Week 10 Response: Uncovering the Similarities between Humans and other Animals

In lecture this week, one of the topics I found most interesting was on Rachel Mayeri’s project Primate Cinema. Mayeri’s project touched upon the incredible behavioral similarities amongst humans and their non-human primate cousins , in this case, the baboon. Mayeri juxtaposed human behavior in trying to attract a partner with baboon behavior in a similar situation. Watching this got me thinking about several things:

1) Humans try so hard to differentiate themselves from animals but often have trouble acknowledging the similarities in appearance, in our instincts, in our behavior, etc. We classify animals as barbaric, primal, and accusing someone of being an “animal” most often holds a negative connotation. It is true that humans are different from other animals: amongst other differences, we have a level of intelligence that is on another spectrum. We think and create and innovate. However, there are surprising behavioral similarities between humans and animals that many of us are not aware of and more that have not been uncovered.

The concept of waiting in line seems like it would be exclusively a human function. So it’s interesting for me to see that zebras also have this social understanding/concept of waiting your turn to use something that’s in popular demand. A lot of the behaviors we would normally attribute as human behavior is often not exclusively human, leading me to think, what other similarities in behavior do we have with animals that we don’t know about? Could uncovering these similarities teach us something about our own behaviors?

I thought this video was really interesting because from what we know of Bonobos, Bonobos don’t kill each other and this is a big factor that sets them apart from chimps. Humans do kill each other and wage war, yet we attribute the terms primal and barbaric to other animals including our primate cousins. Then in this case, aren’t we more barbaric and primal in some ways than the Bonobos?

2) In Mayeri’s project, the juxtaposition of the baboons and the humans at the bar really demonstrated the similarities between the two species when it comes to something primal like finding a mate. The idea that there are quite a lot of similarities between humans and other species got me thinking about how similar behaviors are often the starting point of inter-species communication. It led me to think, could uncovering more similarities in the way humans and animals think and respond lead to more avenues for inter-species communication? If we find ourselves relating to or understanding a lot of animal behavior, isn’t that already one step towards communicating with these other animals? Can animals, in turn, learn to understand and reciprocate that understanding in order to ultimately establish a form of communication between human and animals? This video of a lion Christian, who was raised by humans and sent back into the wild is an example of inter-species communication.

Though the humans and the lion are unable to communicate verbally, they are familiar with each others’ body language and communicate through that understanding of one another’s behaviors. The bond between the humans and the lion is really amazing and is a great example of how humans and “barbaric” wild animals have the capacity to relate to one another. It demonstrates the power of body language as a tool of communication.

Ultimately, I think it’s important for humans to be able to understand and relate to other animals in order to foster a world where humans respect animals. Understanding body language and behavior of various species are an important means to achieving this

-Connie Paik


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