Not A Chimp

Taylor, Jeremy. Not a Chimp. New York: Oxford University Press; 2009. ISBN  978-0-19-922778-5.

Taylor, a science film producer and director with the BBC Science Department, has written this informative and easily read book explaining the genetic differences between humans and chimps.

The usual  statement that we share 98% of our genes with them and therefore are chimps is as misleading as taking the fact that we share 50% of our genes with bananas to mean we’re nothing but bananas. In fact the genes shared are the basic structural template for all mammals and vertebrates and the differences lie in the regulator genes that control rates of growth and amounts of protein produced.

That we share a common ancestor with chimps 6 million years ago means that since chimps have continued to evolve in their own direction means that there are 12 million years of accumulated differences.

Taylor explains what’s known of the differences, for example, in genes controlling brain size and complexity, showing that contrary to what’s taught our brain isn’t simply a bigger version of theirs but contains numerous complexities and structures chimp brains lack.

He notes that unlike the teaching that primates or at least alone can generate higher brain functions. Dogs have evolved a far better understanding of human language and gesture than chimps despite the latter’s genetic kinship with us. Corvids — crows, ravens, and their kin — as well as parrots have demonstrably far superior problem solving and mechanical abilities than chimps.

He criticizes the primatologist Franz de Waal and other “chimpocentrics” for making too much of their tool making abilities and comparing them favorably to humans, who can send craft to the ocean bottom or the rings of Saturn and discover past histories and the cures for diseases. Indeed, de Waal, after describing how chimps vie for social power by ganging up and murdering even potential rivals and how the alpha males’ females routinely sneak off with lower level males, says chimps may be superior in their social interactions to humans.

This book is informative and easy to read and in my opinion is a good antidote for the current trend in science journalism to discourage and debase humans as “nothing but” fish or apes and dangerous creatures who are killing everything off and destroying the climate.

Read it and not only learn what’s generally not told but get an attitude boost.

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