The chimpanzee's genome differs from that of humans by only 1.23%. Sheer nonsense in terms of numbers, but a huge difference if you put two species side by side. But what if we neutralize this difference and teach primacy to all the intricacies of human life, such as using toilet paper or driving a car?
It's one thing to make a chimpanzee learn a hundred or two simple words, it's quite another to explain to her how the human world works.
"Give me an orange let me eat an orange I eat an orange let me eat an orange give me you." This is the longest line written in English by the chimpanzee Nim Chimpsky, who was raised as a human in the 1970s by scientists and managed to teach sign language. The primate was part of Project Nim, an experiment conducted by scientists at Columbia University to find out if chimpanzees can learn human language.
Even after years of teaching Nim everything human, researchers have come to the conclusion that he never fully understood the language as we do. Yes, he learned to express demands - for example, the desire to eat an orange - and knew as many as 125 words.
But communication requires not only and not so much vocabulary as syntax, that is, more complex communicative linguistic units - sentences. People understand this from an early age, we have an innate ability to create new combinations of the same words, building them into laconic phrases, and not into the telegraphic "give me an orange." Nim, like other primates like him, did not have this ability.
Cognitive scientists believe that the distinctive ability of humans to manipulate language using syntax generates much of the richness and complexity of our thoughts. This chasm between humans and our closest primate relatives is just one of many.
People walk on two legs, great apes on all fours. And this is the second major difference between us. Kevin Hunt, director of the Laboratory for Human Origins and Primate Evolution at Indiana University, believes that when Africa began to become drier about 6.5 million years ago, our ancestors were stuck in its eastern part, where the habitat became the driest.
The vegetation in these habitats was at least much lower, and the vertical mode of movement took the place of the tree climbing skill. This was enough to reach the vegetation on the low-hanging branches of the trees. Thus, says Hunt, chimpanzees stayed in the trees in the forests, while our ancestors descended to land in the pristine and arid regions of Africa.
Charles Darwin was the first to understand why changing modes of travel was crucial at a time when man and ape went on different evolutionary paths. One and a half million years after we became bipedal, our hands were freed to carry instruments. We got primitive stone tools, and after a while we turned these stones in our hands into an iPad.
Another important point is the muscle frame. According to Hunt, if you shave a chimpanzee and photograph its body from neck to waist, you won't notice at first glance that the image is not human. The muscles of the two species are similar, but somehow chimpanzees are two to three times stronger than humans.
No one knows where or why chimpanzees have such extra strength. Scientists say that some of their muscles are structured differently - the attachment points are located for more strength, not speed, as we have.According to Kevin Hunt, primate muscle fibers are denser, in addition, they may have physicochemical benefits, and contraction is not at all the same as our muscles. Be that as it may, the result is obvious: a chimpanzee can pick up and throw a rock that you can't even lift off the ground.
Herb Terrace, a primate researcher who led Project Nim, believes chimpanzees cannot infer the mental state of another person - whether they are happy, sad, or angry. While primates are very good at reading body language, they cannot analyze the state of mind of another creature. Like a human infant, a chimpanzee named Nim communicated in an imperative mood.
Another thing is that as they grow up, humans, unlike chimpanzees, develop a much richer form of communication. Our language is based on the conversation between the speaker and the listener for the purpose of exchange of information and is generously seasoned with emotions: "thank you very much", "this is very interesting", "glad you mentioned it."
There is not a single example of animal conversation in this format, except for humans. This is the main limitation that prevents primates from becoming full-fledged humans. Yes, they can solve puzzles, they can be taught basic communication skills and how to assemble Ikea furniture according to the instructions. But it is difficult to imagine how they will use their new abilities to discuss and plan a world coup.
The chimpanzee genome was first deciphered in 2005. It was found to differ from the human it was compared to by about 1.23%. This amounts to about 40 million differences in our DNA, half of which are due to mutations in the human ancestral line, the other half in the chimpanzee line. Thanks to these mutations, with all the similarities between our species, there is a giant gap: differences in intelligence, anatomy, lifestyle and in the success of colonizing the planet.