Great Apes

The Primate Diaries

Category archives for Great Apes

Robert Sapolsky on the Uniqueness of Humans

Sapolsky’s talk begins at 5:00 after an introduction by the Stanford Provost. The neuroendocrinologist and primatologist Robert Sapolsky has been one of my primary scientific influences and the reason I pursued my masters and PhD in primate behavior and evolution. Not only is he a brilliant researcher and writer, he’s also a genuinely kind and…

Bonobos and the Emergence of Culture

In this TED Talk Susan Savage-Rumbaugh discusses bonobos housed in a bispecies environment that have been taught to communicate using pictographs. In the talk she suggests that biology isn’t what made humans unique from nonhuman apes, but rather argues that it was cultural developments and social learning. Quite obviously there are some biological differences (around…

     Dolphins, such as this individual caught and     used by the US Navy, could be granted      personhood rights that protect them from     such abuse.             Image: United Press InternationalIn Douglas Adams’ series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy it turned out that dolphins were super intelligent beings from another world who felt protective of the hairless ape creatures that…

Chimpanzees Mourn the Death of Their Own Kind

At the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center, chimpanzees form a gallery of grief, looking on as Dorothy–a beloved female felled in her late 40s by heart failure–is borne to her burial. Image: National Geographic / Monica Szczupider The Prancing Papio has brought attention to this powerful photograph presented by National Geographic showing chimpanzees focused on the…

Female chimpanzee with her infant requests meat after a successful hunt. Image: David Bygott / Tree of Life Web Project Owen Lovejoy’s recent paper about Ardipithecus ramidus and human origins (see my detailed critique here) bases its argument on the male provisioning observed in chimpanzees. However, what went unacknowledged in his theory was the inherent…

Grand evolutionary dramas about human origins capture our imagination and the stories provide context as to how we view ourselves. They are the scientific version of creation myths. However, unlike Adam and Eve being fashioned in the garden or humanity being vomited up by the giant Mbombo (as the Bakuba people of Congo believed), scientific…

There may need to be a significant revision in the recent description of one of humanity’s oldest ancestors. Ardipithecus ramidus (or “Ardi” for short), the 4.4 million year old hominid fossil discovery, has been a godsend to paleoanthropologists (pun intended). But one of the key researchers has made what could be a serious error in…

SUNY-Binghampton evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson currently has a response to my review “Survival of the Kindest” up at Seedmagazine.com. In his response he suggests that Dawkinsian critics such as Frans de Waal and Joan Roughgarden have adopted a group selection perspective in all but name: Rejecting group selection was wrong. The rejection of group…

Survival of the Kindest

Seed magazine has just posted my review of Frans de Waal’s The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society. I wanted to use this opportunity to thank Nikki, Evan, Bora and everyone else that helped in developing this piece. For posts on related topics please see Misunderstanding Dawkins, The Sacrifice of Admetus, Bonobos…

Heracles battles Death for generosity’s sake / Frederic Lord Leighton (1869-71) Whereas great scientific theories stand the test of time when they accurately predict the natural world through repeated empirical trials, great literature transcends the ages when it speaks to universal qualities of human experience. Such inspirational works can also, without the authors realizing at…