View Full Version : Humans and chimps

Bob Todd
20th May 2003, 01:53 PM
I heard on the radio this morning that becuase chimps have 99.4% of their DNA in common with ours, some biologists are thinking of reclassifying them as members of the Homo genus. The only reason why they are noticably less intelligent than us (although they are still far more intelligent than most other mammals) is because their cortexes have a lesser surface area... ours are more folded and so have more surface area for their volume (the cortexes of sheep are almost glass-smooth, which explains their stupidity).

How do you all feel about this? Would you be comfortable sharing a genus with chimpanzees?

Personally, I think it's an important hallmark of the fact that we are becoming less vain as a species and recognising our proper place in the world... as just another animal. Although I wouldn't be too keen on it going as far as chimps being integrated into our society. They themselves wouldn't like it, and the anti-evolutionsists would likely have a fit.

20th May 2003, 02:00 PM
it won't bother me any more to share a genus with chimpanzees than it has to share it with so many humans with fewer ripples than i would have thought required for definition as human. ;)

20th May 2003, 02:49 PM
I wouldn't mind, but...

There is a popular reasoning error often made. Even when two species share 95% of their DNA, this 5% can be very determining and can make the two species spin out in totally, totally different directions. Suppose that species A's DNA string is a sequence of ABCABCABCABC and so on. Species B's sequence is ABDABDABDABD and so on. They differ only like 1% (all C's are D's) but it could have a massive impact.

I had always assumed, by the way, that humans were more closely related to bonobos? And that chimps had split off the homo-tree about 6 million years ago? But then I'm not a biologist. :)


Bob Todd
20th May 2003, 02:58 PM
Chimps are as closely related to bonobos as they are to humans. Ergo, humans must also be equally closely related to bonobos as they are to chimps. Some biologists even reckon that chimps and bonobos are in face the same species and that they are just ethnic variations, just as humans from different countries don't look the same.

20th May 2003, 03:20 PM
Would you be comfortable sharing a genus with chimpanzees?
It's not a matter of feeling comfortable or not. This 99% thing is a fact and the only thing you can do is accept it. Another thing is how you interpret the fact. Changing a classification won't alter a fact that has been the same for several thousands of years.

People get impressed with this figures but almost every monkey shares 90% or more DNA with humans. And I think insects shared something between 30 and 50% with humans DNA.

At the end of the day, if you look at it rationally almost every complex animal follows the same structure: a trunk with a long nerve in the middle, several extremities at the sides (usually with a diferentiation between the ones in the rear ant the ones near the head), a head on top of the trunk, eyes that come in pairs (normally only one pair), all of this with a planar symmetry that might be broken when some functionality is needed. I could continue with the digestive system with a mouth in the head and the exhaust orifice between the legs in the abdomen but this could go on endlessly with other similarities and would serve little purpose.


20th May 2003, 06:18 PM
um.... Jeroen? ABD instead of ABC is 33 and one-third percent?

20th May 2003, 08:50 PM
Bonobos are the ones that have sex all the time aren't they? I'm sorry but I don't think they're related to me at all.


Anyway, I'm with Lance on this one, In that I'm not too keen on being in the same genus as quite a few humans... I don't object to chimps being re-classified, but to be honest I don't know how much it'll help the animal rights cause, although I'd hope that it does.

I think generally humans need to be more aware of being a part of the world, rather than obsessing with having power over it (although that's stating the obvious!)

21st May 2003, 11:55 AM
about that 0.6%


we`ve all got the same DNA as Shakespeare, so I guess it wouldn`t do to overestimate the importance of the stuff.

21st May 2003, 12:25 PM
Try this one:

The Fantastic Typing Cybermonkey (http://www.megalink.net/~ccs/monkey.htm)

Make sure you enable GIF animations and javascript. Witness science at work!

21st May 2003, 01:06 PM
My job is often classified as "being do-able by a trained monkey"..... so I guess I am just a less-hairy ape.

Oh well, got banana?

21st May 2003, 05:03 PM

Okay, I didn't explain it very well. What I meant was actually explained better by xEik :).


21st May 2003, 05:35 PM
Something that has been a bit controversial in the last years is the fact that most of our genome seems to be nothing more than padding.

The functionality necessary to build our bodies seems to be coded in a quite small number of genes and the others are either redundant (they code the same information) or completely useless. This useless genes are believed to have had some function in some moment during evolution but they don't seem to be used any longer.

Remember, though, that this is theory and could be proved wrong thanks to new discoveries. ;)

21st May 2003, 06:31 PM
Jeroen: i knew what you meant; you just applied the percentage figure in conjunction with the wrong data. and being weak, i took the opportunity :D

concerning your earlier post: i never diverged from the homo tree at all ;)

21st May 2003, 09:54 PM
:lol: Lance!

A related issue, perhaps, to all this gene discussion. Suppose that gene therapy was safe and controllable, would you (general you) consider doing it to enhance your perception, physical strength, intelligence, etc etc? Or, to take it even a step further, would you consider the use of nanotechnology (for those non sf-freaks among us, nanotechnology is technology so small that it can only be seen under a microscope... imagine a computer chip the size of an atom... that would be nanotechnology) to enhance and reshape yourself?

Most of my friends seem to be repelled by the idea of being "turned into a machine" and of course the political connotations aren't very far off... some say eugentics is just a more refined form of nazism.

However, I do think that given the opportunity I would make use of such technology. Imagine the times I'd get in wip3out (se). Then I could beat Zargz on every track ;). And I might even beat the mighty, godlike Al Sartwell :D. Wait... I see a pattern developing. Al uses nanotechnology! I knew it! I knew it! ;)

But, back to the matter at hand... what would you say?


21st May 2003, 10:57 PM
i'd do it.

many decades ago, there was a series of science-fiction stories in which the main characters, a group of exploring scientists, in order to survive, had to have their minds put into artificial electro-mechanical bodies. it meant that as long as those bodies could be maintained, their minds became immortal, thus giving them the freedom to travel and study anywhere, including environments where they could not have survived in their purely organic forms, and to do it for as long as they desired to.

now we live in a much later era, and know that eventually, we [not me probably, unless the technology is developed very soon] will have the option to have something very much more sophisticated and sensitive than what was envisioned back in the 1920s and 1930s. an artifically extended life could be even richer in number and subtlety of senses than our unaltered organic 'natural' state, but without losing any of the ones we already have. our appearance and function could be either left normal but enhanced, or very much altered.

racism was [and unfortunately still is] based on tiny little physical differences. artificial body alteration would render such small differences insignificant of anything other than personal taste, and indeed such small differences would seem unimportant compared to the possibilities of what one could add in terms of function or fashion. our bodies could be reshaped at our whim, particularly if we had conscious internal control of the programming of nanobots inhabiting our bodies. imagine the possibilities for exploring the oceans or the planets by adapting our bodies temporarily to the best form for the occasion. and the possibilities for sex. rrowr

22nd May 2003, 04:16 AM
psh. racism would still exist, it would just add humanoid hybrids for types of people to pre judge. racism has always been rediculous, that doesnt mean it will go away because it is.

i think we need to catch up ethically with the technlogy already released before we decide to start sticking more artificial things into our bodies.

22nd May 2003, 06:04 AM
i don't think we've caught up ethically with clenchable fists yet, but i still like having a microwave oven

22nd May 2003, 07:46 AM
yeah, but its just like programming, youre patching the loophole code with loopholes.

automated genetic alterations would be nice for exploring other planets, but what if suicide bombers can explode themselves with only their bodies? what kind of terrible deformations would genetic malpractice cause? can you imagine genetic soldiers? then can you imagine recruiting in selective services forcing genetic alterations on your body?

and what happens 50 or 60 years down the line when people realize what the long term side effects of such alterations is? a situation sort of like the rash of new perscription drugs i would imagine. i dont think technological advances will slow one bit, and i dont expect everything to turn out wrong, but technology is not going to change people. even in the worlds of wipeout this is shown. so you have to assume most everything we woud experience in the future will seem rather exaggerated to us now. the truth i suppose is often the most unbelievable.

22nd May 2003, 10:48 AM
I recently finished reading a small sf novel (by PK Dick) about a discovery of a parallel world inhabited by Peking men (a primitive human species) and not homo sapiens sapiens. This discovery rendered the black/white-racism insignificant but also took it to a new level.

Every technology is potentially dangerous. Look at nuclear power. When used correctly it's a good energy source but when misused it's a terrible weapon of destruction. As long as there will be humans there will be people who use technology for bad purposes. I think however, rather than limiting our scientific progress because of that, we [the world] should aim at eliminating fertile grounds for terrorists, frustration and fundamentalism. We may never be able to fully eradicate it but we should see to it that it never becomes a dominant current.

I'm fairly pessimistic about the mid-long term future but I'm not so pessimistic as to believe that the human race will wipe itself out (no pun intended). There are simply too many of us to be killed! Cataclysms may occur at any given moment: a large meteor hitting the earth, a new Chernobyl accident, North Korea deciding to actually use its nukes, a solar magnetic field switch...

But somehow the human species always survives. We survived the ice age, the volcanic explosion on Thèra and World War II.

The big question for me, as a tiny little person, of course is: will I survive? ;)


22nd May 2003, 04:04 PM
there were far more dinosaurs than there are us. where are they now? you may say that birds are the descendents of dinosaurs, but the key word is 'descendents'. their forms are not those of dinosaurs. dinosaurs are extinct. it could happen to us, too, even though it would take more than the climate change that was the apparent cause of dinosaur elimination.

i, too, do not believe that we will stop technological development; it is what defines 'humans', it is what we do.

i think that racism would disappear, but you are right, Jason, in the sense that tribalism will still exist. it is the basis of racism and all other groupings that we use to distinguish 'us' from 'them'. there seems to be some genetically inbuilt desire in us to form groups that we are willing to protect and to which we look for protection, support. we seem to desire 'family', some sort of 'local' genetic grouping to be part of

22nd May 2003, 07:32 PM
I wouldn't be so sure if there were more dinosaurs 65 million years ago than there are humans now. That means there would have been 6 billion dinosaurs. Besides, some dinosaurs did survive the cataclysm (crocodiles anyone?) and so did some fish (such as sharks).

Added to that, I think man is clever enough to remain alive... dinosaurs couldn't come up with creative solutions could they :).


22nd May 2003, 08:05 PM
Yes but we also seem exceptionally creative when it comes to kill those of our own kind. :-?

22nd May 2003, 08:25 PM
of course technology will continue, because its the only thing that benefits us. the more insatiable your appetite is for it, the harder and harder people work for it. computer programming long hours after 20 or 30 years of school to work off bills for the rest of your life is what you do to sustain your 27 inch sony wega or your 1.2 ghz pc. cuz that stuff is cool. fridgerators are good things, running water is a good thing, portable mp3 players with 4 gigs of storage for a weeks worth of music are good things. you can sit on your couch with your glasstron portable display and ps one and play wipeout 3 for hours on end.

you see we, as humans, have been set out to create but we are not built from the beginning to destroy. that we have decided to take on the role of gods and decide what is to live or die is our own choice which we can choose to accept.

the problem in short is that people think that this way to live is the only way to live and demand more than the people and the enviroment can actually produce. the television is always on or the computer is always on because people dont know when to pull the plug on things, and theyd rather have them explode in their faces or be struck by lightning before they turn them off. theyd rather have atomic fallout or glacier floods or whatever cataclysmic destruction you can think of to let them know that the shows over so they can all give a collective 'awww' about the world which they rendered useless and barren.

and why would that happen? well, because its easy. just let everything go, its as easy as what we do every day when we turn on the tv or pass by the homless person on the street. we're alerady doing it right now, so tell me why wouldn't it happen?

personally, i think whatever useless self-indulgent object we come up with next won't be worth destroying all life on the planet for.k thx.

22nd May 2003, 08:38 PM
Jeroen: in the eras of the dinosaur, the landmasses of the earth were almost entirely in what we would regard as tropical and temperate climate zones, rainfall was heavy in most areas of the world, and particularly in the Permian and Mississippian periods, vegetation was extremely lush and supported a tremendous biological mass of itself and animals. every biological niche on land that wasn't filled by insects was filled by dinosaurs. this was true up until the last few million years of the dinosaur existence, when small mammals began to have a minor place in the food chain. there must have been not mere billions, but tens of billions of individual dinosaurs from the size of a tiny lizard to the giant ones on which we focus most of our interest

22nd May 2003, 08:47 PM
And yet they too spent a lot of time staring into the fridge wondering what to have to eat.

Back to the topic on hand, if you want to read a good scientific look at all that "junk DNA" have yourself a read of Frameshift by Robert J Sawyer. He also wrote a series about dinosaurs that were somehow moved from Earth to another planet, allowing them to evolve further. I believe it's called The Quintaglio and the first book is Far-Seer.

22nd May 2003, 09:34 PM
vasudeva: what's the name of the novel / book?

22nd May 2003, 10:20 PM
I read a Dutch translation of it, in Dutch it's called "Scheur in de ruimte" so I think in English it would probably be "Crack in space" or something.


24th May 2003, 03:28 AM
'k! I'll look 4it!
SF is almost the only thing I read ..
sometimes when all the books in the SF shelve at the central library in stockolm
dont has a book I didnt read thEn I take a fantasy book :wink:
Asimovs the foundation(about 5 books) is great also Dune
(4books? las I read prequel of the 1st book writen by the son of the dead author!!)
almost any book by ursula K leguin (often SF + fantasy).
anyway thanx! 8)

24th May 2003, 12:38 PM

The title of Dick's novel is indeed "The Crack in Space". Somehow the title makes me think of drugs, just like that game, "The Need for Speed". How about "The Need for Heroine"? ;)

Anyway, yes, I am also into sf. Asimov remains one of the great masters of the genre. He was also a good scientific essayist. If you haven't read them already, Dan Simmons' tetralogy about "Hyperion" is also magnificent. Beautiful and intelligent. I never liked Arthur C. Clarke or Jack Vance although many sf-fans think they are great too. I felt neither of them had something interesting to say. If you're into sf-fantasy crossovers you might want to try Julian May's series too (not her new Orion-books, which are terrible).

Any other sf fans here, actually?


24th May 2003, 05:38 PM
would i be happy to share a genus with chimpanzees?
Half the people in the world are chimps!

24th May 2003, 07:18 PM
i love Clarke and Vance, but find Asimov's early work rather pedestrian. what appeals to me about Clarke is the solid technological speculative inventioneering plus a rather romantic outlook and an appreciation of great spans of time. Vance is great at colourful stories and characters rather than sociological statements or tech invention. to me, Asimov was a science speculator of some interest, but had little talent for creating a story with energy and flow and colour. his early work does have some appeal to me, but it is more of historical interest to me. this was already true when i read his work in the early 60s when his famous works were still relatively fresh and reasonably current, but had some of the feel of a truly new thing that stories written in the 20s and 30s had, but toned down by the attitude of dry intellectual analysis and a certain lack of joy. this made them feel like they were already relics of science-fiction's past.
i think he was so involved with the power structures of government that except for I, Robot, his books could have been set in any era. the technology hardly even mattered. this seems particularly true of the Foundation series. i could be wrong, of course. it has been a long time since i read his work. i read my first Asimov book when i was 14, i think, in 1957, but it was not fiction. it was called 'Inside the Atom'' and was one of his popularising explanations of basic nuclear physics. i had pretty much read all the Asimov i was going to by the mid-60s, so i am unfamiliar with his later works

24th May 2003, 07:43 PM
What I liked of Asimov stories is that there was more sci than fi in them. It was as if those things could really happen in a somewhat distant future.

I despise stories innecessarily overpopulated with weird aliens, containing long descriptions of useless flashy technology with bizarre names. :P

24th May 2003, 09:16 PM
the science is a big part of what i like about Clarke, and the man is such a design engineer! 'The Fountains of Paradise' had me designing all kinds of stuff based on 'hyperfilament'. even to this day, hyperfilament figures in to the structure of some of my hypothetical designs and has an influence on the actually now possible ones. i read recently that his idea of the orbital elevator is actually being considered by a commercial company as a real project. [god save us!] [really, though, i don't know how i feel about doing it for real, it could be magnificent; but on the other hand, i have this feeling that it somehow violates the integrity of the Earth's naturalness][but! on the other hand ;) humans and their structures are a natural part of Earth]

24th May 2003, 11:21 PM

The reasons you mention are usually the reasons why people like Vance and/or Clarke and as far as I can tell they are sound ones: Vance did indeed have a lot of fantasy and Clarke had some nifty ideas about sciences and the future. I'll tell you a bit more about why I dislike them.

Neither Vance nor Clarke portray very realistic characters. Usually they are just run-of-the-mill-heroes or stock characters with very predictable, shallow characters. Although it's not sf's primary goal to sketch a psychological state of mind or to deepen character relations I think it's imperative if you want to have a good story. Secondly, some things Clarke comes up with are impossible, and his Space Odyssey series contains big internal contradictions (such as the Jupiter-Saturn thing). While the man had fascinating ideas in my opinion he was very limited, and too careless in his story-telling.

Vance's fantasy also works against him. It runs in a thousand different directions at the same time but he often falls into what I call the Star Trek-trap. His aliens are either completely weird (I'll write more about that below) or too humanoid, both in appearance and character, with no explanation given why they can communicate with each other, how their psyche and body works, etc etc. Additionally, I have a bone to pick with Vance (and a great, great deal of other sf and especially fantasy authors) with regard to their use of alien languages. Too seem cool, <ph>, <y>, <q> or <c> are often inserted randomly when there is no real need for it (for example, the <c> is useless unless it represents a distinct phonetic item which can't be shown by <s> or <k>). They also rely way too much on the core structure of Indo-European languages and if they don't, it's usually just gibberish and nonsense. Also, not enough research and thought often goes into the culture, history and philosophy of these beings.

Asimov was able to avoid many of these traps because he didn't write about aliens that much. Some consider him boring. To an extent, he is. But if you like political and scientific reflections with a good dose of story telling Asimov's your man ;). Still I haven't read any author that surpasses Simmons.

Has anyone read the Mars trilogy of KS Robinson? And what about Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land"? (I'm not sure if I recall that title/author correctly).

I started reading the Dune cycle once. I found it dark and complicated. I can see why people like it, though, and might try it again sometime. Didn't like the movie ;).

The reason why I'm so overly critical on linguistic level is because I am a linguist-in-training :). I am also a science fiction writer. I've been busy working on an sf cycle since I was 14 but I kept rewriting and rewriting (still busy rewriting) because I want everything to be perfect (the first versions were absolutely horrible!).


24th May 2003, 11:28 PM
Oh yeah, here's the "weird aliens" rant ;):

Some writers or storytellers tend to come up with aliens that are very, very weird. For example, they are magnesium-based beings with their eyes on their feet. I read that once but luckily it's been a while since I came across such stuff. Anyway, what's wrong with that? For instance, if there is extraterrestial life it is most likely carbon based, because - as I recall it - carbon is exceptionally easy to bind with other types of elements and can thus more easily attain the complexity needed to form life. I read that in theory it could work with silicium and sulfer as well.

So what's my grief against the eyes on the feet? In order to be biologically competitive, I think it's to any being's advantage that its senses are as close as possible to its neural centre (in casu the brain). So, one might argue, could the brain not be resting on the creature's feet? It could but this is dangerous for another reason. I reckon that the most danger will still be on ground level for a life form, and that a being always benefits from a higher position to look from. Imagine that our brains would be at our feet! You would have a lot of concussions!

I'm not saying that a magnesium-based eyefoot is impossible... but anyone who comes up with such an outlandish creature will better have a good explanation ready... And that's the point: they are usually backed up by none :).


25th May 2003, 12:18 AM
I read that in theory it could work with silicium and sulfer as well.
I think that you are right for silicium but not for sulfur.
If you look at a periodic table you'll see that carbon is in the same column where silicium is. This means that this two elements share most of their qualities. Thus life beings based in sulfur instead of carbon sould be possible.

What you probably heard about sulfur is that it can be used in the same way as oxygen in the chemical reactions that we use to "burn" nutrients. One could think that this is possible since sulfur is in the same column where oxygen is. But not only is this possible, it already happens in our planet. Some bacteria are known to live in environments with plenty of sulfur (the pH is terrible there) using it instead of oxygen to survive.

25th May 2003, 05:37 AM
vance doesn't actually write science-fiction, he writes future-fiction. he tells a colourful story, set in the future, that is not meant to be anything other than entertainment. in that he succeeds very well. clarke's fascination is with the future of technology, particularly with the technology itself, not so much the consequences of using it. each author appeals to a differnt sort of reader. although, come to think of it, both of them appeal to me. asimov is a speculator on the social results of future technology, yet another field of interest of mine, but in this case i do not find his characters or his storytelling compelling, nor his analysis of the consequences sufficiently imaginative of the possibities to be thorough and convincing. sorry, we just have different tastes. :D

as a blossoming linguist, there are bound to be certain points that you find particularly irritating in some authors. this would be true for pretty much anyone that specialises in some field of knowledge that the author does not. i find many sci-fi movies difficult to watch when they use physical behaviours of matter and energy that are inconsistent with each other, but hey, that's just me. most people don't even pay attention to the way materials behave here on Earth, and are consequently not bothered by these things; they're just there to have a good uncritical time.


did you know that large dinosaurs had a secondary major neural center at the base of their spines? this helped to better control the co-ordination of the motor functions of the lower limbs, since it was much closer to the center of activity. the nerve impulse travels rather slowly in electro-chemical synapse triggering systems, so it was almost a practical necessity, and certainly a survival advantage

25th May 2003, 10:05 AM
Oh, I'd figured out we had different tastes, yes ;). Of course when I watch movies just for fun I'm not that critical, and I can enjoy something even if it isn't 100% correct. Although I should note that my former girlfriend was irritated when I began pointing out all inconsistencies in the movies we were watching... in the end she didn't want to hear it anymore! (for the record, that's not the reason why she left me! :lol:).

I didn't know that about dinosaurs but it makes a lot of sense.


26th May 2003, 03:53 AM
I started reading the Dune cycle once. I found it dark and complicated.
I can see why people like it, though, and might try it again sometime.
Didn't like the movie ;).

I felt that too .. 10 years ago or so when I read it the first time
1½- 2 years ago I read it again - it wasnt as complicated as I remember it
so give it a go! :D
and yes the movie sux!

26th May 2003, 04:22 AM
i only read the first Dune novel. first time i read it i liked it a lot; second time, there didn't seem to be anything there. bored was i, and didn't feel any involvement or energy. probably just the place i was mentally at the time though, rather than there being nothing worth re-reading. same thing happened with me on Stranger in a Strange Land

26th May 2003, 01:29 PM
I liked "Stranger in a Strange Land" but didn't think of it as a work of genuis as a professor in Latin and Chinese I knew did. I had a little "been there done that feeling" but for him it was probably all different since he had read it when it had just come out. Some of the ideas probably were new at that time.