Symmetry in Biology

image credit: owenbooth

Back in 1974, an unusual report from Jane Goodall at the Gombe Stream Wildlife Research Centre in Tanzania caught the public eye. Chimpanzees had committed infanticide and were engaging in war. Not only were they acting in unanticipated ways, chimpanzees were acting like humans. Goodall’s discovery bridged the divide between Homo sapiens and other species. (…)

Since then, what we know about ourselves and other species has changed substantially. Many studies have documented in other species the same behaviors that enrich human lives. We now recognize that species other than humans engage in an array of behaviors that bring variety and depth to life: dolphins teach cultural customs to their young, octopi demonstrate diverse personalities, and rats show a sense of humor. Once at odds with the conventions of her discipline, Goodall’s interpretations today are supported by decades of research in neurobiology. They are part of a broad conceptual framework that has coalesced around the idea that psychology, like biology, is conserved among animals.

This idea isn’t new. Charles Darwin placed human beings on the continuum of animal species nearly 150 years ago. Somehow that insight was lost. Nurture is being reconciled with nature, and boundaries that once separated academic disciplines are dissolving, all of which bring models of animal and human behavior to unity. Separation has given over to integration, and what seemed like a haphazard collection of observational anomalies is now taking form as a coherent, human-inclusive, trans-species theory of mind and body.

More on Jane Goodall; her institute for wildlife research, education and conservation; and some video from a program on Nature featuring her and her work:

Today, 147 years ago in 1859, Charles Darwin first published The Origin of Species. ‘Survival of the fittest’, fitting for such a cut-throat day.

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