Lecture: SiSP Talk - Jonathan Marks
Professor Jonathan Marks
UNC - Charlotte
"Tales of the ex-Apes"
As partly historical narrative and partly authoritative science, the study of human origins is hotly contested both scientifically and culturally. As origin stories, scientific stories of human origins have been populated with pseudo-taxa from Homo sapiens Europaeus albus to Homo soloensis, which have never existed in the natural realm, and are best understood as fictive kin and ancestors. They are the results of trying to apply a rigorously scientific taxonomic structure inappropriately. Understanding the “reality” of a new fossil taxon like Homo naledi, then, involves grappling with the fact that it is not so much a unit of zoology, as a unit of mythology – that is to say, more real as a human relative than as a naturalistic species. Similarly, our relationship to the apes is one of continuity (or descent) on the one hand, and simultaneously discontinuity (or modification) on the other. In narrating the evolution of our species, however, we tend to privilege continuity at the expense of discontinuity, for reasons having in part to do with our historical engagement with creationist interlocutors, and with the cultural status ascribed to genetics. Nevertheless, while overvaluing our differences from the apes runs the risk of losing contact with science, over-valuing our continuity with the apes runs the risk of losing contact with our humanity.