Dreamer, originally uploaded by True_Bavarian. Larger version here.
What defines our human ‘beingness’? Is it in our DNA? Or our ability to communicate information and ideas? To form complex social structures? To make and use tools? To master fire? To write? To play Pac-Man?
There’s a fascinating debate going on in primate circles. At the heart of it is a little-known species of ape called the Bonobo and an incredible woman called Susan Savage-Rumbaugh. Wild Bonobos are found only in the Congo and are perilously close to extinction. They are not kept in zoos because their sexual behaviour is so close to our own that they are deemed unsuitable for public display. They are as close to Lucy as we are ever likely to find alive – more upright than chimps and more human than gorillas.
Savage-Rumbaugh explains her central thesis:
There are many people who think that the animal world is hard-wired and that there is something very special about Man. Maybe it’s his ability to have causal thought, or something special in his brain that allows him to have language, make tools or develop mathematics.
Well, I don’t know. There were Tasmanians who were discovered around the 1600s and they had no fire, they had no stone tools, to our knowledge they had no music. So, when you compare them to the Bonobo, the Bonobo is a little hairier, he doesn’t stand quite as upright – but there are a lot of similarities.
As we look at culture, we come to understand how we got to where we are. And I don’t really think it’s in our biology. I think that we have attributed it to our biology – but I don’t think it’s really there.
She has been interacting with these amazing animals for many years and knows more about what makes them tick than anyone on the planet. She has taught them to understand human language, light fires, drive golf carts and yes, you guessed it – even to play Pac-Man.
Prepare to be amazed as you watch this brief lecture on video.