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Pabitra Mukhopadhyay

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Are human beings so much smarter than Chimps really?

Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson raised this point as a disturbing thought in one of his talks. I am taking it one step further.
Humans and chimpanzees shared a common ancestor ∼5-7 million years ago. Their genomes now differ by ~4% (comprising ∼35 million single nucleotide differences and ∼90 Mb of insertions and deletions). That's the difference between the smartest of chimpanzees and dumbest of humans.
That incidentally is within which Beethoven and Bach, or Stephen Hawking and Einstein reside. Or LHC and Hubble Telescope if you like.
It looks like 4% is too little to make so much difference.
This puts us face to face with the following possibilities:
a) Most of human (or Chimpanzee) DNA are junk. That would lessen the denominator in the difference expression making 4% as wrong. May be the difference is not that little.
b) The perception of difference between a chimpanzee and human being (including all of Beethoven, Einstein and Hubble Telescope) as great is possibly flawed. Maybe in evolutionary scale we are just 4% smarter than Chimps.

So which is your best bet? Or do you have a better answer?

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  • Jun 28 2013: My best bet is that there's not a one-to-one relationship between DNA differences and phenotypic differences. Many differences in DNA might have little to no impact, then a few others might have huge effects. I just think that you are approaching this question the wrong way. Of course we are much smarter than chimps. It's significant enough that chimps are in danger of extinction while we are overpopulating the planet and might go extinct for completely different reasons. Now, I might get back a rhetorical: then chimps are smarter! Well, no, chimps just don't have the power to lead themselves to extinction the same way we might ... anyway, bottom line: there's no direct one-to-one relationship between DNA differences and phenotypic ones.
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      Jun 29 2013: " It's significant enough that chimps are in danger of extinction while we are overpopulating the planet and might go extinct for completely different reasons." I think the threat to chimps for extinction has, in large part, nothing to do with natural causes. Nature does not decrease the habitat of a species to less than 10% of its original size in a couple of centuries. Well it does, but out of extraterrestrial impact of meteors or large scale volcanic activities. Such activities are not known in the Holocene, I think. One can say that chimps are not smart enough to fight inter-species territorial dominance.

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