A Little Laughter Goes a Long Way

Written by Guest Contributor, Jesse Hildebrand. 

Chimpanzees laugh when tickled.  That’s right – for those stealthy and foolhardy enough to sneak up on a chimp, it is indeed possible to tickle it into submission.  Chimpanzees are of course our closest living relatives, and, having only split off from humankind in the history of life about 6 million years ago they share nearly 99% of our DNA.  There are, of course, many differences between the two species;  we stand on two legs, we have bigger brains, we are relatively hairless and yes, we like hockey.  However, it seems the more we discover about our closest cousins, the more we realize we are alike.

Copyright JGI Canada

Copyright JGI Canada

The first time it was firmly argued that we are cousins came of course with the publication of On the Origin of Species.  Detractors of that theory posed that our brains were different, that we had something that they didn’t – the seat of the soul, perhaps.  Of course, as it turns out, our brains are structurally identical even if ours are larger.  In fact, our whole bodies are the same, same bones, same muscles, and for sticklers the same number of fingers and toes.  As time went on and more research came to light, it became uncanny just how much we shared.  Chimpanzees use tools, they hunt in groups, they share, they play, they empathize and yes, they laugh.  Chimpanzee research did a great deal to show just how much we share with the animal kingdom, or alternatively, just how much they share with us.  In time, more and more animals were found to have these traits.  Rats are empathetic, bats share, bears play and over twenty other species use tools.

One of the best lines on just how close other animals are to us comes from David Attenborough.  Then a young presenter doing his first full series, he went to see the mountain gorillas of Rwanda – “There is perhaps more meaning and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than with any other animal I know.  We are so similar, their sight, their hearing, their sense of smell are so similar to ours that we see the world as they do.”  Whether a gorilla, a chimpanzee, an orangutan or any of the other species that share the world with us, it is worth reflecting on the astounding number of similarities we share rather than the differences that separate us.

There are few things more human than tickling.  The fun, the playfulness, the only time you can yell “STOP!” and not mean it.  And yet, chimpanzees do it too.  Whether sharing nearly 99% of our DNA as they do or not, nothing reinforces our connection to nature better than that to me.

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2 responses to “A Little Laughter Goes a Long Way

  1. We might have bigger brains and we might stand on two legs and we share many many things with Chimpanzees, but one of the main things that is sadly with our bigger brain is that it has not help us see our selfish ways that we have done to destroying the earth and not creature within the history of time has altered the earth so much in such a short time frame. One day I hope that with our bigger brains we can think about what we have done and all come together to try and stop and connect better to the earth because if we don’t do something now it might be too late tomorrow.

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