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Origins and setting out

August 11, 2013

Razib Khan parses a paper on genetic diversity and history in the great apes, and notices that rivers were geographic determinants of chimpanzee and bonobo speciation, but not of our early ancestors. “It seems then that our savanna ape lineage is characterized by the behavior of wander lust and lack of fear of water.” Maybe. Not everyone is convinced bonobos fear water. I would more suspect that the spread of early humans has to do with a change in how we deal with technology. No human travels without taking with them a kit that helps them from place to place, even if it is something as simple as their favorite stick. We love our kit, and are attached to it, beyond rational prediction of its future use. Chimpanzees and bonobos happily travel naked and bagless.

All such speculation raises the question of what the fundamental psychological differences are between chimpanzees and ourselves. So it is welcome that Hani Freeman of the Lincoln Park Zoo has determined the major axes of chimpanzee personality, using techniques similar to those that were previously applied to humans. Next, bonobos?

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