Here’s a YouTube rendition of the slideshow I presented at Nerd Nite DC in 2016. The script follows the video. A shorter version is here.
A woman recently came up to tell me that bonobos were her favorite primates. “Not humans?” I asked, but I knew better. Thanks to primatological popularizers, bonoboism has become widespread. But people looking for a “hippie chimp” are lionizing the wrong species. Continue reading →
Spotting my bonobo-themed T-shirt, a woman recently approached to say that they were her favorite primates.
“Not humans?” I asked, but I knew better. Thanks to Frans de Waal and other primatological popularizers, bonoboism has become widespread. I’m part of the problem, having written a novel about it as a metaphor for anthropology. But people looking for a “hippie chimp” are lionizing the wrong species. Continue reading →
Well, at least it’s a contender: About half of my novel, Bonobo!, takes place in a fictionalized version of Mazatlán. While the book turned into something broader, I began it as a way to share my knowledge about Mazatlán, where I performed ethnographic research on everyday life over a span of several years in the 1990s.
Or, if you find a plot unnecessary and prefer to cut to the chase (although actually there’s no chase), try my nonfiction work: Moral Compromises in Mazatlán.
Or read both! They’re quite affordable. At least something about your Spring Break in Mexico could be redeeming.
To some evolutionary researchers, parental love is a mechanism to foster the transfer of genes through successive generations. Feeling emotionally attached to our children, most humans feed and protect our offspring and prepare them to thrive as adults, including as breeders. But when did this start for fathers – did our common ancestor with chimps and bonobos do the same? Recent research among chimpanzees suggests that the answer is yes. Continue reading →
Here‘s interesting research on the propensity of humans and other primates to spot snakes, even sneaky ones. Apparently, there’s a Snake Detection Theory that says that our vision has evolved to discern camouflaged but dangerous animals, particularly snakes. To test the Snake Detection Theory, researchers in Japan processed photos of various animals so that they were progressively more blurred; in this way, they could compare how much clarity was needed before research subjects could identify the animal. The other animals were supposedly nonthreatening ones, such as cats and birds. (Not everyone agrees!) They found that people saw snakes in photos that were blurrier than the ones in which they first recognized other animals.
Assuming that the images were truly equivalent, this result bolsters the Snake Detection Theory. And this suggests that, in the evolutionary past, our ancestors lived with individuals who didn’t have this snake-seeing facility and thus died of snakebites before reproducing and passing on their genes.
The list of distinctive human abilities keeps getting shorter. Once again, our close cousin the chimpanzee has chipped away a bit of our uniqueness. A new study demonstrates that these great apes possess the ability to mix elements of existing techniques to improve efficiency—a part of “cumulative culture.” Continue reading →
This Saturday evening I’ll unspool an addendum to my novel Bonobo! at Nerd Nite DC. The show starts at 6:30 PM at DC9 Nightclub. Other talks will address head transplants (looks bloody riveting), the screwworm fly, and lesbian vampires. Here’s the blurb for my part:
Our Inner Ape is Human
People share 98+ percent of their genome with chimps and bonobos. So which represents our true human nature? Are we inevitably patriarchal and warlike, like the abstemious chimps – or possibly matriarchal and peaceable, like the randy bonobos? In short, will having sex with everyone all the time produce the new millennium? Maybe! But studying other apes isn’t the way to answer the question. I’ll explain why, to understand human possibilities, we should focus on … people. Along the way, I’ll touch on the evolution, genetics, and comparative behavior of chimps, bonobos, and humans.