Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

just idle curiosity, really

The accumulation of small heritable changes within populations over time.

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Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#1  Postby proudfootz » Jul 15, 2017 6:13 pm

Sparked by a post in a totally unrelated thread, I recalled that AronRa published an opinion that seemed to be what I thought he termed 'controversial' regarding the taxonomy of humans.



I have no real knowledge of all this either by profession or vocation.

Is this a big deal that people get upset about?
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Re: Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#2  Postby Animavore » Jul 15, 2017 6:35 pm

You think that's bad? According to Neil Shubin (the guy who found Tiktaalik) we're still fish. Only fish which are adapted to land.

The argument makes perfect sense to me, but I had a heated debate with an older person in Glasgow last year about it. I just put it down to paradigms shifting one funeral at a time. :grin:
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Re: Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#3  Postby proudfootz » Jul 15, 2017 6:45 pm

Hm. I might draw the line at fish, but maybe I shouldn't.
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Re: Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#4  Postby Animavore » Jul 15, 2017 6:51 pm

proudfootz wrote:Hm. I might draw the line at fish, but maybe I shouldn't.

He was being a bit humorous. "Fish" is problematic because there's all types of things called fish which aren't fish. We're more properly called chordates.

According to some phylogenecists we're still everything that came before us. All species are nested into each other like those Russian dolls, if those dolls could branch out.
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Re: Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#5  Postby theropod » Jul 15, 2017 6:55 pm

Not quite dead yet and I agree entirely. Not only do I agree, I made a similar case for birds being maniraptoran theropod dinosaurs right here on this forum. I didn't put my case forward as eloquently as AronRa, but oh well, ya gets what yez pays for.

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Re: Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#6  Postby Calilasseia » Jul 15, 2017 7:12 pm

In short, you are the product of your ancestors.
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Re: Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#7  Postby tuco » Jul 15, 2017 8:30 pm

Cool story. I was recently told: No-one here is a monkey. So I guess I got reply for next time it happens: You are a fucking monkey! instead of hairless. Cool.
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Re: Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#8  Postby Thommo » Jul 15, 2017 8:56 pm

Animavore wrote:You think that's bad? According to Neil Shubin (the guy who found Tiktaalik) we're still fish. Only fish which are adapted to land.

The argument makes perfect sense to me, but I had a heated debate with an older person in Glasgow last year about it. I just put it down to paradigms shifting one funeral at a time. :grin:


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Re: Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#9  Postby zoon » Jul 15, 2017 10:24 pm

I think AronRa is making a case that the word "monkey" should change its meaning to reflect modern cladistics. The word "monkey" is currently most often used as excluding apes and humans, so it doesn't refer to a clade, as Wikipedia says:
Wikipedia wrote:Scientific classifications are now more often based on monophyletic groups, that is groups consisting of all the descendants of a common ancestor. The New World monkeys and the Old World monkeys are each monophyletic groups, but their combination is not, since it excludes hominoids (apes and humans). Thus the term "monkey" no longer refers to a recognized scientific taxon. The smallest accepted taxon which contains all the monkeys is the infraorder Simiiformes, or simians. However this also contains the hominoids (apes and humans), so that monkeys are, in terms of currently recognized taxa, non-hominoid simians. Colloquially and pop-culturally, the term is ambiguous and sometimes monkey includes non-human hominoids.[8] In addition, frequent arguments are made for a monophyletic usage of the word "monkey" from the perspective that usage should reflect cladistics.[9][10][11][12]

AronRa is one of those making the "frequent arguments" of the last sentence.

In the same way, as theropod points out, birds are in the same evolutionary group as crocodiles, and are now classified, at least by some zoologists, as being in a group "Reptilia" (cladogram here) - perhaps the ordinary usage of "reptile" would be better changed to include birds?
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Re: Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#10  Postby Calilasseia » Jul 15, 2017 10:49 pm

On a more detailed note, looking at the phylogeny of primates, we share a Catarrhine common ancestor with the SuperFamily Cercopithecidoidea, the Old World Monkeys, but you have to go back further, to the divergence of the Simiiformes, to find a shared ancestor with the New World Monkeys, that belong to the ParvOrder Platyrrhini. At this point, the classification scheme reflects the disparity between lay understanding of these organisms, and a rigorous phylogenetic view.

The ParvOrder Playtrrhini, considered in isolation, is a monophyletic clade - it contains all of the descendants of a specific ancestor. Likewise, so does the SuperFamily Cercopithecoidea. Trouble is, treating both of these groups as comprising "monkeys", results in a paraphyletic assemblage: the resulting assemblage does NOT contain all descendants from the relevant Simiiform ancestor, as that ancestor also gave rise, via the Catarrhini, to another branch of the tree, the Hominoidea. The term "monkey", as applied popularly, does not dovetail with the known phylogeny of the requisite organisms, and thus its use in any proper scientific discussion of our ancestry is invalid.

It's at this point, that the real nature of the question moves from the simplistic, misleading, and phylogenetically invalid "are we monkeys?", to "what is the phylogenetic status of our common ancestor with the Cercopithecoidea?", a question that is both more rigorous and more illuminating. The answer to that latter question, of course, being that said ancestor was a Catarrhine primate, and consequently, so are we. As indeed, we are members of every clade that gave rise to the Catarrhines, including the Simiiformes, right the way down to the Chordata, the Deuterostomata, the Bilateria and the Eumetazoa.
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Re: Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#11  Postby Matt_B » Jul 16, 2017 2:20 am

Yep. I may take objection to being called an ape or a monkey, but I'm 100% happy to be described as a simiiform. ;)
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Re: Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#12  Postby Thomas Eshuis » Jul 16, 2017 9:06 am

It's also a bit of a language thing.
Dutch doesn't have seperate words for monkeys and apes. Neither does German if I am not mistaken.
They're both called 'aap' similar to ape.
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Re: Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#13  Postby tuco » Jul 16, 2017 9:32 am

We have "opice" - monkey/ape and "lidoop" from "lid(i)" - people/humans and "op(ice)" or Hominidae.

Regardless of classification, if it behaves like a monkey its a monkey, to me.
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Re: Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#14  Postby zoon » Jul 16, 2017 10:28 am

Thomas Eshuis wrote:It's also a bit of a language thing.
Dutch doesn't have seperate words for monkeys and apes. Neither does German if I am not mistaken.
They're both called 'aap' similar to ape.

I think AronRa would argue that "aap" really ought to include humans, on the grounds that otherwise it refers to a biological group which doesn't follow modern taxonomy because it's not a clade. I can see where he's coming from, but at the same time I think there's something to be said for words in natural languages keeping the meanings everyone uses them for; life would become very complicated if the common names for things had to follow the latest in scientific thinking at all times. I remember talking to someone who was on one of the committees looking into endangered species of animals; often the committee found it easier to use the common English names for the animals, because the common names stayed the same while the scientific names changed as taxonomists argued with each other.
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Re: Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#15  Postby laklak » Jul 16, 2017 3:53 pm

If it looks like a monkey, walks like a monkey, and flings shit like a monkey - it's probably a monkey.
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Re: Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#16  Postby The_Piper » Jul 16, 2017 4:26 pm

Humans are apes. Brett Baier is a Monchichi. :shifty:
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Re: Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#17  Postby tuco » Jul 17, 2017 1:20 am

Fucking Mochhichi lol What is sold separately? Which reminds me, separating from monkeys:

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Re: Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#18  Postby Rumraket » Jul 31, 2017 12:32 pm

This was discussed over on The League of Reason forums also.

There are two senses of classification at use which often conflict. There is a cladistic sense, and a typological sense.

Rumraket wrote:I do think there are cases where cladistic groupings can't be meaningfully applied to their distant descendants.

For example, we all descend from prokaryotes through endosymbiosis between two distinct domains of prokaryotes (archaea and bacteria). But we aren't prokaryotes, we are eukaryotes. We are neither archaea nor bacteria.

I also think the definition of fish given on wikipedia is actually pretty good, as it makes the distinction between fish and the distant ancestors of fish pretty clear: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fish

A fish is any member of a group of animals that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic craniate animals that lack limbs with digits. They form a sister group to the tunicates, together forming the olfactores. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish as well as various extinct related groups. Tetrapods emerged within lobe-finned fishes, so cladistically they are fish as well. However, traditionally fish are rendered obsolete or paraphyletic by excluding the tetrapods (i.e., the amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals which all descended from within the same ancestry). Because in this manner the term "fish" is defined negatively as a paraphyletic group, it is not considered a formal taxonomic grouping in systematic biology. The traditional term pisces (also ichthyes) is considered a typological, but not a phylogenetic classification.


So there is a cladistic defition of fish, and a typological definition of fish. We are cladistically all fish, but typologically we are not. The typological definition corresponds pretty well to how we speak colloquially.

So, is there both a cladistic and a typological definition of Monkey? I suspect there is. Both uses are correct in their respective domains. We could cladistically be monkeys, but typologically not.

So are we monkeys? In one sense yes, in another sense no. Neither sense has to be the one true correct way to understand the word monkey. That just means we have to make it clear in what sense we are using the word when we say we are monkeys.
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Re: Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#19  Postby Calilasseia » Jul 31, 2017 4:34 pm

Part of the problem in the world of taxonomy, lies with the very nature of Linnaean taxonomy. Linnaean taxonomy was based upon the principle that shared anatomical features are an indication of relatedness, but when alighting upon this principle, Linnaeus did not take the next step, and ask why this should be so. His remit was classification, and he contented himself with taking advantage of comparative anatomy as an informative classification tool. If he ever did ask why anatomy constituted a pointer to relatedness, then I suspect he did not pursue the matter further, because he could not find a ready answer to the question. He thus contented himself with treating this as a brute fact.

But the mere fact that he did accept this brute fact, placed him in a position, had he pursued the question vigorously, to have alighted upon evolutionary ideas 112 years before Darwin. Because Linnaeus was, through his classification work, the first major scientific figure to accept the idea of relatedness of species.

That reliance upon comparative anatomy was, however, a two edged sword. As we now know, shared anatomy is frequently an indicator of shared ancestry. But when one delves into the fine detail, the picture sometimes becomes more complicated. Sometimes, members of widely separated lineages can exhibit, at least superficially, anatomical similarities, and it takes detailed analysis to reveal the homoplasious nature thereof.

We had to wait for Darwin to pursue the question vigorously, and ask why shared anatomy is an indication of relatedness. His answer was beautifully simple - shared anatomy is indicative of inheritance from a common ancestor. In effect, evolutionary theory unified the biosphere by extending genealogy to species.

But that extension, and the subsequent development of the ability to track that genealogy genetically, has shone a spotlight on the manner in which many of our everyday terms do not capture the fine detail of the underlying reality. The word 'monkey' is a prime example, because it is applied in everyday usage to an assemblage of organisms that is not monophyletic. The New World Monkeys, taken in isolation, are a monophyletic clade, but the moment you include the Old World Monkeys, which themselves comprise, in isolation, another monopphyletic clade, the resulting assemblage is paraphyletic. That compound assemblage does not include all of the descendants of the common ancestor of the assemblage. The two clades in question share an immediate common ancestor (and the the assemblage is not polyphyletic), but the assemblage does not include the Hominoidea, which are also descendants of that ancestor.

Of course, another part of the problem lies in the fact that without the vast body of prior work performed by Linnaeus and his successor taxonomists, Darwin would not have had the data with which to inject rigour into any formulation of evolutionary theory. Without detailed anatomical breakdowns of tens of thousands of organisms, a proper analysis of the relevant trends could not have been performed. We had to wait for the anatomical data, before it became possible to construct cladistic data, and even then, formal cladistics did not appear until long after Darwin's seminal work. Even though Darwin brought descent into the centre of biology, the modern tools to map descent were, of course, not available to him, even though he almost certainly understood the importance of performing such mapping.

Plus, even modern, cladistically aware taxonomists, have to start somewhere, and the Linnaean paradigm has, for a long time, been the only tried and tested game in town. But, cladistically aware taxonomists know from the start, that a Linnaean taxonomic designation, along with its associated type material, is merely a static snapshot of the state of a species at the time of description. By its very nature, a Linnaean taxonomic designation cannot include dynamic information about the changing genetic state of the species population over time. Which leads to the interesting conundrum I covered on several occasions in the past, whereby it could be possible for distant future members of a designated Linnaean species to be unable to reproduce with the current set of ancestral individuals. At which point, a new Linnaean designation would be needed, and the old designation would correspond to a technically extinct taxon. For more on this, see my various discussions of the wonderful world of Cynotilapia afra, which now provides a case in point.

As for the "are we monkeys?" question, the correct answer is that we and monkeys reside in sister clades.
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Re: Humans : Apes or Monkeys? Both? Neither?

#20  Postby Thomas Eshuis » Jul 31, 2017 4:37 pm

zoon wrote:
Thomas Eshuis wrote:It's also a bit of a language thing.
Dutch doesn't have seperate words for monkeys and apes. Neither does German if I am not mistaken.
They're both called 'aap' similar to ape.

I think AronRa would argue that "aap" really ought to include humans, on the grounds that otherwise it refers to a biological group which doesn't follow modern taxonomy because it's not a clade.

My point was that the dutch language doesn't distinguish between monkeys and apes.
Not that it distinguishes between apes and humans.
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