Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Naked Ape

“Analysis of Neanderthal Genome Points to Interbreeding With Modern Humans” was the headline of a recent Times piece (5/7/10). In philosophy, a tautology is a phrase like “the red dress is red.” Isn’t the above headline a tautology? Was it it really necessary to fund this research? Should scientists set out to prove the oft-stated proposition, “men are dogs”? It seems obvious that at some point in evolution a Pegasus-type situation occurred, in which either a man accidentally impregnated a dog or a dog impregnated a woman. Cross speciation is not common, but it’s been known to occur, and this anomaly turned out to be naturally selective. In American law we are deemed innocent until proven guilty, but the Napoleonic code is just the opposite. Taking the a posteriori evidence of experience in both our own backyards and in such far-flung places as Bosnia, Chechnya, Somalia, Burma and Rwanda, we would have to conclude, employing the Napoleonic code, that man is guilty of being more beast than human. The cerebral cortex is a wonderful device which in fact enables us to think about the structures of our own brain and about questions like whether we exist or not, along with right and left matters, like ratiocination versus intuition. But far too much has been made of this development in brain structure. What seems to be causing much of our current suffering are expectations. We expect our fellows to act like men, while more often than not they behave like beasts, as Desmond Morris pointed out in his classic tome, The Naked Ape. Men have brains enough to argue about the nature of the self, as Locke and Hobbes started to do during the Enlightenment when Hobbes, perceiving the untamed side of human nature, proposed checks and balances to deal with animal appetite. But thinking is delusive. Cogito ergo sum. However, cogito doesn’t release us from the desire to hump thy neighbor’s wife.

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