October 18, 2014 1:27 pm

This Sunday, Find Out Why Humans Didn’t Evolve From Monkeys

Image of homo sapien, neanderthal and chimpanzee skeletons from the American Museum of Natural History.

Image courtesy of the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins at the American Museum of Natural History.

Okay. Let’s get this out of the way right up front: we did not evolve from monkeys. We had a common ancestor with monkeys, but we split off from them about 30 million years ago.

We didn’t evolve from apes, either. We split off from our common ancestor with bonobos and chimpanzees about 7 million years ago.

We took a different evolutionary path, and it has made all the difference.

After all, you don’t see a bunch of bonobos sitting around wondering whether it’s morally wrong to create designer babies with desirable characteristics, or a troop of monkeys debating new legislation protecting primate civil rights.

We don’t see chimpanzees using slings or spears, let alone sending spacecraft to the furthest reaches of our solar system and robotic rovers to explore Mars.

In fact, according to Dr. Ian Tattersall, Paleoanthropologist and Curator Emeritus at the American Museum of Natural History, even with a long history of biological evolution, all the action in human development is on the cultural and technological level now.

You may remember Ian as a guest on our recent episode, Planet of the Apes. He’s back this week for our latest episode, Cosmic Queries: Primate Evolution.

This time, Ian is here to help host Neil deGrasse Tyson answer questions our fans have previously submitted that co-host Eugene Mirman has plucked out of our social media.

Some of those questions are thought provoking indeed.

For instance, are we interfering with evolution by using technology and medicine to keep alive the weak that nature, left alone, would have otherwise culled?

Or why can’t we just flip a switch in our DNA and activate characteristics buried in our genome, like wings?

Then there are the questions ripped from science fiction, like whether dinosaurs could have evolved higher intelligence? Is it possible for a drug to alter DNA like it did in Rise of the Planet of the Apes? Could we use selective breeding to breed smarter chimps? And what species did Eugene Mirman evolve from?

You’ll learn the answer to these and other questions this Sunday, October 19 at 7:00 PM ET on our website, iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and TuneIn.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!

–Jeffrey Simons

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