I've read (Gribbin's book) that Linnaeus has thought that apes and humans should have shared the same genus, but because of theological problems he put them in separated ones. but that actually, we might have put humans under "Pan": Pan sapiens... is it true? is this what DNA tells us? (how do we tell that something is in the same genus or not?)

It is true that humans and chimps have more in common with each other than other species pairs within other genera. So it would make sense to put them in the same genus depending on what criteria you use. The problem is that there is no single universal definition of a genus that determines how inclusive it should be. The same is true for the other taxonomic ranks as well. Usually, these classifications are just useful tools for keeping track of different species (think of a biological filing system) rather than strict definitions of relatedness.

I personally rather liked the argument in one of the Science of Discworld books that humans should be called Pan narrans, the storytelling ape!

I think the argument for humans being in a separate genus is probably historical more than it is scientific one, due to the pressure of contemporary social and religious views, and it is probable that humans should be in the same genus as chimps from a genetic standpoint. But I can't see us being renamed anytime soon.

Last edited by Rachel Jennings (1st Jul 2011 21:33:24)

One of the arguments that personally resonated with me back in the day when I played about with (but not soley) Homininae origins over a decade ago, was the amount of 'vertical' progression made by X species; thus, the relative change made by Homo sapiens (and I'm including within this as all the 'bush' of Hominini descendents not currently categorised as Pan), relative to congener 'species'.

Thus, it is, I think (but by no means for anyone else out there!), reasonable to say that although the 'classic' Pan genus and the non-Pan Hominini have both had an equal amount of evolutionary time, one branch has shifted further (greater derivation) from what one could term the last common ancestor 'germline'. This obviously ties in with our definitions of what a 'species' actually is and as Brent insightfully notes above, how this wooly pigeonholing translates into higher taxonomic levels, which is far more of a philosophic and semantic excercise than a biological one.

Certainly, if one looks soley on genetic similarity or genetic conservatism, then there is, I think, a very strong argument for placing modern man within Pan. However, if one looks more relatively across the biotic world, then one would have to try to create a rough 'mean' of what should be placed where. I'm not sure I'm explaining this in a cogent manner but what I mean is that some species of bacteria (or fungi or dicotoleydons or whatever) are contained within the same genus but the differences between them, at a genetic level, are equivalent to that between a man and an earthworm (very roughly!).

Being as there is no 'universal mean' for species concepts, I have no problem looking at the wider picture of what a species' 'germline' has actually morphed into to roughly define where something should be on the fluff of Linnean taxonomy (I think that although we share a fantastic number of characteristics (both morphological and genetic) and behaviours with chimps etc., the differences in cognitive functions (for instance) place us on a different level and should be recognised, not out of some nutty Scala Natura or religious ideology but because I think they are seriously impressive achievements). It isn't for everyone and there are strong arguments against this kind of outlook but in my mind, species are kind of like wine; whatever suits the palate (read, species), fits, no matter what scores they may have on Parker's scale i.e some people may try to impose an objective scale (species or genera or whatever) but the variety of 'flavours' makes objectivity an impossibilty (or, a difficulty we have not, as yet, overcome!).

In certain aspects of physics, they look for the ToE (Theory of Everything, which aims to resolve Newtonian mechanics (i.e big stuff) with quantum mechanics (i.e very, very little stuff!)) and I think species concepts are trying to do something similar, which is an admiral aim but life is just so complex (more so than physics!!), I can't imagine it happening within my lifetime (which isn't to say it can't be done, it simply says how little I know!!)

Analagies of species complexity with Robert Parker???... One for the wine ponces out there!! ;>)

It must be late....

[And why does the time as submitted on AAB run an hour behind the time actually submitted? Have we not adjusted for British Summer Time??]