As something of a hobby, over the past 18 months I have been filming primates in various places. To pause and reflect on where we have come from, I am filled with awe at the truth laid out by Charles Darwin. To watch the Ring Tailed Lemur is to see not just a magnificent creature but also our relative. A relative separated from us by over 60 million years. To think that they had turned one way and we another. The circumstances are unclear as one would expect given such a time period. Perhaps our ancestors outpopulated the Lemurs. One thing became clear though. They all but disappeared from other parts of the world. They became isolated on the island of Madagascar. It is thought that they arrived there after the separation of Madagascar from Africa. Indeed it is speculated that they migrated across on driftwood, surviving a long journey on whatever foliage was available. Meanwhile in Africa, our ancestors were taking a very different journey. With the passage of time our ancestors would develop ever more sophisticated skills as brain volume increased and adaptation to challenging environments shaped our history. Yet in the same instance there is still a strong connection. One simple example will suffice. For the Lemur, the digits of the hands and feet are divergent. A little while spent with these creatures is enough to show how versatile their interactions with the environment can be as a result and how this can shape their behavioural strategies. Further along our journey other significant adaptations have occurred and broadly speaking we may think of the primates as consisting of two groups – the Strepsirrhini which include the Lemurs and the Haplorrhini. The latter group includes the Old World Monkeys, the New World Monkeys and the Greater Apes of which we are a member. When looking through the eyes of a primatologist or anthropologist an understanding of the connections becomes a focus for study and the insights gained can be quite profound when applied to our evolution and nature.
So to cut to the chase, what I did was to aggregate footage from my travels into a short 5 minute video. In the first half, our journey is illustrated by reference to the groups that diverged from our ancestors over a given period of time. In the second half, i’ve included public domain footage from the Prelinger Archives enabling me to contrast footage of humans and other primates. The reader i’m sure will disagree with some (or even all!) of the comparisons I’ve made but it is not unreasonable to make comparisons given the success of evolutionary theory (I would also add that some of the clips have been added rather lightheartedly – i’m sure the vertical sit-up wasn’t originated by the Squirrel Monkey). The general theories of evolutionary psychology or psychiatry can be made more specific through such observations particularly where they are environmentally contextualised. Such comparisons also offer the possibility of ‘centering’ – a movement away from the anthropomorphic into a primatomorphic view that is perhaps necessary for us to gain an insight into the complexities and problems posed by our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. I would also like to thank the various organisations that have supported me in this endeavour as well as the talented musician Rick Clarke who has selflessly made available his music for use by others.
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