Monday, November 30, 2015


The idea of humans evolving from “apes” is horrifying in particular to the Abrahamic religions. One of the insults meant to control unwanted behavior is to call it “bestial”  Religion says that God chose only humans (and only the ones who are members of the sponsoring institution, namely theirs) to have souls and go to heaven.  It is heresy to deny that; it is worrying if some people don’t care.  But we like the shiver of considering it in movies.

It’s more arousing if the male half of a couple is the ape.  As a gift for my husband, I once bought a tiny ivory Japanese figure of an ape clasping a nude woman.  He loved it, esp. since it was so easily hidden.  Bears, which can be seen as humanoid, fill the same role, but a bear might be the female, maternal.  Japanese are quite frank about such matters.

If Jane Goodall had been less of a nun-like figure, she might have been in trouble, living with chimps as though they were human, even though they were in family groups. Indeed Dian Fossey, a more passionate sort of woman, got into trouble that caused her death by machete in her bedroom, imposed by emotionally threatened human males acting bestial.

Jane Goodall and friend


From Wikipedia:

The humanzee (Homo sapiens sapiens × Pan troglodytes) (also known as the Chuman or Manpanzee) is a hypothetical chimpanzee/human hybrid. Chimpanzees and humans are closely related (sharing 95% of their DNA sequence and 99% of coding DNA sequences[1]), leading to contested speculation that a hybrid is possible. However, such a human-animal hybrid has not actually existed outside of fictional works that have explored the concept.

Humans have one pair fewer chromosomes than other apes, with ape chromosomes 2 and 4 fusing into a large chromosome. 

A mix of human and primate would almost certainly require artificial insemination such as using a pipette to insert a sperm into an ovum in a petri dish.  No hot sex.  (Anyway, primates and bears have small penises.)  However, when the chimps and humans diverged from a common ancestor sometime between 8 million and 25 million years ago, they could produce fertile hybrids for another million years or so.  This is not linear descent, evolution is a bush rather than a tree, and we’re working on fossil bone morphology more than DNA, with almost unimaginable time spans.  It’s barely short of fantasy.

But chimps themselves are such compelling personalities and interact with us in such humanoid ways, that they are always suspected of knowing more than they let on.  The point is that if HIV had been a disease of ungulates or big cats, the dynamics would have been entirely different.  Of course the blood machinery of those animals is entirely different.  You can’t catch HIV from a sheep, nor would it catch HIV from you.  There are plenty of other diseases a human could catch from a sheep, most of them bacterial zoonoses.  Leprosy can be caught from an armadillo and is stigmatized not from its source but from its ability to reduce a human to looking like a strange animal with eerie human qualities.  Un-treated AIDS is along those lines, with emaciation and Kaposi’s sarcoma acting as disfiguring markers, though they are not directly caused by HIV -- they are opportunists, like pneumocystis pneumonia fungus.

Bonobos are even more humanoid than chimps and have the added feature of using sexual intercourse as a social element: greeting, comforting, just fooling around.  Film of them acting like humans -- walking through the door on two feet, wearing clothes, getting a beer out of the fridge, sitting on the sofa with legs crossed . . .  eeks!  What might they do next?  Adult male apes are so much stronger than humans that they could tear a person limb-from-limb.  Maybe you’ve seen a photo of a woman whose face was snatched off by a friend’s “pet”.  Therefore, what you see interacting with humans is mostly immature apes, kids.

There are cultures and “sub-cultures” that consider women sub-human and feel free to confine, abuse, and infect them -- then not allow them medical care.  Children likewise. These are cultures of HIV death, often based in drugs as much as sex.  Isolated, alienated people might turn to needles for comfort.  “Chemsex” combines drugs with sex, trying to go “over the top”.  It’s a steep drop on the other side.  

The fantasy is that somehow there must be a way to escape the troublesome social and emotional consequences of sexual relationships, which are not just a matter of desire -- though they are that, too.  In fact, they are a strong drive and it’s lucky that most human arms are just long enough to reach the crotch.  I’m working on a followup about sexual emotions derived from the recent Mark Holms lecture about the unconscious.  This link will take you to the lecture I’m trying to digest.

This post is meant to illustrate that a big part of our panic over HIV-AIDS is worry that it might mean we are not human, or that being human is NOT being chosen, being elevated among other animals, but having to suffer the same consequences as being just mammals, another kind of ape.  It was a big shock to find out that at some point Neanderthals, always considered barely superior to gorillas, interbred with modern humans.  We do have some neanderthal genes.

Richard Sapolsky

Going back to chimp genes, it is said that we are separated only by 2% of genes.  I’ve added a chart. The following quote is by Sapolsky, a male expert hairy enough to compete with orangutans but smarter by far.

“Yet that tiny portion of unshared DNA makes a world of difference: it gives us, for instance, our bipedal stance and the ability to plan missions to Mars. Scientists do not yet know how most of the DNA that is uniquely ours affects gene function. But they can conduct whole-genome analyses—with intriguing results. For example, comparing the 33 percent of our genome that codes for proteins with our relatives' genomes reveals that although the sum total of our genetic differences is small, the individual differences pervade the genome, affecting each of our chromosomes in numerous ways.”

When we read that humans have only 2% more genes than chimps or bonobos, we think of a line (maybe a chromosome?) in which the last 2 units of measurement are a different color and we try to think which 2% makes us superior: bipedalism?  less hair?  reading?  But genes don’t code for such things.  Genes are about proteins that interact, making more proteins (the proteome) producing different results in different situations (epigenomes can record results), and different results if there is more than one copy of the gene, or if it’s in a different place on the chromosome, or if the epigenome has turned it off or if a gene that codes for timing turns the gene for, say, a prominent larynx on or off at the wrong time.  

The proteome (list of possible proteins) is so long and complex we may never complete it, computer or no computer.  Then beyond that, there is the impact of social systems and the plain old environment.  And now we add the biome of parasites on and in us.  There seems to be no end to it, but that’s not what we want anyway, is it?  HIV and the pressure of AIDS can take us on a journey.  Far along the human path, or maybe we are evolving as we go.

The point remains that we are animals, a specialized sort of primate, which we have not sorted out yet.  Therefore we get excessively worried over issues that mix our essential molecular plan with religious rules from ancient times and also sexual desire, no matter the object.  The larger culture is vitally interested and entitled to interfere in order to preserve their own existence.

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