Matthieu Miossec

Doctoral Student - Genetic Medecine (Congenital Heart Disease),

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our colloquial uses of the words 'Animal' and 'Ape' are detrimental to our understanding of our place in the tree of life.

Could it be that the way we use the word 'animal' to refer to the kingdom Animalia minus humans and 'Apes' to refer to all great Apes except us (not even sure how many people are aware of the fact we are Apes) be the source of much misunderstanding of where Homo Sapiens stands in regards to other species? Is an animal/human dichotomy fair given that a Man and a Chimpanzee are more similar in almost every way than a crab and a parrot?

Or maybe this a typical discrepancy of language we must just accept for simplicity or because it is a useful distortion.

Discuss.

  • Sep 8 2011: The use of ‘animal’ and ‘ape’ are extremely useful (unconscious) distortions.

    In his 1998 book Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzees, primatologist Roger Fouts recalls his experiences teaching American Sign Language (ASL) to chimpanzees. Among his many findings was an unexpected revelation. When “civilized” chimpanzees, who were raised in middle-class homes, were introduced to their peers living in zoos, the home schooled chimps couldn’t understand that they were members of the same species. The “educated” chimpanzees identified with the people raising them and they shared their utter disdain by signing mean-spirited insults at their less fortunate kin. It took a while, but Fouts managed to correct his students’ misconception to the point where the educated chimpanzees started teaching their new friends ASL.

    The signing chimpanzees help explain our species’ initial reluctance to notice the undeniable physical, behavioral, and psychological similarities we share with other primates. What Fouts’ discovery doesn’t explain is why so many people, who believe they’re so much smarter than apes, still manage to deny the possibility that we all share a common origin with our simian cousins.

    Primatologists have determined that chimpanzees are extremely clever, deceitful, manipulative, and vindictive political animals who spend a huge amount of their waking hours obsessing over social status.

    What could be more clever and deceitful than getting away with behaving like self-deceptive, venal, wrathful chimpanzees while elevating our status by manipulating words to demote ‘animals’ and ‘apes’?
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    Sep 4 2011: When I talk to my children about animals, mammals, apes, ... I remind myself to say "other animals, other mammals, other apes", when humans are not included.
  • Sep 11 2011: The accurate taxonomic names should be "Homo sapiens" for men "Homo troglodytes" for chimpanzees. This proposed correction has led to a lot of controversy. It is a beginning.
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      Sep 12 2011: Homo troglodytes it is. I've said "chimp" for the last time!
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    Sep 8 2011: I think your last sentence hit it on the head. This is an artifact of the way we use and create categories in language and in our minds. The category 'ape' may be useful, but like all taxonomy it is a human construct. We decide the necessary and sufficient conditions for inclusion in a category and then act as if the category were a natural entity. Wittgenstein talks about this a lot in a discussion of categories and family resemblance. And a good introduction to the problems of taxonomy is Stephen J. Gould's "What, If Anything, is a Zebra?" (PDF: http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/gleazer/462_readings/gould.pdf )
  • Sep 2 2011: I believe it is the first option. No, I don't believe animal/human dichotomy is fair given, it is simple act of arrogance/ignorance. However this might explain it - we seem to be hardwired to disposition: http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/08/scienceshot-brad-pitt-is-not-an.html So it's just another part of us being animal :P