Thursday, May 18, 2006

Monkey Love?

Today's widespread science news concerns a hypothesis that humans and chimpanzees not only share a common ancestor, but may have an overlapping history that involves a long period of "hybridization" prior to the evolutionary paths that lead to the current disparate species. The skeptical quote from the Harvard biological anthropologist, who is not associated with the study, is absolutely priceless:
"My problem is imagining what it would be like to have a bipedal hominid and a chimpanzee viewing each other as appropriate mates — not to put it too crudely."
(Although priceless, the sentiment in the quote is not really informative. For example, when dealing with genetic precursors to both species, can bipedalism be assumed to be a valid trait? Is it safe to assume that one of the hypothesized sub-species had a more pronounced posterior than the other? He could just as easily tried to imagine that a "medicinal herb" was used as some sort of proto-date-rape drug -- not to put it too crudely...)

Also from the "Monkey Love" department is an older article about Harry Harlow and his experiments with Rhesus monkeys. These experiments demonstrated that touch and physical intimacy are more important to a developing infant that mere nourishment. I, for one, wonder how the subject of an ongoing attempt by an MIT Media Lab professor to catalog the development of speech in his infant son (by building a giant electronic archive of almost every waking moment of his pre-verbal life) would feel about this. And we wonder why the former chief of the Media Lab is off advocating wind-up laptops...

*: Yes, I know that chimps are properly apes, and not monkeys. However, "ape love" just doesn't sound funny, does it?