Monday, March 16, 2015

I for one welcome our new ape overlords

Another dent has gone into the "they're just animals" argument.

A study found that chimpanzees are able to change their grunts among new peer groups in order to better communicate with them. The study had two separate groups of chimps and housed them together. Evidence from this study seems to strongly suggest that when chimps grunt about an object, the grunts serve a function similar to words between humans and more than just emotion. Specifically, a new group of chimps in the study eventually learned to use lower, subdued grunts to ask for apples as opposed to the higher-pitched calls that they had emitted in their previous surroundings. While this indeed sheds much more light on animal behavior, it also speaks to a question I find fascinating: the origins of language.

Dr. Katie Slocomb, paper's lead author, had the following to say on that subject:

"One really powerful way to try and understand how language evolved is to look at the communication systems of animals that are closely related to us," she said. "What kind of basic communication skills were in that common ancestor? And what really is unique in humans, and has evolved since?
"This is the first bit of evidence which might suggest that it's a much older capability, that maybe our last common ancestor might also have had."

Back in December, I remember hearing an NPR report that suggested apes, such as chimpanzees and the like, have been observed using similar grunts as a form of language to show others in their group how to use tools. Now by "tools" I mean sticks, branches, rocks and whatnot. I don't want anyone to get a mental image of apes using rivet guns and welding torches and the like to build any kind of sophisticated devices. Yet that really shouldn't be enough to allay the collywobbles.

Humans are continuously attempting to set themselves apart from other animals. We're different. Special. We can communicate with one another. Oh wait. Guess we're not the only ones that can do that. Only we are capable of abstract thought...or is that only we are capable of communicating such thought in a way that we can understand? Don't knock the animal kingdom. One minute they're altering their grunts in order to communicate, the next they're getting organized. One minute they're working with basic, primitive tools, the next they're building weapons. How long before we're being chased by gorillas on horseback and scooped up into nets? You'll find me once again at the base of the Statue of Liberty, on my knees and howling, "You did it! You finally did it, didn't you?"

Be nice to them folks. It's a slippery slope.

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1 comment:

  1. On FB, Dr. Bob said: "Apes as smart as humans are still dumb. Chimps are more closely related to humans than they are to Gorillas & Orangutans. So why in the planet of the apes do they identify with other apes instead of their next of kin?"

    In a way they did. It's more blatant in "Beneath the Planet of the Apes," but the chimps were more the common citizenry. Cornelius and Zira were both academics and came to argue on Taylor's behalf. But the power structures on their world mimicked human society (Pierre Boulle, author of the book, was more interested in satirizing humans than biological accuracy.) In one scene, a group of chimps are protesting policies of their government. Gorillas, acting as the military arm of their society and taking direction from the orangutans, fling the chimps out of the area.