Apes like us, Confessions of a Primatologist

Just how similar are we to the Great Apes? That was the question addressed by Volker Sommer, Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at UCL, who travelled all the way down from London to speak to us.

It was a fascinating talk.  He first looked at how society had traditionaly seen a gap between humans and animals, based around the idea that we possess a soul, but animals do not.  Scientific developments, particularly Darwin’s theory of evolution, ate away at the concept of souls and the view we were somehow created differently from the rest of the animal kingdom.  But we still clung to the belief that we were special and distinct from even the most advanced of our cousins.

Research has shown that, however desperately we want to believe we are different, the reality is that what differences there are are only in degree and not of any fundament nature.  Professor Sommer illustrated this by a number of clips of primate behaviour that demonstrated just how sophisticated and close to humans it can be.

After a break there was then a lively discussion on the implications of what we had learnt, in particular on how we should treat the Great Apes .