Ben Garrod defines humans

Dr Ben Garrod is an English evolutionary biologist, primatologist and broadcaster.

Garrod started formal study at the Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge as an Animal Behaviour student, and has worked all over the world since, particularly in great ape conservation.

On Wednesday 25th October, Concrete attended a talk delivered by Dr Garrod, entitled ‘What defines humans?’, for the Norwich Science Festival. Garrod explained that, for some time, intellectuals have tried to identify key features which differentiate humans from primates.

When it comes to comparing our anatomy and functionally, there is nothing different between Homo sapiens and chimpanzees. Genetically, we are more closely related to chimps than chimps are to gorillas, so we could almost be seen as “stretched, elongated, mostly hairless chimps”.

Therefore, in order to define what it means to be human, other parameters need to be used. Humans in the past were seen as toolmakers, however this definition was undermined by primatologist Jane Goodall’s observations of chimpanzees using tools for termite-fishing.

Anthropologist Louis Leakey said: “We must redefine ‘tool’, redefine ‘man’, or accept chimpanzees as humans”. This has led to other qualities being proposed to enable us to uniquely define what it means to be human, such as; culture, sense of self, the use of weapons, religion (or more primitive rituals) and even fashion. Most of these have now been observed, in some form, in chimpanzees. The idea that unique situation in the animal kingdom is being shaken by scientific observations, is fascinating and maybe a bit intimidating.

Garrod explained that intelligence is not something that is exclusive to Homo sapiens, but rather there is a continuum of intelligence between humans and primates. We are not equally intelligent, but rather intelligent in different ways. Reclassification of species is unlikely to happen as a result of our better understanding of other animals, however, what Garrod hopes is that our attitude towards conservation, treatment and the welfare of these incredible creatures, will be changed for the better.


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September 2021
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