2005 October 15 Saturday
Humans Act Like Chimpanzee Bonobo Hybrid

Temple Grandin, an amazingly high functioning autistic with a number of impressive intellectual accomplishments to her credit (including livestock slaughter facilities designs), reviews Frans de Waal's book Our Inner Ape which advances the argument that examination of Chimp and Bonobo behavior yields two sides of what makes up human nature.

In this fascinating book, de Waal suggests that the two species represent sides of our own nature. We have "not one but two inner apes," he writes, speculating that humans may act like a hybrid of bonobos and chimps.

Grandin notices that de Waal avoids the genetic significance of his observations.

De Waal does not discuss the possible genetic implications of many of his observations. Animals who have high-fear genetics are less inclined to be aggressive because they are afraid to fight, and stressful, scary situations can affect them more dramatically. When bombs fell on Munich during World War II, de Waal tells us, all the bonobos in the zoo died of heart failure, but all the chimps survived. Unfortunately, he does not discuss how these differences in fearfulness might affect social behavior. Fear and other traits, like aggression and sociability, have a strong genetic component. In my own work with antelopes, I have observed huge differences in the startle and fear response between individual animals. It is likely that there may be genetic differences between the most peaceful and most violent chimps.

Since personality characteristics vary between humans due to genetic and development differences some humans are closer to the average chimp and others, relatively speaking, are closer to the average bonobo.

The more precise terminology for labelling the Chimps and the Bonobos is Common Chimpanzee or Pan troglodytes for what we commonly just call Chimp and the Bonobo is called Bonobo or Pygmy Chimpanzee or Pan paniscus.

We aren't technically a hybrid of Chimps and Bonobos. The Chimps split off from the humans before the Common Chimps and the Bonobos split off from each other. But different humans share characteristics with Chimps and Bonobos to varying degrees.

From Amazon:

Noted primatologist de Waal (Chimpanzee Politics) thinks human behavior cannot be fully explained by selfish genes and Darwinian competition. Drawing on his own primate research on chimpanzees and bonobos—our closest animal relatives—he shows how much we can learn from them about ourselves: our qualities of "fellow feeling and empathy" as well as our power-obsessed, violent side. We are "bipolar apes," de Waal says, as much like bonobos as like chimps. The latter are known for their viciousness and "red in tooth and claw" social politics, but bonobos offer a radically different social model, one of peace and hedonistic orgies; de Waal offers vivid, often delightful stories of politics, sex, violence and kindness in the ape communities he has studied to illustrate such questions as why we are irreverent toward the powerful and whether men or women are better at conflict resolution.

Advances in genetics and neurobiology are going to undermine more sentimental, religious, and ideological views of humans in favor of a view of humans as smarter primates. The political implications for this coming change will be profound. Liberalism, even among secular liberals, is still based upon a mystical view of humans as magically equal and hence entitlted to equal rights. That view is not going to survive the coming avalanche of scientific evidence. But religious views are in for similar rough times as urges to commit many sins are traced back to genetic sequences and neuronal wiring patterns.

I do not know what sorts of political schools of thought will emerge after human nature becomes demystified. Dumber people will probably to continue to believe many myths because much of the evidence against their myths will be incomprehensible to them. Also, some smart people will opt for self delusion. But quite a few people will come to understand the real score. What will they decide to have as their political philosophies and ideologies?

I'm expecting a partial return to some ancient pre-Christian Roman and Greek schools of ethics and political philosophy. Take away Christianity and liberalism and high pagan culture might appeal to Western elites of the 21st century. But I'm just guessing.

Update: Of course people do not always change their beliefs when confronted with new evidence. Michael Gazzaniga argues in his book The Ethical Brain that not just religious people but also highly scientific people resist changes in their beliefs when confronted by new evidence.

Nowhere does the human capacity to form and hold beliefs become more stark than when clear scientific data challenge the assumptions of someone’s personal beliefs. It would be easy to spin a story line about how a particular person with a set of religious values resisted the biological analysis of this or that finding in an effort to reaffirm his or her belief. There are many such stories, but they miss the point. Scientists themselves are just as resistant to change a view when confronted with new data that suggest their view is incorrect. All of us hold on to our beliefs, and it now appears that men are even more tenacious about not letting go than are women

Let me be as clear as I can about what I mean by “holding beliefs” or having belief systems. Many roads lead to holding beliefs. For many religiously oriented people, rules and codes to live by are spelled out and delivered by the religion in question, when one signs on to it. For the scientist, scientific rules and codes become part of the beliefs one must uphold upon joining the ranks of the particular science. For utilitarians, the decisions society makes about life’s challenges become their own beliefs. Overall, and this is my view about the nature of beliefs, our species instinctively reacts to events, and in a specialized system of the human brain that reaction is interpreted. Out of that interpretation, beliefs emerge about rules to live by. Sometimes they have a moral character; sometimes they are of an utterly practical nature. We can form beliefs slowly or quickly. Studies have shown startling aspects of how we can generate and hold onto a belief. People who buy a computer-generated lotto ticket for a dollar are reluctant to part with it if offered more money for it seconds after its purchase. Offering two bucks—a 100 percent increase in their investment—doesn’t do it. In many instances the offer has to be extended to twenty bucks. Why? Why do we hold onto our beliefs—new or old? Interestingly, it turns out that scientists are slower to change their views in the face of new data than are preachers.

People will often put far more effort into rationalizing a reconciliation of their beliefs with new evidence than they will put into abandoning their beliefs. Beliefs are like possessions. People feel a sense of loss when they have to give up a belief and they resist the potential loss.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 October 15 10:57 AM  Human Nature

crush41 said at October 15, 2005 11:32 AM:

You are lumping Catholicism and Protestantism together in predicting that Christianity will not be able to suffer revelations (sorry) about human nature. But spiritual equality is impossible to prove or disprove. Denominations like Lutheranism and Presbytrianism put little emphasis on man's abilities in the first place and are much more inclined towards fatalism. Cheap DNA sequencing will be a step in that direction and against free will. But environment is not going to suddenly vanish, either. So Christian morality (which in Catholicism really does not differ substantially from secular ethics) are not going to be made obsolete. And of course much of biblical teaching is based on secular differences and how to accept rather than overturn them. Seems to me blank-slate liberalism is in much worse shape.

John S Bolton said at October 15, 2005 3:19 PM:

The attempt to pick out and elevate the bonobo model of human origins, sounds like a desperate, and completely unwarranted attempt to hold onto the fantasy of the noble savage. Aggression is a law of life; civilization exists to obstruct the subhuman aggression which otherwise takes over. The depravity of the leftist professoriate is such that they want freedom for aggression, and make a state religion out of the worship of aggression. Then they tell us that man without sovereign principles of counteraggression will be like bonobos, if we just wish and hope, and ignore the savagery of the bonobos too. This leftist professoriate must be put down, its government schools traumatically and ruthlessly privatized, that would bow down before a bonobo idol.

Hugh Angell said at October 15, 2005 6:01 PM:

I enjoyed Mr. Bolton's rhetoric but I am not so certain about the demise of religion or
the return of neo paganism.

True, we are but naked apes but that does not affect one iota our relationship with the
eternal and divine. Monkey see and monkey do might better explain our exploration of DNA
and all else. Something infinitely more powerful and intelligent than ourselves put it all
together and I see no conflict between science and God.

Rik said at October 16, 2005 2:35 PM:

I don't a coming fall of liberalism by the demystification of humanity, through science. I don't see a return to pre-christianity, Greek thinking either: Jewish-Greek thought may be a strange hybrid, but it is working remarkably well. I have no idea what -isms will come out of the advance of science. I do know that Francis Fukuyama so far has been proved dead wrong, not just in an ongoing history, instead of an end to it, but as well in his real claim: that there would be an end to ideological development. Liberal-democracy has won everywhere, hooray! Yes, not when nationalism has returned and romanticism is about get off again (= populism under another name). What I expect - since it is already happening, it's easy to extrapolate - is a return of the social order that went with belief in magic. Once upon a time people believed in demons, angels, the devil and the idea that spirits could influence bodies. Since the 17th century, this has been proved wrong. Since then, a material explanation was advanced, which even gained popularity (much to the dismay of the churches). But with the rise of romanticism - and especially in that extremely romantic 20th century - a strange happened: much of the material explanation lost its power. Nowadays it's gotten as far as a public and accepted belief in magic again.

You write: "Advances in genetics and neurobiology are going to undermine more sentimental, religious, and ideological views of humans in favor of a view of humans as smarter primates. The political implications for this coming change will be profound. Liberalism, even among secular liberals, is still based upon a mystical view of humans as magically equal and hence entitlted to equal rights. That view is not going to survive the coming avalanche of scientific evidence. But religious views are in for similar rough times as urges to commit many sins are traced back to genetic sequences and neuronal wiring patterns."

Deary me, haven't you been paying attention? What about, say, Pinker's book "The Blank Slate"? Hello, the rough times are here and certainly religion is fighting back as hard as it can. Will the implications be profound? Well, as things stand, I think they will be mostly negative. The return of the belief in magic says it all. From there one can only wait before the accompanying social order makes itself heard again. Think everything pre-Enlightenment and pre-Renaissance.

Randall Parker said at October 16, 2005 3:17 PM:


You erroneously state:

Liberal-democracy has won everywhere, hooray!

Iraq's democracy is quite illiberal. China does not have democracy. Russia's democracy becomes less liberal and less free every day. Do you think Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is a liberal? I don't.

How about Africa? How's liberal democracy doing there? It isn't. Liberal democracy is not on the march in most Muslim countries, the Central Asian "stans", Burma, and many other places.

Some of the places that are democracies are not terribly liberal.

Yes, read The Blank Slate, even went to a think tank conference on it.

Belief in magic is more common among lower IQ people. But what I'm interested in are the intellectuals. They are overwhelmingly liberal. What are the academics going to decide? They have far more influence per person than the superstitious folks with 90, 80, 70 IQs.

Mrs. Blessed said at October 18, 2005 9:08 PM:

You wrote: "But religious views are in for similar rough times as urges to commit many sins are traced back to genetic sequences and neuronal wiring patterns."

By "religious views" do you mean Christianity? Christianity has always promulgated the belief in an innate sinful nature. Showing that this nature arises from our genes instead of from an entity called "Satan" won't change the need to fight against it. Why do we have laws prohibiting murder? Once it is shown that we have a genetic predisposition towards committing murder, will those laws then be repealed? Why, then, should Christianity change it's stance on sin?

If anything, science will realign more closely with the Christian concept of man as a fallen, sinful creature rather than the Enlightenment-era romantic notion of man as a blank slate.

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