Book review: The naked ape

The naked ape is a classic. It’s about humans, but it’s written by a zoologist, who treats us as just another type of ape.

The premise is this: If you took the skin of one of each species of primate and examined them closely, there’s one that would stick out – the human. We’re not covered in hair, hence the naked ape. He then goes on to describe the myriad ways in which we resemble apes, physically, psycologically, socially, sexually, etc. It’s brilliant stuff.

It reminds me of a question asked in Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: What animal would you be, if you were an animal? Answer: You already are an animal.

9 thoughts on “Book review: The naked ape”

  1. To describe humans as just another animal is absurd. Like saying a dog is just another plant – like a barking cabbage or a running carrot. A Human has self consciousness unlike my dog…

  2. Thank you for your prompt response…

    Please point me to this Science which doesn’t bear me out…

    My proposition – Lets be old fashioned and divide the world into 4 bits:- Mineral, Plant, Animal, and Human

    1) “Mineral” has physical existence

    2) “Plant” has physical existence, also life but no consciousness (What in the world is “life”? – we all know what it is but we can’t point to it…)

    3) “Animal” has all of the above plus conciousness (What in the world is “consciousness”? – we all know what it is but we can’t point to it…)

    4) Human has all of the above plus SELF consciousness. It can be aware that it is aware and also be aware that it is using its awareness to investigate its own awareness.

    To assert that a chimpanzee can do this seems nutty…

    A Human has Animal characteristics (consciousness)
    An Animal has Plant characteristics (life)
    A Plant has Mineral characteristics (matter)

    Your approach seems reductionist:-

    Like saying there are no such things as beaches, there are only grains of sand, or

    Like saying there is no such thing as Hamlet, there are only sentences and letters. (What about the French translation of Hamlet – totally different words but exactly the same Hamlet.

    I am interested in your evidence for your assertion “…the science on this doesn

  3. Interesting.

    But have you ever considered that even if we did have that super-special consciousness/awareness you describe that no other animal has, then this would simply mean that we’re animals with consciousness?

    That’s what I believe we are – animals with more consciousness than any other known animal.

    As for research, there are plenty of studies that have found that eg. chimps and bonobos posses self-awareness and even traits like altruism.

  4. The consciousness that I’m talking about is not “super-special consciousness/awareness” its merely SELF consciousness. The ability to say “I am alive and I am me and I know that I am alive and me”

    If we are animals with more consciousness than any other other known animal then we might as well say that a cabbage is a rock with more life than any other known rock, or a dog is a carrot with more consciousness than any other known carrot..tee hee. Is this helpful? Is it helpful to say we are just special animals. Who does it help except zoologists?

    Self aware chimps (chimps are viscious) and bonobos (bonobos are friendly) may be borderline but Every human is self aware. I’ll grant that it may be a continuum but with DEFINITE demarcations. Humans are FUNDAMENTALLY different. Who knows there may be other beings (planets? nebulas?) who are more aware than us…

  5. Ah – but I think you need to examine one of your assumptions: You yourself use consciousness to distinguish humans from animals and then point to the fact that we have consciousness as proof that we are not animals.

    Why not just say that we are animals with consciousness. Not the only ones, but the ones with the most consciousness.

  6. Not all things need proof (unless you’re a reductionist). They are axiomatic and self-evident. Such as “I am conscious”. I do not assume I’m conscious. My being conscious is not a rational conclusion arrived at after a long period of logical analysis.

    What do you think I mean by the difference between consciousness and self-consciousness?

    You are asking me to agree with you but not giving any reason why I should. I cannot believe that you think a dog is a special kind of apple, a mushroom is a special kind of lake, or a human is a special kind of gorilla. Is this what you think?

    Jack the Cheerful Chimp

  7. I don’t believe that a dog is an apple. I do believe that humans are animals. Those two are not in the least bit synonymous.

    I thank you for our exchange so far, and I, personally, will agree to disagree with you.

  8. I have been toying with you. These ideas are not just mine but from a book I am reading which made mention of the Desmond Morris Naked Ape book. I Googled it and found you… You seem to be interested but cool to these mind shattering ideas. If you are interested the book is “A Guide for the Perplexed” by EF Schumacher who was a German economics Professor at age 22 in the 1930’s. He fled Nazi Germany and was interrned in UK as an enemy alien and subsequently worked as an economist for several decades in the highest echelons of the UK govt post war. His most famous book is “Small is Beautiful” about small human sized economic models. He died in 1977. With a CV like that he seems to deserve a bigger look and consideration of his critique of the irrational religion called “rational scientism”. Any all the best. Nice jousting with you.

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