More Than Just Apes

Scientifically speaking, humans appear to be genetically-modified apes. But are we just apes? Or are we more? Follow the conversation with Dr. Ajit Varki.

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I’m not sure what this means.

I just mean that, genetically, we are very similar to Apes, with only small changes.

But the same could be said for every other ape species. And the phrase “genetically-modified” has unhelpful connotations that muddy your meaning.


Yes, that is true of every other ape species. The connotations help create a conceptual chiasma, helping people skeptical of evolution to acclimate to the common descent of man. I’m trying to separate out common descent from how the modifications took place. Think of it as strategic ambiguity.

I hope that works out for you. Really. But I suspect that intentional ambiguity will confuse more than it clarifies.

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That article has been up for years. It is just new to the forum. It seems to have worked pretty well. Who do you think it confused?

I see. I thought it was something you just posted.

Well, it confused me, obviously. Can’t speak to anybody else specifically.

I do still think that “genetically-modified” does not have any actual meaning in this context, and its use has the potential to make people think of GMOs, which (unfortunately) is a politically fraught topic.

Just my $0.02.


What if it’s a chimpanzee asking the question?

I’m not trying to be obtuse, but to point out the potential bias here. Are chimpanzees just apes, or are they something special too? What is it that gives them the essential “chimp-ness” and how does that compare to what we think make humans special?

I’ll go out on a limb and give my own answer: Humans are special because we can ask these questions about ourselves. We still need to be careful - we might be wrong about this - maybe it’s not asking these questions that make chimps special. Douglas Adams wrote:

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

We should recognize that perhaps chimps are special for the very same reasons we think we are special. I’ll inch a little further out on the limb - Human are special because we can, sometimes, ask questions that matter.

Rephrasing the original question: Are we just apes, and how does it matter if we are different from apes?

Apologies for my strange rant this morning. :slight_smile:


We are more than similar. We are within the genetic variation of apes. Chimps share more DNA with humans than they do with gorillas and orangutans. If humans are a genetically modified ape, then so too are chimps, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans.

I would rather tip the original question on its head. Why say “just” apes? Apes, and all life for that matter, are exceptional. Instead of trying to elevate ourselves, perhaps we should acknowledge the amazing things that our cousin species can do.

I see that @Dan_Eastwood shares my same outlook. :grinning: