Friday, November 6, 2015

Chimps, Apples; and Goggle Eyes

Scientists may have observed chimpanzees in different groups using a different sound when they mean "apple." Then again, maybe not. Either way, we're learning more about chimpanzees.

Pliobates cataloniae, an ape that lived where Catalonia is now, had a gibbon-like skull: but apparently is more closely related to today's gorillas, chimps, orangutans — and us.
  1. Chimps, Apples, and Science
  2. Pliobates Cataloniae: An Early Ape with "Goggle Eyes"

Being Human

Chimpanzees are not human, but they're a whole lot like us — right down to their DNA, that's 99% the same as ours. Small wonder that they look and act so much like us.

Like I've said before, at the cellular level, life is very modular. We share DNA with lots of critters. (February 6, 2015; January 9, 2015; December 26, 2014)

But humans aren't chimps, and chimps aren't human.

Some of the 1% of our genetic code that's uniquely human handles how our brains work: which I think explains why we're living on every continent except Antarctica,1 and keep developing new tools. (March 6, 2015; February 6, 2015)

More about chimps and humans:
Humans are animals "...endowed with reason, capable of understanding and discernment...." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1951)

We're not just animals, though. We're made in the image of God, with free will. We can think about our behavior, and decide what we do: or don't do. (Genesis 1:26-27: Catechism, 1700-1706, 1730)

Learning more about humanity's origins can "invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator." (Catechism, 283)

There are less-sensible options for dealing with reality. I've talked about God, clay, and getting a grip before.

I've also talked about science, technology, priorities, and ethics. A lot. Basically, Earth isn't flat; poetry isn't science; thinking is not a sin, and neither is curiosity. We've got brains and are expected to use them: wisely. (October 30, 2015; March 6, 2015; March 29, 2015)

Noticing the Universe

I discussed squeaking bonobos back in September. (September 11, 2015)

It's likely that functional flexibility, communicating with the same sound in different contexts, isn't a uniquely human characteristic.

I could be insulted, and decide to believe that the scientists are lying: or that Satan made the bonobos squeak.

That strikes me as being about as sensible as claiming that space probes have been crashing into the cosmic dome holding back the ocean of Heaven — causing disasters like the Great Flood of 1993.

As a Catholic, I must believe that God is making everything. (Catechism, 268, 279, 301, 302-305)

I must also believe that this creation is ordered, that it follows knowable physical laws: and that we can learn about those laws. (Catechism, 299)
"...Our human understanding, which shares in the light of the divine intellect, can understand what God tells us by means of his creation, though not without great effort and only in a spirit of humility and respect before the Creator and his work...."
(Catechism, 299)

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder's craft.

"One day to the next conveys that message; one night to the next imparts that knowledge.

"2 There is no word or sound; no voice is heard;

"3 Yet their report goes forth through all the earth, their message, to the ends of the world. God has pitched there a tent for the sun;"
(Psalms 19:2-5)

"4 Indeed, before you the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.

"But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook the sins of men that they may repent.

"For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.

"And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?"
(Wisdom 11:22-25)
Insisting that the Almighty must conform to what folks knew in Aristotle's day seems like the opposite of humility. Besides, I prefer seeking truth to stalwartly ignoring the magnificent universe that's being created by God. (September 4, 2015; March 29, 2015)

1. Chimps, Apples, and Science

(From Jamie Norris / University of York, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
"Debate over chimpanzee 'accent' study"
BBC News (November 3, 2015)

"A debate is unfolding among primatologists about a study, published in February, which reported that chimpanzees can adapt their grunts to communicate with new neighbours.

"It was based on a group of chimps that moved from a Dutch safari park to Edinburgh Zoo.

"Now, three researchers have written to the journal Current Biology suggesting the results don't stack up.

"The original team has responded, and stands by its findings and conclusions...."
The Dutch chimpanzees like apples: a lot. Before they were moved to Edinburgh, their call associated with apples was high-pitched: apparently an exclamation of excitement. The Edinburgh chimps had a different call associated with apples: lower-pitched, and apparently not so excited.

After several years of living with the Edinburgh chimps, the Dutch chimps started using the 'Edinburgh' call. At least, that's what the Townsend team said. The Dutch chimps apparently still liked apples a lot: what had changed was the sounds they made when apples were around.

This is a big deal, since up to now scientists figured the sounds chimps made were closely related to their emotional state: the chimps, not the scientists.

If the Townsend team is right, the apple-loving Dutch chimps changed their sounds and kept their emotional attachment to apples.

It looked like the chimps had something like language, and had been learning a new one after the move. Or maybe something else is going on.

As usual, there's more than one way to statistically slice and dice the data.

The Dutch and Edinburgh 'apple' calls may not be as different as the first team thought they were. It's possible that what Townsend's team observed was the Dutch chimps learning how to socialize with the established Edinburgh bunch.

Another complication is that if you listen to two or three chimps making sounds around apples, you'll hear two or three individual variations on a chimp's vocal reaction to the fruit.

Hats of to BBC News for not injecting 'drama:' and quoting Dr. Simon Townsend:
"...'There are a number of problems with the original study,' said Dr James Higham, from New York University. 'Some of these relate to the methods used, while others are fundamentally a misrepresentation of what the data actually show.'

"Warwick University's Dr Simon Townsend, who co-wrote the original study with colleagues in York and St Andrews, told the BBC: 'We think that we've addressed the points that they bring up. It's an interesting critique of our research - and this is exactly how science works.'..."
(BBC News)
My opinion is that "this is ... how science works," and that we have more to learn.

2. Pliobates Cataloniae: An Early Ape with "Goggle Eyes"

(From Marta Palmero/Institut Catala de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP)/Handout, via Reuters, used w/o permission.)
("The extinct ape Pliobates cataloniae, with the front and side view of its skull, is seen in this reconstruction illustration by the Catalan Institute of Paleontology near Barcelona."
"Fossil unearthed in Spain sheds light on ape evolution"
Will Dunham, Reuters (October 30, 2015)

"The well-preserved partial skull and skeleton of a gibbon-like creature that lived 11.6 million years ago in Spain is shedding new light on the evolutionary history of modern apes.

"Scientists on Thursday announced the discovery in Catalonia of fossil remains of a small, fruit-eating female ape that lived in a warm, wet forested region teeming with animals including elephant relatives, rhinos and saber-toothed predators.

"They gave the ape, weighing 9-11 pounds (4-5 kg), the scientific name Pliobates cataloniae and the nickname 'Laia.'..."
This critter lived about 11,600,000 years ago in what's now Spain. Scientists have enough — 70 bones or bone fragments, including most of the skull — to get a pretty good idea of what Pliobates cataloniae looked like.

The head is gibbon-like, including "goggle" sockets for the eyes; but "Laia" had shorter arms and hands than today's gibbons.

More Pliobates cataloniae, the Spanish ape:
The size was a surprise: looks like the early apes, some at least, were smaller than scientists previously thought.

DNA analysis of today's primates shows that gibbons and great apes/Hominidae parted ways 15,900,000 to 17,600,000 years back. I gather that what my old high school textbooks called "great apes" are called Pongids these days.

We've learned a lot about humanity's story since Anaximander and Empedocles speculated that today's critters — humans included — had changed since the world's beginning: quite a bit of it since I started paying attention.

I like living in a world where we keep learning more about ourselves and the universe. Not everyone does, and I've been over that before:

1 Antarctica's population is about 1,000 during winter, 4,000 during summer: technicians and scientists at research stations there, plus a few summer tourists. Humans don't live in Antarctica yet, in the sense of raising families there.

Humanity's most distant outpost so far is the International Space Station: in continuous operation since November 2, 2000. As I've said before, humans are curious, and move around. A lot. (September 25, 2015; July 11, 2014)


Brigid said...

An extra line space after this set: "Chimpanzee


Missing article: "isn't uniquely human characteristic."

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...

The extra line space is part of the new Blogger style for this sort of list. I'm not overly fond of it, but don't want to commit the time needed to dig into their style sheets and change it.

The missing article, *that* I can fix. Thanks, Brigid!

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