain repeated to exhaustion.
2) Yuck! Are we really that self-centred and attention-seeking? Why is our need to feel special almost always stronger than our ability to recognise that we are but one species among millions? In the greater scheme of things we’re really not that special or unique.
3) WRONG! Please, use some critical thinking and stop jumping the gun. Who are we to say that of all the species in our planet we’ve been granted the exclusive rights to intelligence, creativity, language, music, play, feelings, etc.? We should read more books. Specifically, those reporting results from comparative psychology and ethological research. And when in doubt, not just assume we’re the one and the only.
Rather than spotting the differences, I personally feel we should spend more time connecting the dots. But hey, let’s do both. As long as we drop the self-aggrandising attitude and recognise that we’re made of the same building blocks as roaches and pigs, and actually that’s really kind of cool, we might even begin to understand how it is we fit in this huge and complex puzzle we got ourselves randomly embedded in.