Una serie de acotaciones al margen a medida que voy leyendo algunos libros... A series of annotations whilst reading interesting books... A collection of notes on books about science, SciFi, history, others topics... Una colección de notas sobre libros de ciencia, ciencia-ficción, historia, otros...

21 June 2007

The Third Chimpanzee, by Jared Diamond.
The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal

Book details: paperback edition from Harper Perennial, 2006 reissued, 1993 edition.

First Impression
Reaching half book at this moment. And the insights are great. Basically Jared Diamond is starting to put here a lot of ideas together: why be became humans? what difference us from the rest of the Animals? or not..., why some groups were more "successful" than others? nature versus nurture: which human traits are influenced by genes and what other are influenced by the environment.

The question is: genetically we are 98% pygmies chimpanzee, so how come that we are the most spread and "sucessfull" living thing on the Earth? Here is where Jared start crashing that idea in some tidbits: some other species, like rats and ants, are as quite or more successful than Homo Sapiens. Jared makes a good argument what difference us, at least from our most closest relative: the pygmies chimpanzee.

Some of this differences:
  • our strange Life Cycle: we live longer than other mammals, and women reach menopause but still enjoy a long life after
  • we have a particular skill on creating and using languages, are we unique?
  • our mating preferences, how hardwired are? Why women don't signal when they are fertile? Why some people turn down on sex?
  • evolutionary intelligence experiment: everything in evolution moves toward that "goal"? Is "intelligence" a evolutionary trick that has happened many times?
  • Are we the only species that we kill others of the same? Are individual violence, genocide and wars a unique trait of us?
  • Art, is it truly human?
Jared makes a great argument showing that a lot of skills, habits and behaviors that we consider unique (and support the vision of many religions that Homo Sapiens was created outside the Animal world) are really close of behaviors seen in other species. The gap is not a division line, but a continuous bridge between related species. Some of our behaviors or skills actually can be traced back to very old ancestors or concestors, as Richard Dawkins explain in "The Ancestors Tale".

Being Jared a very curious person and having an encyclopedia in his head, I was surprised that Jared didn't mention Humor as a trait to look for in other species. I cannot say if humor or sense of humor has been spotted in chimps or related species. Perhaps humor is a sub product of our language machinery, a burst of random activity or a needed escape for social pressure (part of our gregarious style).

Actual Chapter
I have just finished reading Chapter 13, The Last First Contacts. I was surprised: I couldn't imagine that by 1938 still were several thousands human beings living in complete isolation from the rest of the World: the Papuans living in the Grand Valley of the Balim River in West New Guinea. And that still today anthropologists expect that some human bands still can live isolated from the rest of the World in parts like New Guinea and Amazonia.

Another interesting view is that as close as 1938, a time were I can feel I understand and I see my actual life style similar to 1938's western style of life, western civilization was able to get in touch to a social experiment going on. The true is that today in the globalized culture (that only affects a small part of the population) we can see an social experiment in the progress. But Jared points that one trait of Homo Sapiens is the believing that "You", "Your Group of belonging" are truly unique than the "others". In today world where Western civilization is the basis for the globalized culture is difficult for people belonging to that group (I include myself in that group) to realize that social structures, tabues and behaviors can be quite different.

This is great to remind any time that you are discussing about politics or social behaviors: the Christian typical family is really an invention, not something that we have to default because of the Gods in place (other social groups have their own Gods to justify their family models), or gene hardwiring; capitalism, socialism and communism are not the only ways to think in how to organize societies and economies.

But two things to remind:
  1. every social group has rules. So different groups can show different approaches or solutions to similar problems (access to sex for example, being able to leave off-springs for gene posterity, dating and mating behaviors), but in your group you have to agree on certain rules to maintain the group, so no moral relativism is allowed (in the group)..., that's gene hardwiring?
  2. the surge of different cultures (rules, tabues, behaviors, economies) lead to the fear and hate of the outsider. Xenophobia, and genocide are traits that have roots in other species, but with us had reached terrible levels of destruction and massive killings. In today situation we have to do something about that, and some common rules have to be in place.
In Jared's words:
  • "(...) The notion of tolerating unrelated strangers was as unthinkable as the notion that any such stranger would dare to appear.". Regarding the isolation of human groups before the Industrial Revolution kicks in,
  • "Leahy wrote in his diaries that highlanders smelled bad, while at the same time the highlanders were finding the whites' smell strange and frightening. Leahy's obsession with gold was as bizarre to the highlanders as their obsession with their own form of wealth and currency -cowry shells- was to him"
  • "Anyone who has seen the Asmat carvings at NY Metropolitan Museum of Art, (...), can appreciate the enormous tragedy of post-contact loss of art"
  • "If English becomes a world language, that won't be because English was necessarily the best language for diplomacy", in respect of the loose of languages, in all cultures and times
  • "That loss [of cultural diversity] is to be mourned, for the reasons that I've just been discussing. But our xenophobia was tolerable only as long as our means to kill each other were too limited to bring about our fall as a species"
  • "Loss of cutltural diversity may be the price that we have to pay for survival"

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