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Thread: The Aquatic Ape

  1. #1
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    The Aquatic Ape

    Some years ago, i recall hearing a theory about the possibility of man evolving from the sea. The basic premise of the theory was the shape of the human's nose. Seeing that a human's nose pointed downward as opposed to an ape whose nose is tilted upward, it was surmised that an ape would not be capable of swimming or theryby evolving into man. I became aware of the theory by way of a book called THE NAKED APE, which was quite popular back in the early 70's, and written by Desmomd Morris who was a Zoologist. It always stuck with me that the theory held some merit, and that a direct relation between man and ape was flawed due to the aquatic nose concept.

  2. #2
    Hi, my name is Jim Moore, and I've studied the evidence offered for the aquatic ape theory for over a decade, and have a site critiquing it. I've found it to be chock full of errors of various sorts in all its various forms.
    I've been doing this checking for 10 years now and have had a version of my site up since 1996. My site has been used as a reference by The Straight Dope (22 Jan 2002) and The Fortean Times (Oct 2003), as well as the Talk Origins Archive and several college courses -- plus of course just plain folks interested in facts. I've also recently written an entry about it in the Sage Encyclopedia of Anthropology (which is unfortunately so expensive I can't buy one. )

    The site is Aquatic Ape Theory: Sink or Swim?.

    The shape of the human nose is probably not the most basic premise of the AAT/H, but it is one, and it's instructive. First, it simply isn't true that primates without human-shaped noses cannot swim, and swim well, as well as dive. For instance, all the macaque species swim well, and at least one, the crab-eating macaque, swims and dives regularly. Probocis monkeys also swim well, not just the males who have a nose which is superficially (but not actually) similar to humans', but the females as well. Most damning to this idea is that, rather than being an adaptation to swimming, our noses seem to be an accidental side result of the foreshortening of our ancestors' faces about 1.5-2 million years ago. This process can actually be seen in fossils because experts can detect the relative growth patterns of various parts of the skull (one of those things I always find amazing). What's instructive about this claim is that it's so easily shown to be wrong, if one looks at the facts, yet the claim is still made; that doesn't speak well for the proponents making the claim. Unfortunately this is typical of virtually all claims made regarding the AAT/H

    There are a great many other problems with the claims made about the "aquatic ape" theory, and I try to cover most of them on my site. Morris has only mentioned the AAT/H a little; its creator was Alister Hardy, a reknowned marine biologist who had some very odds views of things outside his field (he was a big -- and very credulous -- proponent of pyschic phenomena) and its chief proponent has been Elaine Morgan, a TV playwright, along with a few others. None of them did a reasonably accurate job of supporting their ideas -- there are many examples on my site.

    My site covers many of the extremely numerous mistakes Elaine Morgan and other AAT proponents have made in constructing their theory. These include errors of fact, misunderstanding of basic evolutionary principles, and techiques common in pseudoscience (and creationism) like ignoring contrary evidence, even when it's in the same book, or on the same page, as evidence they use; altering quotes to make them seem to prop up their theory; and saying that experts said one thing when they actually said the opposite. Being one of the people that Elaine Morgan got information from online, and having personally corrected her many times, with references to back it up, I can say she's not too keen on correcting her work -- she's still saying many of the same things that've been discredited long ago. But then many of the "facts" that the AAT used when it was first proposed (by respected marine biologist Alister Hardy, an expert on plankton) were known to be false for decades before he used them. Pretty poor scholarship all around.

    My site is pretty long, and I'm afraid it's not as easy as I'd like to find specific info, so here's a couple of direct links as well: you may have seen the "AAT Leaflet" around the web which lists supposed aquatic characteristics; I have an annotated version which corrects the errors in it. And I have a critique of Morgan's 1997 book, which is her best work on the subject to date; however, it's riddled with errors, and my critique covers those that jumped out at me without even having to dig for them. There was also a 2-part radio show last spring (and recently repeated) on BBC Radio 4, done by David Attenborough and riddled with errors; I have a critique on that as well.

  3. #3
    Here is a site by a guy that dissects the theory in all directions.

    http://www.aquaticape.org

    Fact is though there are apes that do swim. Gorillas have been witnessed in the water.
    Might be the chimp doesn't swim due to the fact they fear water as we do..unless we LEARN to swim.

    All they would have to learn is to hold their breath as we do. The nose is a nose. Even whales with air holes on top of their bodies which is their nose also hold their breath.

    Had we come from the sea I would think that instinct would have been very powerful..even in newborn humans.
    Which maybe it is but is overpowered by FEAR.
    Life isn't about getting thru the storm but learning to dance in the rain.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by anthrosciguy
    Hi, my name is Jim Moore, and I've studied the evidence offered for the aquatic ape theory for over a decade, and have a site critiquing it. I've found it to be chock full of errors of various sorts in all its various forms.
    I've been doing this checking for 10 years now and have had a version of my site up since 1996. My site has been used as a reference by The Straight Dope (22 Jan 2002) and The Fortean Times (Oct 2003), as well as the Talk Origins Archive and several college courses -- plus of course just plain folks interested in facts. I've also recently written an entry about it in the Sage Encyclopedia of Anthropology (which is unfortunately so expensive I can't buy one. )

    The site is Aquatic Ape Theory: Sink or Swim?.

    The shape of the human nose is probably not the most basic premise of the AAT/H, but it is one, and it's instructive. First, it simply isn't true that primates without human-shaped noses cannot swim, and swim well, as well as dive. For instance, all the macaque species swim well, and at least one, the crab-eating macaque, swims and dives regularly. Probocis monkeys also swim well, not just the males who have a nose which is superficially (but not actually) similar to humans', but the females as well. Most damning to this idea is that, rather than being an adaptation to swimming, our noses seem to be an accidental side result of the foreshortening of our ancestors' faces about 1.5-2 million years ago. This process can actually be seen in fossils because experts can detect the relative growth patterns of various parts of the skull (one of those things I always find amazing). What's instructive about this claim is that it's so easily shown to be wrong, if one looks at the facts, yet the claim is still made; that doesn't speak well for the proponents making the claim. Unfortunately this is typical of virtually all claims made regarding the AAT/H

    There are a great many other problems with the claims made about the "aquatic ape" theory, and I try to cover most of them on my site. Morris has only mentioned the AAT/H a little; its creator was Alister Hardy, a reknowned marine biologist who had some very odds views of things outside his field (he was a big -- and very credulous -- proponent of pyschic phenomena) and its chief proponent has been Elaine Morgan, a TV playwright, along with a few others. None of them did a reasonably accurate job of supporting their ideas -- there are many examples on my site.

    My site covers many of the extremely numerous mistakes Elaine Morgan and other AAT proponents have made in constructing their theory. These include errors of fact, misunderstanding of basic evolutionary principles, and techiques common in pseudoscience (and creationism) like ignoring contrary evidence, even when it's in the same book, or on the same page, as evidence they use; altering quotes to make them seem to prop up their theory; and saying that experts said one thing when they actually said the opposite. Being one of the people that Elaine Morgan got information from online, and having personally corrected her many times, with references to back it up, I can say she's not too keen on correcting her work -- she's still saying many of the same things that've been discredited long ago. But then many of the "facts" that the AAT used when it was first proposed (by respected marine biologist Alister Hardy, an expert on plankton) were known to be false for decades before he used them. Pretty poor scholarship all around.

    My site is pretty long, and I'm afraid it's not as easy as I'd like to find specific info, so here's a couple of direct links as well: you may have seen the "AAT Leaflet" around the web which lists supposed aquatic characteristics; I have an annotated version which corrects the errors in it. And I have a critique of Morgan's 1997 book, which is her best work on the subject to date; however, it's riddled with errors, and my critique covers those that jumped out at me without even having to dig for them. There was also a 2-part radio show last spring (and recently repeated) on BBC Radio 4, done by David Attenborough and riddled with errors; I have a critique on that as well.
    Thanks for all the info you provided about the theory I alluded to. As I remember, Morris did not spend a great deal of time on the subject, but mentioned it as a sort of alternative concept to the "missing link". I don't think that he even supported the idea, but found it usefull to mention. I know very little about the theory and that is why am so grateful that you have added some light to the subject. I can't promise to look at all the stuff you have mentioned, but I will probably take a glance at some of it.

  5. #5
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    regarding missing link ,why humans are ruling the blue planet and not other species?could be evolution the answer?the scientists discovered a dolphin who has a bigger brain than humans.
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  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by adi chicago
    regarding missing link ,why humans are ruling the blue planet and not other species?could be evolution the answer?the scientists discovered a dolphin who has a bigger brain than humans.
    Actually, no they haven't, at least not in any relevant sense. I have a sub-page on my site dealing with brain EQ (Encephalization Quotient) which explains all this more thoroughly, but the gist is that when you compare brain size you can't simply look at absolute size, because a very large and very dumb animal (like a manatee, for instance) will have a brain which is much larger than a smaller but much smarter animal (like a capuchin monkey, for example). You have to look at relative size -- relative to body mass -- and that's what EQ was developed for. Humans come out well on top, although some dolphins, like bottlenose dolphins, are probably next in line.

    As for ruling, well, you could look at that in various ways, and by several of them, you'd have to say that things like bacteria and viruses "rule". But by our conventional human-oriented standards, we "rule", and the reason is probably pretty much luck. I mention a bit of this on my Summary page, in a section titled "The unpopular role of luck in evolution".

  7. #7
    we "rule", and the reason is probably pretty much luck
    I do not necessarily agre ethat we rule but the major difference between humans and other species is that other species adapt their behaviour, or in the evolutionary long term physiology and anatomy, to an unfavourable or changing environment more than we do. Humans tend to adapt the environment instead and that is one reason that I believe human physical evolution is, and will continue to be, remarkably slow from now onwards,

  8. #8
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    To me desmond morris made an indisputable case in his naked ape trilogy that humans are monkeys with big brains. Most of our instinctive behaviour including waging war on other tribes is monkey behaviour. As to loss of body hair as compared to apes, simply an adaption to clothes wearing and proof of darwins evolutionary theory.

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