Apes evolved twice

The human ape

The person, the psychologist Josep Call, lets two cups flip back and forth in front of the bewildered animal like a magician, swapping them once, twice, three times. Then the monkey, a chimpanzee, is supposed to tap the cup into which Call had previously clearly placed a nut.

The chimpanzee hesitates only briefly. Then he taps the correct mug with long fingers. He can apparently use his attention in a targeted manner, is capable of problem-oriented concentration - one of the prerequisites for intelligent behavior. Josep Call does such intelligence tests not only with chimpanzees, but also with children and orangutans:

If you take two glasses full of orange juice and pour the contents of one of the glasses into a much thinner but taller glass, you can fool children with it. They often believe that there is more juice in the thin glass because the liquid has risen so high. We carried out comparative experiments with five to seven year old children and with great apes. Five-year-old children were fooled, only six to seven-year-olds could correctly assess the quantity. But the chimpanzees also mostly chose the larger quantity, regardless of the form in which it was presented. You obviously have a certain understanding of abstract quantities. And the orangutans had no problem with that at all.

Targeted anthropologists and zoologists are currently conducting similar experiments around the world. Because the question of what intellectual abilities the great apes, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans, have in common with humans, has become particularly explosive due to recent genetic discoveries. Humans and great apes have more than 90 percent of their genetic material in common. The chimpanzee genetic makeup, in particular, differs from the human one by a little more than a ridiculous one percent.

However, it cannot be overlooked that humans and great apes differ massively in behavior. So the monkey researchers today have to pursue the following question in a new, very difficult way: how close are humans and great apes actually beyond genes - in cognitive, cultural, social and psychological behavior? Are the great apes really that human-like - or do ape researchers tend to humanize them?

Great apes can solve puzzles, find their way around mazes, deduce facts from sounds - and they use tools. Chimpanzees stack boxes to get bananas hanging from the ceiling. Or they stick bamboo sticks together to reach fruits behind a grating. The ability to skillfully combine materials to effectively solve a problem is considered a sign of higher intelligence.

The only question is: to what extent do great apes use tools in their natural environment and not only in experimentally created situations?

It sounds like a gang of roofers in the forest. You just hear ten or fifteen chimpanzees cracking nuts in all possible directions in the forest at the same time.

The Franco-Swiss Christophe Boesch is one of the directors of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and one of the world's leading chimpanzee researchers. For over 20 years he has been observing the animals in the wild in the Tai National Park of the African Ivory Coast. Chimpanzees there use a sharp stone as a hammer and a flat stone as an anvil to break nuts. They do their craft work for an average of 2 hours and 15 minutes per day. The adult animals do it purposefully and routinely, the young ones practice in order to finally be able to do it just as well - sometimes five hours in a row. But the Tai chimpanzees not only use tools, they also make them:

There are many tools that they use, for small chopsticks, to reach insects under the bark of trees or in holes in the ground, and there are systematically, almost systematically, tools being created, not just one modification, there are several modifications that the Animals make, and what is impressive about chimpanzees is that these modifications are all made before the chimpanzee uses these tools. That means he has an image in his head, so to speak, of what a material has to look like in order to be a tool. And you can measure these tools afterwards and they are really standardized production, i.e. the tools that they make, say to catch ants, are produced differently than the ones that are used to take almonds out of nuts.

Can one draw the conclusion from this that the great apes have crossed the first stage to civilization, perhaps even to culture - by shaping their living conditions with the help of intelligent tools? Beware of overly quick generalizations. Unlike chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans do not use tools in the wild, but only in experiments or in the zoo. So the potential is there, but why not use it in a natural setting? And also with the chimpanzees one has to differentiate. Not all groups of chimpanzees surrounded by seductive nut trees crack the nuts too. And in the groups where hammer and anvil are used, it takes the adolescent chimpanzees about four years to learn how to crack nuts. The chimpanzee mothers give the young the opportunity to practice, but they rarely intervene to correct mistakes. It is difficult to see this as an outright cultural technique

Nevertheless, says Christoph Boesch, chimpanzees have a culture in the following sense: groups of chimpanzees that live in different places also develop different forms of tool use and behavior; Forms that can neither be explained genetically nor as a result of environmental constraints.

If you just tell me how the chimpanzees behave, I can tell you for sure what it comes from. This means that nowadays one can actually no longer speak properly of chimpanzees, one should speak of Tai chimpanzees, which live in the Ivory Coast, or of Gombe chimpanzees or Mahale chimpanzees, which live in Tanzania. And for example, if you tell me that a chimpanzee eats ants, but you tell me that the tools he uses are about two feet long, and when he uses the tools he uses both hands, then I already know , he is certainly not from Ivory Coast, and if you add that if he finds insects on the skin, he takes this tick and lays it on leaves and cuts it into small pieces with his fingers before he eats it, I know no doubt he's from Gombe.

Chimpanzee groups have developed different behaviors in different environments, which they pass on over the generations.

Is that the leap from nature to culture? One aspect of culture is undeniably touched here - the group-specific handing down of knowledge - but overall culture encompasses a much broader range of properties. Human culture not only transmits simple behavior and craft techniques, but also abstract, general knowledge about the world. Part of human culture is also that the knowledge and cultural resources acquired are repeatedly questioned anew. And culture includes an organization of social life that curbs aggression and egoism - that is, certain social, even moral behavior.

However, great ape researchers have made interesting discoveries in this area as well.

The case of the female gorilla Binty, who rescued a human boy who had fallen into a monkey enclosure in an American zoo, has become famous. A fine example of ape helpfulness.

In stark contrast to this, however, are the chimpanzee wars, in which aggressive groups of chimpanzees kill and exterminate neighboring animals of their own species in brutal campaigns. All over the world, chimpanzees are extremely aggressive when they encounter members of another horde. In addition, like orangutans, rape occurs in chimpanzees. So is the great ape above all an animal, aggressive beast that obeys the law of the fittest? - which would also be very human!

I think the easiest thing to do is to get people close to the monkeys and look them in the eye, and then they can see how close they are.

Frans de Waal, professor at the Yerkes Primate Center at Emory University in Atlanta, is one of the best-known advocates of the thesis that there is no huge gap between humans and great apes. In numerous books, the Dutchman mainly described the social behavior of chimpanzees. He points out that most chimpanzee aggression within the group is short-lived and rarely fatal. In addition, there is not only aggressive striving for dominance among chimpanzees, but also sophisticated tactics. According to the motto "I'll scratch your back and you'll help me another time", the foundations are laid for what researchers call "reciprocal altruism".

They can work together for one day and maybe not do it the next day; and they may not do it anymore because the other one may no longer have shared the food with them, or he hasn't done grooming or something else, so there are reciprocity relations between the monkeys. Reconciliation behavior and peacefulness can be learned

Often times, these mutual bonds lead chimpanzees to comfort one another. Now and then the line seems to be crossed to seemingly selfless compassion. As with humans.

On the other hand, one has to be sober: Chimpanzees are usually only helpful to those monkey brothers and sisters who have helped them directly before. The tactics, the constant offsetting of help and counter-help, of possible advantages and disadvantages of one's own behavior, seems to play a greater role with the chimpanzees than the noble sense of community. They use tactics to keep the social group and its alliances so stable that they can achieve their own benefit in it. Frans de Waal speaks of political diplomacy.

Even with this, the chimpanzees would not be better or worse than humans - at least in principle.

For some researchers, however, there is an example in the realm of the great apes that even surpasses humans in social and moral terms: the bonobos.

Bonobos are the more delicate sister species of the chimpanzees and are often referred to as "the affectionate great apes". Because it seems like they have found the solution for a peaceful, happy coexistence.

Yes, they have obviously found them, because what we can observe in terms of the potential for violence or violent confrontations - the potential for violence is certainly just as high as with chimpanzees - but the type of conflict, the way in which conflicts are resolved, it seems a lot much more peaceful

Gottfried Hohmann from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig has been studying free living bonobos in the inhospitable rainforest of the African Congo Basin for more than ten years. And he keeps observing what has made bonobos almost legendary: Bonobos make almost indiscriminate sex with one another. The purpose of the motley hustle and bustle: the bonobos nip social tensions in the bud with sex; and thereby alleviate tensions that have already arisen through conflicts. Another astonishing thing about bonobos is that female bonobos have a close bond and intervene quickly, for example, when a male wants to take food from a female. Some scientists therefore say: in bonobo society there is a peace-promoting matriarchy. Gottfried Hohmann considers this thesis too daring:

It's tempting to talk about it and use that term, but it doesn't quite apply at all. We can't talk about a female dominated society, that's just not true. There are some men who can drive some females, especially the younger females, away from the feeding ground. They are mixed relationships and one cannot speak of male or female dominance. There are men who dominate over females and females who dominate over men. And these dominance relationships are not static either, but can also change over long periods of time.

"Being flexible" seems to be one of the essential mechanisms with which the bonobos succeed in shaping their coexistence in a positive way. Be flexible and open in sexuality, in gender relations and in dominance behavior.
Violence is - contrary to the widespread image of the absolutely peaceful bonobo - not excluded among them either: Gottfried Hohmann has even seen a few fatal fights among them, mostly males are the victims. However, certain forms of social violence such as war, infanticide or rape hardly ever occur with the bonobos.

In terms of social behavior, chimpanzees and bonobos do not seem to differ in principle, but only in degrees. Bonobos are organized more flexibly and they always appear in large groups. That leaves less room for crimes of individuals and of the collective. For some anthropologists, the main difference between humans and great apes is that homo sapiens institutionalized and thus generalized the social principles that are beginning to appear in bonobos and chimpanzees. And not only in the legal and social system, but also in the mind.

In order to answer the question of how close humans and great apes actually are, the following topic ultimately becomes decisive: what kind of consciousness do our closest relatives have, what kind of social and technical reason they have, how big is it here Human continuity?

From around the age of one and a half, children can suddenly recognize themselves in the mirror. Developmental psychologists agree that from then on, awareness of one's own self, as well as that of others, sets in. Several experiments with monkeys meanwhile suggest that many chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans can also recognize each other in the mirror. For Frans de Waal, this is proof that great apes at least have the prerequisites for social awareness.

And the interesting thing is the consoling behavior, so that's a kind of empathy, empathy, that only exists with great apes, it does not exist with other monkeys. And also with children: the consolation behavior and empathy develop with the mirror recognition. So there is a correlation. We don't know exactly what the correlation means, maybe it means that there is a difference between self and other that is necessary for empathy. That's one thing all philosophers have said about empathy, that you can't have it without having a distinction between yourself and others.

For a number of years there has been heated debate among monkey researchers about the question of what the mirror experiments and comparable tests really mean for the empathy and consciousness of great apes.

Michael Tomasello, the psychological director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, is one of Frans de Waal's opponents. Tomasello not only researches great apes, but also human children and finds a crucial difference in the mirror experiments. If you put one and a half year old children in front of the mirror in a strange hat, they react ashamed and want to hide. Strangely dressed chimpanzees, on the other hand, don't mind.

Tomasello concludes from this: Human children not only recognize themselves in the mirror, but they also know that other people see them in this way: "That is the image that I give for others". Chimpanzees, on the other hand, do not achieve this social dimension of self-knowledge. They only see their own body in the mirror, so to speak, but have no reflexive self-confidence that allows them to look at and judge themselves as others do. Great apes, according to Tomasello, can act purposefully and observe themselves and the behavior of other animals, but they cannot really put themselves in the spiritual world of other animals.

Frans de Waal counters such theses with numerous anecdotes: A chimpanzee conceals his genitals ashamed when he is caught cheating - as if he saw himself from the point of view of the horned man. Or: A chimpanzee hides his fearful face when he has to assert his position against a rival. Or:

I once called a female at my chimpanzee, her name is Lolita, because I knew she had a baby. And they are very small, you can hardly see them, they are on your stomach.I called her and she came after me, sat down with me and I said I wanted to see her baby and she understood everything. She took the baby and flipped what a normal chimpanzee never does, so turned her face to me, showed me the baby and its face. And I find that very interesting because she understood not only that I wanted to see the baby, but that the front of the baby is more interesting to me than the back of the baby. That's what I call "perspective taking". She takes my perspective to do this thing.

The question that has been debated for several years is: Are such anecdotes and observations scientific evidence that great apes can empathize with the thinking of other apes? Michael Tomasello believes that hard experiments have to replace soft observations. Observed similarities in behavior should not immediately lead to the conclusion that the human and ape spirit are identical. Frans de Waal, on the other hand, relies on the large number of observations and sees similarities at least as evidence that there is a continuum between apes and humans. However, he admits that experiments are particularly meaningful if they do not bring humans and great apes together, but only investigate the behavior of the animals under certain conditions.

There is one such experiment that has brought both positions closer together. it was first developed by the psychologist Brian Hare at the institute of Frans de Waal and then continued in Leipzig together with Josep Call and Michael Tomasello. Michael Tomasello:

We matched a senior chimpanzee with a junior chimpanzee. Normally, the lower-ranking monkey has to let the dominant animal take precedence over food. But when we hid the food so that it could be seen by the lower-ranking, but not the higher-ranking animal, the socially lower-ranking chimpanzee got the delicacy without giving anything to the dominant animal. In a second situation, however, he did not dare to grab the hidden food: the dominant animal could not see the food at the moment, but the lower monkey had observed that this dominant animal had been watching the food a few minutes beforehand hidden. This means that chimpanzees can apparently not only see what others see and take this into account in their behavior. They also know what others know or do not know beyond the moment.

Other experiments show that great apes are able to deliberately deceive. Or that they can tell whether another monkey has deliberately or accidentally given them no grapes.

Frans de Waal takes all of this as proof that great apes can empathize with the consciousness and intent of others in a manner comparable to that of humans, at least partially. Michael Tomasello asks: what does "in a comparable way" and what does "rudimentary" mean? In his opinion, the experiment only shows that there are similarities between humans and great apes in perception, but not in other psychological activities. On the contrary: there is a huge difference in learning skills.

We showed two different groups of chimpanzees and two different groups of children how to use a particular tool. We demonstrated an efficient method to one group and an inefficient method to the other. Each time afterwards, the children imitated the exact method they were shown. So they were successful when they saw the efficient method, but found it difficult when they saw it. The chimpanzees, however, did not copy the method shown in either group. So they were better than the children we showed the bad method to, but worse than those who knew the good method. So children share a common space of attention with others in a situation they are not familiar with. They purposely imitate what they can learn from others, but chimpanzees do not act that way.

Great apes, Tomasello concludes, are more likely to learn through tinkering, trying to shape the object into the desired shape. Human children, on the other hand, learn purposefully by imitating strategies and methods of handling objects.

Michael Tomasello has developed his arguments into a theory of human culture. About 250,000 years ago, homo sapiens catapulted himself out of the realm of nature through a so-called "cultural jack-up effect". He began to systematically emulate the intentions of the other beings of his species and to adopt their knowledge.

What distinguishes human culture from animal societies is that our products and artifacts become increasingly complex over a long process - the computer wasn't invented in a day. In this process of invention, learners always get at least as good as their teachers, they never fall behind. And if there is an improvement, the students learn the improved version. These artifacts, including language as well as tools, for example, become better and more complex in a powerful human learning process. Monkeys do not seem to have this ability for cumulative, dynamic evolution. There is such a thing as "culture" with them, namely different traditions and lifestyles, but they do not produce cultural products based on a complexity-increasing, cultural cumulative effect.

Culture is an ever-increasing process of accumulating knowledge, in which people take over the perspective and intentions of others - systematically. In this system, which was learned again and institutionalized in learning and knowledge organizations, there is what is specifically human.

According to Tomasello, culture does not begin with individual, elementary characteristics such as language skills, the use or manufacture of tools, but only with a systematic accumulation of perspectives and knowledge.

The controversy surrounding this culture theory has only just begun, but it is becoming increasingly plausible due to numerous findings in recent years. It became clear that great apes can build simple sentences, but have no language across all situations, which is essential for the systematic transfer of knowledge. Other research shows that not only great apes, but also dolphins, crows, ravens, salamanders, dogs and octopuses are capable of enormous attention and intelligence performances. The difference between the animal and the human kingdom therefore does not seem to lie in the individual abilities of certain animal species, but in a system that only man has brought about.