Why I'm an Animal Lover

I study animals not to understand humans necessarily although that has become my business, of course.

I’m basically an animal lover.  I study animals not to understand humans necessarily although that has become my business, of course. Working with primates it’s very easy for me to connect what chimpanzees or Bonobos do to human behavior.  And people are very interested in that part of my work.  But my main interest is really to understand animals. And I could also have worked with birds.  I could have worked with fish.  I’m a big fish lover, for example.  But I happen to work with primates and make these connections with humans. 

As a result I interact with a lot of different people.  There’s philosophers, there’s people in the business world, psychologists.  I’m a biologist and I teach in the psychology department. So it has given me some sort of interdisciplinary perspective on things where I need to bring a lot of things together in order to understand what it means for humans to be so closely related to Bonobos and chimpanzees.  And so it has changed my perspective.  And it also has changed my understanding of humans because I look at humans maybe in a very different way than most humans look at themselves.

I look at humans basically as primates.  And 95 percent of what we do represents primate tendencies and primate emotions.  And there is a certain part that is uniquely human obviously. We have this very interesting combination of our cultural and technical achievements with our old primate heritage.  But I always look more at the primate heritage than anything else.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

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