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What may prove the final blow to the traditional western view of the distinctness of human beings is now coming from new knowledge in genetics, and its implications for the way scientists classify humans and our nearest ancestors. For many years, most biologists assumed that humans evolved as a separate branch from the other great apes, including the chimpanzees and gorillas. This was a natural enough assumption, given the strength of our belief in how special we are. More recent techniques in molecular biology have enabled us to measure quite precisely the degree of genetic difference between different animals. We new know that we share 98.4 per cent of our DNA with chimpanzees. This is a very slight genetic difference. It is, for example, less than that between two deferent species of gibbon, which are separated by 2.2 per cent; or between the red-eyed and white-eyed vireos, two closely related North American bird species, the genes of which differ be 2.9 per cent. More significant still is the fact that the difference between us and chimpanzees is less than the 2.3 per cent that separates the DNA of chimpanzees from that of gorillas. In other words, we--not the gorillas--are the chimpanzees' nearest relatives. And all of the African apes--chimpanzees, gorillas and humans--are more closely related to each other than any of them are to orangutans.

On the basis of this discovery, some leading scientists, among them Richard Dawkins, lecturer in zoology at the University of Oxford, and Jared Diamond, profess of physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, have suggested that it is time to do what Linnaeus lacked the courage to do" change the way in which we classify ourselves and that other African apes. As we say, Linnaeus classified humans not only as a separate species, Homo sapiens, but also as a separate genus, Homo, and even a separate family, Hominidae. That is how things have remained since the eighteenth century, Our nearest relative, the chimpanzee, is not Homo but Pan (there are two species, Pan troglodytes and Pan paniscus) while the gorilla is a separate genus, Gorilla gorilla, and the apes as a whole belong to the family Pongidae. We now have decisive evidence that this two hundred-year-old categorization had no basis other than the desire to separate us from other animals All taxonomists agree that the two species of gibbon belong in the same genus, and the same is true of the red-eyed and white-eyed vireos. We are closer to the chimpanzees than the different species of gibbons, or the different species of vireos, are to each other. We are also approximately as close to the gorillas as these different species are to each other. There is only one proper conclusion to draw. Since the rules of naming in zoology give priority to the name that was first proposed, this means that the two species of chimpanzee should be renamed Homo troglodytes and Homo paniscus, and the gorilla, Homo gorilla. Or to follow Jared Diamond's more colorful way of putting it. we are 'the third chimpanzee'.

So we belong to the same family and the same genus as chimpanzees and gorillas Still, it may be said, we remain a distinct species, and that is enough to allow us to draw a clear line between human beings and all other animals. It is true that we remain a distinct species, but how clear is the line that this enables us to draw? Stephen Clark, professor of philosophy at Liverpool University, and R. I. M. Dunbar, professor of biological anthropology at University College, London, have both argued recently that the way in which we divide beings into species does not reflect a natural order of things, or a reality out there in the world, but rather the subjective judgments of those doing the classifying. The boundaries between species are not laid down by nature; they reflect our ways of classifying living thing. We often group together in the same species beings that look very different—the Pekinese and the wolfhound, for example—while separating beings that look very alike, as many different species of birds do. As Dunbar puts it:

The biological reality is that the great apes are just populations of animals that differ only slightly more in their degree of genetic relatedness to you and me than do other populations of humans living elsewhere in the world. They just look a bit different to those other populations that we commonly call ‘human’, but not all that different, and by no means as different as, say, spiders do.

So if we cannot interbreed with chimpanzees, or with half-human, half-chimpanzee beings who can interbreed with chimpanzee, this is merely due to the deaths of the intermediate types. In any case, why do we assume that a human being and a chimpanzee could not produce a child? It is true that there is a difference in the number of chromosomes, chimpanzees having 48 and humans 46. But siamangs and large gibbons-two distinct spices of ape living in Malaysia and Indonesia--have interbred, despite the fact that they have different numbers of chromosomes (50 and 44 respectively). So the possibility of human and chimpanzee interbreeding cannot be ruled out.

 

WHO IS A PERSON?

The chapter began with a description of the life of a community, the non-human nature of which was concealed by my use of the term 'person'. We often use 'person' as if it meant the same as 'human being'. In recent discussions in biometrics, however, 'person' is now often used to mean a being with certain characteristics such as rationality and self-awareness. There is a solid historical basis for this use. It is, as we saw, consistent with the definition given by John Locke in the seventeenth century. 'Person' comes from the Latin 'persona', which initially meant a mask worn by an actor in a play, and later come to refer to the character the actor played. The word was introduced into philosophical discourse by the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, who used it to mean the role one is called to play in life. It was then taken up by early Christian thinkers grappling with the problem of understanding the doctrine of the trinity--what was the relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In 325 the Council of Nicea settled the issue by saying that the trinity is one substance and three persons. But what was a person? Since neither God the Father nor the Holy Ghost were human beings, it was evident that a person did not have to be a human being. In the sixth century the philosopher Boethius confirmed this by defining 'person' as 'an individual substance of rational nature', a definition subsequently used by Aquinas and other writers and supplemented by Locke with the element of awareness of one's own existence at different times and places.

So a person is not by definition a human being. But the only nonhuman persons Boethius and Aquinas contemplated were spiritual beings like God and the Holy Ghost. Are the there other, more tangible persons who are not human? Is the following a description of a person?

 

 

She communicates in sign language, using a vocabulary of over 1000 words. She also understands spoken English, and often carries on 'bilingual' conversations, responding in sign to questions asked in English. She is learning the letters of the alphabet, and can read some printed words, including her own name. She has achieved scores between 85 and 95 on the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test.

She demonstrates a clear self-awareness by engaging in self-directed behaviors in front of a mirror, such as making faces or examining her teeth, and by her appropriate use of self-descriptive language. She lies to avoid the consequences of her own misbehavior, and anticipates other' responses to her actions. She engages in imaginary play, both alone and with others. She has produced paintings and drawings which are representational. She remembers and can talk about past events in her life. She under-stands and has used appropriately time-related words like 'before', 'after', 'later', and 'yesterday'.

She laughs at her won jokes and those of others. She cries when hurt or left alone, screams when frightened or angered. She talks about her feeling, using words like 'happy', 'sad', 'afraid', 'enjoy', 'eager', 'frustrate', 'made' and, quite frequently, 'love'. She grieves for those she had lost---a favorite cat who has died, a friend who had gone away. She can talk about what happens when one dies, but she becomes fidgety and uncomfortable when asked to discuss her own death or the death of her companions. She displays a wonderful gentleness with kittens and other small animals. She has even expressed empathy for others seen only in pictures.

Many people react with skepticism to such descriptions of a non-human animal. But the abilities of the gorilla Koko described here are broadly similar to those reported quite independently by observers of other great apes, including chimpanzees and orangutans. On the evidence presented, there seems little doubt that Koko is 'a thinking intelligent being that had reason and reflection and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places'. So, it would seem, are many other great apes, and not only those who have learnt a human language. After spending most of her life observing free-living chimpanzees in the Gumbo region of Tanzania, Jane Goodall wrote:

Certainly all of us we have worked closely with chimpanzees over extended periods of time have no hesitation in asserting that chimpanzees, like humans, show emotions similar to sometimes probably identical to those which we label joy, sadness, fear, despair and so on... They can plan for the immediate future. And they clearly have some kind of self-concept.

There are other persons on this planet. The evidence for personhood is at present most conclusive for the great apes, but whales, DOLPHINS, elephants, monkeys, dogs, pigs and other animals may eventually also be shown to be aware of their own existence over time and capable of reasoning. Then they too will have to be considered as persons. But what difference does it make, whether a nonhuman animal is a person or not? In one respect, it makes little difference. Whether or not dogs and pigs are persons, they can certainly feel pain and suffer in a variety of ways, and our concern for their suffering should not depend on how rational and self-aware they might be. All the same, the term 'person' is no mere descriptive label. It carries with it a certain moral standing. Just as, in law, the fact that a corporation can be a person means that a corporation can sue and be sued, so too, once we recognize a nonhuman animal as a person, we will soon begin to attribute basic rights to that animal.


According to this, Jesus was an Ape? jt.

The Pope says that He-himself is a Fish! (avatar)?


1Peter Singer, Rethinking Life and Death (NEW YORK: St. Martin's Griffin, MAY 1996) P.176-182.

wpe31.jpg (11449 bytes)


` DNA and the I Ching. `

 
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