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Robert Sapolsky: Are Humans Just Another Primate?

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JamesFM Avatar
JamesFM
Posted: 03.14.14, 10:16 PM
Sapolsky makes a general statement that we will never understand a human by simply sequencing all of his genes. I don't think any of us would disagree with that. But can we ever fully understand humans without also understanding our "genetic readiness to acquire human culture." Svante Paabo, who sequenced the Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes, believes that genes are a necessary substrate to acquiring human culture. Sapolsky appears to disagree because he goes on to say that there are hardly any genes unique to humans that have been found to be relevant to the brain, aside from those that simply allow our brains to grow larger, and those that have disabled most of our olfactory receptors. I was struck by his failure to mention the genes involved in humans' language ability, especially after he acknowledged earlier in response to a question from the audience that language ability was an important feature underlying many uniquely human abilities such as abstract thought. If Sapolsky is only speaking to the current state of our knowledge in the field of genetics, again, nobody would disagree. But I definitely get the sense that he does not expect our study of the human genome to ever be of much assistance in understanding what makes humans human. I think the truth is that only time will tell. "[W]e still know next to nothing about how a genome translates into the particularities of a living and breathing individual," Paabo says. But look at how far we have come in such a short period of time. It seems premature for Sapolsky to write off genetics while it's in its infancy. Sapolsky's observations on human behavior are truly insightful, but I wonder whether his work as a primatologist studying wild baboons in East Africa has unduly narrowed his perspective.
uriupina Avatar
uriupina
Posted: 06.21.11, 03:54 AM
Quote: Why is he so insistent about anthropomorphizing animals by providing them with his made-up internal monologues? I think this is just about making a lecture more entertaining, even adults are more attentive when the thing they are listening to is at times fun. Of course, it is not needed when professionals talk between themselves, but a lecture for a wide audience - why not? I don't imagine the listeners will remain convinced that a fish indeed has an internal monologue. If someone will, then such person should be studied by neurologists for his/her inability to recognize jokes.))
mvanderford Avatar
mvanderford
Posted: 03.15.11, 11:42 AM
Irony. His 'anthropomorphizing' animals is a metaphor. The ability to understand metaphor is one characteristic that distinguishes human primates from the others. His point is that chimps and humans share the same fundamental features (hence the anthropomorphizing), but that humans have more extreme versions of the features (hence the metaphor). I guess this is subtle. He points out that mentioning 'culture' and 'personality' used to be forbidden, but as the evidence collects, there is ample proof of 'culture' and 'personality' in other species.
slgreene3 Avatar
slgreene3
Posted: 03.08.11, 03:15 PM
Why is he so insistent about anthropomorphizing animals by providing them with his made-up internal monologues? His monologues would be over-the-top even for humans. I thought biologists opposed anthropomorpizing as being unscientific. Don't they constantly condescend to laymen for doing exactly what he's doing?
writ Avatar
writ
Posted: 03.03.11, 12:37 AM
The last remark regarding how humans would be more motivated to do things that are increasingly improbably seem to contradict what he has gone through earlier with the chimps, dopamine levels, and motivation.
pbredder Avatar
pbredder
Posted: 03.02.11, 06:36 PM
I'm not sure I understand you. Do you see our use of language as a means of transferring 'memes'? (Reading in of software) That these memes then take a degree of (parasitic) control of our thinking? That our thinking is much a reflection our personal meme archive? If you do, then I agree. This is a form of cultural evolution -- evolution that takes place at a rate orders of magnitude faster than genetic evolution occurs. Humans have developed this information transfer process to a much higher degree than other species. It catapults us largely free of evolving gene pools, as a determinant of evolving individual or societal behavior. Information, in its broadest sense, is a resource for our thinking, and thus catalyzes much of our intentional behavior. We also use language to facilitate information storage and processing (mental modelling), and for informing others (meme transfer?). Language is a 'recent' emergent property, of some of the hierarchically-organized systems that characterize the many (sometimes competing) complex systems we observe throughout the natural world. Are we currently participants in a follow-on emergence??
Lyle Ridings Avatar
Lyle Ridings
Posted: 03.02.11, 06:21 AM
marcomauas, Seek medical help for those parasites in your head; my neurons and genes are working just fine. Stick to your field of expertise - mumbo-jumbo, and leave real Science to real Scientists.
marcomauas Avatar
marcomauas
Posted: 03.02.11, 04:49 AM
Yes, hopscotch is simply language. And this is something Mr Sapolsky does not give as much as importance as he is ready to give to "neurons", "genes", and all the mumbo-jumbo that we humans suffer as a parasite sounding in our ears as part of our civilization. Language is a parasite. James Joyce was able to feel it. Jacques Lacan, psychoanalyst, was able to trace it.
Fora2 Avatar
Fora2
Posted: 02.25.11, 09:21 PM
Probably the most important differences between chimps and humans are "language" & "tool making" Language allows us to communicate, store knowledge, & think. We use language to THINK. Thinking is just "talking to ourself". That ability to speak, understand speech, and think is probably the evolutionary driver that selected for humans with larger brains. We remember thoughts with language. Now we make books, libraries, & databases. The second evolutionary driver that separates humans from chimps is the ability to design and use tools. Tools give us enormous power over our environment - from fire, spears, wheels & plows to cars, air conditioners, TVs & computers. Otherwise, we're just naked apes.
The Isolation Party Avatar
The Isolation Party
Posted: 02.24.11, 05:13 PM
the john lennon of neurobiology/primatology. amazing mind.