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Planet of the Apes

Isn’t it obvious that the story of Planet of the Apes is about apes from one planet dominated by apes finding themselves on a planet dominated by apes of a slightly different species?

Also, this comic bugs me a little bit: I’m flying off to give a talk in which I argue that the hallmark of human evolution isn’t brutality and conquest, but cooperation.

(Also on Sb)

Comments

  1. The Rat King says

    Sorry PZ, but it’s both:

    We are exceptional in that we cooperate to commit brutal conquest.

  2. Adam says

    Cooperation and cooking.
    Just read Wrangham’s Catching Fire and it makes some interesting points on the common Man-the-Hunter or Meat-Eater ideas. It’s a good read too.

  3. says

    Do you really think it’s cooperation? Because sometimes, I feel pretty sad about what seem to be a bundle of highly unhelpful instincts in my species. I think that we might be doomed to keep fighting and seizing territory until we finally succeed in making ourselves extinct, but not before we really fuck things up for as many other species as possible.

    If I could really believe that cooperation is key, it would improve my mood considerably.

    I wish I could attend your talk.

  4. DLC says

    Those movies bug me, both for the reason above (we are apes) and for the fact that the primates they show taking over just wouldn’t stand a chance. But, I guess movies have to have their fearmongering. I suppose I should count myself lucky they aren’t fearmongering about non-believers.

  5. Marella says

    Well I think it’s true that while dominance and territory are clearly popular amongst Homo sapiens, nonetheless you could probably argue that the difference between us and other apes is that we do more co-operation than they do. Unfortunately we often use co-operation to engage in dominance and acquiring territory so it’s a bit of a two edged sword.

  6. Neil Rickert says

    I agree on the “cooperation” bit. But the politicians haven’t gotten the message.

  7. carlie says

    The Simpsons still did the best Planet of the Apes ever.

    “I can talk!”
    “He can talk! He can talk! He can talk! He can talk!”
    “I can SIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIING!”

  8. Beatrice, anormalement indécente says

    I agree on the “cooperation” bit. But the politicians haven’t gotten the message.

    Oh, they did. They just interpreted it differently. They work very hard not to do anything useful so that there would be jobs for more politicians. That’s cooperation between liars and crooks.

  9. lordshipmayhem says

    After the death and destruction in England, which mirrored the destruction in Vancouver which mirrored the destruction in Toronto which mirrored the destruction in…

    …what was this co-operation everyone speaks of?

  10. ChasCPeterson says

    I’m flying off to give a talk in which I argue that the hallmark of human evolution isn’t brutality and conquest, but cooperation.

    Cooperation within (self-defined) groups, brutality and conquest among groups. Yin. Yang.

  11. Kevin says

    In-group cooperation. Out-group dominance, brutality and conquest.

    We cooperate with our own tribe and compete against the others for finite resources.

    Simple.

  12. says

    I argue that the hallmark of human evolution isn’t brutality and conquest, but cooperation.

    How about “cooperation, brutality, and conquest”? That’d be more accurate. I don’t think it’s honest to say humans are cooperative and leave it at that without adding that humans are mostly cooperative toward their tribe/family/group. And we have issues with being horrible to everyone else. Those are issues we need to overcome, clearly, but sweeping them under the carpet won’t make them go away.

  13. Greg Peterson says

    To read some people, no movies or books or TV shows should be produced that are not scientifically accurate. Which would effectively eliminate everything I enjoy.

    Sure, there were things that really bothered me about Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Mainly I was bothered by the notion that an increased number of functioning brain cells BY ITSELF could increase intelligence (or restore normalcy). But if we don’t grant the premise, we never get to see a gorilla attack a helicopter. And we really want to see a gorilla attack a helicopter.

    Don’t we?

  14. Tony says

    The trend toward cooperation in human societies is the subject of Robert Wright’s book Non-Zero. In a nutshell, the premise is that history shows cooperative behavior being rewarded in ways that lead to larger and larger social units developing as a result. I guess one would call this social evolution (?).

    While I differ with Wright on some topics (esp when his terminology suggests some holistic aspect to his other logical arguments), I found Non-Zero to a very thought-provoking book and have recommended it on many occasions.

    http://www.nonzero.org/

  15. Waffler says

    Greg Peterson said:

    Sure, there were things that really bothered me about Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

    Does the movie explain how the treatment (haven’t seen the movie, so don’t know the specifics) leads to increased intelligence in the progeny of the treated apes? Cause that would bother me — unless the germ cell’s are mutated, it wouldn’t happen, but that seems like an awfully complicated thing to explain in a movie. But I’d also still like to see a gorilla attacking a helicopter.

  16. SallyStrange, Spawn of Cthulhu says

    After the death and destruction in England, which mirrored the destruction in Vancouver which mirrored the destruction in Toronto which mirrored the destruction in…

    …what was this co-operation everyone speaks of?

    In the existence of such entities as “England,” “Vancouver,” “Toronto,” etc.

    As others have said, cooperation is key, but only within the in-group. The riots in England and elsewhere are disturbing because they show lack of cooperation in the in-group. That sort of behavior is typically reserved for the out-group. But then the rioters don’t see themselves as being members of the group, which is why they feel justified in lashing out violently…

  17. Greg Peterson says

    Waffler, yeah–and it was actually a relatively clever work-around, although there were some confusing uses of the term “genes” that implied (to me) a level of heritability that the mechanism would not explain.

    I suppose I should first issue a spolier alert.

    OK, so the mechanism was that a gene therapy treatment for Alzheimer’s delivered via virus became an airborne infection that caused other apes (chimps, gorillas, orangs) to increase in intelligence, and eventually would kill (most?) humans.

    I’m not saying it was realistic nor even particularly plausible, but at least it avoided the most blatant misunderstanding of how heritability works.

  18. says

    Or in other words, the old–more or less Darwinian–survival game continued even after intelligence increased. What a shock!

    There might have been apes who didn’t care about survival, but they, you know, didn’t survive.

    We aren’t what we are because “we’re apes” but because we’ve managed to survive. No species survived by being nice.

    Glen Davidson

  19. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Also, this comic bugs me a little bit: I’m flying off to give a talk in which I argue that the hallmark of human evolution isn’t brutality and conquest, but cooperation.

    This seems to be Matt Ridley’s point in The Rational Optimist. I’m only about four chapters in.

    In-group cooperation. Out-group dominance, brutality and conquest. We cooperate with our own tribe and compete against the others for finite resources. Simple.

    This is probably less true of humans than of other hominins. Other hominins are certainly as brutal (or moreso) than we are; if they had better in-group organization would be just as capable of conquest. However, they demonstrate much less cooperation outside of kin groups than we do. Try placing 120 unrelated chimpanzees in an airplane together for a six hour flight. Humans get grumpy in such a situation. Chimps get murdery*.

    *For the record, I was involved in such an experiment. What our onboard cameras recorded was too grizzly to recount here. However, before the experiment ran to completion, the plane was sucked into a wormhole, a tear in the fabric of space and time. No one knows where it ended up, or what became of those chimps.

  20. kb says

    OK, I didn’t see the new movie yet, and I can believe that it is very scientifically incorrect.

    But I thought the whole apes taking over and subjugating the humans was supposed to be a parallel to how humans act. One of the major points of the movies was that the apes of the future were acting like humans today, and that indeed, because we are so closely related, we actually live on a planet of the apes, we’re just lucky enough to be the species doing the subjugating. (For NOW-dum, dum, DUM! OK, sorry.) I thought that was the entire point of the late president of the NRA finding the Statue of Liberty at the end of the old movie.

  21. llewelly says

    Antiochus Epiphanes | 11 August 2011 at 10:55 am

    Try placing 120 unrelated chimpanzees in an airplane together for a six hour flight. Humans get grumpy in such a situation. Chimps get murdery*.

    *For the record, I was involved in such an experiment. What our onboard cameras recorded was too grizzly to recount here. However, before the experiment ran to completion, the plane was sucked into a wormhole, a tear in the fabric of space and time. No one knows where it ended up, or what became of those chimps.

    “grizzly”? Did you use werebear chimps?

  22. Neelode says

    Just a minute there, PZ… Chimps – our closest kin – (Not bonobos, mind you)- apparently (sometimes) cooperate very well… in hunting down members of neighboring bands of chimps and killing them…

  23. What a Maroon says

    @26,

    The whole point of the SoL scene is that Moses realizes that human civilization destroyed itself, and that the apes are justified in their opinion and treatment of humans.

  24. abusedbypenguins says

    The ability to throw a rock, spear or a baseball depends on the human brain processing geometry and trig for proper angles and speed. How many million years ago did one of our ancestors, while chasing something to eat, picked up a rock or stick and hit dinner enough to stun and then finish it off? That was a great leap, to get close enough to hit dinner with a tool. Lot of cooperation to bring down a mammoth and fight off big cats. Then religion caused us to turn on each other.

  25. TimKO,,.,, says

    I liked the original book (or at least the English translation) which did deal with content of this comic in a wink-nudge fashion. As usual, the great movie of the actual book is yet to be made.
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planet_of_the_Apes_(novel)

  26. llewelly says

    Antiochus Epiphanes | 11 August 2011 at 1:38 pm :

    Coming to theaters, Summer 2013:

    Planet of the Werebear Apes

    I hope sharkoctopus is in this movie …

  27. Ant Allan says

    @ Neelode 29

    I thought it was monkeys they hunted, killed and ate, not other chimps… ?

    /@

  28. amphiox says

    In-group cooperation. Out-group dominance, brutality and conquest.

    But, I think the point to note here as that in humans out-group dominance, brutality, and conquest while certainly present, is not markedly different from other apes. But in-group cooperation is.

    So the dominance and conquest is a hallmark of ape evolution, while the cooperation is a hallmark of human evolution.

    Said cooperation makes humans powerful, and that power means that when humans engage in conflict, they do enormous damage. But that power is not unique to conflict per se – it is a general feature of all human activities. So humans have taken the same old proclivity for aggression and conflict they inherited from their ape ancestors, but layered on top of it a much enhanced capacity for cooperation, which makes their conflicts much more damaging.

    Just a minute there, PZ… Chimps – our closest kin – (Not bonobos, mind you)- apparently (sometimes) cooperate very well… in hunting down members of neighboring bands of chimps and killing them…

    Chimpanzees cooperate in groups of 5-10 to engage in warfare against other chimpanzee groups. (Such wars actually have a much higher casualty rate on average, not infrequently ending in total genocide of the losing social group, than your typical human wars).

    Humans, on the other hand, go to war in cooperative groups of tens and hundreds of thousands. Wherein altruistic individuals will deliberately sacrifice their lives for unrelated fellows (something no ape has ever been observed to do). And tactics and strategies requiring the tight coordination of thousands of individuals cooperating at once. Often with higher-level cooperation between social groups (alliances) which is not seen in any other ape.

    Warfare in humans is in fact the quintessential cooperative activity, where humans cooperate more fully, more widely, more intensely, than any other.

    So when it comes to the ability to cooperate, there is simply no comparison between humans and other apes. Apes certainly have it rudiments of the capacity, but humans have taken that inheritance and pushed it “up to eleven”.

  29. amphiox says

    I thought it was monkeys they hunted, killed and ate, not other chimps… ?

    It’s both.

  30. amphiox says

    Other hominins are certainly as brutal (or moreso) than we are; if they had better in-group organization would be just as capable of conquest. However, they demonstrate much less cooperation outside of kin groups than we do.

    Even within kin-groups, they demonstrate less cooperation than humans. The other apes certain do cooperate within kin, but not to the same degree and commitment that human family groups do.

    Among the great apes, it can actually be argued that, in terms of tendencies to violence, it is the chimpanzees that are the outgroup, who are particularly comparatively violent, while humans, bonobos, and gorillas cluster on the more peaceable end of the spectrum.

    (Orangutans, not typically living in social groups, would not be applicable for comparison).

  31. Carlie says

    I thought that was the entire point of the late president of the NRA finding the Statue of Liberty at the end of the old movie.

    Oh my god! I was wrong! It was earth all along! You finally made a monkey (yes we finally made a monkey) Yes you finally made a monkey out of meeeeeeeee!!!!!

    (Sorry, I’ll see myself out)

  32. Ewan R says

    On the original movie and the statue of liberty being a sign of mankind destroying themselves – this may have been the case, but subsequent movies (which were all interlinked) certainly made it appear that the paradoxical return of the apes to the past was actually what caused the downfall of man and the rise of apes in the first place- the son of the two returnees was the great ape who started the rebellion – from what I recall this was in line with the general plot arc of the books also.

    I consider the remake of Planet of the Apes an abomination (as they killed the only part of the plot that was kinda cool) and have little doubt that this most recent foray will also displease in equal proportions.

  33. amphiox says

    On the original movie and the statue of liberty being a sign of mankind destroying themselves – this may have been the case, but subsequent movies (which were all interlinked) certainly made it appear that the paradoxical return of the apes to the past was actually what caused the downfall of man and the rise of apes in the first place- the son of the two returnees was the great ape who started the rebellion – from what I recall this was in line with the general plot arc of the books also.

    Movie 3 more or less retconned the origin of the rise of the apes/downfall of man into a stable time loop. But in movie 4, humans more or less provoked the ape uprising, so the self-destruction aspect is still there.

    Then movie 5 ends with humans and apes making peace and living together as equals. So to get from the prehistory established in movie 5 to the situation in movie 1 where apes not only dominate, but humans have “devolved” to the point of losing speech, would require yet another, unspecified calamity, which could easily be self-inflicted.

    And remember that the ape “history” presented in movie 1 is actually myth and religious scripture, and may be no more correlative to the actual events as the bible.

  34. ConcernedJoe says

    I do not think the defining hallmark is greater cooperation (while I agree it is a notable consequence).

    I think the hallmarks are greater empathy and greater abstract regulation. Mostly because of the ability to construct and use spoken and symbolic language for abstract subjects.

    This language ability makes human empathy greater in scope and depth.

    Further it gives humans a greater capacity to divine rules and standards of conduct, and then promulgate knowledge, gain acceptance, and enforce such without necessarily resorting to corporeal methods.

    These traits lead to greater potential for and then realization of cooperation, and thus I think PZ is right to say that as a species our ability to cooperate transcends mere instinct in ways that sets humans apart. And by the way elegant cooperation for dominance is still cooperation.

    Yet though we still seem unnecessarily cruel etc., our hallmarks (sophisticated empathy and abstract regulation) generally tend to make the preponderance of our discretionary actions and cooperation to be more broadly (not just tribally) “beneficial” (I use quotes because one is never sure about all long-term effects of our actions even when we think we are doing good – but that is a different issue).

  35. LightningRose says

    Isn’t it obvious that the story of Planet of the Apes is about apes from one planet dominated by apes finding themselves on a planet dominated by apes of a slightly different species?

    No, not really. Your statement implies two planets. The book and the late 90′s remake both involve two planets, but in the original 60′s film series it was obvious there was only one planet, our very own Earth.

  36. kb says

    Ack, now I need to watch all the movies and read all the books, and make an in-depth study of what the series really says about human nature. I’ll be back next year.

  37. says

    “the hallmark of human evolution isn’t brutality and conquest, but cooperation”

    It’s both, but cooperation is more important because it, rather than aggression, led to human civilization. But aggression is sticking around and is leading to the destruction of that civilization.