Tuesday, March 07, 2006

"...ybaB, noitulovE s'tI"


From the Daily Mail:

"An extraordinary family who walk on all fours are being hailed as the breakthrough discovery which could shed light on the moment Man first stood upright. Scientists believe that the five brothers and sisters found in Turkey could hold unique insights into human evolution. The Kurdish siblings, aged between 18 and 34 and from the rural south, 'bear crawl' on their feet and palms."

If this is for real, color me stupefied...and intrigued. You see, I studied human evolution in college. I even went to Louisiana for a summer to do some experiments on chimpanzee cognition. I've always been fascinated with the way the human mind/brain came to be the way it is. What I learned down there was two-fold:

First, that, contrary to the public imagination of chimps, they really aren't all that smart, according to human standards. My study involved a relatively simple setup where the chimpanzees had to use a concept of "weight" in order to decide which one of two objects would have a certain, desired effect (based on it's weight). A three year old child can do it easily. The chimps could not. That's not to say their "dumb", but simply that their minds are structured in a way that is completely different from ours.

Second, despite what certain popular philosophers and students of such things have said (and as a result are awarded demi-god status in hippyville), chimpanzees are not the equivalent of human children parading around jungles wearing monkey suits. There are fundamental differences in the way they think and the way we do. You can't teach an ape to speak, walk, or form primitive human societal relations, although you can teach them to smoke:


and drink (read this story, it's sad, morbidly entertaining and interesting).

So basically the point is: the fact that these Kurdish human beings have a genetic condition that makes them walk on all fours (and apparently reverses the evolutionary process) is fascinating stuff in the chimpanzee/human evolution research world. It will perhaps shed some light on the way that the human species diverged from chimpanzees, which could in turn give us clues into the cognitive evolution that was taking place. If it does, not only will it simply be interesting at face value, but it may provide insight into a whole range of things that will prove a boon for humankind's eternal quest for self knowledge. Plus, the whole idea of "backward evolution" teamed with research in genetics could yield some truly amazing things. The kinds of things that are becoming possible with genetics and computer technology are at once frightening and exhilerating. But you don't have to take my word for it... check out this amazing book and this amazing website, they will likely rock your foundations.

You will probably being hearing about the discoveries made from studying these people in the months ahead...stay tuned.


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