Sunday, January 18, 2009

Our Inner Ape

I just finished reading "Our Inner Ape" by Frans de Waal, a primatologist, with expertise in all varieties of apes -- chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, bonobos. I had never heard of bonobos before I read the book. Well... I recommend learning about them. All popular ideas about "survival of the fittest", and competition, etc. can now be discarded. All of the apes have developed cultures and societies that work for them. They take care of their sick and wounded. They compete and they cooperate. Some are matriarchies. All have complex ways of handling and resolving conflict.

I found the most interesting idea in the book the notion that humans could be considered the neotenous branch of the ape family. This means that the adults of our species retain attributes of the juveniles. When compared to other apes, we have spare body hair and enlarged heads. We also seem to retain a capacity for learning and curiosity more characteristic of children.

My only criticism of the book is that I do not see how de Waal is practicing the scientific method, specifically the requirement to collect data through objective observation. It seems that de Waal interjects the human perspective throughout his observations, rendering him a non-objective observer. However, this was intended to be a popular book for the general public, so perhaps the details were omitted.

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