From the book The Spiritual Brain by Neuroscientist Mario Beauregard pp. 16-19 emphasis theirs and ours
The Great Apes
Although a few years ago it would have seemed the most implausible science fiction, it does not appear to me out of the question that, after a few years in such a verbal chimpanzee community, then might emerge the memoirs of the natural history and mental life of a chimpanzee, published in English or Japanese (with perhaps an "as told to" after the byline) -Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden
What can the great apes tell us about ourselves?
If we are really the 98 percent chimpanzee, then surely self, mind, will, soul, spirit, and spirituality are just human forms of a normal animal brain function. Maybe the 100 percent chimpanzee can indeed help us understand ourselves. But this approach to understanding the human mind has run aground. Here are some of the reasons:
The DNA evidence of similarity between humans and chimpanzees does not tell us what we need to know. Recall that only four nucleotides (A, C, G, T) write the entire genetic code, so a purely random assortment would report us as sharing 25 percent of our DNA with any known life form, whether or not it has a brain. Also, as evolutionary anthropologist Jonathan Marks reminds us, we share 40 percent of our DNA with fish, but no one suggests that fish are 40 percent of a humans-or for that matter that humans are 250 percent of a fish. Crude concepts like DNA sharing do not really provide much help in understanding the human mind because it is the differences we need to know about, not the similarities. In any event, current estimates of how much DNA humans and chimpanzees share range from 95 to over 99 percent, depending on the rules chosen by the researcher making the estimate,'`'' So it is not even clear yet how much DNA we do share.
Ape's are not really a mirror for human behavior or thinking. Primatologists study apes to provide an evolutionary explanation for human behavior, particularly violent behavior. As a result, they tend to focus on behavior that is common (or at least interesting) among humans even if it is rare among other primates. Robert Sussman, of Washington University, and Paul Garber, of the University of Illinois, pointed out recently, after a massive literature survey, that most apes are not even very social let alone prone to violence. Gorillas spend only 3 percent of their time in social activities and chimpanzees only 25 percent. Comparisons between human and ape behavior are easily distorted by observer bias and cannot tell us much about ourselves.
Chimpanzees and humans do not, in general, share close emotional bonds. If you want to live with a nonhuman who is emotionally close to humans, share your life with a dog, not a chimpanzee. Dogs have demonstrated in research studies a greater ability to understand human emotions than chimpanzees have-even though the human face is more similar to the chimpanzee face than it is to the canine face. As Colin Woodward notes in The Chronicle of Higher Education:
Chimpanzees, our closest relatives, have been shown to follow a human's gaze, but they do very poorly in a classic experiment that requires them to extract clues by watching a person. In that test, a researcher hides food in one of several containers out of sight of the animal. Then the chimp is allowed to choose one container after the experimenter indicates the correct choice by various methods, such as staring, nodding, pointing, tapping, or placing a marker. Only with considerable training do chimps and other primates manage to score above chance.
By 2001, experiments had shown that dogs were far better than chimpanzees at finding food using social cues provided by humans. So, greater genetic similarity does not mean greater community of mind between humans and chimpanzees.
The claims that apes have mental abilities similar to those of humans are questionable. Some researchers have devoted their careers to teaching simple deaf-language signs to apes, but, as Jonathan Marks notes:
For all the interest generated by the sign-language experiments with apes, three things are clear. First they do have the capacity to manipulate a symbol system given to them by humans, and to communicate with it. Second, unfortunately they have nothing to say. And third, they do not use any such system in the wild.
Marks concludes: "Language is just not a chimpanzee thing. There is in fact very little overlap between chimpanzee and human communication."'' Indeed, nonhuman primates probably lack the neural complexity to handle the abstract thought needed for a mind. Radiologist Andrew Newherg and his colleagues note:
A rudimentary version of the parietal lobe is present in our close evolutionary relative, the chimpanzee. While chimps are smart enough to master simple mathematical concepts and develop non-verbal language skills, their brains appear to lack the neural complexity needed to formulate any significant kind of abstract thought, which is the type of thought that leads to the formation of cultures, art, mathematics, technology, and myths.''
One of the reasons that primatologists such as Jane Goodall have stressed the similarity between apes and humans is entirely praiseworthy: they want to provide protection for the natural habitats of endangered wild apes and to end inhumane treatment of captive apes in laboratories. But, as Marks has pointed out, apes need protection as apes, not as equivalent to humans. He notes, Apes should be conserved and treated with compassion, but to blur the line between them and us is an unscientific rhetorical device.
It's refreshing to work with chimpanzees: They are the honest politicians we all long for. When the political philosopher1'homas Hobbes postulated an insuppressible power drive, he was right on target for both humans and ape;. Observing how blatantly' chimpanzees jockey for position, one will look in vain for ulterior motives and expedient promises. -Primatologist Frans B. M. De Waal
Genuine politics--even politics worthy of the name-the only politics I am willing to devote myself to-is simply a matter of serving those around us: serving the community and serving those who will come after us. Its deepest roots are moral because it is a responsibility expressed through action, to and for the whole.''' -Political prisoner and human rights activist Vaclav Havel, later president of the Czech Republic
So the chimpanzees cannot help us understand ourselves because the very thing that separates us from them is the human mind. How that mind arose and how it works is still a genuine puzzle. As science writer Elaine Morgan says:
Considering the very dose genetic relationship that has been established by comparison of biochemical properties of blood proteins, protein structure and DNA and immunological responses, the differences between a man and a chimpanzee are more astonishing than the resemblances.... Something must have happened to the ancestors of Homo sapiens which did not happen to the ancestors of gorillas and chimpanzees.
So what can the chimpanzees and other great apes tell us? Not what we need to know, unfortunately. They can't answer for us the very questions they don't ask for themselves.