The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animalby Jared Diamond Published 03 Jan 2006
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The Development of an Extraordinary Species
We human beings share 98 percent of our genes with chimpanzees. Yet humans are the dominant species on the planet -- having founded civilizations and religions, developed intricate and diverse forms of communication, learned science, built cities, and created breathtaking works of art -- while chimps remain animals concerned primarily with the basic necessities of survival. What is it about that two percent difference in DNA that has created such a divergence between evolutionary cousins? In this fascinating, provocative, passionate, funny, endlessly entertaining work, renowned Pulitzer Prizewinning author and scientist Jared Diamond explores how the extraordinary human animal, in a remarkably short time, developed the capacity to rule the world . . . and the means to irrevocably destroy it.
"The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal" Reviews
This is a wonderful book by a great author. In fact, I prefer this book to the other books that I've read by Jared Diamond. It is entertaining, informative, and every page is interesting. The book covers a vast range of topics, such as how are humans qualitatively different from other animals, why do men do stupid things to impress women, why do people practice adultery, why do humans practice genocide, how did languages evolve, why do some people become addicted to drugs, why do humans produce art, and why do humans age. The book ends with the ecological harm humans have done to the planet (not just recently, but in ancient times as well), and the extinctions of species that we cause. Diamond shows how none of these activities are unique to humans; each activity has some analog in animal behavior, as well.
Like Diamond's other books, there is plenty of speculation here. He makes sweeping generalizations that are not always held up by documented facts. But Diamond's enthusiasm rings loud and clear, and his speculations always sound reasonable, at least to me.
If you want to find answers for your questions like the qualitative discrepancies between human and animals, how and why men do stupid things for attracting women, the reasons for being unfaithful among men, evolution of language, the reason for creating artworks by people, please read this book. The author shows that such odd behaviors are not just pertaing to humans, but also has root in ancestral interfaces with animals.
Funny that I read this book in Mexico, a country where more people believe in creation than evolution. For the record, I think we evolved from apes. For the record, that doesn't bother me in the least.
I am going to do two things, first, I will talk about what I learned from this book, secondly I am going to go on a rant about anthropology. While this book was interesting, there were parts where the author stepped far beyond his area of expertise, leading to some very weak chapters. Further, this was written almost 20 years ago, and it is simply amazing how quickly scientific knowledge has advanced. Some parts were outdated, which I found remarkable. Scientific facts seem to have a very quick expiration date.
This book details defining characters of human society - symbolic language, art, agriculture, war, drug abuse and environmental destruction - and presents our evolutionary precursors to these traits. He covers some excellently, and others with not as much conviction. He begins by discussing the unique aspects of the human body both genetically and our life cycle. This part was quite interesting. I learned that we share a whopping 98.4% of our genes with chimpanzees, which is pretty cool if you ask me.
It was interesting to see how our prolonged life cycle and the unique characteristic of females menopause has influenced human life. Those two things allowed us to transmit lots of information (because old folks would be the story tellers and survival experts when shit hit the fan) and allowed women to also live a bit after having children. It's quite dangerous to have children, let us recall. So menopause was a great thing for women, evolutionarily speaking. Interesting to learn that genetic changes took thousands of years to develop, but once they developed than cultural evolution exploded and since has outpaced biological evolution. Evolution slowly brought us to the place where we had the tools to really start running with it.
One thing that stands out from this book is that a large part of our progress was heavily dependant on the environment and our genes. Rarely do we stop and thank water for being there, or acknowledge how certain geographical features shaped us as humans. Perhaps we should do this more often.
At points, the author stepped outside of his area of expertise to strengthen his argument via other disciplines. I admire the approach and feel it's best to cover one subject through as many routes of knowledge as possible. The tricky thing is, you just have to make good arguments in those other fields. There were two chapters which I shook my head more often than I nodded it, they covered art and astronomy.
The author, in discussing what makes humans unique tries to find precedent in other animals as to how this evolved in humans. Art proves tricky. Art, which I would define as the soul expressing itself in reality, is a uniquely human endeavor. Diamond makes the claim that chimpanzees and elephants have produced art in captivity. He quotes an abstract expressionist painter and critic and a psychologist as his authorities. However, the issue is that other animal art is not a spontaneous creation. They were provided the tools in captivity, it's much more likely that they pick up paintbrush and smoosh paint to gain the approval of their handlers and earn extra attention than it is an undeniable expression of their soul. Also, the category of "art" that Diamond holds up as his "see, they can produce art" in fact defines itself as "anti-figurative aesthetic," meaning art that tries to look like nothing in order to symbolize emotion. So yes, chimps splashing paint fits into this very specific category, but that doesn't make it art outside of that interpretation. Show me more realistic art, art that holds the mirror to reality with a bit more clarity and then show me another animal spontaneously producing that, then we'll talk. This author simply does not understand art, which is fine, but which also means you should steer far clear of it while making a case.
However, the chapter that blew my mind more than any other was one chapter on our place within the universe. This chapter came from left field, was almost entirely speculative and had very little to do with the central thesis. I have no idea why the editor didn't cut it. Suddenly he begins to explain the immense size of the universe, accurately. Then he suddenly declares that there are no planets that can support life (incorrect), we're the only one with life (speculative), period. I was shocked, and I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt only because we have learned very much about the abundance of habitable planets in the universe since 1992. That is the only thing that can possible explain this chapter, because after factually stating how immense the universe is, he then is completely incorrect scientifically about the abundance of planets and finally 100% speculative about there being no other life. The crappy part is he tries to present it all as factual, when in reality just his first stand of evidence was. Ugh. What the hell.
Now, time to rant, this book embodied a perspective on life that I am coming to disdain - anthropology, or 21st century intellectualized racial awwwing at the primitive people who are just so interesting! Primitive people make great facebook photo albums. Let me explain. The author did a lot of research on New Guinea, and talks extensively about it. Due to the terrain, there were many different societies who lived close to one another but remained isolated. Each pocked was a unique culture, with unique traditions and all that. For example, apparently round them parts the cool thing to do is wear basically a codpeice or penis stick. Some tribes painted them yellow, some green, some had flowers, some feathers, dudes had multiple and some were special occasion ones, etc. You getting the picture (if so what color is your penis stick, haha)? Lots of penis sticks, no shoes, native instruments, so cute right? None of the influence from evil modern society and satan incarnate aka the white man. Only within the last 40 years or so did these tribes begin to modernize, trade, get modern goods and all.
The author fondly recalls one of his strolls through the jungle back in the good old days where he came up to a tribe banging on drums and they were so amazed to see him, a white man. About 20 years later he goes back to visit the tribe, with I'm sure his notebooks to do "observations" on them, fancy camera, maybe a computer, etc and to his horror hears them listening to pop music and sees a few wearing Reeboks. Gasp, they were so much cuter, so much more useful to the purpose of my research paper, when they didn't have Reeboks.
What I find appalling about this perspective is it completely ignores the desires of the native people and it ignores the benefits that one is able to obtain from modern society. The very system that allowed the author to think in this way, be educated, and write a book is the one he wants to hold back from cultures because he would rather see the variety of penis ornaments. What if these people want to be modernized? Is it such a horrible thing that they learn about medicine and their infant mortality rate plummets? Is it a bad thing that their life expectancy is over 40 now? What if they want to wear Nikes? Is it such a bad thing to see a world map, understand it's a big place, learn that there are about 7 billion other humans out there?
What I simply do not understand about the "awww, look at and study the primitive people" perspective is the lack of consideration for the desires, wishes, or well being of the culture in question. It's like they feel guilty about being white and going to good prep schools. So they'll write academic papers about those cute jungle people, and take photos and all that, but it's like they want that to remain the way it is. Don't modernize, I just got grant money to study you! It's like their vacation from reality, and I think it's frankly insulting to the people being photographed and studied as if they were animals.
Breathe. Anyway, I thought this book was going to be excellent, instead it was average. Perhaps a new edition would really go a long way in improving it. I learned some interesting statistics, but am not very inspired to continue reading Diamond.
It has also proved possible to work out a calibration between genetic distance and elapsed time, and thereby get an approximate answer to the question of when we and chimps split apart from our common ancestor. That turns out to be somewhere around seven million years ago, give or take a few million years. 12
If our ethical code makes a purely arbitrary distinction between humans and all other species, then we have a code based on naked selfishness devoid of any higher principle. If our code instead makes distinctions based on our superior intelligence, social relationships, and capacity for feeling pain, then it becomes difficult to defend an all or nothing code that draws a line between all humans and all animals. 30
The emergence of Homo sapiens illustrates the paradox discussed in the previous chapter; that our rise to humanity was not directly proportional to the changes in our genes. 37
Those of us accustomed to getting our information from the printed page or television will find it hard to appreciate how important even just one or two old people are in a preliterate society...one such person in a preliterate society can thus spell the difference between death and survival for the whole society. 50
Cro-Manon Neanderthal transition was a harbinger of what was to come, when the victors' descendants began squabbling among themselves. It may at first seem paradoxical that Cro-Magnons prevailed over the more muscular Neanderthals, but weaponry rather than strength would have been decisive. Similarly, it's not gorillas that are now threatening to exterminate humans in central Africa, but vice versa. People with huge muscles require lots of food, and they thereby gain no advantage if slimmer, smarter people can use tools to do the same work. 52
Until the great leap forward, human culture had developed at a snail's pace for millions of years. that pace was dictated by the slow pace of genetic change. After the leap, cultural development no longer depended on genetic change. Despite negligible changes in our anatomy, there has been far more cultural evolution in the past forty thousand years than in the millions of years before. 56
Our mean duration of coitus (about four minutes for Americans) is much longer than for gorillas (one minute), pygmy chimps (fifteen seconds), or common chimps (seven seconds), but shorter than for orangutans (fifteen minutes) and lightning fast compared to the twelve hour long copulations of marsupial mice. 75
In these days of growing human over population, one of the most ironic tragedies is the catholic church's claim that human copulation has conception as its natural purpose, and that the rhythm method is the only proper means of birth control. The rhythm method would be terrific for gorillas and most other mammal species, but not for us. In no species besides humans has the purpose of copulation become so unrelated to conception, or the rhythm method so unsuited for contraception. 78
How does one decide whether recognizably distinct animal populations from different localities constitute different species, or belong instead to the same special and just constitute different races (also known as subspecies)?...The distinction is based on interbreeding under normal circumstances,: members of the same species may interbreed normally if given the opportunity, while members of different species don't. 112
The longer life span of modern humans as compared to that of apes does not rest only on cultural adaptations, such as tools to acquire food and deter predators. It also rests on the biological advantage of menopause and increased investment in self-repair. Whether those biological adaptations developed especially at the time of the great leap forward or earlier, they rank among the life-history changes that permitted the rise of the third chimpanzee to humanity. 135
Up to half the words in typical human speech are purely grammatical items, with no referent that one can point to. 153
Most of today's leading infectious diseases and parasites of mankind could not become established until after the transition to agriculture. These killers persist only in societies of crowded, malnourished, sedentary people constantly reinfected by each other and by their own sewage. 187
Besides malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic diseases, farming brought another curse to humanity:class divisions. 187
[Discussing dangerous behaviors, such as smoking or tattoos] Males of many more species have bright colors, loud songs, or conspicuous displays that attract predators. Why should a male advertise such an impediment, and why should a female like it? Zahavi's theory goes to the heart of this paradox. According to his theory, those deleterious structures and behaviors constitute valid indicators that the animal is being honest in its claim of superiority, precisely because those traits themselves impose handicaps. 197
Continental differences in level of civilization arose from geography's effect on the development of our cultural hallmarks, not from human genetics. Continents differed in the resources on which civilization depended - especially in the wild animal and plan species that proved useful for domestication. 236
Plants and animals spread quickly and easily within a climate zone to which they've already adapted. To spread out of this zone, they have to develop new varieties with different climate tolerances. A glance at the map of the old world shows how species could shift long distances without encountering a change of climate. 245
These calculations, which belong to a science called glottochronology ( = chronology of languages), yield the rule of thumb that languages replace about 20 percent of their basic vocabulary every one thousand years. 262
The steppe itself reaches its western limit in the plains of Hungary. That's where all subsequent steppe invaders of Europe, like the Mongols, stopped. To spread further, steppe society had to adopt to the forested landscape of western Europe - by adopting intense agricultural or by taking over existing European societies and hybridizing with their peoples. Most of the genes of the resulting hybrid societies may have been the genes of old europe. 271
Chimpanzee behavior suggests that a major reason for our human hallmark of group living was defense against other human groups, especially once we acquired weapons and a large enough brain to plan ambushes. If this reasoning is correct, then anthropologist's traditional emphasis on "man the hunter" as the driving force of human evolution might be valid after all - with the difference that we ourselves were our own prey as well as the predator that forced us into group living. 294
Our power threatens our own existence. 311
Original review: The audience called for an encore and Jared obliged. The rewind was not as much fun.
The Homosexual Chimpanzee?
However, this book has some great explanations on human sexuality but does not address one which I was not able to find a satisfactory explanation for, evolutionarily speaking: Homosexuality.
The following is an explanatory excerpt from The Extended Phenotype by Richard Dawkins. I am adding this here for my own reference, but I am sure you will find it damn interesting too.
"Consider human male homosexuality as a more serious example. On the face of it, the existence of a substantial minority of men who prefer sexual relations with their own sex rather than with the opposite sex constitutes a problem for any simple Darwinian theory. The rather discursive title of a privately circulated homosexualist pamphlet, which the author was kind enough to send me, summarizes the problem: 'Why are there "gays" at all? Why hasn't evolution eliminated "gayness" millions of years ago?' The author, incidentally, thinks the problem so important that it seriously undermines the whole Darwinian view of life. Trivers (1974), Wilson (1975, 1978), and especially Weinrich (1976) have considered various versions of the possibility that homosexuals may, at some time in history, have been functionally equivalent to sterile workers, foregoing personal reproduction the better to care for other relatives. I do not find this idea particularly plausible (Ridley & Dawkins in press), certainly no more so than a 'sneaky male' hypothesis. According to this latter idea, homosexuality represents an 'alternative male tactic' for obtaining matings with females. In a society with harem defence by dominant males, a male who is known to be homosexual is more likely to be tolerated by a dominant male than a known heterosexual male, and an otherwise subordinate male may be able, by virtue of this, to obtain clandestine copulations with females.
But I raise the 'sneaky male' hypothesis not as a plausible possibility so much as a way of dramatizing how easy and inconclusive it is to dream up explanations of this kind (Lewontin, 1979, used the same didactic trick in discussing apparent homosexuality in Drosophila). The main point I wish to make is quite different and much more important. It is again the point about how we characterize the phenotypic feature that we are trying to explain.
Homosexuality is, of course, a problem for Darwinians only if there is a genetic component to the difference between homosexual and heterosexual individuals. While the evidence is controversial (Weinrich 1976), let us assume for the sake of argument that this is the case. Now the question arises, what does it mean to say there is a genetic component to the difference, in common parlance that there is a gene (or genes) 'for' homosexuality? It is a fundamental truism, of logic more than of genetics, that the phenotypic 'effect' of a gene is a concept that has meaning only if the context of environmental influences is specified, environment being understood to include all the other genes in the genome. A gene 'for' A in environment X may well turn out to be a gene for B in environment Y. It is simply meaningless to speak of an absolute, context-free, phenotypic effect of a given gene.
Even if there are genes which, in today's environment, produce a homosexual phenotype, this does not mean that in another environment, say that of our Pleistocene ancestors, they would have had the same phenotypic effect. A gene for homosexuality in our modern environment might have been a gene for something utterly different in the Pleistocene. So, we have the possibility of a special kind of 'time-lag effect' here. It may be that the phenotype which we are trying to explain did not even exist in some earlier environment, even though the gene did then exist."
Yes, this is inconclusive, but it does point out some interesting directions in which we can direct our evolutionary reasoning. Don't you think?
Sve što nas čini ljudima i na što smo tako ponosni naslijedili smo od predaka. Da li je poljoprivreda bila baš takva sreća kakvom nas uče? Bave li se životinje umjetnošću? koja je veza između djetlića i NLO-a? pročitajte pa ćete saznati.
Jared Diamond should be required reading. He has influenced my view of humanity and history more than probably anyone except maybe a history professor in college, where I was a history minor. No, I think I Diamond has influenced me more.
I stumbled across a 3 part series on PBS based on Guns, Germs and Steel a couple of years ago and was floored. I bought and read the book immediately and was even more blown away. Since then I have read Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and Why is Sex Fun. Both of them were also mind-blowing and insightful.
The Third Chimpanzee was Diamond’s first book and it really lays the groundwork for his three following. In fact 3C read a bit like an abridged version of the other three books combined. But that is not to say it did not contain things the other books didn’t….or at least that I don’t remember. The next time I recommend Diamond to a friend, I think I will recommend 3C because it is a great overview of his works.
I was particularly struck by the chapters on language, both animal languages that are only beginning to be unraveled, as well as the information on human languages.
The book also contains a striking chapter about genocide. It was a tough chapter to read and teetered on the edge of being overwhelmingly depressing to me. But it is something that can’t be ignored. Humans have a long history of killing each other on a massive scale. If humanity is going to change how we act in the future, we can’t gloss over the past because it demonstrates human tendencies.
Besides his incredible insight, I appreciate Diamond for a number of other reasons. First off I find his writing reachable. Although he often talks about some very complex and specific things, he does a brilliant job of making it understandable to a layperson. He also pulls no punches; he seems to have a very realistic view of humanity, good and bad. He is quick to point out inconsistencies, discrimination and arrogance, including his own. He preaches without ever feeling preachy. He also has a fun sense of humor and appreciates irony as it regularly occurs in life.
I would be dumber and my life less full if I had not discovered Jared Diamond. And much to my joy he has a new book coming out in mere weeks!