Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Relatively Speaking

A new study suggests our primate relatives are quick learners, and as tool makers are evolving.
Captive gorillas have cultural differences: study Genetics or environment alone cannot explain variations in the behavior of different groups of the apes, a study found. Behavioral surveys of the roughly 370 gorillas in U.S. zoos showed 48 variations in how individual groups of the apes make signals, use tools and seek comfort, said Tara Stoinski of Zoo Atlanta and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. Such examples of learned behaviors, when passed down from generation to generation, may have an influence on evolution, said Carel von Schaik, an orangutan expert at the University of Zurich."You can also argue that cultural species will become smarter species," von Schaik said.
Chimps have been found to use tool kits. Showing that they too are evolving along human like lines. Chimps filmed for first time using a 'tool kit'

Just as Engels wrote 130 years ago.

The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man

It stands to reason that if erect gait among our hairy ancestors became first the rule and then, in time, a necessity, other diverse functions must, in the meantime, have devolved upon the hands. Already among the apes there is some difference in the way the hands and the feet are employed. In climbing, as mentioned above, the hands and feet have different uses. The hands are used mainly for gathering and holding food in the same way as the fore paws of the lower mammals are used. Many apes use their hands to build themselves nests in the trees or even to construct roofs between the branches to protect themselves against the weather, as the chimpanzee, for example, does. With their hands they grasp sticks to defend themselves against enemies, or bombard their enemies with fruits and stones. In captivity they use their hands for a number of simple operations copied from human beings. It is in this that one sees the great gulf between the undeveloped hand of even the most man-like apes and the human hand that has been highly perfected by hundreds of thousands of years of labour. The number and general arrangement of the bones and muscles are the same in both hands, but the hand of the lowest savage can perform hundreds of operations that no simian hand can imitate-no simian hand has ever fashioned even the crudest stone knife.

The first operations for which our ancestors gradually learned to adapt their hands during the many thousands of years of transition from ape to man could have been only very simple ones. The lowest savages, even those in whom regression to a more animal-like condition with a simultaneous physical degeneration can be assumed, are nevertheless far superior to these transitional beings. Before the first flint could be fashioned into a knife by human hands, a period of time probably elapsed in comparison with which the historical period known to us appears insignificant. But the decisive step had been taken, the hand had become free and could henceforth attain ever greater dexterity; the greater flexibility thus acquired was inherited and increased from generation to generation.

Thus the hand is not only the organ of labour, it is also the product of labour. Only by labour, by adaptation to ever new operations, through the inheritance of muscles, ligaments, and, over longer periods of time, bones that had undergone special development and the ever-renewed employment of this inherited finesse in new, more and more complicated operations, have given the human hand the high degree of perfection required to conjure into being the pictures of a Raphael, the statues of a Thorwaldsen, the music of a Paganini.

Much more important is the direct, demonstrable influence of the development of the hand on the rest of the organism. It has already been noted that our simian ancestors were gregarious; it is obviously impossible to seek the derivation of man, the most social of all animals, from non-gregarious immediate ancestors. Mastery over nature began with the development of the hand, with labour, and widened man's horizon at every new advance. He was continually discovering new, hitherto unknown properties in natural objects. On the other hand, the development of labour necessarily helped to bring the members of society closer together by increasing cases of mutual support and joint activity, and by making clear the advantage of this joint activity to each individual. In short, men in the making arrived at the point where they had something to say to each other. Necessity created the organ; the undeveloped larynx of the ape was slowly but surely transformed by modulation to produce constantly more developed modulation, and the organs of the mouth gradually learned to pronounce one articulate sound after another.

And recent studies in Chimp DNA finds them closer to humans than previously thoughtA chimp link for human evolution

And the idea of the Golden Age of Matriarchy which Engels and later writers made reference to appears as part of at least one chimpanzee culture.

And their culture is not unlike what Wilhelm Reich found inMalinwoski's study of
Trobriand Islanders that along with their gift economy, they had unique sex positive culture which is still true today, that Matriarchical societies, unlike patriarchies, are sex positive and non violent.

It is not only early human civilizations like the Trobriand who practice primitive communism through a gift economy, matriarchical property relations and a sex positive culture, but it appears that this is also true of our primate relatives as well.

Humans could learn a thing or two from primates, researcher says

Humans, de Waal says, should pay more attention to the way a few thousand surviving wild bonobos live out their lives in matriarchal bands deep in Africa's humid Congo rainforests. Not so much because of their sexuality, but their ability to reject violence and maintain peace.

Bonobos and chimpanzees are humans' closest relatives, each sharing more than 98 percent of the same genes as humans. But science has spent much more time studying chimps because they share our propensity for violent, murderous territorial ambition.

"When humans behave murderously, such as inflicting senseless slaughter of innocents in warfare, we like to blame it on some dark, `animalistic' instinct," de Waal said in an interview here.

"When we do good things," he continued, "act with generosity and compassion towards others, we like to credit our own `humaneness,' as though only humans can act that way."

In fact, as his book points out, emotional responses such as generosity, compassion and forgiveness play out constantly in the daily lives of wild and captive chimps and bonobos, as do jealousy and reprisal, just as they do in human lives.

Comparing humans genetically to bonobos and chimps, de Waal said, is like comparing dogs to foxes, they are so close. The other two great ape species, gorillas and orangutans, aren't far behind, so studying how they live offers clues to the most primal human behaviors.

"We (humans) are apes. Darwin didn't go far enough," said de Waal, shrugging off the religious creationist movement currently trying to question the theory of evolution.

"We are smart apes. We are bipedal apes. But we are apes."

Ben Bova: Encounters with our cousin apes

Sunday, February 19, 2006

I was attacked by a gorilla once. In Philadelphia.

Well, "attacked" is probably too strong a word. Let's say "accosted."

I'll tell you the story shortly, but first I want to say a few words about a book that reminded me of the incident. It's "Almost Us," by William H. Calvin, affiliate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

"About Us," though, is a picture book. It consists of photographs Calvin has made over the years of apes: chimps, gorillas, orangutans and bonobos (once called pygmy chimps but now known to be a separate species).

The photos are charming; some of them are really funny. Together with Calvin's comments on the pictures, this slim book brings home how much like us the primate apes are. The apes look out from the pages with expressions we recognize: happy, suspicious, cunning, even sneering.

Calvin's point is that the primate apes are indeed almost us: They exhibit great similarities to our own facial expressions and behavior. They're part of our extended family; or rather, we're part of theirs.

Psychologist apes monkeys' parenting skills

The Tempe psychologist has just published her first book, Parenting for Primates, which chronicles her experiences as the "Monkey Lady," who has raised more than 50 cotton-top tamarins.

Smith wrote the book to help parents realize that they don't automatically know how to raise children and that their instincts sometimes need to be developed

"Parenting isn't automatic for people any more than it is for monkeys," she said. "Mothers say to me, 'I don't have that maternal instinct - what do I do?' A lot of couples I've worked with have dealt with postpartum depression, and they feel so inadequate."

picture of troop of bonobos

Peace-Loving Primates' Population Plummets

Washington - Bonobos, or pygmy chimpanzees, arguably our closest relative, may have been hunted so extensively that the survival of the species is at risk, World Wildlife Fund warns.

"The world could soon lose the primate species that shares the greatest genetic connection to humans," said Richard Carroll, a primatologist and director of WWF's Central Africa program. "Bonobos are fascinating creatures and little understood. They have the only great ape society led by females, with a sophisticated social structure that encourages cooperation and peace and settles disputes through sex. If humans allow our closest relatives to go extinct, we have failed as a species."

Found only in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa, bonobos were believed to number as many as 50,000. But preliminary results from the first systematic survey of a known bonobo stronghold found more evidence of poachers than bonobos, indicating that there may be as few as 10,000 left in the wild. Bonobos, along with other species, are targeted by hunters for meat for personal consumption and for the commercial bushmeat trade.

Also See:

A Murder of Crows

Prisons Need Police Society Needs Mediators

Primate Man

Mutual Aid


Anarchism and Authority

Wilhelm Reich

The Sexual Revolution Continues

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