Monday, February 7, 2011

Perhaps not-so-Godlike afterall?

Sorry for the silence! I got two short-term consultancies at once, and there were bills to be paid!

Sunday night, my husband and I stumbled upon a real treat: Clever Monkeys, on our local PBS station. It was originally shown in November 2008. To be clear: it was about monkeys, not apes. It was focused on monkey culture: how they pass information from one generation to the next, how the young learn to find food, communicate, recognize kin, even use tools, medicine, and language -- about all the things monkeys do that are from learning, not instinct.

It's jaw-dropping when you see monkeys, in the wild, using calls that have specific meanings for circumstances (snake!) and even combine calls to make sentence-like messages - this requires grammar! Or a monkey using deception on his family in order to have food all to himself.

The show presented the evolutionary history of modern human intelligence in an easy-to-understand, delightful way. And when you see intelligence and emotion exhibited by monkeys that, once upon a time, you were taught were uniquely human, it's humbling. And energizing. And wondrous. How we humans have evolved from monkeys has been an extraordinary journey, and the more you learn about it, the more extraordinary our world becomes.

Just one quandary: after the show was over, I turned to my husband and said, "So, what does make us human, as opposed to monkey?" We couldn't think of anything, other than Facebook use.

If you want more than even the video offers about monkey (and human!) intelligence, then read this excellent article on Humans And Monkeys Share Machiavellian Intelligence.

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