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Of Mice, Apes and Men

By TheophileEscargot in Science
Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 09:36:24 AM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)
Science

Explaining why humans are not naked apes, why chimpanzee social structures tell us almost nothing about their human equivalents, and why there are no "alpha males" in human society.


Introduction
It seems to be one of the most popular memes of recent times. "Human being are just naked apes," you say, nodding sagely and looking wise. "There's only 1.5% difference between human DNA and chimpanzee DNA, you know." If your audience looks sufficiently impressed and you've read the appropriate pop-science magazine article, you can go on to talk knowledgeably about "alpha males" and "beta males." If you're male and talking to a female, you can even try to imply that you, of course, are the alpha male of the group... though there are few documented examples of this technique working. But how much truth is there to all this stuff?

DNA
The first time you hear it, it seems pretty impressive that there's only 1.5% genetic difference between humans and chimps: it sounds like we're practically identical twins. In practice though, things aren't quite that simple. Genes code for proteins, all animals share much the same proteins, and so all animals share an awful lot of DNA. Instead of chimps, try comparing us to mice, for instance. Mouse DNA is only 2.5% different to human. Humans are actually not much closer to chimpanzees than we are to mice. Instead of describing humans as Naked Apes, we could almost as accurately describe humans as Very Big Mice.

The DNA comparison is flawed. Evolution is not a gradual, steady process: it proceeds in what is sometimes known as "punctuated equilibrium." Species that are in a stable niche tend to remain the same. When a species changes its environment, or a group becomes isolated from the rest of its species, then it evolves rapidly until the situation stabilizes. This is not necessarily reflected in the DNA of the species. Most DNA does not code for proteins, so a species that is stable in this way will still be accumulating substantial DNA changes, even though these changes have little effect on the organism itself. Conversely, while a species is evolving rapidly, its DNA may not be changing very much: a few tiny mutations can have a huge effect.

While it's a nice way to deflate human egos, the percentage comparison is scientifically almost meaningless, except as a pointer to some shared evolutionary history.

Evolution
It's an occasional misconception that human beings evolved from currently-existing apes. Actually humans and apes have a common ancestor who lived some time between 8 and 14 million years ago. It's important to remember that we've been evolving separately for this time. Our common ancestor may even have been more human-like and less ape-like than currently surviving apes: we know very little about it. Because we've been evolving separately, this difference is comparable to a single species evolving for twice that time. Even in evolutionary terms, this is a long time. While chimpanzees are our closest surviving relatives, they are still not actually very close to humans.

It would potentially be very enlightening to study the behaviour of animals that are close relatives to humans, and it's a shame that no such creatures exist. Up until fairly recently they did. Neanderthals died out only 30,000 years ago. Before that, various species of "plains apes" seem to have existed simultaneously, such as the different types of australopithecine. Unfortunately, our relatives were also our competitors, and they seem to have been competed into extinction.

The remaining apes are those that were highly adapted to rainforest environments. This is not a coincidence: humans are adapted to life on the savannah, and until recently were content to leave the less-desirable rainforest alone. This radical difference in habitat makes it even less likely that chimpanzee behaviour is similar to that of human ancestors: the life of a hunter-gatherer on the plains is very different to that of a mainly fruit-eating life in the rainforest.

This also means that even traits which apply to all out of the chimps, orangutans and gorillas do not necessarily apply to humans. All of these apes are forest-dwellers, quadrupedal, polygynous, and primarily fruit-eaters. Similarities between their behaviour may well be due to common elements of their lifestyle; not innate qualities of our family group.

Society and Culture
In the last few decades some researchers, most notably the legendary Jane Goodall, have made an impressive series of studies into the social structures of apes, and chimpanzees in particular. Working for years in conditions of extreme hardship and some danger, they have revolutionized our knowledge of these animals.

The social structure of chimpanzee groups has been studied in some detail. Male chimpanzees establish a rigid dominance hierarchy based largely on fighting and threat displays. Females have a more flexible hierarchy, but are always subordinate to males. When a female is in the fertile phase of her menstrual cycle, her perineum becomes swollen and highly coloured, whereupon the dominant "alpha male" attempts to isolate her from the rest of the troop and mate with her. Other apes have even more dominant alpha males. Gorilla alpha males control exclusive sexual access to the females.

While the terms alpha and beta male are widely used for other species, most notably wolves, it appears to be from the ape studies that they have entered popular culture. Businessmen, politicians and all are told that they must become "alpha males". Geek culture, always at the ready to completely misunderstand some oversimplified science, has seized eagerly on the concept of the alpha geek. Look: computer nerds can be alpha males, too! But it's questionable how much all this applies to human beings.

Biology
As is well known, in polygynous species, where the male has exclusive access to several females, there tends to be a size difference between the males and the females. It benefits the male to be larger, since it's a huge advantage to be able fight off or intimidate rivals. Polygyny is not the only reason for a size difference, since there is almost always some competition between males, but it is the most significant. In strongly polygynous species, such as gorillas and elephant seals, there is a greater size difference, with the males twice the size of the females. Chimpanzees are less polygynous than gorillas, and the size difference between males and females is much less. In human beings, the size difference is even less than in chimps.

The problem with applying all this to humans is that our sexual biology is very different. It's notoriously difficult to tell when a human female is at the fertile stage of her menstrual cycle. There is no helpful swollen perineum, and human females will mate at any stage of their cycle. What is even more interesting is the curious tendency of female menstrual cycles to synchronize with each other. If they live in close proximity, female humans will all reach peak fertility at the same time.

What this means is that human biology prevents the existence of chimpanzee-style alpha males. A alpha male chimp can isolate a fertile female from the rest of the troop, but in a human troop all the females will be fertile at the same time. Furthermore, a human male can't tell from any physical signs when the female is most fertile. It appears that human sexuality has evolved specifically to exclude the possibility of alpha males dominating mating.

I Have Massive Testicles and an Enormous Penis
Well. Maybe not compared to other humans, but compared to the other apes, my genitals are gigantic. A male chimpanzee has an erect penis approximately 8cm (3 inches) long, and testicles weighing 120g. Gorillas are even worse off, with erect penises only 3cm, and testicles of 35g (data).

The reason gorillas are so apparently inadequate is simple: gorilla societies really do have alpha males. The chance that a non-alpha male will mate with a fertile female is small, so there's no need for a male to get a competitive advantage this way. Human societies are more egalitarian regarding access to females, and our relatively huge genitals reflect this.

Bonobos
Bonobos, or pygmy chimpanzees, are very similar to chimps, and were only identified as a separate species in the 1920's. Although their lifestyle and appearance is almost identical to chimps, their social structure is very different. They have a matriarchal society, where the alpha female dominates, and the alpha male is usually her son. Bonobos are noted for being less violent and more sexually promiscuous than chimpanzees.

Some have attempted to argue that human society reflect bonobo society rather than chimpanzee society. This misses a rather fundamental point. Since chimps and bonobos have such radically different social structures, despite being so similar, there is really no reason to expect human society to reflect either. As we have seen, our habitat, our sexual biology and our genes are radically different to either species; any similarities are likely to be pure coincidence.

Conclusion
Plato famously defined a human being as a "featherless biped". Equally famously, Diogenes presented him with a plucked chicken. The phrase "naked ape" is a fine for the purpose of deflating the human ego, and pointing out that humans are just another animal; but as a serious analogy is really no better than Diogenes' chicken.

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Poll
Best definition of a human
o A featherless biped 4%
o A very big mouse 8%
o A naked ape 8%
o A rational animal 5%
o A rationalizing animal 25%
o Bacteria with spaceships 34%
o The image of god 8%
o Noble in reason, infinite in faculty... 4%

Votes: 145
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o all
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o Jane Goodall
o social structure
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o Also by TheophileEscargot


Display: Sort:
Of Mice, Apes and Men | 137 comments (132 topical, 5 editorial, 2 hidden)
Well (3.75 / 4) (#2)
by marcos on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 06:49:24 AM EST

I don't want to argue, but are you sure that the human being really is a savanah animal? Africa is a continent that has savanah, rainforest and desert.

This is the map of the vegetation.

This is the map of population density.

This is the map of light density, which is also a measure of population density.

It is most striking in madagascar - the population is concentrated in the rainforest areas. But all over, there is a tendency towards higher populations in the thickly forested areas.

Technology (none / 0) (#4)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 06:57:26 AM EST

Well, with the advanced technology of the last ten thousand years or so, humans can live in a great variety of habitats. But as I understand it, there's an large degree of consensus that humans evolved on the savannah rather than in forests.
----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
Conspiracy! (none / 0) (#5)
by Ranieri on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 07:07:23 AM EST

If you look at the lightmap, you will see a big rectangle has been blacked out from Iceland to Alaska. What are they trying to hide there? Genetically modified glow-in-the-dark raindeer? I smell a global conspiracy ...
--
Taste cold steel, feeble cannon restraint rope!
[ Parent ]
I don't think there are any countries there (none / 0) (#11)
by marcos on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 07:40:50 AM EST

Isn't that just sea? Hehe, but check out the congo. Completely dark apart from a few little lights - and those are probably just rifles firing!

[ Parent ]
Hmm, yes. (none / 0) (#20)
by Ranieri on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 10:17:58 AM EST

That blimp above Ireland could very well be Reykjavik. I guess they somehow didn't bother to draw the borders of Iceland properly, and with the rest of the country being mostly empty it's not really surprising nothing shows up.

Still, it looks weirdly cut off above the American continent.
--
Taste cold steel, feeble cannon restraint rope!
[ Parent ]

Maybe there was some text there (none / 0) (#35)
by salsaman on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:29:16 AM EST

A title or a legend or something, which was erased.

[ Parent ]
The missing lights... (5.00 / 1) (#59)
by CharlesWT on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 02:05:46 PM EST

Night Lights

[ Parent ]
Those are new maps. (none / 0) (#18)
by eann on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 09:56:27 AM EST

There is significant evidence, which I'm far too lazy to dig up right now, that the climate of Africa has changed significantly over the last several million years (while we were evolving). Those pesky continents keep moving around, you know.

The "aquatic ape" hypothesis is interesting, but even its proponents agree it lacks enough hard evidence to be broadly accepted as "fact". Still, it's better argument against the predominant savannah-optimization theory than the fact that currently there's a lot of rainforest and desert in Africa.


Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men. —MLK

$email =~ s/0/o/; # The K5 cabal is out to get you.


[ Parent ]
Millions? (2.33 / 3) (#29)
by marcos on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:22:36 AM EST

We haven't been around for millions of years. Just tens of thousands.

Generally, if the human evolved as a savanah animal, he will be most comfortable in the savanah. There are huge areas of savanah all over Africa, but population density doesn't tend to be high in those areas. Rather, it tends to be high in the forest area.

There is also the question of language. Look at language density. The jungle areas have got a much larger language density than the forested areas. Wouldn't that have to imply that various groups have been there long enough to develop different languages?

I really don't see any convincing evidence that the human being is a savanah animal. I would tend to think the human is an animal that hangs out at the edge of forests.

[ Parent ]

Sahara is supposed to be man made (none / 0) (#44)
by CtrlBR on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 12:01:42 PM EST

The common explanation for the existence of Sahara is that shepherds destroyed the vegetation by having their herds eating everything then moving, and this happened quite recently. So when the apes and the humans diverged there was only forest and savanna in Africa.

If no-one thinks you're a freedom fighter than you're probably not a terrorist.
-- Gully Foyle

[ Parent ]
Bollocks (none / 0) (#91)
by zocky on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 06:32:42 PM EST

Most deserts (including Sahara) are located in the subtropics (north and south) and are the consequence of the hot dry air descending onto them because of the way global climate works. For more info, read this.

---
I mean, if coal can be converted to energy, then couldn't diamonds?
[ Parent ]

Deserting The Sahara (none / 0) (#102)
by CharlesWT on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 01:54:33 AM EST

Plants may seem to sit passively as climate decides their fate, but scientists are beginning to believe that vegetation can strongly amplify the climate's most subtle whims--sometimes with abrupt and devastating results. A new computer simulation indicates that plants helped to turn the Sahara from a lush grassland thriving with hippos and elephants to its current condition as the world's largest desert. Deserting The Sahara : Dying plants harvest harsh surprises from climate change

[ Parent ]
That (2.50 / 4) (#3)
by medham on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 06:53:15 AM EST

"Featherless bipeds" crack comes from the Platonic pseudepigrapha, and let's quit abusing "meme" this way, please?

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.

The Cocktail Circuit (4.57 / 7) (#9)
by fuzzcat on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 07:34:49 AM EST

I applaud you for taking on the pop/pseudo-science. The cocktail circuit has a way of making non-scientific thought into the accepted norm. Someone reads something in a trash periodical and tells someone about it over drinks. Before you know it, they're all repeating it -- and, more importantly, accepting it as a true statement.

I think that this is just one symptom of a larger problem, however. Our culture cares a great deal more about sound bytes and what appears on the television shows than they do about serious scientific study reported in journals. In many ways, junk scientists are only creating the types of narratives that we as a society wish to interact with.

What's more likely to happen in our culture?

Option #1 - A scientist working in the field of genetics writes an intelligent treatise on the similarity of DNA among various creatures including as much concrete research as can be produced on the comparison or projected comparison of Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens. This option takes many years of research and will be digested by very few outside the scientific community.

Option #2 - A scientist working in the field of genetics on the same project listed in Option #1 is asked by a national television soft-news program to sum up his research for inclusion on the Saturday night broadcast. If the scientist is witty enough or has the right one-liners then maybe people will hear about his research -- although they will certainly misinterpret it since the news outlet only really cares about his research insofar as it relates to their (already conceived) story.

These symptoms show that the problem is at least partially created by the relationship our culture has with media.

Or (5.00 / 2) (#19)
by Paul Murdock on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 09:58:59 AM EST

It sums up the relationship our scientists have with the media. I accept that science is a rarefied profession and for it to be pursued most efficiently at the highest level it requires a fairly evolved vocabulary and a lot of assumed knowledge. If it is to be relevant to the public however, scientists must come down from the ivory tower and speak to us in our own language. If they don't, then they have nobody to blame but themselves when the public chooses to believe some hare-brained quack. In your first example, it is the scientist who is at fault for not approaching the public on their own terms.

The success of books like "A Brief History of Time" are strong evidence that if you give the public information that it can comprehend, albeit not without a modicum of effort, the public will eat it up. If plenty of information is provided from various different theories, the public will be involved in the debate through attempting to assess the truth of conflicting ideas. But when all the information received by the public comes from quacks because the real scientists are too busy or too aloof to bring themselves to the public's level, it is nobody's fault but science. It is certainly not the fault of the media. They have to work with what they are given, after all.

[ Parent ]

Not a "science" problem (4.00 / 3) (#30)
by bob6 on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:24:11 AM EST

Scientists are not exactly in what you call an ivory tower. The scientific activity involves a lot of reading, writing and talking with colleagues. Not to mention teaching and handling bureaucrats.
Now we demand another time expensive activity to scientists : vulgarisation. While I agree that vulgarisation must be an important part of science production, it is not only a science problem but a social one. Explaining scientific results with a different vocabulary is a challenging task which needs writing skills as well as acurate scientific knowledge. In other words, it's a different job.
Many scientists became full time vulgarisators and it meant sacrifice of part of their professional activity. Some names come to mind : Yakow Perelman, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, etc.

Another related issue is education. Even if vulgarisation shifts vocabulary, one has to read a book, whch won't happen unless you're educated enough. You're familiar to words like DNA, protein, database, calculus so you can read books that introduce you to histones, tertiary structure, middleware or linear algebra.
Your access to bleeding-edge knowledge depends --as usual-- on the quality of your education. If one wants scientific research results to be widespread, one has to set up a political strategy at a country level involving massive education and job positions that includes writing vulgarisation.

Cheers.
[ Parent ]
But we have had alpha males ... (3.90 / 10) (#12)
by pyramid termite on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 08:05:00 AM EST

... perhaps not in the same exact sense that apes do, because we're a lot more complicated socially, even at the hunter/gatherer level, but up until recently in history, kings and emperors ruled countries. What is a king and emperor but an alpha male? True, cunning advisors have been known to manipulate kings with slanted advice and selective carrying out of orders, but if they got caught, God help them.

Even now, human organizations are built with the idea that someone's going to be in charge, at least until he's unelected or fired by the board or the shareholders. I can't think of too many organizations that aren't operated on this principle - one person's in charge, and although this person can often be circumvented and decieved and may have limited powers, still, that person has a certain amount of power that no one else can match. Even when people try to make decisions by consensus, note how things develop - quite awkardly as several different spokespeople for various opinion groups state their opinions. Often it becomes a discussion between 3 or 4 leaders, and either a consensus is reached or not. Notice how most of the people will say little or nothing.

And then there's high school - if you understand the social structure of high school, you can understand the social structure of America, basically. And you'll find alpha males, beta males etc etc in plenty.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
Hierarchies (4.25 / 4) (#13)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 09:18:34 AM EST

Some hierarchies do exist in human societies, but they are radically different to those in ape societies, so much so that it doesn't make sense to borrow terms like "alpha male".

Firstly, chimpanzee societies have a single, inflexible hierarchy. According to sociologists, human hierarchies change on a minute by minute basis: if you take three human males, one might act as the "alpha male" in the office, another on the golf course, and a third in a restaraurant. It seems to me that there's a limit to how flexible a hierarchy can be and still deserve the name.

On a wider scale, neither a democratically elected president nor a hereditary monarch gains power through a method like that of a chimp: i.e. fighting and threat displays.

Finally, human societies have a far greater, far more flexible range of behaviour than chimp societies. Some human societies are polygynous, some mainly monogamous, some serially monogamous... there are even some polyandrous societies in Tibet for instance.

With enough stretching, pretty much anything can be made an analogy for anything else.The point of this article is that I believe these particular analogies are stretched too far to be useful...
----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

Uh? (3.33 / 3) (#21)
by bodrius on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 10:25:38 AM EST

On a wider scale, neither a democratically elected president nor a hereditary monarch gains power through a method like that of a chimp: i.e. fighting and threat displays.

Uh?

Democracy is a relatively recent addition to human society and notoriously counterintuitive. That's one of the reasons it doesn't work that well yet and it is even arguable whether it exists (I guess it depends on how annoying we get with the semantics of democracy).

In any case, democracy, as an artifact of contemporary civilization with a few centuries of practice, is not representative of human society "as a species". It may be a short-lived experiment (again), as relevant to an explanation of humanity as the hippie commune or the current health-craze.

On the other hand, every single hereditary monarch (as well as any other non-democratically elected ruler) gained power through threats and war. That's how it works. Read up your history. Or read up the news, as it still works that way in a great part of the world.

As humans that we are, we conveniently put political structures in place that kept power within our line for a few generations once we acquired it through the traditional methods.

This does not make the acquisition of power any different, particularly because monarchs had to excercise their own share of threatening and warring in order to keep it or be displaced by their more ambitious subjects.

The only reasons current monarchs are not threatening each other with war every 2 seconds for a few inches of land is because they are either not ruling the country at all (England, Spain), or they are trying (voluntarily or not) the "democratic experiment" with all it entails.

Once more, not representative of typical rulership in human society.


Freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4, everything else follows...
[ Parent ]
The map is not the territory (5.00 / 2) (#23)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 10:39:40 AM EST

Hereditary monarchs are different to chimp alpha males. A monarch who succeeds to the throne is highly unlikely to be the fiercest fighter in the realm (except in certain fantasy novels). Neither does he gain power by threatening each of his subjects, one by one.

You might choose to draw an analogy between a paid army and a tree-branch waved by a chimp in a threat display... but the point of the article is that that analogy is too stretched to be worthwhile.
----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

True, but that's not the point. (4.50 / 2) (#75)
by bodrius on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 04:43:49 PM EST

You will notice that I'm not challenging the main argument of your article. I'm not even referring to it.

I was pointing out that that statement you made about kings and presidents not owing their power to threats and violence was blatantly false.

Now, with your main argument (just to clarify):

I agree that humans are not chimpanzees, and our societies are more complex, and complex in different ways, than the "alpha male" and "alpha female" explanation would indicate.

However, I think that the "alpha male" metaphor has some value developing a model for the behavior human societies, particularly at a small scale.

The reason? Because people are so different from chimpanzees and other primates, they have no idea what an "alpha male" and "alpha female" means in a chimpanzee society. They do not read the research, and they are not referring to that concept when they talk about this pop-science theory because they know nothing about other primate's societies.

What they are talking about is human societies and personal experience and observations, expressed through the "alpha male" metaphor, and projecting human behavior on these other primates. As far as their observations are valid, and the metaphor matches these observations, the concept has scientific value.

"Alpha male" in typical conversation refers to tribe leaders, warriors, and other "competitive specimens" within the complex behavior of human beings. The mental image associated to this, even when the laymen talk about chimpanzees, carries some of this complexity.

Anyone who went trough high-school, a sports team, or most corporate environments can relate the concept to something real and human.

The falsity of the metaphor, on the laymen side, is on an incorrect interpretation of what "alpha male" means and how chimpanzees behave, and the conviction that scientific research backs them up. I don't consider that a big problem, though.

It is still a gross oversimplification of society, but people do that a lot, scientific backing or not.
Freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4, everything else follows...
[ Parent ]

Tough kings (none / 0) (#116)
by Cro Magnon on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 12:17:07 PM EST

I'm sure that in some ancient tribes, the chief/king WAS the toughest warrior. However, some genius realized that 5 wimps could whoop a tough guy, so the leader had to find another way besides brawn. Besides when you get more than a dozen people in your "tribe" it's hard to pick a fight with everyone to see where you fit.
Information wants to be beer.
[ Parent ]
I can't agree with that (3.80 / 5) (#38)
by Humuhumunukunukuapuaa on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:37:14 AM EST

On a wider scale, neither a democratically elected president nor a hereditary monarch gains power through a method like that of a chimp: i.e. fighting and threat displays.
I'm sorry but this is simply false. Democracy works because the whole of government is one big threat display. Admittedly it's not the crude displays of chimps but having access to an army and police force to impose your will is the same thing with a veneer of sophistication. Democracy is built on the threat of violence. Do you think people would pay their taxes if they didn't think refusal to pay would eventually result in a bunch of uniformed and well armed men knocking at the door...

And why do you think we use a majority rule in democracies? It's because democratic election itself is a form of threat display. Rather than actually fight over who should be leader, factions in democratic countries merely display how many supporters they have. This is the essence of the threat display: you show your opponent how powerful you are and what the outcome of a fight would be so that you're spared the counterproductive work of actually doing the fighting.
--
(&()*&^#@!!&_($&)!&$(*#$(!$&_(!$*&&!$@
[ Parent ]

fighting and threat displays (4.00 / 2) (#64)
by ucblockhead on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 02:55:41 PM EST

Well, I think there certainly is a sort of mate competition among humans, but it uses that particular human organ, the brain.

As someone said, the mind is a sex organ. Men still fight for dominance to gain females. They just generally do it on a more mental level than other animals. The prime weapon males fight with in our society is not muscle, but "charisma".

I'm not at all disputing your article, by the way...all animals have some sort of competition for mates, regardless of whether or not there are "alpha males" in the classical sense.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

One more time (none / 0) (#93)
by epepke on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 06:55:41 PM EST

Some hierarchies do exist in human societies, but they are radically different to those in ape societies, so much so that it doesn't make sense to borrow terms like "alpha male".

And hierarchies in primate societies are radically different from hierarchies in wolf societies. Yet somehow it's OK to borrow the term.


The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


[ Parent ]
human (none / 0) (#94)
by jafac on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 08:01:40 PM EST

I think that's one of the uniquely cool things that people seem to do.  If they can't win the "alpha male" game one way (being a "football hero", etc.) they simply play a different game.  So the geek becomes an alpha male at computers.  Or sports cars, or just about ANY other human pursuit - there is a competitive aspect, and a subculture that splits off, and a hierarchy develops in that context.  You take the leet geek out of his computer room, and in the communal shower room in gym class, and he's no longer the alpha male standing naked next to the 220 lb linebacker.  (except that secretly - he IS, because the 200 lb linebacker's PC at home is formatting it's drive because the geek hacked it this morning).

The strange thing is - females do it too - they compete by, winning a more "dominant" man, or being a better cook, bearing more children, or - forsaking the "woman game" altogether, and opting for the "career game" - etc.

[ Parent ]

Oh please. (5.00 / 1) (#73)
by Estanislao MartÝnez on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 04:39:13 PM EST

The existence of an extremely vague analogy (which you have failed to even specify) does not justify applying the term "alpha male", which has a very specific meaning in primatology, to humans. The only uses of the analogy are devious, rhetorical ones.

(As a personal gripe, the same goes with saying somthing like "the brain is a computer"...)

--em
[ Parent ]

Laughter. (4.00 / 1) (#79)
by NFW on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 05:32:21 PM EST

I always thought "alpha male" was a joke - a term that was supposed to make people laugh. Anyone who takes it seriously is trolling or has been trolled. This whole story belongs on Adequacy.

As evidence, I present to you, gentle readers, this fact: an Adequacy editor just stepped in to say "Oh Please." :-)


--
Got birds?


[ Parent ]

Think again. (4.00 / 1) (#90)
by Estanislao MartÝnez on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 06:32:03 PM EST

I always thought "alpha male" was a joke - a term that was supposed to make people laugh.

I rest my case.

There's all sorts of cranks in USia who would like nothing better than to be ideologically validated by a "scientific" doctrine like "evolutionary psychology".

--em
[ Parent ]

Nonsense (4.50 / 2) (#86)
by epepke on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 06:21:45 PM EST

"Alpha male" has a very specific meaning when applied to wolves. Primatologists swiped it by means of (you guessed it!) extremely vague analogy.

So, you're essentially saying that while carrying the term "alpha male" between different orders is perfectly OK (otherwise primatologists wouldn't have the term), carrying the term between members of the same subfamily is just not appropriate. This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.


The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


[ Parent ]
Oh, tsk (1.00 / 1) (#87)
by pyramid termite on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 06:22:10 PM EST

The existence of an extremely vague analogy

Are there any other kinds?

The only uses of the analogy are devious, rhetorical ones.

You mean like the analogy of a web "community" dedicated to "news for grown-ups"?
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
alpha males (none / 0) (#89)
by khallow on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 06:31:22 PM EST

The existence of an extremely vague analogy (which you have failed to even specify) does not justify applying the term "alpha male", which has a very specific meaning in primatology, to humans. The only uses of the analogy are devious, rhetorical ones.

Males in positions of authority and power are our society's alpha males. Let's look at supporting evidence: they often exhibit great concern about reputation (including firing employees who embarrass them or disagree with them), have greater access to fertile females, and often resemble to a disturbing extent a primate troup.

For example, Enron is a great example of human society gone primate in a bad way. You have the alpha males on the top (CEO, CFO, president, etc. Each with own turf), lots of sex in the boardroom (I've since lost the Newsweek story that had the juicy details), lots of primate competition and standoffs (the Enron president nailed a competitor - admittedly female - by filling headquarters with his followers), etc. Ask yourself this, if Enron had consisted of intelligent, speech-enabled chimpanzees who otherwise adhered to chimpanzee tribal behavior, would things really be different?

Street gangs exhibit a lot of primate behavior. The boss (or bosses) is definitely an alpha male in all the relevant ways that count in a primate society.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Do you have a few more links? (2.50 / 4) (#14)
by Homburg on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 09:32:21 AM EST

It's an excellent article despite this, but it would be good if you could give some more references so that people could get more information on some of your statements. Polygnyous species, bonobos, and the common ancestor of humans and chimps are all things I'd like to read more on.

And where's the Plato/Diogenes story from? I hadn't heard it in quite that variation before.

An observation (4.60 / 10) (#15)
by Rand Race on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 09:36:47 AM EST

...humans are adapted to life on the savanna...

Many animals are adapted to life on the savanna and, other than humans, not a one of them has started standing upright, shed its body hair, developed a significant subcutaneous fat layer, experienced massive growth in brain mass, mates ventrally, or acquired a diving reflex. There is not one single example of parallel evolution to humans on the savanna. There is, however, a host of examples of parallel evolution in aquatic animals: the hip structure of the otter, the mating techniques, increased brain mass, and hairlessness of the cetaceans, the diving reflex and subcutaneous fat of all aquatic mammals, and - as usual the Greeks were on to something - the only other existent animal on earth with a truly upright posture (skull at 90 degrees to spine) is the penguin, an aquatic avian.

I'll not dismiss the savanna hypothesis entirely, but I'll side with Elaine Morgan in believing something more is needed to explain the form that Homo Sapiens Sapiens has evolved into. And in that spirit I also believe an understanding of our psychology and its relation to that of our pongidae cousins would also become clearer once our possible semi-aquatic heritage is taken into consideration.

Oh, and somebody add 'sapiens' to K5's dictionary!


"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one, He must approve the homage of Reason rather than that of blindfolded Fear." - Thomas Jefferson

Savannah vs Aquatic (5.00 / 4) (#16)
by Obvious Pseudonym on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 09:49:57 AM EST

There is not one single example of parallel evolution to humans on the savanna. There is, however, a host of examples of parallel evolution in aquatic animals:[...]

I was under the impression that the Savannah (orthodox) view and the Semi-Aquatic (heterodox) view were not mutually exclusive.

I remember reading some papers suggesting a coastal scavenging lifestyle (like seagulls, but not flying) that would have elements of both.

[...]the only other existent animal on earth with a truly upright posture (skull at 90 degrees to spine) is the penguin, an aquatic avian.

On an off-topic note, I am amused by the 2m tall fossil penguins that have been found. Those things would make great bouncers in most nightclubs...

Obvious Pseudonym

I am obviously right, and as you disagree with me, then logically you must be wrong.
[ Parent ]

I agree (5.00 / 4) (#25)
by Rand Race on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:04:37 AM EST

In fact the coastal idea is the exact view I find most consistent. I didn't mean to sound exclusionary, just pointing out that many don't think the savanna hypothesis alone can explain the physical adaptations that we enjoy and that psychological evolution would have been affected as well.

Two meters of penguin would be pretty impressive.

And a thousand apologies if I post this twice... spellchecker is throwing me for a loop.


"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one, He must approve the homage of Reason rather than that of blindfolded Fear." - Thomas Jefferson
[ Parent ]

A very human problem... (4.00 / 14) (#17)
by BadDoggie on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 09:54:39 AM EST

... is seeing patterns where they don't exist. We humans have a tendency to see patterns, which is very helpful to survival. It explains churches and shamans and lots of other stuff. And it can be very wrong.

"It's notoriously difficult to tell when a human female is at the fertile stage of her menstrual cycle."
"Furthermore, a human male can't tell from any physical signs when the female is most fertile"

No, it's not. Repetition, and wrong. I tried an experiment with my GF, who agreed to ask women at what point of their cycle they were. I had a 90%+ hit rate for the woman being at the most probable point in her cycle to conceive.

If they live in close proximity, female humans will all reach peak fertility at the same time.
So will many primates. And non-primates, such as herd animals, who all come into estrus around the same time.

There is no helpful swollen perineum Nope, but there are labia minora, and they swell a LOT. Unfortunately, all human societies cover these up. "...but in a human troop all the females will be fertile at the same time."
Nope. They'll be fertile a few days each month. They may be willing to form the double-back monster every day, but it won't help promote the DNA.

"I Have Massive Testicles and an Enormous Penis"
Nope. Misused data again. The penis head is designed to remove the "soft plug" which is formed by the lesser-motile sperm. The length and the "staying power" correspond to the need to remove a competitor's sperm. In the case of a group with a seriously dominant alpha-male, there is little need to remove sucha plug to begin with. If you're a male and have ever had sex with a woman who has just had sex with another male (who came inside her), you will understand exactly how this works.

woof.

Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense.

neanderthals (3.00 / 5) (#22)
by bosk on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 10:26:04 AM EST

Unfortunately, our relatives were also our competitors, and they seem to have been competed into extinction.

Then ethnic cleansing is biological and common to all humans - perversely natural.

What happened to the Neanderthals (none / 0) (#112)
by IHCOYC on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 10:58:36 AM EST

At sites like Krapina and elsewhere, Neanderthal bones have been found, burnt, cracked, split open, and gnawed: and the finds moreover were discovered in connection with tools more advanced than ordinarily associated with Neanderthals, and which suggest that the slaughter was in fact carried out by early anatomically modern humans, our ancestors.

Of course, people are eager to distance themselves from the notion that modern humans viewed the Neanderthals like any other kind of large game, so the finding remains controversial. Still, people have been hanged on less evidence.

Self-knowledge is the hardest knowledge. Ponder this, and know what you are, human.
--
"Complecti antecessores tuos in spelŠis stygiis Tartari appara," eructavit miles primus.
"Vix dum basiavisti vicarium velocem Mortis," rediit Grignr.
--- Livy
[ Parent ]

What a mess. (4.95 / 20) (#24)
by skyler on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 10:56:12 AM EST

A worthy discussion, but just off the top of my head I can spot all sorts of trouble with the information in this column. I was an anthro major, I'm no expert, but I have kept up, so take me with appropriate seasonings.

--Chimps vs mice: good point, though it's reasonable to be interested in our closest surviving relatives. The percentages, misleading though they can be, are (originally) just a way of expressing that fact.

(Except that whether chimps or gorillas are actually our closest living relatives remains the subject of lively debate.)

--Punctuated Equilibrium: first real red flag in the column. There's nothing remotely settled about this theory; people will be duking it out when we're all dead and gone.

This reminds me of the dinosaur exhibit in place at the Museum of Natural History here in Manhattan; it beats you about the head and neck with its insistence that BIRDS ARE DINOSAURS! A plausible and front-running theory, yes, but it's irresponsible not to mention that it's still a controversy. Fervor will not make it so.

--"Our common ancestor may even have been more human-like and less ape-like than currently surviving apes: we know very little about it."

Dude, we know loads about it. Not all there is to know, but you make it sound like we're guessing in the dark. We know pretty well what Proconsul looked like, and it was a hell of a lot more like a chimp than like us. The earlier Australopithecines looked more like us, but for that reason nobody thinks chimps descended from them.

--Neanderthals: the estimation has always been that they were a subspecies, presumedly able to interbreed with cro-magnons (who were as near to us as dammit). But even this is sketchy territory; some folks recently have advanced the claim that there never was any separate neanderthal race: the supposition of any given precursor to humans is based on very few actual bones, remember, and recently theories have come forth arguing that the supposed neanderthal remains were just cro-magnons suffering from known diseases. I'll come back with a link for that if I can find it.

--polygyny: you never come round to specifically characterize humans in contrast to the "polygynous" apes (they aren't all, by the by), so I'm not sure what the point is exactly. But a couple of things should be addressed. First, you've got case and effect reversed on the sexual dimorphism of polygynous species; large males aren't an adaptation to polygyny, they're what makes polygyny possible. In species where the female is larger (most non-mammals and some hyenas, if I remember right) the female has her pick of the males.

Anyway, if your point is that polygyny might be more a function of fruit-eating than of size, and that therefore humans are not to be expected to be polygynous despite their 4:5 size ratio, you should remember that the overwhelming majority of human societies have been just that: unimale polygynies. Lately in history a ring of monogamous cultures have established a majority of the global population, and the meanings of that are endlessly fascinating, but if you count by cultures instead of people, variations from unimale polygyny are a small minority.

--big penises: I don't know where your ideas about the purpose of large genitalia are coming from (or the ones expressed by the first commenter, while we're at it). Once again, the exaggerated secondary sexual characteristics of humans are an enduring mystery, and your evident supposition that big penises are somehow a product of competition ought to be labeled as purest speculation. The fact is that sperm aren't very big, so small penises do their job just fine unless there are other pressures at work. And we don't know what those pressures are. Same question with our similarly large breasts.


I agree with the central point here--that the "alpha male" metaphor is rampantly abused--but some wacky stuff is being tossed around in support of it.



Neanderthals and cross-breeding... (none / 0) (#28)
by porkchop_d_clown on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:21:18 AM EST

--Neanderthals: the estimation has always been that they were a subspecies, presumedly able to interbreed with cro-magnons (who were as near to us as dammit). But even this is sketchy territory; some folks recently have advanced the claim that there never was any separate neanderthal race: the supposition of any given precursor to humans is based on very few actual bones, remember, and recently theories have come forth arguing that the supposed neanderthal remains were just cro-magnons suffering from known diseases. I'll come back with a link for that if I can find it.

I was under the impression that interbreeding (both as a fact, and as a possible cause for the "disappearance" of neanderthals) was controversial?


--
I feel like I've lived my live in screensaver mode....


[ Parent ]
A couple of points (none / 0) (#32)
by Yellowbeard on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:25:34 AM EST

I read somewhere not too long ago that neanderthals (and here I am thinking "Ne yan der T-hal - just so you'll know I am pronouncing it correctly in my head) had been proven to be a different species genetically. However, I was skeptical myself even then.

I think big penises have to do with the importance of the female orgasm in pregnancy.

Hmmm... Well, I support punctuated equilibrium - even if you don't. so Thbthbthbthbthbthbthbthbthbthbthbthb!!


"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt." - Deniro in Ronin


[ Parent ]
What is... (none / 0) (#61)
by ti dave on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 02:45:06 PM EST

What is the importance of female orgasm, in relation to Pregnancy?

Does female orgasm enhance the likelihood of repeated copulation?
Probably.

Is a woman's orgasm necessary for conception?
No.

"If you dial," Iran said, eyes open and watching, "for greater venom, then I'll dial the same."

[ Parent ]
Female orgasm (4.00 / 2) (#63)
by Yellowbeard on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 02:55:21 PM EST

During Female orgasm, the cervix dips down into the vaginal canal and draws up sperm - resulting in higher sperm retention. So, no, it's not /necessary/ for impregnation, but it does give it an edge. And in evolution, all you need is a tiny advantage in the long run.

"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt." - Deniro in Ronin


[ Parent ]
"Draws up" (none / 0) (#66)
by ti dave on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 03:20:12 PM EST

Does the cervix really draw semen up, as a pipette?

Decreasing the distance sperm travel through the relatively hostile environment of the vagina I can understand, but I'm not convinced there's any suction effect.

"If you dial," Iran said, eyes open and watching, "for greater venom, then I'll dial the same."

[ Parent ]
Well... Here's a bit... (5.00 / 1) (#71)
by Yellowbeard on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 03:59:03 PM EST

Here's something for startes. I am looking for more. Here's another interesting bit: Women who have a husband and a love tend to orgasm before their husbands and after their lovers.

"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt." - Deniro in Ronin


[ Parent ]
Screaming Suction(that'll get your attention:) (5.00 / 1) (#81)
by zerth on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 05:54:53 PM EST

Actually, I've seen video of this.  One of my sociology classes has the typical "This is how sex and behavior are all intertwined" video, including several gratuitous "let's see where we can stick a camera without making porn" bits.

While it doesn't mention a pipette effect(the narrator just states that it ensures the sperm gets to the cervix before coitus is over, so it doesn't get expelled), it is reasonable to assume so from the behavior of the cervix.

<voice="professor">When a female orgasms, the cervix dips out and towards one wall, getting all... schmeared, contracts a few times, then pulls back and relaxes.</voice>

It sure looks like it does the "fountain pen" trick.  If nothing else, it does shorten the trip.

Rusty isn't God here, he's the pope; our God is pedantry. -- Subtillus
[ Parent ]

Also, more importantly (none / 0) (#33)
by Yellowbeard on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:28:27 AM EST

Have you managed to find a decent job? Because I am finishing up my ANTH MA and I have no idea what I am going to do for a living. ;)

"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt." - Deniro in Ronin


[ Parent ]
Interesting (4.50 / 2) (#34)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:28:52 AM EST

Glad you agree with the main point ;-)

Regarding punctuated equilibrium, from the Dawkins I've read his objection is not that it's wrong, but that the central point that evolution occurs in bursts is trivially obvious. The main point here is that if a species is in a stable niche, random mutations can occur in the DNA without causing much change in the phenotype of the organism. Do you disagree with this?

Proconsul: last thing I heard we didn't know for certain it was a ancestor of both humans and chimps. That might be out of date.

I deliberately didn't specify the sexuality of human beings. given that some societies are monogamous, some polygamous and some polyandrous, I don't think it makes much sense to apply those categories to the human race as a whole.

I still think that the realtively large penis size of humans is evidence against there being a strong tendency to alpha males in humanity.
----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

punctuation, mostly (5.00 / 1) (#68)
by skyler on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 03:36:28 PM EST

To be fair, I'm not taking a stand against punctuated equilibrium--frankly I consider the question to be a little over my head, since much as I'm a fan of evolutionary biology I'm no pro. But my understanding--I shall run away and check it though--was that the question was still subject to very current debate, certainly anything but "trivially obvious." Of Dawkins, I've read The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype, and while I remember respectful discussion of Punctuated Equilibrium, I don't recall that he regarded it as a settled question. Perhaps I am mistaken or outdated here.

Proconsul: as with any of this, we don't know exactly when and where we split from chimps. But I wouldn't think it was after proconsul.

The polygyny thing--maybe the point I was addressing wasn't the same one you were trying to make. Were you suggesting that the polygyny of chimpanzees and other apes sets them apart from us, and is a sign that their social structures are poor predictors for ours? That was the way I took it, and I think that argument ought to be taken advisedly, since so much of human history actually has taken place under the auspices of polygyny. But perhaps I leapt to a conclusion about your meaning, there.

And about genital size--I'm not following the argument. Or rather, I'm not following it unless it presumes that displays of large genitalia are a means of social competition. I mean, chimp males don't compete that way, but they certainly compete with each other by displays of force; what's the distinction?

Actually, even if you do suppose that the genitals are a competitive display, like throat sacs or peacock tails or whatever, I don't see how it follows that egalitarian species are more disposed to such adaptations than polygynous ones.

At this point, though, I can't go much further on any of these arguments without hitting the books...



[ Parent ]
The Darwin wars (none / 0) (#72)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 04:04:53 PM EST

There's a nice popularization book called The Darwin Wars which goes through the arguments, but it was definitely one of Dawkin's own books (don't remember which one, but not "The Selfish Gene) where he explains his side's objections to punctuated equilibrium. His objection to the basic point was that it was obvious all along that species evolve in bursts, so it doesn't deserve to be called a new theory.

Proconsul. I haven't found many good resources on evolutution on the web unfortunately: probably as an ex-anthropology student you know of more useful websites than I do. The websites I have been able to check describe it as a possible ancestor. AFAIK there isn't much fossil evidence that it's an ancestor (not that you'd expect much). It's assumed to be based on the idea that humans evolved from an ape-like ancestor. It's somewhat circular to actually cite proconsul as evidence for that assumption.

The penis size is only one piece of evidence, but I think it is still evidence. In a highly species where only the alpha male has access to the females, it's not necessary for the males to compete that way. An elephant seal doesn't need a tail like a peacock to impress the females, after all.
----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

The Darwin Wars (none / 0) (#121)
by ucblockhead on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 03:28:18 PM EST

I always got the impression that the whole "Stephen Jay Gould vs Richard Dawkins" thing had to do more with belittling the importance of the other guy's theories than it did with disproving them.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Genitalia size... (none / 0) (#58)
by spectecjr on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 02:00:10 PM EST

--big penises: I don't know where your ideas about the purpose of large genitalia are coming from (or the ones expressed by the first commenter, while we're at it). Once again, the exaggerated secondary sexual characteristics of humans are an enduring mystery, and your evident supposition that big penises are somehow a product of competition ought to be labeled as purest speculation. The fact is that sperm aren't very big, so small penises do their job just fine unless there are other pressures at work. And we don't know what those pressures are. Same question with our similarly large breasts.

Could it be that penis / breast sizes are related to the 'default' mating position that humans use -- ie. the Missionary?

Penetration isn't as deep in this position as for any other position (in fact, it's pretty much the least penetrating position you can make love in)... so you'd expect that a larger penis would help. Add to that the fact that you're going to need some padding beneath you or you're going to crush the female, and hey presto...

Now, of course, if this were correct, then it would indicate that these features evolved because of a preference for sexual behavior which allowed the two mates' faces to be close to one another... which isn't exactly good for evolution

Something to think about, at least...

Simon



[ Parent ]
Hm, dunno. (none / 0) (#70)
by skyler on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 03:42:07 PM EST

The breasts-as-padding idea is a venerable one, but I think it would make us the one and only species on the planet with a special padding for the one activity that all animal species take part in. Hard for me to buy that. Especially when it'd be so much simpler just to put a layer of blubber on all over, if lack of padding were actually causing somebody's genetic chances some trouble.

As for more and less penetrative positions, I'm not so sure you're right. But rather than compare notes, I think I'll fall back on the lack of any careful study one the subject.

Anyway, isn't the key question here "when did the missionary position become the default position (if one can say it is)?"



[ Parent ]
Humans can't be polygynous??? (3.00 / 4) (#26)
by porkchop_d_clown on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:16:33 AM EST

What are you putting in your crack pipe?

History is littered with societies in which relatively few males did much of the procreation. Harems are extreme examples, but the idea of a patriarch/chief/sultan who had several wives is hardly novel.


--
I feel like I've lived my live in screensaver mode....


::sigh:: (3.25 / 4) (#37)
by DarkZero on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:36:56 AM EST

I think the entire point of those descriptions was that human beings are more diverse than these animals. Gorillas are strictly polygynous and strictly fruit-eating. Humans, on the other hand, seem to do whatever the Hell they want sexually and eat just about anything edible. The same goes for the bonobos. The bonobos have a strictly matriarchal society. They do not differ from humans in this way because we cannot have a matriarchal society, but instead because we are not limited to a matriarchal society.

[ Parent ]
+5 Vote against Imbecilism N/T (none / 0) (#83)
by cr8dle2grave on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 06:13:03 PM EST


---
Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera


[ Parent ]
I'm interested (4.66 / 6) (#27)
by Yellowbeard on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:17:38 AM EST

Are you a biologist? BioAnthro? What? That part is just curiousity.

I think you missed fundemental points about the female human's hidden estrous cycle. Human infants are, unlike all other infants, completely worthless for a couple of years after birth. Human females can't climb trees while carrying an infant (not to mention that there just aren't a lot of trees on the savannah) and it's very difficult for them to provide for themselves and their young for that two year span. They need to form a pair bond with a male - and that's why I think they have a hidden estrous - so that the male has to hang around all the time.

From what I have read, bonobos (as well as other chimps) do not have the same type of classic alpha male structure as, say, baboons, and all males mate with all females (chimps often engage in a sort of "sperm war" with each other - trying to out sperm other males for the privelege of impregnating females).

Humans are certainly more that good old Desmond's "naked apes," but we still are quite firmly animals and quite firmly primates, and although I think you have made quite a number of good points, human males /do/ tend to organize rather quickly into a pecking order and human females /are still/ attracted to power and a high degree of sexuality.

I could say loads more but I don't have the time and I don't want to give away too much thesis stuff on a public channel.


"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt." - Deniro in Ronin


Hmmm (none / 0) (#41)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:51:07 AM EST

I'm just someone who's ended up reading a few dozen books on the subject ;-)

Incidentally, do you think that guy "skyler" is really an anthro major? He seems to have created the account just for this story, and doesn't give any references in his comment... hmmmm...

I've heard the point about concealed estrus being to increase pair-bonding, but decided not to put it in, since the aim of the article is mainly to be destructive...
----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

Well (5.00 / 2) (#45)
by Yellowbeard on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 12:50:43 PM EST

He makes some intelligent comments. I don't know. He may or may not be. My thesis (if I ever get around to actually writing it) is on how all the special attributes that humans have that seperate them in major ways from other animals including our ideal of "love" are coming into conflict now that we are in an industrial age. I think that the way we mate is in the process of permanently changing. I bet we could have some interesting discussions.

"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt." - Deniro in Ronin


[ Parent ]
Another point (none / 0) (#47)
by Yellowbeard on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 01:08:45 PM EST

If he was an anthro major, then, you know, he /should/ be an expert to some degree. I mean, I think I could hold my own against most here in this debate. I may not be an expert, quite, but I have studied humans quite a lot.

"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt." - Deniro in Ronin


[ Parent ]
humans *are* really big mice (3.25 / 4) (#31)
by crazycanuck on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:24:16 AM EST

"Humans are actually not much closer to chimpanzees than we are to mice. Instead of describing humans as Naked Apes, we could almost as accurately describe humans as Very Big Mice."

have you ever looked closely at a mouse? we're not all that different. the basic structure is the same...

it's quite fascinating, really.

Just look at medical research (none / 0) (#49)
by Lord of the Wasteland on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 01:24:56 PM EST

Why do you think mice are used for so many medical studies? It's because they are a decent immune model for humans. Pigs are better, IIRC, but harder to use.

[ Parent ]
Exprezsion of body structure in animals (none / 0) (#55)
by spectecjr on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 01:53:38 PM EST

have you ever looked closely at a mouse? we're not all that different. the basic structure is the same... Actually, this goes back to insects... and possibly beyond. It's called a HOX box, and is kind of like a genetic roadmap to the way bodies are laid out. Along the sequence of genes you go from head to tail, switching on and off things to create arms, legs, etc. It's kind of cool -- but it's common to all animals. As a result, most animals have mostly binary symmetry along the major axis, with most core functions running throughout the major axis -- and the HOX box controls all of this. Simon

[ Parent ]
I agree with your conclusion, I guess, (1.66 / 3) (#36)
by wedman on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:29:31 AM EST

But isn't this just more fodder for religious fanatics and vegan activists, with their "moral superiority", to try and curb the entire world into their 'obviously' better way of thinking?

~
DELETE FROM comments WHERE uid=9524;
Fodder? (4.00 / 2) (#40)
by kostya on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:51:00 AM EST

If his facts are sound and his conclusions are sound (as you seem to imply by agreeing with him), how is this fodder for religious zealots or vegans? If we are not naked apes and that makes you less secure with religious zealots, maybe you should find better reasons to rest on than us simply being naked apes. And, what relation do fallacies and inaccuracies have to "moral superiority" and religion?

As for the vegans, just always make sure to have a hamburger handy and eat it while they pontificate. It works wonders on how long the conversation lasts ;-)



----
Veritas otium parit. --Terence
[ Parent ]
My 'beef' and my reason. (2.00 / 1) (#51)
by wedman on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 01:38:45 PM EST

The phrase "naked ape" in reference to humans, to me at least, holds the connotation that humans are 'just' another animal on the planet.

Now, it seems to me that religious zealots and certain types of activists hold the belief that humans are some sort of specicial animal that is defined by our morality and ethics. An argument against this is that humans are just "naked apes". The (im)morality or ethics of eating another animal or having certain sexual affairs, for example, is a product of having human brains, not some supernatural influence or superior-human-complex.

Now, how easy is it to selectively or mis-quote an article that states that humans or not 'naked apes'? Is this enough to understand what I mean (however biased/heated/wrong someone might think it is)?


PS: I'll keep the hamburger idea in mind; A mouth full of hamburger should keep my mouth shut long enough that I don't provoke more argument or discussion.



~
DELETE FROM comments WHERE uid=9524;
[ Parent ]
Indeed (4.50 / 4) (#53)
by kostya on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 01:46:36 PM EST

I understand your wording now. Thanks for the clarification.

However, I should warn you that the argument that humans being "just another animal" will not save you from a good discussion of moral or ethics. As it stands, that a pretty lame defense or point to rely on. It could stall an ignorant person. It also wouldn't save you from a zealot of any sort, but that is the nature of zealots, no? They would just ignore that argument because they feel it is spurious or wrong--giving no thought to that it is a poor reason in the first place. They would just run right over it in their zealousness.

Just as athesism is not cause for total despair or lack of purpose in life, being merely animals does not rule out ethics or morality. If you are relying on that as a cornerstone of your arguments in debating ethics and morality, you are going to get reamed one of these days.



----
Veritas otium parit. --Terence
[ Parent ]
Being an animal does not rule out ethics/morality (none / 0) (#57)
by wedman on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 01:59:24 PM EST

Unfortunately for me, I've already been 'reamed', on several occasions, due to my poor defense points in this arena. The thing is, I understand what importance their can be to ethics and morality to the human condition. I just can't agree that it is a somehow superior way of thinking. In fact, if I wasn't so hungry for a big fat greasy burger right now, I'd cite some examples of when 'taking the moral high ground' was actually detrimental to the situation.

I'm going for lunch. :)



~
DELETE FROM comments WHERE uid=9524;
[ Parent ]
reading recommendations (4.00 / 3) (#39)
by danny on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:42:01 AM EST

Some books on this stuff that I've enjoyed: Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]
Also... (none / 0) (#124)
by CharlesWT on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 04:17:20 PM EST

The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal

Why Is Sex Fun?: The Evolution of Human Sexuality

[ Parent ]

what's wrong with being an ape? (3.20 / 5) (#42)
by sja8rd on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:54:46 AM EST

are you trying to say that humans aren't apes? perhaps you are experiencing an identity crisis.

you make no attempt to show that humans are not primates, so i will assume that you agree with this. once this is established it is obvious that humans are indeed apes. the first thing that someone would notice is that we do not have tails. with just this one silly little peice of evidence, one can be fairly certain that humans are apes.

you say that humans share little in common with our closest relatives, and that this means that the traits that we do have in common might be because of pure coincidence. following, i will show that the foundation of your argument is not supported by fact.

we share a lot more in common with bonobos and chimps than your article conveys. the basic features of these species you list as:

All of these apes are forest-dwellers, quadrupedal, polygynous, and primarily fruit-eaters.
let's examine these.
  • quadrupedal: humans are bipeds, you got that one right.
  • polygynous: this can be debated. but you establish that humans are polygynous by saying "Human societies are more egalitarian regarding access to females, and our relatively huge genitals reflect this."
  • fruit-eaters: chimps hunt, and eat meat, and like it. sure, their diet is not mainly meat, but neither is mine.
  • forest-dwellers: first thing i found off google. last semester i was fortunate to study under one of the leading experts on the human fossil record, Carol Ward. she directly assured me that fossil evidence suggests that early humans, although very adaptive, were most at home in the forest.
so now what we have here is a breakdown of the four main traits which you implied differed between humans and apes. only one out of the four are actually dissimilar to chimps. unless you decide that chimps should also not be classified as apes, your argument no longer has any foundation.

Humans are not apes (none / 0) (#46)
by Yellowbeard on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 01:03:48 PM EST

Sorry. We /are/ primates. I would say that we are not, however, apes. Too many differences. Bipedalism alone is enough, but then add fine manipulation, opposable thumbs, language, etc. and you get some other family.

"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt." - Deniro in Ronin


[ Parent ]
Cladistically, we're apes (5.00 / 1) (#48)
by Lord of the Wasteland on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 01:23:24 PM EST

Chimpanzees are apes. Gorillas are apes. We share a more recent common ancestor with chimpanzees than chimpanzees do with gorillas. Therefore, cladistically, we are apes.

This doesn't mean the articles point isn't valid. Humans have enough physiological and societal differences from all the other apes that it makes social comparisons sketchy.

[ Parent ]

let's break this down. (3.33 / 3) (#54)
by sja8rd on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 01:51:13 PM EST

  • opposable thumbs: all primates have opposable thumbs.
  • bipedalism: A. afarensis was fully bipedal, yet had a small brain, no sign of tool creation, and no sign of language adaptions of modern humans. is one adaption in locomotion enough to create an entire new family of classification for a very small number of species (currently one)?
  • fine manipulation: not unique to humans, though we do have relatively dexterous fingers.
  • language: not unique to humans. the communicative abilities of our relatives have been well documented for some time now. both gorillas and chimps have been taught sign language in captivity, and there is no reason to believe that they don't use this potential for symbolic communication in the wild.
to this, let me add one more: tool use. chimps create tools and use them skillfully. other apes have not been known to create tools in the wild, but have all shown potential using tools in captivity. this suggests that tool use is a derived trait for humans.

this debate is all about classification of reality, instead of reality itself. anyone can decide that they are going to classify anything as anything. but in biology it would be inconsistant to create an entire family for one species that has very few unique adaptations.

[ Parent ]

Oh, BS (3.40 / 5) (#60)
by Yellowbeard on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 02:43:52 PM EST

Language: You can pretend along with everyone else all day that human language is comparable to the communication of other species, and all day I am going to tell you that you are full of shit. I mean, let's just take for example what we are doing right here. This is more than an adaptation. This is a completely different animal.

Fine manipulation: Have you seen anyone else build a stone headed tool? An Atl Atl? A Buick Roadmaster? Come on. This is in a totally different ballpark

While other apes do have /some/ opposability of the thumb, nearly all of them are set up for brachiation, so the thumb is never able to /fully/ oppose all the other digits nearly so well as humans are able to do it.

Bipedalism: So one of our ancestors (now extinct and certainly a far different critter than what became chimps) could walk upright - that's just proof that they should be in the same family as humans - non-apes.

Tool use: I have a Drill press at home as well as a craftsman socket set. Let's see any other animal on earth use it. And just because some apes use a straw to catch ants in a an ant hill, that is /not/ the same thing as me building a car. Humans /are/ animals and we /are/ closely related to apes, but we are not the same thing. We are certainly primates. I do not agree that we are old world apes.


"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt." - Deniro in Ronin


[ Parent ]
Small point (none / 0) (#92)
by batdragon on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 06:43:45 PM EST

On the language comparison, I believe that human communication isn't that different to many other species, in most respects.  One *big* exception, however, is that we've worked out how to *record* our knowledge for those who follow us.

This is our big advantage over all the other "talking" creatures.

Individually a horse can show its offspring not to eat the red berries. Or dogs can make sure another dog knows it has done bad by latching onto its neck.  But get enough of us "Very Big Mice" together, over enough generations of recording experiments that go well, we end up learning how to build skyscrapers, electrical drills, and sport cars.

So, I do think our language advantage is only an adaption.  Just happens to be a very important adaption that has given us a huge boost.

That being said, I still agree with the writer of the article, in that we are /not/ apes.  We likely shared an ancestor, but it makes sense that what we know as apes have been evolving along a different track for at least as long as we've being going down our's.  Which is why you won't find apes getting more bendy fingers and building spaceships anytime soon.

[ Parent ]

chimp stone tools (none / 0) (#99)
by speek on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 10:42:47 PM EST

There is evidence chimps have used stone tools.

What really is the point of arguing we're not apes? It's just a word - I'm not even sure it has a definition, other than as a grouping for gorillas, chimps, orangutans, humans, and two others I can't remember right now. If you wish to change that definition to exclude humans, well, so what? Why's that important?

--
God needs money from you
[ Parent ]

Oh, BS (1.40 / 5) (#62)
by Yellowbeard on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 02:46:08 PM EST

Language: You can pretend along with everyone else all day that human language is comparable to the communication of other species, and all day I am going to tell you that you are full of shit. I mean, let's just take for example what we are doing right here. This is more than an adaptation. This is a completely different animal.

Fine manipulation: Have you seen anyone else build a stone headed tool? An Atl Atl? A Buick Roadmaster? Come on. This is in a totally different ballpark

While other apes do have /some/ opposability of the thumb, nearly all of them are set up for brachiation, so the thumb is never able to /fully/ oppose all the other digits nearly so well as humans are able to do it.

Bipedalism: So one of our ancestors (now extinct and certainly a far different critter than what became chimps) could walk upright - that's just proof that they should be in the same family as humans - non-apes.

Tool use: I have a Drill press at home as well as a craftsman socket set. Let's see any other animal on earth use it. And just because some apes use a straw to catch ants in a an ant hill, that is /not/ the same thing as me building a car. Humans /are/ animals and we /are/ closely related to apes, but we are not the same thing. We are certainly primates. I do not agree that we are old world apes.


"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt." - Deniro in Ronin


[ Parent ]
End of discussion right here! (2.00 / 2) (#105)
by pyramid termite on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 07:59:04 AM EST

Humans are not apes. Why? You cannot breed them with apes. Therefore they are another species. You can find all the similarities you like, but until you can get a human and an ape to produce offspring, they remain different species.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
missed the target. (5.00 / 2) (#107)
by sja8rd on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 08:38:48 AM EST

the term "ape" does not refer to a particular species. it refers to all the species that came from the original primate species to loose their tail.

don't feel bad for being confused about definition of biological terms, evidentally much of the k5 userbase needs a refresher in junior high biology.

[ Parent ]

Hey - hold on (none / 0) (#111)
by Yellowbeard on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 10:53:10 AM EST

1. Of course, you are right - apes are a Family - not a species, so that comment was incorrect. - But I thought that was a very nice way to handle it.

2. However, I hope I am not being accused of not knowing Junior Hihg Biology, because, if so, I am offernded, and besided, we're talking about taxonomy, here, which is a slightly different thing. The /only/ part of taxonomy that is not arbitrary is species (and even that is a bit arbitrary). I am arguing that, because of their vast differences, humans might ought to have their own family (though now that I say it that way, I might actually think twice. Apes probably /do/ turn out to be the best category). However, I certainly understand what is involved.


"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt." - Deniro in Ronin


[ Parent ]
Webster's says (3.00 / 2) (#125)
by pyramid termite on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 10:14:20 PM EST

ape - 1. a chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan, or gibbon; a large, tailless monkey that can stand and walk in an almost erect position.

2. any monkey

monkey - 1. any of the primates (the highest order of animals) except man (my emphasis)

Don't feel bad for being confused about definition (sic) of English words, evidentally much of the k5 userbase needs a refresher in Junior High English, especially the part where one looks up words in the dictionary if one doesn't understand them.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
MCSEs? (none / 0) (#128)
by lazerus on Thu Jun 20, 2002 at 09:46:14 AM EST

2. any monkey

Hmmm, so IIS admins are officially apes.



[ Parent ]
Heh (none / 0) (#130)
by pyramid termite on Thu Jun 20, 2002 at 05:46:30 PM EST

Hmmm, so IIS admins are officially apes.

Not only that, they can be trained to give ones, although whether they'll ever be advanced enough to actually participate in a debate is another question ...
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
I still vote for evolutionary psychology. (2.93 / 16) (#43)
by Sesquipundalian on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:55:52 AM EST

Sorry dude, that chimpanzee stuff has too much explanatory power. I used to be one of those beta or gamma or rho males or whatever greek letter you want to assign them. That quit when I started doing rude-ass shit like sitting in people's chairs, behind their own desks when I was chewing them out, shaking hands palm down, one-uping people's body language, flirting with their women (in front of them) etc.

I don't do it all the time (sorta makes it hard to have real friends after all), but it sure helps to be able to turn it on around certain people.

I know we all should try to rise above our bestial nature, but I'm sure glad environmental psychologists came along. If they hadn't I wouldn't have a woman, I wouldn't have a rewarding career doing a job I love, I wouldn't have a great group of friends that are actually capable of being truley supportive. Instead my life would still be dominated by people who tend to lose their hair early.

Some important facts that I've discovered (not sure who to attribute these to):

Watch what people do, and pay close attention to the balance between doing actions and saying actions. People will do the same behavior that they've done in the past, they also tend to say the same things that they've said in the past. Note that at no time does this correlation ever cross what I like to think of as the do-say barrier. Primates lie often, but it is rare to meet one smart enough to lie with its actions.

Primates instinctively control the behavior of other primates by consolidating and controlling access to resources (including sex). So if you want to become powerful, lend money at high interest rates, borrow ruthlessly at low rates from generous people, only hang around good looking people (this advice is gender neutral), consolidate and hoard access to resources that other people want/need, dole them out in miserly dribs and drabs at usurious rates of exchange. Get blackmail on people. Encourage people to gamble with you in games that where the odds are fixed imperceptibly in your favor. Broker prostitutes. You know, all that stuff that the ruling elite hippocritically calls "evil".

Form troops (small handfuls of people who are on your side). Convince them that they have something to gain by playing "us" against "them", with some other group. Justify all of the evil you do with platitudes like "if you aren't for me, you're against me". This leads to you being elected to the exaulted status of Alpha Male. Defend this title with extreme millitary sanctions if need be (after all, the poor bitch-ass-sucky-boy that you're beating on right now just demonstrated that he wasn't on your side, didn't he?, he must deserve it!)

Most people don't have very much experience watching the behavior of others and are easily fooled by contrived behavior. There are entire libraries of books about how to fake body language, posture etc. Other things worth faking are status symbols, physical prowess, achievments etc. People will be nicer to you if they think you're an Alpha Male, why disillusion them?, they'll only abuse you for it.

I'm not saying that this is the way to be happy living in 21st century North America, I'm just saying that you need to understand these behaviors if you don't want to fall victim to them yourself. It's only been that last few centuries or so, in very small parts of the world, where being a pale sickly greasy human that loves iambic pentameter with an IQ higher than God, has any chance of success as a life strategy. By all means, rise above it. Be the most altruistic, moral, beautiful soul you can. Just don't be surprised when it takes actual work to find others who are like you. And don't walk around with your tail between your legs all the time, (you didn't think that swimming with sharks was really good advice, did you?).


Did you know that gullible is not actually an english word?
books... (none / 0) (#78)
by Cryptnotic on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 05:22:12 PM EST

Do you have any references for those books? I might be interested in looking at some of them. I've read "Games People Play", but that is more organized towards clinical psychology and situations between a psychiatrist and a patient. The behaviors it considers are abnormal behaviors, not normal, successful behaviors.

[ Parent ]
"abnormal" (none / 0) (#85)
by khallow on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 06:15:28 PM EST

IMHO, the only difference between abnormal behavior and "normal", successful behavior is context. For example, some habitual fidgetting gesture (fiddling with rosary beads or worry stones, hand wringing, thumb twiddling, etc) may be normal for a culture now, but originally propagated by a powerful ruler with a abnormal, compulsive behavior. Ie, you fidgeted like the boss so you could get ahead. Hundreds of years later, everyone fidgets like that...

Did placeholders like "um" and "ah" (very common in spoken English) come originally from a famous, stuttering teacher or speaker? Something to think about.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

a dutch friend (4.00 / 1) (#98)
by speek on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 10:29:09 PM EST

I had a dutch friend when I was younger, who was always saying "amem", or "amum". I thought it was some dutch word he was always saying in the middle of speaking, and I finally asked him what it meant. He said it was like "um".

The idea that the sounds we make to stall are different in different languages was just weird. Similarly, people of different countries don't all think roosters go "cock-a-doodle-do", but each has their own version.

--
God needs money from you
[ Parent ]

Better than parody (none / 0) (#103)
by cr8dle2grave on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 02:10:48 AM EST

For example, some habitual fidgetting gesture (fiddling with rosary beads or worry stones, hand wringing, thumb twiddling, etc) may be normal for a culture now, but originally propagated by a powerful ruler with a abnormal, compulsive behavior. Ie, you fidgeted like the boss so you could get ahead. Hundreds of years later, everyone fidgets like that...

I don't believe I could have intentionally come up with a better parody of memetics. Thanks, I'll have to use that one in the future.

---
Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera


[ Parent ]
You're welcome! (nt) (none / 0) (#131)
by khallow on Thu Jun 20, 2002 at 11:51:54 PM EST


Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Is that really typical? (4.00 / 2) (#50)
by ti dave on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 01:31:29 PM EST

In strongly polygynous species, such as gorillas and elephant seals, there is a greater size difference, with the males twice the size of the females. Chimpanzees are less polygynous than gorillas, and the size difference between males and females is much less. In human beings, the size difference is even less than in chimps.

I look around people I know, and I see 200+ lb. men paired up with 105 lb. women fairly frequently.
Are we really that different in this trait?

Furthermore, a human male can't tell from any physical signs when the female is most fertile.

High progesterone levels in women during the luteal phase [immediately following ovulation] frequently cause breast tissue swelling.
Quite noticeable swelling.
I can tell when women around me are in this phase of their cycles with a glance.

"If you dial," Iran said, eyes open and watching, "for greater venom, then I'll dial the same."

Hmmm (4.50 / 2) (#56)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 01:56:41 PM EST

Strange... I think I see more skinny men paired up with obese women.

Concealed oestrus isn't something I just made up: it's been the subject of much discussion. I know that you and several other people who've commented are confident you can tell when a woman is ovulating, but I have to wonder somewhat about the accuracy of some of these claims. Experimenting with pregnancy can end up quite costly...
----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

As an Advanced Primate... (none / 0) (#65)
by ti dave on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 02:59:04 PM EST

I can use a calendar and a thermometer, along with the low-tech observation of bigger titties, to determine when my mate is ready to conceive.
Totality of the circumstances, as it were.
There seems to be a concensus that enlarged breasts are a secondary sexual characteristic. It would seem logical that this visual cue serves in purpose in reproduction, aside from preparing the breasts for nursing.

I wouldn't depend upon the "swelling method" to prevent conception, but it's a good starting point that seems to be held over from the past.

"If you dial," Iran said, eyes open and watching, "for greater venom, then I'll dial the same."

[ Parent ]
had the same thought (none / 0) (#74)
by skyler on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 04:41:23 PM EST

I suppose it suffices to say that one would hope for a documented study to show any such judge-at-a-glance power, not just some personal testimonies. I myself can tell no such thing even upon close scrutiny, let alone at a glance.



[ Parent ]
Weight varies with the cube of the height (none / 0) (#100)
by cribeiro on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 10:48:45 PM EST

Actually, volume varies with the cube of height, but I think you get the idea. I believe that the weight difference between gorilla males and females must be bigger than 50% most of the time, because the size difference is huge.

[ Parent ]
Good article (4.00 / 2) (#67)
by openthought on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 03:27:04 PM EST

I have seen your figure for humans and apes sharing a common ancestor, but if you ever pickup the book titled "Blueprints: Solving the mystery of evolution" by Maitland A. Edey and Donald C. Johanson, it speaks of Vincent Sarich's research using molecular clocking with cytochrome c. Sarich places a common ancestor at about 5-6 million years.

Just thought it was interesting, all in all, a good article. I am going to have to agree with some of the reviewers, at such a critical time for thought change for the public about evolution, every connection, without distorting the truth is going to help. As your article pointed out, it's good to deflate the human ego.

I'm just reminded (3.00 / 2) (#69)
by sasquatchan on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 03:41:58 PM EST

of what my roomie at the time said when Jane Goodall came to speak at our college:

"If I studied rocks as long as Jane Goodall has studied apes, I'd think they were intelligent too."
-- The internet is not here for your personal therapy.

Wow! (none / 0) (#119)
by mingofmongo on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 02:20:42 PM EST

That is about the coolest quote I have ever read.

"What they don't seem to get is that the key to living the good life is to avoid that brass ring like the fucking plague."
--The Onion
[ Parent ]

The naked ape, or the aquatic ape? (4.00 / 1) (#76)
by Artifice on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 05:08:59 PM EST

We are indeed significantly different from any other primate species. Many scientists have speculated that part of our differentiation involved going through a semi-aquatic stage. This would explain our relative hairlessness, distribution of body fat, webbing between digits, etc.

It's discussed in a cursory way in this piece (along with a more far-fetched theory about human origins, involving another planet which, incidentally, has recently been found to have a lot more water than we thought).

YMMV...

How are your shares of Worldcom doing? Find out with the Enron Memorial Real-Time Stock Monitor!
AAT is not exactly an accepted theory (none / 0) (#127)
by dirtydingus on Thu Jun 20, 2002 at 08:18:06 AM EST

http://directory.google.com/Top/Science/Biology/Evolution/Human/Aquatic_Ape_Theo ry/

Has a lot of links including at least 2 that appear to debunk it fairly well. I'm not saying its unequivically false but a number of the claims that AAT proponants make about our "aquatic adaptations" seem to be less than solid when examined closely.

DD
People can be put into 10 groups: Those that understand binary and those that don't.
[ Parent ]

Well, you don't prove anything (3.00 / 3) (#77)
by khallow on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 05:12:24 PM EST

Ok, let's review the evidence for "humans are naked apes". The apes include members that are the closest genetically of any living nonhuman (including mice) to humans. The physiology (which you fail to mention) of apes are very similar to humans (bipedal, gripping hands, face that makes a wide range of expressions). The behavior of apes is very similar to humans. Eg, all of the behaviors you note in the various primates you mention are exhibited in humans. Finally, here is an alpha male on K5 for your perusal. Since I am pathologically jealous of alpha males, you may vivisect him at your convenience. :-)

Stating the obvious since 1969.

Your Giant Penis (4.00 / 1) (#80)
by CarryTheZero on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 05:49:39 PM EST

...is interesting to me. Scientifically, that is. The most common explanation for large sex organs in humans is sexual selection, where a trait (even if it is maladaptive) can become prevalent in a population. This is because females who are "choosy" about a certain trait mate more with males exhibiting that trait, and pass both the choosiness and the trait on to their offspring. So you get things like birds with giant plumes that make it really difficult for them to fly, or guys with ludicrously oversized genitalia.

--
You said I'd wake up dead drunk / alone in the park / I called you a liar / but how right you were
iTunes users: want to download album artwork automatically? Now you can.
Exactly (none / 0) (#82)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 05:57:51 PM EST

In strongly polygamous species like gorillas or elephant seals, the females don't get to be choosy.

In principally-monogamous species like peacocks, males have to impress...
----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

Except (none / 0) (#84)
by CarryTheZero on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 06:14:14 PM EST

Polygamous vs. monogamous is, I think, the wrong distinction. After all, one male mating with many females is not mutually exclusive with females being "choosy". Rather, I think the correct distinction is between species where there is a rigid social hierarchy and females only mate with the alpha male, and species where this is not the case. I know this is probably what you were getting at; I'm just being anal.

--
You said I'd wake up dead drunk / alone in the park / I called you a liar / but how right you were
iTunes users: want to download album artwork automatically? Now you can.
[ Parent ]
Hmmm (none / 0) (#88)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 06:26:09 PM EST

Possibly.

But I do think the two concepts are very much intertwined.

You can't really have an alpha male without a social hierarchy that's rigid enough to persist for a few mating periods. Conversely, there's not that much point to an animal social hierarchy that doesn't affect mating rights.
----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

CarryTheZero is right (5.00 / 1) (#106)
by iGrrrl on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 08:03:25 AM EST

After all, one male mating with many females is not mutually exclusive with females being "choosy".
There are a lot of species with little to no social hierarchy where female choice results in one (desirable) male mating with many females.

Your whole article has holes big enough to throw a dog through, but I have neither dog nor time at the moment.

--
You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
remove apostrophe for email.
[ Parent ]

I think you're getting the terminology confused (none / 0) (#108)
by TheophileEscargot on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 09:20:12 AM EST

I'm using the phrase "alpha male" in the technical sense of the dominant male in a hierarchy. You seem to be using it in the sense of a male who is desirable to females.
----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
Polygyny vs. Polygamy (vs. Polyandry) (5.00 / 1) (#113)
by dcheesi on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 11:20:54 AM EST

Actually I think the terms that are confused here are polygynous and polygamous. The former relates specifically to the number of female mates, and therefore implies a harem and an alpha male. The latter term could be applied both to the alpha male scenario and the alpha-female scenario (polyandry).

In this discussion tangent, the opposites we should be discussing are polygyny vs. polyandry. The latter allows women to be 'choosy' if they want; the former does not.

[ Parent ]

Oops, or monogamy... (5.00 / 1) (#115)
by dcheesi on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 11:36:38 AM EST

In monogamy, both genders get to choose; however, females tend to be pickier than males due to their higher reproductive burden.

[ Parent ]
Allergy to assertions (none / 0) (#132)
by epepke on Fri Jun 21, 2002 at 06:24:00 PM EST

In monogamy, both genders get to choose; however, females tend to be pickier than males due to their higher reproductive burden.

I have a severe allergy to assertions like this. Maybe females are just pickier because they can get away with it and because most males are dumb or desperate enough to go along with it.

Besides, even if females are picky, it doesn't mean it does them any good, let alone that they do it in order for it to do them any good. Just how many women have eagerly gone out with or even married and had children with total nutcases that everyone tells them are no good and they eventually take out restraining orders against? All of them, I think (though some of the nutcases are female).


The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


[ Parent ]
Lock up your daughters. The King is here! (none / 0) (#117)
by IHCOYC on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 12:35:04 PM EST

Leaders of human societies from Charles II and Brigham Young to Bill Clinton have known and made use of the fact that high status males in leadership positions have many more opportunities to mate than do lower status males. The chief difference seems to be that we discuss these arrangements with a more elaborate vocabulary.
--
"Complecti antecessores tuos in spelŠis stygiis Tartari appara," eructavit miles primus.
"Vix dum basiavisti vicarium velocem Mortis," rediit Grignr.
--- Livy
[ Parent ]
Original quote (5.00 / 1) (#123)
by ucblockhead on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 03:44:31 PM EST

Way off-topic, but the origin of that was an old legionary marching song that contained the lines:

Lock up your daughters
Because Caesar's coming to town!
And while you are at it,
Lock up your sons as well!

-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
I phrased this confusingly (none / 0) (#120)
by CarryTheZero on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 02:42:25 PM EST

What I meant to say was:
those species with a rigid social hierarchy and an "alpha male" are a subset of all polygamous species, so polygamy does not necessarily imply a lack of female choice.

--
You said I'd wake up dead drunk / alone in the park / I called you a liar / but how right you were
iTunes users: want to download album artwork automatically? Now you can.
[ Parent ]
Hmm. (none / 0) (#134)
by Khedak on Fri Jun 28, 2002 at 02:13:47 PM EST

I don't necessarily think that's it, there may be a more mechanical reason. After all, isn't the penis analogous (genetically) to the birth canal? Human have to have larger birth canals proportionally because that huge brain-filled noggin' that has to fit through it. If humans had gorilla-proportioned genitals, our fatheaded babies wouldn't get out of the womb.

Unless someone can show that the size of the birth canal in gorillas, chimpanzees and in humans is similar, I think that you have to conclude that our genitals are larger simply because of their mechanical function in bringing new big-headed humans into the world.

[ Parent ]
+1 FP (4.50 / 2) (#95)
by underscore on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 08:13:29 PM EST

stage of her menstrual cycle. There is no helpful swollen perineum, and human females will mate at any stage of their cycle. What is even more interesting is the curious tendency of female menstrual cycles to synchronize with each other. If they live in close proximity, female humans will all reach peak fertility at the same time.

What this means is that human biology prevents the existence of chimpanzee-style alpha males. A alpha male chimp can isolate a fertile female from the rest of the troop, but in a human troop all the females will be fertile at the same time. Furthermore, a human male can't tell from any physical signs when the female is most fertile. It appears that human sexuality has evolved specifically to exclude the possibility of alpha males dominating mating.

The Edge has an interesting read that bears on the part of your argument I've quoted above. Harvard biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham takes the viewpoint we are closely aligned with both bonobos and chimpanzees, but have diverged from both by dint of cooking. I'll leave the prepared meat of the argument to your perusal and carve but one joint to serve up here. Was it Plato, or, Aristotle, that said a good theory carves at the joint? Plato if memory serves me well.

Your argument about alpha males not having exclusive access to fertile females doesn't take into consideration the harem. An alpha male with exclusive access to a harem wherein the females are in close proximity and, thus by your own admission, in menstrual lockstep, provides the alpha male with exclusive mating rights.

Professor Wrangham suggests that the Islamic paradigm of the Al Qaeda supports the alpha male/harem configuration and, most seriously, brings with it, what I would characterize as severe testosterone posioning in those males left without access to females. I'll leave the reading of the full article to you and others who might be interested in a well presented alternative.

Thanks for a good read. Cheers


a geek possessed of animal cunning
is a most fearsome adversary

Harams and menstrual lockstep (5.00 / 1) (#122)
by ucblockhead on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 03:40:00 PM EST

The point is that this "alpha male" is at a bit of a disadvantage if all the females in his haram are in "menstrual lockstep". Male fertility takes a full 24 hours to recover after intercourse. The period of female fertility only lasts around three days. It's pretty easy to see "menstrual lockstep" makes it much harder for one male to keep a lot of females pregnant.

One point about human polygamy: in most cases it was only a case of two or three wives..."harams" are very unusual. Additionally, human polygamy was often serial monogamy disguised. (Getting a new young wife.) And finally, human polygamy most often occurred where wars and such skewed the sex ratio towards women. In other words, it was a response to a particular societal problem.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

How about gestation period effects ? (none / 0) (#126)
by drsmithy on Thu Jun 20, 2002 at 12:07:29 AM EST

Male fertility takes a full 24 hours to recover after intercourse. The period of female fertility only lasts around three days. It's pretty easy to see "menstrual lockstep" makes it much harder for one male to keep a lot of females pregnant.

Surely this would be countered by the long period of pregnancy once a (human) female is fertilised ? When each member of your "harem" is essentially useless (in terms of reproductive mating potential) for 3/4 of a year, it shouldn't be that hard to keep a good ~20-30 females pregnant pretty much constantly (the setup period might be somewhat involved, of course, but the most efficient way would be to only "induct" them once they were pregnant - ie before their cycles could synchronise).

I have no idea what the gestation periods of the various primates are like, but for those who do does there appear to be any relation between that and the reproductive arrangements of those primates ?

[ Parent ]

I missed something (4.66 / 3) (#96)
by Lai Lai Boy on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 08:59:39 PM EST

The DNA comparison is flawed. Evolution is not a gradual, steady process.

Our common ancestor may even have been more human-like and less ape-like than currently surviving apes: we know very little about it. Because we've been evolving separately, this difference is comparable to a single species evolving for twice that time.

Wha? Isn't that a contradiction?

[Posted from Mozilla Firebird]

I'm not sure whether it's true but it makes sense (none / 0) (#101)
by kraant on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 12:14:32 AM EST

Think of it this way.

Evolutionary distance from our ancestor is X number of years.

Assuming it's a common ancestor their evolutionary distance from that ancestor is also X. Therefore the combined evolutionary distance is  X + X
--
"kraant, open source guru" -- tumeric
Never In Our Names...
[ Parent ]

This notion of "evolutionary distance".. (4.00 / 1) (#118)
by Kaki Nix Sain on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 01:32:13 PM EST

... is tenuous at best.

How does it make sense to measure such a thing by number of years when there are creatures around that are almost completely unchanged from their ancestors hundreds of millions of years ago? If you are measuring years, call them years and be done with it. There is no need to try and make this gross oversimplification of '1 year = 1 evolutionary unit'.



[ Parent ]

You are sigged [nt] (4.00 / 2) (#97)
by /dev/niall on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 10:20:22 PM EST


--
"compared to the other apes, my genitals are gigantic" -- TheophileEscargot
What all humans share (3.80 / 5) (#109)
by IHCOYC on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 10:39:52 AM EST

It seems to me that you have confounded two separate lines of reasoning here. Yes, it is true that humans are not descendants of any living ape. It is also true that human society is not identical to any ape society.

This does not mean that humans are not apes, or that they have no inherited behaviour patterns. There are certain traits that are so universally true among humans that inherited characteristics of behaviour are certainly the most economical, and also the most convincing, explanations for these facts.

Steven Goldberg's Why Men Rule[1] explains in somewhat laborious detail why there have never been any convincing "matriarchies" found. Whenever a high-status leadership position exists and can be competed for, men will find it far more attractive than women do, on the average. This cuts across all boundaries of culture, race, and language; it is a human universal.

Other human universals are so obvious they are almost invisible, and we fail to see how distinctive they are. It is fairly obvious that human young must be reared by a time-consuming process. We share language, a trait that has been linked to specific areas of our brain anatomy. Experimenters from King Psamtik forward have discovered that normal humans deprived of language reinvent it. This too is obviously an inherited trait.

I defy anyone to read Frans de Waal's Chimpanzee Politics without discovering dozens of parallels with everyday human social interaction. This is one of the best business books ever written. The jockeying for status and rank, the making of alliances, the telling of lies --- these are traits we share with our cousins among the chimpanzees. They are species-specific, occurring more often among the chimps than among, say, the orangutans. Again, inherited traits are the most economical explanation.

Those who would deny that humans have inherited traits, that all our behaviour is cultural, and therefore infinitely malleable, are at heart creationists. They insist on a special status for human beings different from our primate cousins. The better known creationists take their cue from Genesis, and call attention to the moral hazards they see from accepting that humans are primates. But other creationists tend to come from ideological commitment to various unachievable egalitarianisms. The notion of inherited human nature is morally suspect to these creationisms because it suggests that xenophobia, clannishness, hierarchy, and the sexual division of labour are things that not much can be done about. The universality of these institutions makes it pretty obvious that these inherited cannot be changed by mere social censure or other cultural tools. So they, too, are led by moral commitments, accepted as a given, to preserve humans as a separate rank of being distinct from the other primates. Both sorts of creationism are cut from the same cloth.

[1] An earlier edition of this book bore the title The Inevitability of Patriarchy.
--
"Complecti antecessores tuos in spelŠis stygiis Tartari appara," eructavit miles primus.
"Vix dum basiavisti vicarium velocem Mortis," rediit Grignr.
--- Livy

Who 'denied that humans have inherited behaviour'? (5.00 / 1) (#114)
by TheophileEscargot on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 11:20:56 AM EST

I never said anything like that. As I said in the author's comment, I don't have a problem with the concept of sociobiology itself, only massively oversimplified applications of it.

Regarding motivational business books, it's interesting that the original How to Win Friends And Influence People advocates being soft-spoken, self-deprecating and seeing things from the other persons point of view. Fashions in these things seem to come and go: I suspect the "alpha male" trend will soon be as painfully untrendy as Dale Carnegie is now.

Must go, someone's moved my cheese...
----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

I find that throwing feces gets results. . . (none / 0) (#129)
by IHCOYC on Thu Jun 20, 2002 at 12:23:28 PM EST

I find leftist creationism disconcerting enough that it's become a bit of a bugbear to me. So I suppose I tend to look for it in places where it might not actually be lurking.

Whether humans have "alpha males" or not is a matter of definition. Obviously most Western societies have more or less open leadership hierarchies. Those who climb higher on these ladders do indeed have greater sexual opportunities than the lower status males. There are even some non-Western societies where the high status males attempt to collect harems and restrict sexual access to all the women they wield dominion over. But these are not the only modes humans can operate under.
--
"Complecti antecessores tuos in spelŠis stygiis Tartari appara," eructavit miles primus.
"Vix dum basiavisti vicarium velocem Mortis," rediit Grignr.
--- Livy
[ Parent ]

Humans/Chimps/Inheritance/Culture (5.00 / 1) (#137)
by askrom on Sat Aug 10, 2002 at 05:41:11 PM EST

IHCOYC wrote:

Those who would deny that humans have inherited traits, that all our behaviour is cultural, and therefore infinitely malleable, are at heart creationists.

On the contrary, perhaps you are giving humans special status because of what you think is our unique ability to pass on aquired behaviors to our offspring, that is, through culture. You assume that only humans are able to produce a society that is different than our programming says we 'should' have. But, in fact, chimpanzees have been shown to pass on aquired behaviors to their offspring, in particular tool-making technologies. Unlike an ant species which behaves identically from region to region and from generation to generation, all according to their genetic programming, humans, chimps, and apes behave quite differently from region to region and from generation to generation based on what we teach each other and our offspring. I wonder sometimes if other cultural behaviors aren't passed on in chimp societies too, for example patriarchy itself?

Humans have long shown not only that we are able to behave radically differently than our natural programming would have us behave, but we have also shown that often it is far better for us to behave differently than our natural programming. Just because something is hard-coded into our behavior doesn't make it morally right or even practical to our survival as a species, not any more than having tonsils or wisdom teeth are helpful to our survival. Sometimes our genetic programming is just plain wrong for us - and must be ignored or even defeated.

I'm imagining some deranged experiment where several generations of humans are raised and obseved in a Truman-show type contained world, simulating life on the prehistoric steppes of eastern Africa and somehow revealing what our 'true' social behavior really is. The ridiculousness of this experiment speaks to the ridiculousness of exaggerating the importance of our genetic programming to our actual societal behavior.

Even if it were true that our hard-coded social behavior programmed us to have polygynous dominant males doesn't mean that such a system is relevant or beneficial to the way our species lives today. That bit of genetic code might in fact be as vestigal and dangerous as our appendixes, and it may be one of the things that has for thousands of years hindered us from our goals of peace and wealth and happiness.

What I'm getting at here is that one shouldn't ever use genetics as an excuse for ANY social behavior, particularly for oppressive behaviors like patriarchy or violence. Humans are thoroughly able to fight our natural behaviors. We consistently exhibit behaviors entirely different from or even contrary to the behaviors of primitive homo erectus foraging for food. Maybe our brains are physically the same, but our culture is so much bigger and more dominant so as to render most of our "wild" behaviors inert. If we can do so many things we are evolutionarily unsuited for like flying airplanes, imprisoning murderers, learning tai-chi, and programming C++, we can certainly give equal rights to women and stop bashing each other to death.

-askROM
[christopher eli fahey]
art: http://www.graphpaper.com
sci: http://www.askrom.com
biz: http://www.behaviordesign.com



[ Parent ]
This all looks like a very human-centric article/d (none / 0) (#133)
by pedrobeltrao on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 08:12:58 PM EST

In evolutionary terms we are very much apes. The differences between the two are few. I understand the differences, and has you put it they are a lot about social behavior. You can find huge social/cultural differences in isolated human societies.
I also realize that a 1.5% difference can mean a lot if it happens to change things like brain organization or speech capabilities but still, DNA codes proteins that shape and do the work in our cells, 1.5% difference is almost nothing.
After looking att the (beautiful) huge diversity in life on this planet you can simple say that humans and apes are that different ? Try to compare the differences between human and apes to the differences between humans and some extreme thermopile on a hot spring somewhere.


"The future is here. It's just not evenly distributed yet."-William Gibson
How is that 1.5% measured? (none / 0) (#135)
by stormfront on Wed Jul 03, 2002 at 08:29:45 AM EST

"There's only 1.5% difference between human DNA and chimpanzee DNA, you know" Nice article, but just curious as to what the 1.5% difference is measured against? Does it include the "wasteland" parts of DNA or is it only the active areas?

Competed out? (none / 0) (#136)
by annenk38 on Sun Jul 07, 2002 at 04:45:18 AM EST

I don't buy the "competed out" theory. With miniscule population densities, the abundance of game, there simply should not have been any limited resources to compete over. Surely, the Native Americans have all but disappeared from North America following the westward expansion of the europeans, but you cannot claim they were "competed out". I laugh when anthropologists insist it is "competition, not confrontation" that has been responsible for the extinction of Neandertal. Is it so hard to believe that humans are capable of deliberate genocide?

And if my left hand causes me to stumble as well -- what do I cut it off with? -- Harry, Prince of Wales (The Blackadder)
Of Mice, Apes and Men | 137 comments (132 topical, 5 editorial, 2 hidden)
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