Because of lack of time, now that I am working full-time on my `Evolution Quotes Book', I am reverting to normally posting brief excerpts and comments in shorter, hopefully daily, composite posts.
[Graphic: "Homo Floresiensis, Left, and Homo Sapiens", Discovery Channel]
Flores hobbit was sick human: scientists, ABC, May 19, 2006, Anna Salleh ... Scientists who argue the "hobbit" is really just a modern human with a small brain have published evidence for the first time in a major scientific journal. Today's issue of the journal Science carries a paper led by primate evolution expert, Dr Bob Martin of the Field Museum in Chicago. It says Homo floresiensis is likely to have been a modern human, who suffered from microcephaly - a condition that causes a small brain. This reignites the debate about whether the remains of the small hominid from the Indonesian island of Flores is really H. sapiens or a dwarf version of H. erectus that evolved after becoming isolated on the island, as was originally suggested. ... [Martin has been a longtime proponent of H. floresiensis being a microencephalic H. sapiens. However, I think Martin, and indeed the dwarf H. erectus proponents, are both wrong! As previously posted, my view is that H. floresiensis is a direct descendent species from Australopithecus via a lineage separate from H. erectus and H. sapiens.
But if Martin is right, it will be a public relations disaster for Human Evolution, so confident have been the claims via the media that this `Hobbit' was a dwarf species of Homo erectus . This is the problem of transacting science via the media and not through scientific journals. Every time the claim turns out to be wrong, on the principle of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," the public will further distrust science.]
Apes prove to be forward thinking, ABC, May 19, 2006, Helen Carter ... Apes plan for the future, according to new research that questions whether humans are the only animals to think ahead. German research published today in the journal Science says apes can choose an appropriate tool to reach a treat and save the tool for the future instead of using it immediately. The researchers, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, say that planning for future, not just current, needs is one of the most formidable human cognitive achievements. This is because it imposes a long delay between performing an action and being rewarded for it. The researchers let bonobo chimpanzees and orangutans select tools to reach grapes and juice bottles. They chose appropriate tools half of the time, took them to their sleeping rooms then used them up to 14 hours later when retrieving the treats. Both species show the skill, the researchers say, suggesting it evolved at least 14 million years ago, when all great ape species shared a common ancestor. "Our results suggest that future planning is not a uniquely human ability, contradicting the notion that it emerged in hominids only within the past 2.5 to 1.6 million years," they write. ... [Note that "They chose appropriate tools" only "half of the time"! Sounds like that is what would be expected to happen randomly? Anyway, it doesn't say much for these apes' "forward planning"! How do the researchers know that the apes haven't merely formed a weak conditioned association between the tools and the treats?
More generally I regard these attempts to prove that "X ... is not a uniquely human ability" as flawed (if not delusional) because it compares the highest of a particular ape's (or other animal's) ability with the lowest human ability. That way they could `prove', as Betrand Russell pointed out, that there should be "Votes for Oysters":
"There is a further consequence of the theory of evolution, which is independent of the particular mechanism suggested by Darwin. If men and animals have a common ancestry, and if men developed by such slow stages that there were creatures which we should not know whether to classify as human or not, the question arises: at what stage in evolution did men, or their semi-human ancestors begin to be all equal? Would Pithecanthropus erectus , if he had been properly educated, have done work as good as Newton's? Would the Piltdown Man have written Shakespeare's poetry if there had been anybody to convict him of poaching? A resolute egalitarian who answers these questions in the affirmative will find himself forced to regard apes as the equals of human beings. And why stop with apes? I do not see how he is to resist an argument in favour of Votes for Oysters. An adherent of evolution should maintain that not only the doctrine of the equality of all men, but also that of the rights of man, must be condemned as unbiological since it makes too emphatic a distinction between men and other animals." (Russell, B., "History of Western Philosophy," George Allen & Unwin: London, 1961, pp.697-698)
They should compare `apples with apples', i.e. the highest ability in both apes and humans. Then it will be seen that there is a vast gulf between ape and human forward planning.
Another, related, problem is the vague terminology. What is "forward planning" and "thinking ahead"? One could argue that a dog which buries a bone and later digs it up and eats it, is planning ahead. Is that "forward planning"? If not, why not (without committing the fallacy of special pleading)? But if so, then what is so special about apes chosing "appropriate tools half of the time" taking "them to their sleeping rooms" and then using "them up to 14 hours later when retrieving the treats" (my emphasis)?
And also why, on Darwinian principles, is human forward planning and thinking ahead so vastly superior to that of apes, given that: "Natural selection" (i.e. the differential reproduction of random micromutations) "tends only to make each organic being as perfect as, or slightly more perfect than, the other inhabitants of the same country with which it comes into competition" (my emphasis):
Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Natural selection tends only to make each organic being as perfect as, or slightly more perfect than, the other inhabitants of the same country with which it comes into competition. And we see that this is the standard of perfection attained under nature." (Darwin, C.R., "The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" 1872, Sixth Edition, 1994, Senate: London, pp.162-163)]
`Evolution Quotes Book,'
"Of course, there have been many who have clearly shown that they are not Darwinians. Bateson, in 1914, wrote: `We go to Darwin for his incomparable collection of facts. But to us he speaks no more with philosophical authority. We read his scheme of evolution as we would that of Lucretius, or of Lamarck, delighting in their simplicity and their courage.' Watson, in 1929, wrote: `The only two ` theories of evolution ' which have gained any currency, those of Lamarck and of Darwin, rest on a most insecure basis ; the validity of the assumptions on which they rest has seldom been seriously examined, and they do not interest most of the younger zoologists.' J.B.S. Haldane wrote of Darwinism in 1925: `This is still only a working 'hypothesis.' Many probably hold the opinion of Sir D'Arcy Thompson, who wrote in 1925 : `How species are actually produced remains an unsolved riddle, it is a great mystery.' It is rather interesting to note that T.H. Huxley, who fought the battle for Natural Selection and came out victorious, while an enthusiastic evolutionist, was never an out-and-out Darwinian. Poulton, in 1908, wrote: `Huxley was at no time a convinced believer in the theory he protected." (Broom R., "Finding the Missing Link," , Greenwood Press: Westport CT, Second edition, 1951, Reprinted, 1975, p.103)