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In our First Trust, we discuss some of the many similarities -- biological, emotional, and intellectual -- that clearly demonstrate the continuity of evolution not only in physical structure, but also in behavior. For those among us who do not believe in the theory of evolution, the anecdotes we have gathered together nevertheless provide compelling evidence of the many similarities in human and animal behavior. We can be proud that we are part of the animal kingdom.
Throughout recorded history the wise ones have known that we are a part of the animal kingdom. Native Americans and many other indigenous people of the world acknowledge their relationship with their brothers and sisters the four-footed ones and the winged ones and the finned ones. St. Francis of Assisi also described animals as his brothers and sisters, treating them with utmost tenderness and reverence. He rescued many creatures, from rabbits and lambs destined for slaughter to worms that were crossing the road. He empathized with them in sermons to the animals, birds, and fishes. The First Nation spiritual leader Chief Dan George urged his people, "If you talk to the animals, they will talk to you and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them, you will not know them. And what you do not know, you will fear. What one fears, one destroys."
Millions of people do not realize how closely connected we humans are with the rest of the animal kingdom. They do not realize that we ourselves are animals. Instead, they perceive a false reality in which humans stand on one side of an unbridgeable chasm and the rest of the animal kingdomstands on the other. Imagine a chimpanzee, so like us in so many ways, reaching out to us across that chasm. There is an unspoken question: "Will you acknowledge me as 'kin.'" If you dare look into his eyes and take hold of his hand, he will look back toward the other animal beings and then back to you with a question, "What about them? Don't they matter too?" Indeed, the great apes are like us in so many ways that they serve as ambassadors for all the other wonderful animals with whom we share the planet.
Of course, although we are animals, we are clearly unique ones. It is not just that we have a large and complex brain, but that somewhere in our evolutionary past we developed a sophisticated spoken language. Other animals with complex brains certainly have complex communication patterns, especially whales, dolphins, elephants, monkeys, and the great apes. Chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas even show the same lack of symmetry that humans do in a region of the brain (Broca's area) that is critical for speech production. In humans and these other three great apes, Broca's area is larger in the left cerebral hemisphere than it is in the right. But even these apes cannot, so far as we know, discuss the distant past, make joint plans for the distant future, teach their children about things or events that are not present, discuss an idea back and forth so that it can grow and change in accordance with the collective wisdom of the group, or ask why they are here. Nor, we suspect, do they worry about whether they have souls. Nevertheless, in so many basic ways our kinship with the world of animals, especially with the mammals, is striking. And nowhere is it more striking than withchimpanzees and the other great apes.
We share about 98.7 percent of our genes with chimpanzees, 97.7 with gorillas, and 96.4 with orangutans. We could have a blood transfusion from a chimpanzee if the blood types matched. They can catch or be infected experimentally with all of our contagious diseases. There are striking similarities in the structure of the brain and the central nervous system of apes and humans, and there are many similarities in social behavior and cognitive skills. Indeed, chimpanzees and the other great apes demonstrate many abilities that we used to think were unique to ourselves. They communicate by means of many different calls and also posture and gestures such as kissing, embracing, holding hands, tickling, swaggering, throwing, shaking a fist, punching, and so forth. They are capable of compassion and true altruism, but, like us, they also have a dark side to their nature and can exhibit brutality, and chimpanzees may even engage in a kind of primitive war. Although they have not developed a spoken language like ours (and cannot learn to speak words because of anatomical differences in the larynx), they have cognitive abilities that enable them to learn (in captivity) a variety of human languages, such as American Sign Language. They can make abstractions, generalize, and use abstract symbols in their communications. Some captive individuals enjoy drawing and painting.
Desmond Morris made a study of chimpanzee art back in the early 1960s and, as a joke, persuaded a London art gallery to hang one or two, by "An Unknown Artist." Critics, who spent a lot of time interpreting the meaning of this new art form, were somewhat embarrassed when they discoveredthe true identity of the unknown artists
As a result of long-term studies on different populations of chimpanzees across Africa, we now know that there are differences in certain behaviors, such as tool using, that appear to be passed on from one generation to the next through observation and imitation -- one definition of culture. Nor is cultural variation unique to chimpanzees. In a group of Japanese macaques living on Koshima Island, a young female, Imo, discovered that she could remove the sand from sweet potatoes by washing them in the sea. Other young ones imitated her, then their mothers and other young monkeys followed suit, and eventually the whole troop adopted this useful behavior. Subsequently, Imo learned to throw the corn that was scattered on the sand for the monkeys into the sea ...
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