In past posts, I've mentioned that I'm a tennis fan. The last few days have been quite exciting in the tennis world as No.-1 ranked, four-time French Open champ, Rafael Nadal, was defeated in the fourth round by No. 23-ranked Robin Soderling, a Swedish player who never won so much as a third-round match at a major tournament before beating Nadal. Soderling went on to thrash Nikolay Davydenko and is now in the semifinals.
I've watched these matches on the Tennis Channel (replays in the evening, Dan), which, like most channels, runs commercials. Many are for stores selling tennis apparel or exotic locales where you can play tennis to your heart's content. However, one commercial that declares "humans are smarter than apes" has captured my attention and made me laugh on more than one occasion. It also made me wonder how much smarter we really are, especially when I recently read about a relatively complex chimp-made toolkit.
The commercial, which features an actor made up to look like a general from the "Planet of the Apes" movies, is for DirecTV. You can view it by going to this link and clicking to play "Humans Are Smarter." (It plays better and the general is more imposing on television than in this Web site video.) By the end of the commercial, you wonder if humans really are smarter.
Of course this commercial is based on a science fiction movie. But there is enough research to support the premise that comparing apes and humans isn't all that far-fetched. Reportedly, 95 percent of our DNA sequence is identical to that of chimpanzees. Does that 95 percent include the ability to create tools? Possibly.
What is the toolkit? It"s a five-piece honey extraction set.
A new study on the findings, accepted for publication in the Journal of Human Evolution, is believed to be the first to make this type of comparison. Hunger for honey appears to have motivated both species.
"Tools are used to solve ecological challenges," lead author Christophe Boesch explained to Discovery News. "The more complex and rewarding a challenge is the more complex the solutions are going to be."
The tools consist of pounders, enlargers, collectors, perforators, and swabbers. According to the Discovery report, chimps, suspended in acrobatic positions on branches, might first pull out a thick stick pounder to break open beehive entrances. They then reach for another stick, the enlarger, to perforate and widen different honeybee hive compartments. Next comes the collector, used to dip or scoop out honey.
Different tools and methods are needed to obtain underground bee honey. The chimps wield a perforator to penetrate the ground, locate a honey chamber and dig into the soil. They then pull off strips of bark to dip and spoon the honey out of the opened beehive.
Obtaining honey from an underground hive isn't easy. Aside from dealing with angry, stinging bees, the chimps must dig narrow sideways tunnels, maintain perfect aim and prevent soil from falling into, and ruining, their desired sweet reward.
Boesch and his team believe the chimps must therefore possess "an elaborate understanding of unseen nest structure, combined with a clear appreciation that tools permit the location of unseen resources, and a precise three-dimensional use of geometry for reaching the honey chamber from the correct angle."
Does this mean that chimps and apes eventually will catch up to humans? They have a long way to go, and according to the genetic research, the remaining 5 percent of our DNA that is not identical to that of chimps corresponds to over 35 million differences at the level of the smallest building blocks of DNA. The guy at the end of the commercial? His gene pool is questionable.