On a seemingly unrelated note, I have always been curious about why we look so different from our evolutionary close relatives. Why are we bipedal when they are not? Why are we naked when they have fur?
Back when evolution's implications were being explored, scientists of the time came up with an answer to those questions: We moved from the jungles to the savannah. We needed to stand to see prey and watch for predators in the tall grasses. The heat of the savannah and other factors helped to make our fur coats unnecessary, so they were shed in an evolutionary process. Etc.
As archeologist dug into our past, they discovered a big problem with that theory: The fossilized plants found with the ancient hominid skeletons were not from the savannah! However, academia has become a little too attached to the previous theory. It has become a faith. Even though there is this glaring problem with the theory, they still cling to it. They use it as a foundation for teaching and as a springboard for their questions in interpreting archeological findings rather than embracing the void of no theory, or exploring other possible options...
NetFlix has recently incorporated "TED Talks" into their library, and one particular series of talks called "Ancient Clues" discussed this little big issue. A delightful elderly lady scientist, named Elaine Morgan, discussed a theory which offered to fill in the gaps and step past the savannah issue. It's a theory from back in the early 1960's which never got any traction, nor apparently was it ever properly refuted. It goes like this:
What if we had aquatic ancestors in our evolutionary family tree? Aquatic chimps? Strange, yes, but there are several factors which we seem to share with other mammals of aquatic ancestry. I'll list a few to entice you to check out the talk for yourself:
- Except for one subterranean mole in South America, all "naked" mammals have an evolutionary aquatic ancestor.
- Only mammals with aquatic ancestors can consciously control their breathing. (This is critical for our ability to speak.)
- Only mammals with aquatic ancestors have a layer of fat under the skin, like we have but chimps do not.
If you have an interest in evolution science, you should definitely watch this. Also, if you can appreciate how the beliefs of even scientists can morph into a system resembling religion, you should definitely watch this.
This may not be the correct answer to the question of why we are so different than other primates, but we owe it to ourselves to honestly explore this theory as a possibility.