WS: I think one of the things that inspired me to write Great Apes was the imminent extinction of the chimpanzee in the wild, which I think will be one of the most philosophically queasy moments. But I don’t think people have reckoned on it at all.
SW: Any extinction, but particularly chimpanzees.
WS: Particularly the chimp, surely.
SW: It’s the finality of it and the notion that, “These are our cousins, and we’re the ones who caused their demise.”
I think I should pay more attention to the SEED salon. There’s a few conversations in there I’ve missed, and from the highlights, it looks like the full version of the Will Self / Spencer Wells conversation could be fun if it’s put online. They were talking about what it means to be human.
Will Self was being Will Self, which he does very well. He was talking of the interest in seeing a Chimpanzee-Human hybrid. Spencer Wells in contrast would like to talk to a chimpanzee, but not create a hybrid. It’s interesting because Self sees humanity as a constructed idea. It’s interesting, because it raises the question “Is what makes you human a hardware or software issue?” Self also raises the question of self-cloning. If he could, would it be acceptable to have a brainless clone to act as a source of body parts. Is a brainless clone human?
The extinction of the chimpanzees is a problem which isn’t in the highlights video, but it’s a powerful point. Humans have exterminated other human cultures. The people who built Easter Island are effectively extinct, killed by the effects of western contact. Homo Sapiens have probably killed their closest relatives Homo Neanderthalensis. Was that genocide or specicide? We’re also close to pushing the other great apes off the planet. Yet it may in the future be possible to mate with Chimpanzees. Success would require genetic engineering to cope with the different number of chromosomes, and inventing a banana-shaped Valentine’s card, but it may be possible. We’re so close that a few biologists have suggested we are a form of Chimpanzee ourselves.
When we eliminate them will we discover that we are still as thoughtlessly human as we were at the end of the Middle Palaeolithic when the last Neanderthal died? And that’s where we came in.Google+