Our capacity to grasp universals and natural laws sets us apart from the other animals, and, in that sense, we are apart from nature. Human beings in some mysterious way transcend space and time; through science, philosophy, and art, we rise above nature. We live in time, yet touch the timeless.

Several years ago, Fortuna, an old Indian woman, invited my wife and me to a dance at the San Ildefonso Pueblo, about twenty miles from Santa Fe, New Mexico. At the beginning of the ancient ritual, the Hunters with sprays of evergreen at wrist and knee, stood in a line opposite the Hunted, stripped to their waists and painted with symbols, and wearing headdresses of green twigs and horn. Fortuna explained to us that the Hunters renounced enmity toward all animals and begged the Hunted to sacrifice their lives, so human beings could continue living. Toward the end of the dance, I recalled that Thomas Aquinas argued that the powers of cogitation and memory are not absent in animals, but they are more perfect in humans.[1]

Animals: Mere Machines

I knew that unlike the Pueblo Indians “most biologists and psychologists tend, explicitly or implicitly, to treat most of the world’s animals as mechanisms, complex mechanisms to be sure, but unthinking robots nonetheless.”[2] René Descartes (1596-1650), who first proposed that animals were nothing but intricate machines, saw no need to invoke conscious awareness to explain their behavior: “Since art is the imitator of nature, and since man is capable of fabricating various automata in which there is motion without any cogitation, it seems reasonable that nature should produce her own automata, far more perfect in their workmanship, to wit all the brutes.”[3] In his Treatise on Man, Descartes developed a strictly mechanistic theory of animal behavior, postulating that invisible but corporeal particles called animal spirits are excited by the movements of the senses and course through tiny pores into the brain, where they flow through nerves to instigate muscle contraction, thereby causing the movements of the animals, all according to the laws of mechanics and all without the intervention of awareness on the animal’s part.[4] He compared the animal body to fountain statues which, powered by hydraulic mechanisms, give the semblance of self-initiated movement.[5]

In his Description of the Human Body, Descartes argued that there is no more need of a soul in animals to explain their movements than there is for “a soul in a clock which makes it tell the time.”[6] All takes place according to the disposition and arrangement of the animal’s parts. According to Descartes, only the human soul thinks, feels, and perceives; no other animal has an interior life.[7]

In the nineteenth century, Descartes’ theory became biology’s investigative program for animal behavior. Biologist T.H. Huxley wrote an essay, in 1874, defending the Cartesian hypothesis: “Brute animals are mere machines or automata, devoid not only of reason, but of any kind of consciousness…. What proof is there that brutes are other than a superior race of marionettes, which eat without pleasure, cry without pain, desire nothing, know nothing, and only simulate intelligence as a bee simulates a mathematician?”[8]

Huxley maintained that even if awareness exists in animals, it would arise only as a side effect of the mechanism of their bodies and would be incapable of causing anything in the animal’s behavior:

The consciousness of brutes would appear to be related to the mechanism of their body simply as a collateral product of its working, and to be as completely without any power of modifying that working as the steam-whistle which accompanies the work of a locomotive engine is without influence upon its machinery. Their volition, if they have any, is an emotion indicative of physical changes, not a cause of such changes.[9]

Every morning a coyote snoops around my garden. In a Cartesian cosmos, Wile E. Coyote is a machine that eats without pleasure, cries without pain, and desires nothing. See illustration.[10]

Today, the Cartesian program has been extended to include humans. After the mapping of the human genome, the new rage is to explain all human behavior in terms of genes and brain function, not just physical traits such as left or right handedness and tongue curling, folding, and rolling, but moral virtues such as generosity, courage, and temperance. Genomania purports to explain human behavior by genetic variation. According to the new phrenologists, Evel Knievel attempted unsuccessfully to vault his Harley-Davidson XR-750 over thirteen parked Pepsi trucks because he possessed a gene that increased risk-taking.

Assistant professors seeking tenure, researchers pursuing a Nobel Prize, and evolutionary psychologists hoping to be the next Darwin are kicking the bushes in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Berkeley, California, in search of the genes that determine temperament, emotional responses, levels of aggression, and, of course, our most revered moral choices. For most neuroscientists, human conscious is like “the steam-whistle which accompanies the work of a locomotive engine, [but] is without influence upon its machinery.”

Alexis de Tocqueville, in 1840, made the shrewd observation that once materialists “think they have sufficiently established that they are no better than brutes, they seem as proud as if they had proved that they were gods.”[11] Undoubtedly, in the twenty-first century Tocqueville would have written “no better than brutes or a collection of genes.”

To rid biology of the principal error introduced by Descartes—Homo sapiens is a unique animal because the other animals have no more of an interior life than a clock does—entomologist Edward Wilson introduced, in 1975, “the new discipline of sociobiology, defined as the systematic study of the biological basis of all forms of social behavior, in all kinds of organisms, including man.”[12] For complicated reasons that may have more to do with intellectual marketing than with science, sociobiology became evolutionary psychology. However, before Wilson introduced sociobiology the Cartesian understanding of animals as mere machines was proven wrong by field studies of chimpanzees.

Animal Tool-Making

When I was an undergraduate studying physics and mathematics at the University of Michigan, I took Anthropology 101 from Leslie White. Somewhere in my class notes, lost years ago, is the sentence “The most satisfactory definition of man from the scientific point of view is probably Man the Tool-maker,”[13] a definition proved wrong by Jane Goodall fifteen years before I heard it.*

As a twenty-six-year-old woman with no research experience, Goodall ignored the prevailing opinion that no human could ever grow close to wild chimpanzees and went to Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania, in 1960, to study the species that turned out to be closest to Homo sapiens. Shortly before her year’s research grant was up, she observed a male chimpanzee, one she called David Graybeard, insert stalks of grass into termite holes and then remove them from the hole covered with termites that he relished eating. On several occasions, David Graybeard “picked small leafy twigs and prepared them for use by stripping off the leaves. This was the first recorded example of a wild animal not merely using an object as a tool, but actually modifying an object and thus showing the crude beginnings of toolmaking.”[14]

Informed by a telegram of her discovery, Goodall’s mentor, Louis Leakey, was “wildly enthusiastic” and arranged for the National Geographic Society to grant funds for another year’s research.[15] Leakey said, “We must now redefine man, redefine tool, or accept chimpanzees as human!”[16]

Goodall’s observations at Gombe challenged more than the definition of Homo sapiens. Biologists knew that certain birds use twigs, sticks, or cactus spines to dislodge insects and grubs from trees, the most famous being the woodpecker finch of the Galapagos Islands. Such tool-using behavior was assumed to be instinctual, a view later confirmed by a 2001 study that demonstrated that the use of twigs and cactus spines by the woodpecker finch is not acquired through social learning, since juveniles were able to use tools without having any contact with adults.[17] The researchers “found no evidence that woodpecker finches, in contrast to chimpanzees, learn tool-use socially.”[18] Goodall had observed that the “actual tool-using patterns practiced by the Gombe Stream chimpanzees are learned by the infants from their elders.”[19] If we define culture as a “way of doing” that is transmitted to young by imitating their parents and others, not by genetics, then chimpanzees and possibly other nonhuman primates have a culture.

Humans and chimpanzees obviously have in common all the defining characteristics of the genus mammal, but surprisingly we and our distant cousins share approximately 99 percent of our DNA [20] and the capacity to make tools. In Goodall’s phrase, chimpanzees are “in the shadow of man” or in Aquinas’ terminology, humans possess toolmaking in a more perfect way. That we humans can bring out the full potentiality hidden in matter, advance the building of bird nests and beaver dams to architecture and engineering, and the gathering of nuts to farming needs no elaboration.

A more extended definition of culture includes the habits of feeling as well as doing that are passed on from one generation to the next, in contrast to instincts, which are genetically determined. Hence, to see if nonhuman primates have culture in a fuller way, we must examine the emotions of higher animals.

The Emotional Life of Animals

Charles Darwin published, in 1872, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. His goal in this comprehensive book is to prove that feelings are not unique to the human being by demonstrating that animals and man express rage, joy, fear, affection, suffering, and the other emotions in the same way. To take just the case of anger. “When a dog is on the point of springing on his antagonist, he utters a savage growl; the ears are pressed closely backwards, and the upper lip is retracted out of the way of his teeth, especially of his canines.”[21] Humans, too, in anger display their canine teeth, and when sneering give a “thoroughly canine snarl.”[22] Angered chimpanzees also exhibit bared canine teeth. Unlike dogs and chimpanzees, humans can modify their instinctual expression of anger: “While the innate expression of anger involves baring of the teeth as in preparation for biting, many people clinch their teeth and compress their lips as though to soften or disguise the expression. People of different social backgrounds and different cultures may learn quite different facial movements for modifying innate expressions.”[23]

Since Darwin’s day, primatologists have learned that unlike monkeys and virtually all nonhuman primates, chimpanzees console others in distress and seek consolation themselves when frightened or stressed. Goodall noted as a general rule, “When a chimpanzee is suddenly frightened he frequently reaches to touch or embrace a chimpanzee nearby… Both chimpanzees and humans seem reassured in stressful situations by physical contact with another individual.”[24]

Michael Seres, a research technician at the Yerkes Field Station in Lawrenceville, Georgia, repeatedly witnessed that “once the dust has settle after a fight [between two chimpanzees], combatants are often approached by uninvolved bystanders. Typically, the bystanders hug and touch them, pat them on the back, or groom them for a while. These contacts are aimed at precisely those individuals expected to be most upset by the preceding event.”[25] Frans de Waal, a primatologist, amassed examples of the empathic capacity of the chimpanzee and its closest relative, the bonobo: Juveniles interrupted their rambunctious play each time they got close to a terminally sick companion; an old male led a blind female around by the hand; an adult daughter brought fruit down from a tree to her aging mother, who was too old to climb.[26]

Unlike the limited empathy of chimpanzees, human acts of kindness extend beyond the troop and the species, and are incredibly numerous, ranging from animal lovers rescuing abused cats and dogs to an entire village in the French Alps saving thousands of Jews from extermination in Nazi death camps.[27]

Although chimpanzees mostly eat fruit, they love the taste of meat. Their principle source of meat is the red colobus monkey. In the 1990s, the chimps in an area called Ngogo in Kilbe National Park, Uganda, were killing up to half the red colobuses every year. As a result, their population fell by 89 percent between 1975 and 2007, as documented by two anthropologists, David Watts and John Mitani.[28] “I don’t think chimpanzees are capable of thinking about a long-term future,” says Watts. “They’re just responding to what they encounter and what they see.”[29] Unlike the chimpanzees, we can think about the long-term future of the earth and its species, but usually we do not—witness the extinction of the passenger pigeons and the coming disasters of climate change.

Violence is constantly present in chimpanzee life. The leading cause of death both at zoos and in the wild is infanticide.[30] When a female with an infant attempts to join a new troop, she is allowed in, but her baby is killed by the adult males of her new community. Goodall observed the dark side of chimpanzee life. In a letter from the Gombe Stream National Park to her family back home in England, she described a “barbarous murder” committed by two female chimpanzees, mother and daughter. The two seized a three-week-old chimpanzee from his mother’s arms and “deliberately killed [him], biting into his forehead. Then, the cannibalistic family fed on his remains for five hours.”[31]

Waal reports that one troop of chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream National Park split into two communities, eventually becoming two separate troops:

These chimpanzees had played and groomed together, reconciled after squabbles, shared meat, and lived in harmony. But the factions began to fight nonetheless. Shocked researchers watched as former friends now drank each other’s blood. Not even the oldest community members were left alone. An extremely frail-looking male, Goliath, was pummeled for twenty minutes and dragged about. Any association with the enemy was ground for attack.[32]

Sadly, humans have perfected violence. In the twentieth century, Nation-States, large and small, waged war among themselves, some against their own citizens. The power of the new gods enhanced by modern science and technology produced a century of political murder. A partial, conservative catalogue of the horrors is mind-boggling, unbelievable, but undeniable. Deaths: World War I (military only): 9,700,000; Russian Revolution and Civil War: 9,000,000; forced collectivization: 3,500,000 Ukrainian peasants; Russian gulags: 1,700,000 political prisoners; Spanish Civil War: 1,200,000; World War II (military and civilian): 51,000,000; Nazi camps: 6,000,000 Jews and 6,000,000 Slavs, Gypsies, and political prisoners; Japanese Rape of Nanking: 300,000 Chinese; Allied bombing of Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne, and Dresden: 500,000 German civilians; Hiroshima and Nagasaki: 210,000 Japanese civilians; Vietnam War (military and civilian): 5,000,000.[33]

Social Plasticity

I used to think that except for Homo sapiens nature gave every species a complete way of life. My paradigm example was the rhinoceros. By nature, a rhinoceros “knows” what to eat, how to live in a herd, and when to breed. Nature even regulates a rhino’s emotions to suit its needs. An adult male rhino, in mating season, marks out territory with its urine and dung. He occupies the center of his territory and aggressively chases away any male rhino that challenges him; however, a male rhino must leave its territory for water and then out of necessity crosses the territories of other adult males. When a rhino intrudes into another rhino’s territory for water, he becomes submissive. The farther a rhino strays from the center of his territory the more submissive he becomes. Thus, the aggression of the male rhino is regulated by nature. Instinct perfectly adjusts anger and fear for the rhino.[34] Similarly, maternal emotions in the female rhino are triggered or inhibited by instincts tailored to the animal’s needs and way of life.

No wonder I thought that every animal has a complete life rigidly determined by nature, but the baboons proved me wrong. Robert Sapolsky, a primatologist and neuroscientist, spent many summers in the Serengeti ecosystem in East Africa. He admits that baboons are “often violent and abusive, so that the weak suffer at the canines of the strong.”[35] One summer, the baboon troop adjacent to his study group discovered a deep garbage pit used by a tourist lodge. The neighboring troop took to forging daily in the dump, eating discarded salads, roast beef, and plum pudding. Somehow the baboons in his troop learned about the feasting at the garbage dump, and six of the most aggressive males would each morning head for the dump, where they competed with fifty or sixty baboons from the other troop.

Not long after, tuberculosis broke out among the garbage-dump baboons. In humans, tuberculosis is a chronic disease the slowly wastes a person, but in nonhuman primates, TB is a wildfire, spreading rapidly, killing within a week. Sapolsky and Kenyan wildlife veterinarians found the source of the disease. The meat inspector at the lodge had been bribed to approve tubercular cows for slaughter, and their organs were discarded into the garbage pit and then consumed by the baboons.

All the males of Sapolsky’s troop who had raided the dump died. Emotionally distraught by the devastation of his troop, Sapolsky switched to a study of a new troop miles away and did not return to his old troop for six years, and then only because he wanted to show his soon-to-be-wife the baboons of his youth. He was greeted by a pleasant surprise. He saw two adult males grooming each other, a rare event, except in this troop. The aggressive males had all died off, producing a ratio of 2:1 females to males, instead of the previous ratio of 1:1. The predominance of less combative females reduced substantially the aggression of the social life of the troop. In addition, Sapolsky surmised that the adolescent males who “had grown up in typical baboon troops and then joined this one [had] adopted the style of low aggression and high affiliation. The troop’s social culture” was transformed, as well as the emotional life of the males.[36]

When I read about the social plasticity of baboons, I was amazed. I, of course, knew that human life is extraordinarily varied and suspected that the radical changes in human culture are accidental, too, probably the unintended outcomes wrought by war, immigration, and technology. While the cultural inertia resistant to change is always enormous, individual humans, unlike baboons, possess an almost unlimited freedom to adopt a new way of life. Here, I am not speaking solely about saints and spiritual masters, but about ordinary people like you and me.

Consider C.P. Ellis, a 53-year-old man, once the president of the Ku Klux Klan chapter of Durham, North Carolina. Here is how Ellis describes his life [37]:

My father worked in a textile mill in Durham. He died at forty-eight years old. It was probably from cotton dust. Back then we never heard of brown lung. I was about seventeen years old and had a mother and sister depending on somebody to a livin’. It was just barely enough insurance to cover his burial. I had to quit school and go to work. I was about eight grade when I quit.

After several years… I got married. We had to have children. Four. One child was born blind and retarded, which was an additional expense…. All my life, I had work, never a day without work, worked all the overtime I could get and still could not survive financially. I began to say there’s somethin’ wrong with this country. I worked my butt off and just never seemed to break even.

I really began to get bitter. I didn’t know who to blame. I tried to find somebody. I began to blame it on black people. I had to hate somebody…. The natural person for me to hate would be black people, because my father before me was a member of the Klan. As far as he was concerned, it was the savior of the white people…. I joined the Klan, went from member to chaplain, from chaplain to vice-president, from vice president to president. The title is exalted cyclops.

The majority of ‘em [Klansmen] are low-income whites, people who really don’t have a part in something. They have been shut out as well as the blacks. Some are not very well educated either. Just like myself.

This was the time when the civil rights movement was really beginnin’ to peak. The blacks were beginin’ to demonstrate and picket downtown stores. I never will forget some black lady I hated with a purple passion. Ann Atwater. Every time I’d go downtown, she’s be leadin’ a boycott. How I hated… [that] big fat, heavy woman.

Then something happened. The state AFL-CIO received a grant from the Department of HEW, a $78,000 grant: how to solve racial problems in the school system. I got a telephone call from the president of the state AFL-CIO. ‘We’d like to get some people together from all walks of life.’ I said: ‘All walks of life? Who you talkin’ about?’ He said: ‘Blacks, whites, liberals, conservatives, Klansmen, NAACP people.’

[Ellis and Ann Atwood, the black woman he hated with a purple passion, were appointed as co-chairpersons of the school committee to improve racial relations.]

One day Ann and I went back to the school and we sat down. We began to talk and just reflect. Ann said, ‘My Daughter came home cryin’ every day. She said her teacher was makin’ fun of me in front of the other kids.’ I said, ‘Boy, the same thing happened to my kid. White liberal teacher was makin’ fun of Tim Ellis’ father, the Klansman. In front of other peoples. He came home cryin’.’ At this point, I begin to see, here we are, two people from the far ends of the fence, havin’ identical problems, except hers bein’ black and me bein’ white. From that moment on, I tell ya, that gal and I worked together good. I begin to love the girl, really.

 The amazing thing about it, her and I, up to that point, had cussed each other, bawled each other, we hated each other. Up to that point, we did not know each other. We didn’t know we had things in common.

When the news came over the radio that Martin Luther King was assassinated… [I] set down and listened to the tapes of Martin Luther King. I listen to it and tears come to my eyes ‘cause I know what he’s sayin’ now. I know what’s happenin’.


Thus far, I have proceeded more or less like a typical neuroscientist, primatologist, or biologist, ignoring the obvious—human beings possess language and no other animal does. Animals do have the shadow of language. Ants communicate through smell, bees through dance, and chimpanzees through sound and gesture. Is animal communication a diminished version of human language?

The prevailing view among scientists in the 1960s was that chimpanzees had to have the capacity for language because human beings are not unique and evolution proceeds by small, incremental steps and hence no enormous gap can exist between chimpanzees and humans. The reason given that chimpanzees cannot speak a rudimentary version of English or German is that chimpanzees lack tongue flexibility and a resonant larynx; consequently, they cannot form the vowels and constants of human languages. R. Allen Gardner and Beatrix Gardner, two University of Nevada psychologists, hit upon a brilliant idea—teach chimpanzees American Sign Language.

The Gardners claimed their chimpanzee, Washoe, a female, used more than eighty-five signs after three years’ training [38] and even coined new words; she signed “water bird,” after seeing a swan.[39] Francine Patterson followed this sign language approach with Koko, a female gorilla.[40] Skeptics, however, were unconvinced.

To investigate if chimpanzees can truly learn sign language, psychologist Herbert Terrace organized an elaborate project.[41] At a cost of over $250,000, with four years’ labor, Terrace and sixty other teachers attempted to teach American Sign Language to an infant male chimpanzee, nicknamed Nim Chimpsky, a playful taunt of Noam Chomsky, the founder of modern linguists, who insisted that language is innate and uniquely human. This project, the best documented of its kind to date, produced over forty video-tape hours of Nim signing and more than 2,000 teachers’ reports.[42] Analyzing the 19,000 recorded signs produced by Nim, Terrace found “no evidence of lexical regularities,” no sentences, no grammar.[43] Nim’s numerous long strings of signs had no syntax, not even linking an adjective to a noun. Nim always combined signs in a series of repetitions with little new information and much redundancy. After his extensive analysis of Nim’s signing, Terrace concluded, “Each instance of presumed grammatical competence could be explained adequately by simple nonlinguistic processes.”[44]

In the 1960s, astrophysicist Carl Sagan and many other scientists hoped to read the diary of a chimpanzee to discover the interior life of one of our fellow creatures. What they would have read were pages and pages of Nim’s longest combination of signs, for example, “Give orange me give eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you,” and such like “sentences,” repeated again and again. The illustration [45] shows a chimpanzee supposedly meditating upon such profound thoughts.

Terrace also analyzed the signing of Washoe and Koko and concluded that neither of them had learned sign language. The signing of both lacked syntax and their lengthy strings of signs did not convey more meaning. Terrace pointed out that “Washoe may have simply been answering the question, what that?, by identifying correctly a body of water and a bird, in that order. Before concluding that Washoe was relating the sign water to the sign bird, one must know whether she regularly placed an adjective (water) before, or after, a noun (bird). That cannot be decided on the basis of a single anecdote, no matter how compelling that anecdote may seem to an English-speaking observer.”[46] One hundred percent of Koko’s signs were prompted or asked for by her teachers, in marked contrast with young children’s speech, which is more than eighty percent spontaneous and increases steadily in length, richness, and complexity.[47]

The work of Terrace convinced linguists that animal communication lacks syntax and thus is not a truncated version of human language. After a thorough survey of the evidence that chimpanzees possess the ability to learn sign language, linguists Thomas Sebeok and Jean Umiker-Sebeok concluded, “Real breakthroughs in man-ape communication are still the stuff of fiction.”[48] And Chomsky added, “It’s about as likely that an ape will prove to have language ability as that there is an island somewhere with a species of flightless birds waiting for human beings to teach them to fly.”[49] After Terrace’s exhaustive, critical analysis, the entire field of teaching sign language to nonhuman primates collapsed.[50]

Sapolsky gives the reason why nonhuman primates cannot speak. Only the brain of Homo sapiens has Broca and Wernicke areas, the regions needed for language production and comprehension, respectively. The brains of the other primates, including chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, and rhesus monkeys, have only the beginning of these structures, a mere cortical thickening.[51]

Because of the prevailing agenda of primatologists and evolutionary psychologists to establish that humans are “no better than brutes,” the obvious must be stated. A comparison of Nim’s signing—“give orange me give eat orange me eat orange”—with Terrace’s writing—“each instance of [Nim’s] presumed grammatical competence could be explained adequately by simple nonlinguistic processes”—is incontrovertible proof of the enormous gap that exists between us and nonhuman primates. Chimpanzees do not, and cannot, write peer-reviewed journal articles.

The only clue we have about life without language comes from Helen Keller. When she was 19 months old, an acute disease, possibly scarlet fever or meningitis, left her blind and deaf. Without language, Helen’s interior life had been limited to sense perception, motor skills, tactual memory, and associations. She had neither will nor intellect and had been “carried along to objects and acts by a certain blind natural impetus.” She discovered that without speech she had no self. Helen reports that “before my teacher came to me [to teach me sign language], I did not know that I am.”[52]

Incapable of language animals have no will, intellect, or self, and thus are not diminished human beings.

Homo Sapiens: The Unique Animal

The life of nonhuman primates is locked into time, into the cycle of birth, growth, reproduction, senescence, and death. Their perceptual life, like ours, is of the here and now. Their memories, like ours, are of past particulars. We share with chimpanzees primate toolmaking, nascent culture, and the desire to be consoled by touch, although we have perfected all these. The life we share with nonhuman primates and some other animals makes us a part of nature.

However, with language, we transcend space and time, even when we point and say “animal,” for “animal” is a universal category defined by an organism that moves itself and has sense perception. We wonder about nature, about causes and effects, about how birds fly, why the trees turn color in the fall, and how bees find their way back to the hive. Through language, reason, and experiment, we attempt to discover the unchanging first principles of natural phenomena that apply universally, not merely to one or two particular instances in space and time. The principle of inertia states that matter resists a change in motion, not that one James Brown found it difficult to move his suitcase from his front porch to his car in Atlanta, Georgia on July 17, 1958. The principle of inertia applies to everyday objects moving at ordinary speeds, no matter where the place and what the time are. Our capacity to grasp universals and natural laws sets us apart from the other animals, and, in that sense, we are apart from nature.

How strange that Homo sapiens, a flash in the pan in the history of the universe, can intellectually grasp the Big Bang and the Big Freeze, the beginning and the end of everything. Unlike zebras, kangaroos, and chimpanzees, human beings in some mysterious way transcend space and time; through science, philosophy, and art, we rise above nature. We live in time, yet touch the timeless. Compared with the other animals, we are special, wondrous creatures.

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* Much of what we absorb as truth as naïve students is material understood from a narrow perspective and pounded into our heads through a system of examinations and rewards. In this case, a physical anthropologist defines Homo sapiens physically as the tool-making animal. But in every culture, objects are sculpted, songs sung, and dances performed, all artifacts. Why choose the making of stone axes and bone scrapers to define humankind?

1 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica Part 1, Question 78, Article 4, Reply to objection 5.

2 Donald R. Griffin, “Animal Thinking,” American Scientist 72 (September-October 1984): 456.

3 René Descartes, Letter to Henry More, February 5, 1649, quoted by Mirko D. Grmek, “A Survey of the Mechanical Interpretations of Life from the Greek Atomists to the Followers of Descartes,” in Biology, History and Natural Philosophy, ed. Allen Breck and Wolfgang Yourgau (New York: Plenum, 1972), Note 8, Ch. 2. Italics added.

4 René Descartes, Treatise on Man, trans. Thomas S. Hall (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972), J21, 28-29.

5 Ibid., pp. 71, 21.

6 René Descartes, Description of the Human Body in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes: Volume 1, trans. John Cottingham (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 315.

7 Descartes, Treatise on Man, pp. 36-37.

8 Thomas H. Huxley, Method and Results (New York & London: 1925), pp. 216, 218.

9 Ibid., p. 240.

10 A coyote photographed by R.H. Barrett (2002), U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Wikimedia Commons.

11 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. George Lawrence (New York: Harper & Row, 1966 [1835, 1840]), p. 516.

12 Edward O. Wilson, On Human Nature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), p. 16.

13 Kenneth Oakley, Antiquity 30 (1956):4.

14 Jane Goodall, In the Shadow of Man (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt: 1971), p. 36. Italics in original.

15 Ibid., p. 37.

16 Louise Leakey, quoted by Jane Goodall and Phillip Berman, Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey (New York: Grand Central, 1999), p. 67.

17 S. Tebbich, M. Taborsky, B. Fessl, and D. Blomqvist, “Do woodpecker finches acquire tool-use by social learning?” Proceedings of the Royal Society London B (2001) 268 2189-2193.

18 Ibid., p. 2192.

19 Goodall, In the Shadow of Man, p. 236.

20 Kate Wong, “Tiny Genetic Differences between Humans and Other Primates Pervade the Genome,” Scientific American 311 (September 1, 2014).

21 Charles Darwin, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (London: John Murray, 1872), p. 51.

22 Ibid., p. 250.

23 Carroll E. Izard, Human Emotions (New York: Plenum, 1977), p. 6.

24 Goodall, In the Shadow of Man, p. 237.

25 Michael Seres, quoted by Frans B. M. de Waal, Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), pp. 59-60.

26 Frans de Waal, The Ape and the Sushi Master: Cultural Reflections of a Primatologist (New York: Basic Books, 2001), p. 327.

27 See the documentary Weapons of the Spirit (1987), director Pierre Sauvage.

28 David P. Watts and John C. Mitani, “Hunting and Prey Switching by Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) at Ngogo,” International Journal of Primatology 36 No. 4 (July 19, 2015).

29 David P. Watts, quoted Michael Marshall, “Chimpanzees over-hunt monkey prey almost to extinction,” BBC Earth (28 July 2015).

30 Frans de Waal, Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are (New York: Riverhead Books, 2006), p. 28.

31 Jane Goodall, Beyond Innocence: An Autobiography in Letters: The Later Years (New York: Mariner Books, 2002), p. 207.

32 Waal, Our Inner Ape, p. 142.

33 For a discussion of genocide in the century of mass murder, see Lewis M. Simons, “Genocide and the Science of Proof,” National Geographic Magazine (January, 2006): 28-35 and Timothy Snyder, “Holocaust: The Ignored Reality,” The New York Review of Books (July 16, 2009).

34 See Norman Owen-Smith, “Territoriality in the White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) Burchell,” Nature 231 (4 June 1971): 295.

35 Robert Sapolsky, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (New York: Penguin Press, 2017), p. 648.

36 Ibid., p. 651.

37 An edited excerpt from Studs Terkel, American Dreams: Lost and Found (New York: The New Press, 1980), pp. 200-211.

38 R. Allen Gardner and Beatrice T. Gardner, “Teaching Sign Language to a Chimpanzee,” Science 165 (15 August 1969): 664-672.

39 Roger S. Fouts, Deborah H. Fouts, and Thomas E. Van Cantfort, “The Infant Loulis Learns Signs from Cross-Fostered Chimpanzees,” in Teaching Sign Language to Chimpanzees, ed. R. Allen Gardner, Beatrix T. Gardner, and Thomas E. Van Cantfort (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1989), p. 281.

40 Francine G. Patterson, “Linguistic Capabilities of a Lowland Gorilla,” in Language Intervention from Ape to Child, ed. Richard L. Schiefelbush and John H. Hollis (Baltimore: University Park Press, 1979), pp. 325-356.

41 See the documentary Project Nim, director James Marsh, (BBC Films, 2011).

42 See Herbert S. Terrace, Nim (New York: Knopf, 1979) and also the documentary Project Nim.

43 Herbert S. Terrace, L. A. Petitto, R. J. Sanders, and T. G. Bever, “Can an Ape Create a Sentence?” Science 206 (23 November 1979): 900.

44 Ibid., p. 891.

45 “Contemplative Chimp” (2007) photographed by Antony Stanley, courtesy of Creative Commons 2.0.

46 Terrace et al., “Can an Ape Create a Sentence?”, pp. 895-896.

47 Ibid., pp. 894-894.

48 Thomas A. Sebeok and Jean Umiker-Sebeok, “Performing Animals: Secrets of the Trade,” Psychology Today 13 (November 1979): 91.

49 Noam Chomsky, quoted in Time, 10 March 1980, p. 57.

50 For a witty, short history of the efforts to teach American Sign Language to nonhuman primates, listen to the last twenty-five minutes of Robert Sapolsky, Human Behavioral Biology, Lecture 23 On Language.

51 Ibid. Human speech also requires the correct anatomy, see Philip Lieberman, “Why Human Speech Is Special,” The Scientist (July 1, 2018).

52 Helen Keller, The World I Live In (New York: The Century Co., 1904, 1908).

The featured image is “The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man” (1612) by Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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