Week 9: Apes v. Humans

Last week, we viewed Rachel Mayeri presented her film Primate Cinema in class. The clip that captured my interest in the film was the Apes As Family footageScientific research argues that we, as the human species, are close relatives with primate species since our genomes are 99% identical. Darwinism supports this theory because of the similar phenotypes that the two species share. There are critics who don’t believe in the theory because some say that apes would have evolved as human beings by now if they’ve been around as much as we have been in this world. However, it is not for me to decide the right or wrong for such a controversial topic. Like the psychologist, Dr. Sarah-Jane, that Mayeri worked with for the Apes As Family video, I’m interested on the behavior of primates.

As the topic of gestures and apes were brought up in class, it reminded me of an LiveScience article that I read before. The article states that human babies and baby apes use similar gestures to communicate with those around them. For example, both human and ape babies used similar gestures such as pointing their finger or reaching towards for things they wanted. Both babies would lift their arms when they wanted to get picked up by a parent or caretaker.

ape-baby-pointsHowever, the study states that the behaviors diverged as they grew older. The human baby used more gestures and developed new ones such as waving, shaking head, and nodding – gestures that weren’t apparent to baby apes. The human baby started to be more vocalized and use more words than the apes.

chimpanzee-gimeeIn Primate Cinema the apes have different degrees of reactive behavior towards the primates that they see in the television sets placed by Mayeri. Some reactions include sitting and watching the video as it is being played, while there are reactions where the primates are trying to reach out and touch the primates that they see on the set. The gestures and sounds that the primates are making are similar to the ones found in the article about baby humans and apes. If a human baby and baby ape of the same developmental stages were placed in a same room, the infants would most likely think of each other as the same species. Their gestures are so similar that they would be able to communicate with each other the same way.

Although research in genetics and anatomy proves a lot of connections between humans and primates, there is also a correlation in the infant psychology and behavior of both species. Scientific art projects like Primate Cinema tells us that human beings are no different than other species in the world. The topics of movement, gestures, and communication is found fundamentally similar throughout all species. The evolutionary difference between humans and animals is similar to how two  languages are different from each other. If we’re able to understand the language and gestures of animals and vis versa, it is a possibility that inter-species communication would be as easy as a translator talking to different people with different languages.

– Oneil Leif Parrilla

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