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364: Last Ape Standing


C-Realm_364KMO welcomes author and publisher Chip Walter back to the C-Realm to discuss recent findings in paleoanthropology. Chip has a new book out. It's called Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and and Why We Survived, and in it, Chip describes the evolutionary process called neotony. It's what makes adult humans look like baby apes, and it not only gave us a new phase of life, i.e. childhood, but it allow us to survive while so many fellow species of humans with whom we used to share this planet have gone extinct. We've certainly had some close shaves, and we're certainly not out of danger in the present.


Music by Shanimal.

5 comments to 364: Last Ape Standing

  • Jeffery D.

    Thanks, KMO, fun listen! At about 44 minutes in, Chip riffs on the magnitude of symbol manipulation in shifting our evolutionary trajectory, and mentions fabrication of flint knives as co-catalytic to that shift. I thought of Susan Blackmore’s 1999 book “The Meme Machine” there, and her position that we underwent selection for the capacity to imitate innovations such as fire-making, flint-knapping, symbolization, etc. Following on that, I recalled Terence McKenna’s beloved rap on “Life as the progressive conquest of dimensionality” with emphasis on the dimension of Time. Imitation of innovation secures it from loss, via replication, and the utility of redundant copies of valuable knowledge. Ain’t that the scheme of DNA-based Life?

  • Paul Heft

    That was a good interview, but maybe you two were pressed for time, and I was disappointed by two things. First, “hobbits” were mentioned a couple of times but not defined–they’re something I had never been aware of before reading Chip’s book. (Very interesting, and nothing to do with J.R.R. Tolkien: Second, “neoteny” was briefly described but needed more elaboration. Since it’s such a central theme of Chip’s book, I wish he had spent another minute or two describing why it developed (the bit about standing upright, women’s hips, etc.) and its value for our brains (he did hint at how brain development during childhood is different than in later years).
    Two big things I got out of the book: The story of “us” isn’t as simple as it’s usually presented, and the details and controversies are constantly changing as we gather new evidence adding to the bare glimpses available from the meagre fossil record.

    • KMO

      Thank you, Paul. When you’ve already read the book in question, it’s pretty tough for a 40 minute interview to cover everything about the book that interested you. I tried to pack a lot of the details about neoteny into my question to Chip about it. I know it comes across as compressed, but there were a lot of things I wanted to talk about, and a thorough-going discussion of the implications of neoteny would have taken the entire episode. I hope the Vault portion of the conversation helped round things out for you.

  • Scrytech

    My understanding is that Homo sapiens sapiens is best translated as “man who knows that he knows”. Perhaps that is just Alan Watt’s wishful thinking, but it implies self-reflexive consciousness, and is a bit more plausible than any description resembling wisdom. The latest information on Neanderthal linguistic abilities can be found on PBS’ Nova, “Decoding Neanderthals” which uses DNA to find parallels with modern humans and describes many other interesting cultural parallels.

  • Zardoz

    While it may be true that 99% of all previous species on this planet have gone extinct, I think that fact is pretty much nullified by the fact that humans are so drastically different from anything that has existed here before. There has never been a species that was as adaptable or cognitively capable as humans, so comparing us to other animals species in that way doesn’t really mean much.

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