Between reason and drive

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Between reason and drive
Between reason and drive

Between Reason and Drive

From a genetic point of view, we are actually still apes - after all, our genome differs by only about two percent from our closest relatives, the common and the pygmy chimpanzee, called bonobo. And yet: We are not "a mammal species like others", argues the Californian geography professor Jared Diamond in "The Third Chimpanzee - Evolution and Future of Man". How could it be that we rose to conquer this world in such a short time while our two furry relatives are now struggling to survive?

In search of the "great leap forward", the American researcher takes us back to the time when we were still hunters and gatherers, continues his journey through Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons and finally lingers in modern Homo sapiens. Diamond does not see the development of big game hunting as decisive for human evolution. He clearly classifies the Neanderthals as backward because, in his opinion, they lacked a typical human trait: the ability to innovate. Even modern anatomy - the upright walk and the enlarged brain - did not make us what we are today. Because only when we would have started to communicate with the changed vocal apparatus estimated 60,000 years ago, the door for our "cultural evolution" probably opened.

Continued to search for the natural driving forces that enabled us to "climb further" up the evolutionary ladder, Jared Diamond devotes the second part of his book to sociobiology. He illustrates how natural selection ultimately shaped our typical human behavior - for example, the special parental care or our sexual behavior. He succeeds in presenting "adultery" in geese as the "animal counterpart" of our cheating, which we not only condemned today, but also at the court of the Chinese Tang Dynasty.

In the third part of the book, Jared Diamond deals with the question that suddenly worries the reader: How unique are people really? Are there precursors to our cultural traits-art, language, and agriculture, but also drug abuse and genocide-in the animal kingdom? In the penultimate chapter, the author analyzes how geography dictates the basic rules of biology as well as the cultural evolution of all species.

Scientifically sober, the American ends his book: We were and are destroyers. "Noble savages" who live in harmony with nature - as Rousseau had beautifully imagined - never existed in his opinion. What took place were countless mass murders. And the danger of a nuclear holocaust would now have been joined by a "second dark cloud", the danger of a global environmental catastrophe. Diamond sees the clouds hovering over our heads and complains that the question of whether it is still worth living on this planet comes up too seldom.

As the son of a doctor and a musician with a gift for languages, the author puzzles together findings from evolutionary biology, paleontology, archaeology, history, physiology, geography and linguistics. It is not surprising that he encounters criticism when, for example, he assigns the chimpanzee to the genus Homo without discussion or only mentions the vervet monkey as an "animal bridge to human language". His theories of human "race origin" are also courageous. It is surprising that the current geography professor only uses the example of species extinction to illustrate the extent of today's environmental catastrophe and only mentions the term "global warming" in the epilogue.

In this new edition of his book, Jared Diamond strives to be up-to-date and adds new findings and refers to his current bestseller "Collapse – why societies survive or perish". "The Third Chimpanzee" is a lengthy one, and not everyone is likely to share Diamond's love of birds or be interested in the detailed analysis of the pidgin language. Nevertheless, the reader experiences a reading pleasure through Diamond's narrative writing style, through his numerous personal stories from New Guinea or small confessions to his own choice of partner.

Is the "third chimpanzee" an evolutionary error that has not always had its instincts and urges under control? It seems like Jared Diamond can find the animal root in each of our traits. He does not want to justify our behavior, nor does he want to propose specific solutions. It is important to him that, with the knowledge of our tribal history, we finally become aware of our current problems and throw off "willful blindness". He succeeds excellently.

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