We have been fascinated by the concept of evolution and our ancestral ties with chimpanzees and gorillas. Movies like The Planet of Apes have tried to give an imaginative and fictional angle to the whole idea.
Young or not, if you are interested in exploring the evolutionary journey of human beings and know what the future has in store for our species, this is the perfect book for you.
The new adaptation of ‘The Third Chimpanzee’ is a reader-friendly, hardcore science book that will answer all your questions about evolution. For me, the most interesting parts were the honest comparisons of our species with our closest evolutionary relatives i.e. the chimpanzees.
Our genetic study has shown that we are more similar to primates. Human beings share 96.4 percent genes with orangutans, 97.7 percent with gorillas and 98.6 percent with chimpanzees.
Interestingly, we are humans with just a 1.4% difference in genetic makeup. This seems so fascinating given that only 1.4% of our DNA contributes to making us who we are: Humans. This is where our human ‘attributes’ come from, like language, arts, and technology.
Is the sophistication than just unique to us humans?
The progress we made, is it the result of our superiority on other animals?
The book answers such notions and questions that we have.
Diamond says that for many people, this is indeed a less clear and disturbing fact that our unique human capabilities and attributes are not so unique after all.
- In New Guinea, a species of birds called bower birds has shown great sophistication in design and décor. These birds create large nests and decorate them richly to attract a mate.
- Animals like velvet monkeys have shown great understanding and sensibility as humans. They use different warning calls unique to different groups of animals.
- Leafcutter ants produce leaves. They grow a fungus so they can consume it as food.
What is it then that separates us from animals? What is the reason that we, as a species, made it possible to civilize in a manner that no other species could?
Diamond answers these questions in the second chapter of the book.
Homo sapiens, unlike the previous species of humans, succeeded in developing language. Although the human species had been in the world for 46000 years before homo sapiens. But only homo sapiens had the right tools for speech (throat, larynx, etc).
Therefore, with the development of language, the human species advanced and learned more traits. The language was the base of their development in everything. Then came other modes of survival, like natural selection, and gathering food.
In the next part of the book, he talks about how natural and sexual selection paid an important role in forming racial characteristics. You can attribute a lot of racial characteristics to the environment but some characteristics (like skin color) cannot be explained.
Human beings predominantly chose agriculture as their primary method of growing and gathering food. Earlier scientists and historians believed that agriculture had an important role in the survival, nourishment, and development of mankind.
Diamond, however, believes that while it was a great source of food, hunting was a better method. He talks about civilizations with hunter-gatherers. According to him they worked less and were more well-nourished than the civilizations that focused on agriculture.
After this follows the very interesting chapters of the book. In the chapter about ‘Genocide’, Diamond says that genocide is not the product of a sick (psychopath) mind. Rather, it is very much a part of human nature. Our history on Earth shows that we have shown intolerance towards people like us with different races, religions, and beliefs.
He narrates many historical incidents about genocide. Like in 1800, when the British arrived in the Tasmanian island. The Tasmanians were hunter-gatherers, but they were less advanced in technology. Their island had a significant population of 5000. By the end of 1869, the British settlers had eliminated their entire population.
As time went on, men wherever they could keep wiping civilizations in the name of ‘correct’ religion, race and beliefs. According to Diamond, human beings not only act on their natural trait of ‘genocide’, but they also keep making excuses justifying their actions. This continues to the day in one form or another.
As human beings kept developing, populating ad expanding their footprints on the Earth, they didn’t hesitate to exploit the environment. Following the period of Enlightenment in the 18th century, it was believed that human beings are capable of living in their environment in a harmless way.
However, their way of living has harmed the lives of other species around them. We are the reason behind the extinction of animals and birds. Our ancestors have exterminated trees and converted woodlands to wastelands. Today, we know that as a society we pose a threat to our environment, and our planet is suffering due to our negligence.
Human beings as a species have evolved and advanced to thrive on Earth. But at the same time, our human traits and negligence make us responsible for harming our environment. For anyone looking for a quick, interesting and readable version of evolution and human nature, ‘The Third Chimpanzee’ is highly recommended.
Serving since 28th December 2008.