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The Aquatic Ape

tip to Jason



note that she doesn't discuss the evidence, just complains that it has 'never been properly looked at'. But it has been, and is generally considered seriously flawed for multiple reasons.

TED has given a lot of publicity to a hypothesis which probably did not merit it.

Yeah, I thought the aquatic ape was already totally discredited.

She missed the memo.

I am not sure how one would totally disprove such a theory.

It does seem unlikely that we would have missed a species in our heritage that would have such an impact on our appearance.

The difference between a blue eyed northern European and an Orangutan is pretty profound and seems to require some strong environmental forces to change our appearance so much.

One would think there would be evidence in the fossil record to support this theory. It does seem to be a stretch. She's cute, though.

This is the one part of science which is democratised. It's good that a diverse range of hypothesis are discussed; how else will such a theory ultimately be proved or disproved?

The part of this which isn't democratised, in any way, is what unqualified commentators "think". You can't fight an unproved hypothesis with an unproved hypothesis. Since evolutionary biology is still largely theory I don't see the harm in adding this idea to the mix.

Thanks Jonathan... great link with great questions in it.

I remember being a bit bummed too, when I saw that audience uncritically applauding. (I did see a few who did not, I think)

It would have been a really cool thing to have happened... an aquatic phase in human development. But it seems that ain't what happened.

As PZ Myers pointed out two years ago, then again a week ago, there's a great site by Jim Moore that looks at the claims and evidence in depth.

So if you're an aquatic ape hypothesist (hypothesizer? hypothepontificator?), youse gots some tricky hoops to jump through.

PS - Jonathan... that URL you gave looked to me like "HIV is". Had me worried there until I clicked on it.

mhodges, I think one of the points she makes well is that the theory that used to hold - the Savannah theory - is falsified by the evidence, and no-one has taken the Acquatic theory seriously enough to attempt to falsify it. She is correct when she says that you aren't doing science if you don't have a theory to work against.

So the question to ask about the theory is: is it falsifiable? I don't know. But I think she would argue that no-one's thought about it from that perspective, because it's been dismissed as a crackpot theory. I've read some of the Jim Moore site Sasqwatch linked to, and I don't see falsification going on there: I see critiques on incompleteness of and generalizations by the AAT/H proponents, and even tacit acceptance of some of the "arguments by analogy" that are the basis of AAT/H. But I say those are appropriate: when we're early in the hypothesis forming process, we start with patterns and then develop a falsifiable guess. Many theories in the history of science have been like that, e.g. plum-pudding atom, flat earth.

So that's what I would do: put some effort into deciding if AAT/H is falsifiable. If it is, then it can be investigated. If it turns out to be bunk, that should turn up quickly. But if it can't be falsified, it's worth putting in textbooks as an example of an appealing theory that can't be falsified. That would be a useful teaching tool; and if some kid reads that and says "but I can see a way to perform a falsification test on AAT/H", then that's game on, the science can go forward.

I tend to tacitly agree. It seems the theory's proponents are guilty of using a number of arguments that have little scientific value, but then on the other hand it still seems likely to me that water has some role in making us the Naked Ape. Unless we started wearing other animals' skins much earlier in our evolution or developed sweat glands for some other reason, which then made our fur a wet blanket, It seems being naked is a bad trait to have. I suppose in the heart of Africa being naked just exposes you to constant sunburns, bug bites, cuts,lack of waterproofing, and bad camouflaging. In other climates and in cold waters our lack of fur or a fully evolved insulating fat layer means we face almost certain death outside of a very small temperature range.

Our posture also makes us poor climbers compared to monkeys and other apes but doesn't make us faster than any plain animals (the analogy of not needing to be faster than the shark comes to mind). our posture also took away much of our upper body strength.

Just thinking about it all makes me think that the only thing that could have compensated for all these shortcomings would have been brains, maybe we have been smarter, longer then I learned in college.

It does seem we never had a fully aquatic ancestor and perhaps were never truly amphibious, but it does seem likely to me that our ancestors all spent quite a bit of time around and in the water and that has been a factor in our survival, giving us some similarities to fully aquatic mammals.

Unless we started wearing other animals' skins much earlier in our evolution

mazel tov, see genesis. :)jk

i'm amazed that no one, including the blog i linked to has mentioned that all aquatic mammals, as far as we know from evolutionary theory (which means a heap 'o evidence) evolved from land living forms, and not the reverse.

Wah? If you accept evolution as a working theory than Aquatic mammals have done both. Evolved from the sea to the land and then from land back to the sea.
Its mammalian features that are really specifically land based adaptations. It is really hard to maintain a body temperature in the water. So no animals became evolved into mammals while in the sea.

Hi Anwaya,

I'm not sure if that's how science works. There are a lot of things that you can't prove wrong. A theory that aliens deposited psychedelic mushrooms on earth to accelerate the evolution of human consciousness. Or that there is a teacup orbiting the sun. Or that Elvis is alive. A theory needs to be falsifiable, but if there isn't much evidence to support it in the first place, maybe no one need bother to prove it wrong.

Well, if you think that science doesn't proceed using falsifiable theories, I suggest you read Karl Popper's Logic of Scientific Discovery.

Well his point was that even if a theory is in principle falsifiable, why would anyone bother falsifying it if its proponents don't have any evidence in the first place?


thank you Andyo.

thought this was interesting:

The scientific community, including those who are feminists, have rejected the aquatic ape theory, not for its original feminist agenda, but for its utter lack of validity. The theory is lamentably constructed. It is speculative with no evidence or any means of verification. Furthermore, other than wording, the theory has evolved little in light of new archaeological finds. Theories that are not updated will of course find little room in the constantly growing scientific field. Finally, the aquatic ape theory is too simple. It is unlikely that one isolated origin caused all of the current features of Homo sapiens that the theory claims to explain. Rather than worrying about tangential reasons for rejection, Morgan and followers must look at the actual scientific causes. In other words, they must make their articles more scientific with verifiable hypotheses and hard evidence rather than completely speculative

its original feminist agenda

i didn't catch that. care to expand on it? curious.


"It is unlikely that one isolated origin caused all of the current features of Homo sapiens that"

Eve: the Out of Africa Theory(151 breeding adults, 75 bleeding), DOES: complete extinction for homo erectus, neandertalensis, et al. The scientific establishment is sometimes an irregular idiocracy (continental drift, punc eq. asteroid impact, spooky Newtonian gravitation, waves-in No-thing, God"el" time loops...)

And yet,...

A plug for the New You-genix*:

Womb for improvement!

Its mammalian features that are really specifically land based adaptations.

yeah, that's what i said.

If you accept evolution as a working theory than Aquatic mammals have done both. Evolved from the sea to the land and then from land back to the sea.

wrong. make up your mind. are you referring to fishies becoming amphibians which became reptiles or whatever? even if we accept this, where do mammals fit in?

personally i think mammals evolved from insects.;)

well if you think of a species as a chain of changing DNA than a mammal used to be a fish.

I don't get what you think about the relevance of mammals not evolving into mammals while living in water. Why it is amazing that we didn't mention that mammals evolved in that way?

It is wonderful evidence of evolution rather than design if that is what you meant. Odd designs shoehorned into environmental niches by crazy adaptations.

thinking of a species as a "chain of changing dna" may be very broadminded, and even useful from a research perspective, but that's not even close to the actual working definition of species.

and relax, i'm not pushing design here. i'm just saying if ms. whats-her-name wants to say we evolved from an aquatic mammal, i'd like to see another example of a land mammal that evolved from an aquatic one. i'm not up on the latest research- maybe there is one. but she didn't mention it, and no one else has mentioned it, even though that would be the most obvious route to take to bolster her "theory".

there's something tugging at the back of my poor brain telling me that a long time ago i read of an example of a land animal that moved to the sea and back again, but i can't put my finger on it. maybe one of you science whizzes can help with this.

No doubt species isn't the right word, as no doubt a fish and a human aren't clearly the same species because they can't produce a viable offspring. In the context of evolution however, It gets a little confusing because one can be the decedent of a fish, amphibian and a mammal.

So I guess I don't know the right word for what that relationship is between the fish and the mammal.

I am sure there are lots of amphibious mammals that have become land based in areas with limited land based competition.

There certainly lots of birds that moved from sea to land to sky and then back to land or sea.

Have you guys visited the site? It might interest you, especially Becker if he really thinks insects (or any arthropods, or their immediate ancestors) are in the same lineage as mammals.

thanks for the link/tip.

as far as i can tell from browsing there, you have to go back to tetrapoda, or at least amniota (which includes reptiles and birds as well as mammals) to find anything that could be said to have moved from the sea to the land. no mammals. and i can't even figure out where mammals are supposed to have come from. are they decended from reptiles, or what?

(see kabbalistic interpretations of genesis, etc.) :)jk "my grandaddy was no snake!"

my spotty recollections from a youthful fascination with paleontology are that the little buggers just sort of appeared, on land, sometime during the cretaceous. i know a lot of evidential water has passed under the bridge since then. feel free to straightem me out. proper research in this area is beyond me.

I'm not too well versed either in these matters, but I just like that site cause you click away, and then annoy your friends with trivia like "did you know that whales are closer to cows than horses?". Or my favorite excuse not to like to eat crustaceans: "cockroaches are closer to shrimp than to spiders."

andyo, regarding your dislike of crusteacans:

if you're actually ethnically spanish, as opposed to just spanish-speaking, and you're as interested in genetics as you seem to be, you might be surprised to find out the statistical chances your family tree has jews hanging from the branches. :)

I feel I should say something about the claim she makes that Dan has 'come over' to the Aquatic Ape theory. You can find the relevant passages on pages 243-5 of the Penguin paperback edition of Darwin's Dangerous Idea.

Dan describes the hypothesis as "a fascinating story" and notes that many of the counterarguments coming from the "ferocious" establishment reaction "seem awfully thin and ad hoc" but only concludes that "it will be interesting where [the argument over the AAT] comes out".

It would certainly be true to say he had 'come over' on the question of whether or not it was a serious hypothesis, worthy of being treated as a question for science to answer rather than as part of the lunatic fringe, but it certainly wouldn't be fair to attribute to him an full endorsement of the idea.

thanks for clarifying that. i also thought dennet was too bright to endorse such an idea, and wondered about her claim.

Dennet has also been criticized for being too lenient or credulous on that. After all he's not a biologist, not even a scientist.


One tends to be too either/or (including Ms. M.). Those of us who ain't Hillbillies (Pashtun, etc.) are all semi-aquatic NOW. Riparian may be more accurate. The Black-skinned Indians around these parts stuck pretty close to the now sucked-dry-by-Mormons-and-their-ilk rivers (black skin absorbs heat). And they didn't last long without a water gourd. Now look at all them illegals dying in the desert. And an old lady in the courtyard of her old-folks home, being eaten by ants after four hours, 4 hrs., without water (fell out of her wheelchair).

Anyway fish is good for you. Red meat is medicine for one who has been bleeding a lot, NOT food.

Riparian Ape, Pithepotamus, I say.

And what about all the fatties?


One More Thing. Their are no fossil gorillas, chimps, bonobos, only orange utans, and in Asia. Those Lucies, Ergasters, even Neanderthals may be, most likely ARE, relatively distant cousins, not direct ancestors. We may in fact have no fossils in our direct line through the African Eve (either Out-of-Africa, or the same only earlier by however much time).

oh yay weirdly bright over-educated good-natured anagram sprite, how i have mistled your epistles. good to see you.

Red meat is medicine for one who has been bleeding a lot, NOT food.

yeah, go tell it to owsley, man. i'd like to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.


So they're!

Potamopitheicus, then: Hippsters.


"weirdly bright"

Olbers's paradox.


Lonely about smatters autodidactic.


good-nurtured, my late Mom.



Stan Gooch, Gooche? Gooch, is an (a gram) Elaine Morgan type dude. He's a hoot.

Where's your grammy moment?

Dennett...not even a scientist.

Too true. Cognitive "science"... I like Susan Blackmore more.


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