Shapiro’s Second FSEM Essay

             Humans are not the only species who express themselves artistically, make and use tools, and exhibit maladaptive behaviors.  There are other species of animals that do the same activities as us. Ultimately, the reasons why we do what we do and why other species do the same are closely related. The only difference is the extent to which we pursue these activities, which is unrivaled by any other animal on Earth.

             Humans are not the only species who create art.  Chimpanzees and elephants, for example, also make art.  The difference between our art and theirs is that they only make theirs in captivity. Like us, art brings animals in captivity pleasure, “relieves boredom, and channels neurotic energy” (Diamond 1992). One compelling argument for why animals, for example, chimps, don’t create art in the wild is because they “still have their day filled with problems of finding food, surviving, and fending off rival chimp groups.”(Diamond 1992).  This points to the obvious reason why humans naturally express themselves artistically: art gives us something to do with our free time.  Of course there are other reasons why humans make art, such as status, or to trade for resources. Sheer aesthetic pleasure seems to be another factor in artistic creation for humans and other animals.  Some artists don’t sell their work.  For instance, “Franz Kafka not only didn’t publish his three great novels but even forbade his executor to do so” (Diamond 1992).  Chimps seem to have the same inclination; Diamond (1992) says they “didn’t even keep their paintings to enjoy but just discarded them”.  The process of artistic creation for some animals is satisfying in itself.

            Another aspect of existence humans share with chimps and other animals is bad habits.  Humans indulge in smoking, drinking, sky diving, and the like, but we are not alone in our risky behaviors.  An Israeli biologist named Amotz Zahavi formulated a general theory that explains bad behaviors as a biological function of evolution.  Zahavi says that all animals make signals to communicate that the “animal is being honest in its claim of superiority, precisely because those traits themselves impose handicaps” (Diamond 1992).  For example, birds of paradise grow tails up to “three feet long” (Diamond 1992).  The main difference is that the costs of bad behaviors for humans now outweigh the benefits, while the opposite is true for animals.

            Tool making and use has been one key to the evolutionary success of humans, but again we are not alone.  Our hominid relatives also make tools.  For instance, tool use is “regularly observed in chimpanzees and orangutans” (Breuer et al 2005).  Chimps often use sticks to fish for termites.  Another primate, the Aye-aye of Madagascar, uses the claw of its middle finger like a tool to extract grubs from trees for food.  Humans have devoted more energy into the development and use of tools than other animals, but tool use is clearly not unique to our species.  

            Humans are easily distracted from the rest of the animal world by our own development.  However we should not forget that we share common traits with all animals.  In fact, we share most of our DNA with chimpanzees.  When we study the characteristics of other animals – their habits, their tools, their art, – we begin to understand why we have these same characteristics ourselves.    



Works Cited

Diamond, Jared. “Animal Origins of Art.” The Third Chimpanzee. New York, New York: HarperCollins, 1992. 168-79. Print.


Diamond, Jared. “Why Do We Smoke, Drink, and Use Dangerous Drugs?” The Third Chimpanzee. New York, New York: HarperCollins, 1992. 192-204. Print.


Breuer, Thomas, Mireille Ndoundou-Hockemba, and Vicki Fishlock. “First Observation of Tool Use in Wild Gorillas.” PLoS Biology, Nov. 2005. Web. Sept.-Oct. 2009. <>.


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