This is a follow-up on the TED talk I just posed.
These are my reactions in real time as I watched the video:
We start off with a very inaccurate statement that we are not interested in the chimp-human differences. It is, in fact, all we palaeoanthropologists think about.
She overemphasizes the difference to say that they are total, but yes, there are differences.
She makes the error of implying that “something” happened (when it would well have been a lot of things that happened over time, or some other pattern of change)
She correctly identifies the “coming out of the trees” and bipedalism as an inadequate Theory of Everything (TOE).
She correctly identifies that the bipedalism hypotheses (as a TOE) unraveled.
She is wrong about her statements about the fossil bones and plant remains. The situation is much more complex than that. She is partly correct in reference to the over-powered paradigm of the Serengeti, but this is a bit of an overstatement.
Then the paradigm shift discussion is a red herring. I’m skipping past the whole discussion of Darwin, selective pressure, and paradigm shifts. It is muddled, unrelated to the question, and uninteresting.
Now, the claim that the “AAT” was dumped a long time ago as evidence that is should not be dumped is … interesting.
OK on to the evidence:
Naked skin. Valid point. But, aquatic sea-mammal skin is different from human skin in many ways. She is correct about elephants. I don’t know about the rhino. Anybody know about that claim?
Bipedality. She is correct that we can’t explain it easily. She is correct that monkeys wading through water walk on two legs but she ignores the fact that gorillas do not.
The fat distribution. She does not adequately explain this. Humans have fat in both places, and the sexual dimorphism does not make sense. The fact that humans are tropical primates living in part in non-tropical regions cannot be ignored. Generally speaking the existence and distribution of fat in humans is much better explained as a dietary adaptation rather than an adaptation for insulation in water.
Language (Speech). Breath control. She may have this backwards. It is a nice point, but conscious control of breath is thought to evolve as a requirement of having language and/or thermoregulation in relation to running and bipedalism. So, it is an interesting point but there are some pretty serious competing hypotheses.
Body shape. If we are streamlined and adapted for swimming around, how come we can’t swim for shit compared to any other swimming thing?
Now back to the socio-political context. The old “they’ve never taken it seriously therefore it is serious” canard.
OK, now we’re in the teabagger mode. The establishment is always wrong! Yay Yay Yay!!! The status quo is always wrong! Yay! Yay Yay! And so on.
So we have three options:
1) We just stop talking about the aquatic ape theory. That would be sad.
2) Some genius comes along and explains that the savanna theory and the AAT theory are both wrong. She does not see this happening.
3) Just like all other enlightenments in the past, an beautiful enlightenment happens, a new synthesis, blending the AAT with Darwin. I hope it happens soon because I’m so old… (funny old people jokes).
What is holding it up? Back to the bugaboo … Academia.
Now we have the long list of people ignoring and not liking the idea as evidence that the idea is something that should not be ignored and that should be liked.
Well, I’m glad the old girl is rocking the boat.
(see also: Musings on the Aquatic Ape Theory)