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April 26th, 2010

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04:12 pm - Points of Connection
here's a fascinating if somewhat sad article (with videos) about chimps dealing with the death of one of their troop. What this article brought home to me was the fact that while our intellects are vastly greater than those of any other animal - we can theorize and imagine in ways that seem impossible for anything else on the planet - our emotions and personal lives are far less different. Those chimps dealt with the finality of death and saying one last goodbye in much the same way humans do. I remember having a professor in a history of science class who firmly agreed with some famous quote about how there is more difference between a chimp and a human than between a chimp and an amoeba, which is quite simply nonsense. As everyone reading this is likely aware, I'm a strong advocate of humanity becoming more than it is mentally, physically, and (hopefully) spiritually, but for all those hopes and dreams, it's also important to remember that our emotions are at their base, little different from those of other primates and any claims of human uniqueness should be tempered with this understanding.
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(12 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:April 27th, 2010 08:29 pm (UTC)
You should check your assumptions. Some of what you're saying humans alone have I know to be false; the rest I'm just pretty sure. I've heard a lot of such assertions; none have proven out.

Which ones? I'm not certain about other animals teaching, but I've seen a number of recent comparitive studies and many other primates watch and learn from one another, but none deliberately teach one another in any fashion, and none of them trade with anyone other than a close relative or potential mate.
[User Picture]
Date:April 27th, 2010 09:56 pm (UTC)
Well, I'm not sure, for one, how you'd classify "teach" as distinct from "demonstrate a skill for another individual to watch and learn from" which is something which cats have been known to do (they even provide teaching aids in the form of stunned, injured, or dead prey).

I'll grant a guarded "maybe" in regards to the trade thing, but it's a maybe in that:
1) No few humans will only trade with a close relative or potential mate, unless forced to do so,
2) I sincerely doubt it's true, I simply can't off the top of my head cite a clear counterexample, and
2) That's really reaching. Humans are also the only species to come up with digital wristwatches, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that "being able to build digital wristwatches" isn't our special trait.

Personally, I think it's really pathetic how far people will go to try to feel superior to all the other animals.
[User Picture]
Date:April 27th, 2010 10:46 pm (UTC)
It's worth looking at some of the recent research on teaching and primates - showing another member of your species how to do something is clearly different from allowing them to watch you do it. Also, trade is one of those things that gets discussed a lot in anthro - humans have been doing it extensively and over remarkably large areas since the paleolithic (the clearest example is trade in obsidian) it's just one of those things that humans do a remarkable amount of, and very often does this with strangers. Other animals simply don't do anything like this.

Personally, I think it's really pathetic how far people will go to try to feel superior to all the other animals.

I completely agree. However, it's equally true that we are different from other animals - we're specialized for high intelligence, just like a cheetah is specialized for fast sprinting, or a wolf for long distance running, and I think it's really interesting to finally be learning some of what goes into this specialization - some likely fairly small cognitive shift that made us better at cooperative work (other higher primates are fairly bad at this) is perhaps also responsible for the origin of teaching and trade, and all together those allow for a significantly faster and more reliable spread of knowledge, which is obviously one of the cornerstones of human culture - without it we couldn't effectively organize ourselves into any groupings much larger than several hundred people.

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