Illumination by contrast
Posted by aogThursday, 21 April 2005 at 20:08 TrackBack Ping URL

Powerline writes

This AP headline caught my eye: Expert: Apes May Be Key to Human Nature. This strikes me as odd. I would think that humans provide better clues to human nature than apes, and we have thousands of years of human history, not to mention six billion or so living humans, to draw on for information about human nature. But the idea of drawing conclusions about humans from observations of apes has a long history, and shows no signs of going away. Why is that? I suspect it’s because some people don’t like what human history and human behavior tell us about human nature.

No, not really. It is often that case that if one wants to understand subject A, it is very informative to look at subject B which is very similar but not the same. The most common example is that learning a foreign langauge generally leads to a deeper understanding of one’s native language. Both the similarities and contrasts illuminate principles that would otherwise remain hidden. My own programming skills in my preferred languages are enhanced by my knowledge of a variety of other programming languages, more so than I could be had I worked not worked in those other languages.

That said, I concur with Powerline that the fascination with Bonobos is likely a result of the politically correct nature of Bonobo society. But that doesn’t mean that the basic concept is bogus.