'The Human Animal,' by Desmond Morris
September 19, 2009 7:44 PM   Subscribe

The Human Animal - a brilliant BBC mini-series documentary by zoologist Desmond Morris that takes an extended look at the curious creatures known as Homo sapiens. Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 on Google videos. Beautiful and fascinating.
posted by grillcover (38 comments total) 120 users marked this as a favorite
Are these officially released onto Google Video, or are these pirated? I'm always amazed at how long full-length movies and shows stay on Google Video -- years often -- and that Google hasn't been sued or doesn't remove them. I mean, they must know that they're there, and a significant percentage of the longer items are copyrighted materials.

MVGroup by the way has been releasing tons of BBC documentaries.
posted by glider at 7:56 PM on September 19, 2009 [4 favorites]

I recall seeing this series when I was in middle school and it was the greatest thing on TV. Sex and Science together at last in my adolescent brain. All it needed was a Thomas Dolby soundtrack.

I can't wait to watch it again. Thanks!
posted by munchingzombie at 7:58 PM on September 19, 2009

I remember reading the book when I was an early teen and finding it amazing.

Glider, it probably isn't available on DVD. Amazon lists a VHS, but that's sort of beside the point these days.

By the way, this is the guy who wrote The Naked Ape (NSFW if you're afraid of bottoms) and The Human Zoo.
posted by Magnakai at 8:40 PM on September 19, 2009

I saw a portion of this on TV and have been wondering what it was for years. Thanks!
posted by milarepa at 8:41 PM on September 19, 2009

posted by mccarty.tim at 8:54 PM on September 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

My mildly insane high school Civics/psych/whatever teacher refused to acknowledge that humans were animals. Our argument ended with him yelling at me, "human beings have no instincts! NONE!!"

I don't think it was a religious thing, he was just kind of nuts. On a related note, it's always interesting to me how people draw that dividing line, saying things like, "your dog doesn't love you, he just wants food." Yeah, and your spouse just wants sex and someone to talk to and help raising the kids. We have words to describe our emotions and fancy justifications for our actions, but we're animals too. I'm not saying emotions don't "exist," but if we have them so do animals.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:04 PM on September 19, 2009 [8 favorites]

glider, I once uploaded something from C-SPAN to make it more accessible and GV took it down within six hours. C-SPAN!

Interestingly, though, they seem to have revamped their interface. I know when I watched Primer previously, there was uploader information showing a personal message from Shane Carruth. I don't know why that part of the interface has been eliminated.
posted by dhartung at 9:15 PM on September 19, 2009

I love stuff like this. Thanks so much for posting.
posted by nola at 10:00 PM on September 19, 2009

I think of it as a sliding scale; humans have more emotions and are less connected to instinct than any other animal (which is why only humans can be insane), but it's relative. Still, most of our tendency to credit animal behavior is off-base... the other day, I believed for a moment that the insects in my apartment were plotting against me. (When it turned out that the ants and roaches were conspiring against the spiders)
posted by wendell at 10:10 PM on September 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

is this is the one with the gratioutious shots of bouncing breasts? desmond morris became an inside joke among my nerd friends after either this series or THE HUMAN ZOO thanks for his BennyHillesque taste for slo-mos of bouncing breasts.
posted by liza at 10:11 PM on September 19, 2009

(which is why only humans can be insane)

Huh? I doubt we have the ability to know this.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:20 PM on September 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Awesome. I have a friend who's human.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:34 PM on September 19, 2009 [10 favorites]

I love the argument in that counterpoint song, 'When you look in the mirror, do you you look like an ape'. Is it supposed to be a rhetorical question? Because the answer is clearly 'yes'. Every child on earth can see the similarity; hell even apes can see it.

Question for biologists: I rocked hell out of The Naked Ape as a teenager, but isn't sociobiology somewhat disreputable nowadays?
posted by creasy boy at 10:56 PM on September 19, 2009

This, and James Burke's Connections series were the hallmarks of my early love of The Learning Channel, before it turned to shit.
posted by mediocre at 11:36 PM on September 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

@ mediocre:

great call. to that end, James Burke has posted a good sampling of that series on YouTube. I think that playlist includes the entire first episode.
posted by grillcover at 12:31 AM on September 20, 2009

In a related vein... interested parties may want to look into John Gray's book from 2007 named 'Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals'. I just finished it.
posted by daniel.poynter at 12:36 AM on September 20, 2009

I love this so much. It hurts my brain, I love this so much.
posted by Tiresias at 12:44 AM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

(which is why only humans can be insane)

As a refutation, I would suggest reading Jane Goodall's The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior. In it, there is a murdering female chimpanzee whose behavior would best be described as "insane".
posted by belvidere at 5:05 AM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

isn't sociobiology somewhat disreputable nowadays?
IANAB, but, yeah, pretty much.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:42 AM on September 20, 2009

(which is why only humans can be insane)

You've obviously never owned a Boxer.
posted by schwa at 6:13 AM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

wendell: "which is why only humans can be insane"

Ever see a bear in a zoo? At least one zoo offers therapy.
posted by idiopath at 6:19 AM on September 20, 2009

Along with Burke & Morris, don't forget Tim Hunkin's The Secret Life of Machines
posted by valkane at 6:21 AM on September 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

isn't sociobiology somewhat disreputable nowadays?

No, it's the dominant paradigm in psychology and neuroscience in terms of viewing brain and behavior: it's just called evolutionary psychology now-- and since the field is at least 50% led by women (think: Leda Cosmides, Helena Cronin, Sarah Hrdy, Margo Wilson), has dumped the earlier atrocious sexism.

While pretty much everyone studying human behavior now accepts that evolution didn't stop at the neck, a few people still believe that that is irrelevant to behavior, some believe it doesn't make testable predictions and therefore is useless, while the rest do believe it is both useful, testable and relevant.
posted by Maias at 6:44 AM on September 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

(which is why only humans can be insane)

Yeah, and there's the Rhino-raping elephants, and birds who obsessively pluck their feathers out when stressed ---- trauma can certainly cause animals to engage in repetative self-destructive behavior. And Horses eat jimson weed on purpose. I think if you've got senses and a brain devoted to analyzing the information gathered by them and directing your response, it's possible for the wiring to get fucked.

But anyway, this looks nifty, grillcover! Ta!
posted by Diablevert at 7:13 AM on September 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm watching the second episode, and wonder if any anthropologists / archaeologists / evolutionarians (?) can tell me:

What is the current thinking on the "aquatic ape" theory? It seems compelling to this layman, I wonder if there has been additional research / discoveries regarding this theory since the show was produced?
posted by Meatbomb at 8:11 AM on September 20, 2009

I think it's false that only humans can be insane. If it has logic, it can be subverted. In principle, I guess you could even say a computer could go insane, although we tend to call it "glitches," because the it's humans job to fix the code/hardware to stop that logical error.

Besides, my mom had to put down her favorite dog because the trainer said he was becoming insane (he would attack anything that touched him without provocation). While that may not be as striking as a zoo polar bear doing nothing but pushing a barrel back and forth or birds eating their own feathers, I think it's clear that the dog was having an unreasonable disconnect with reality.

Maybe it'd be more fair to say that animals can't grow as delusional as humans, which sounds more reasonable to me. However, there's no real way to test for that as far as I can tell.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:28 AM on September 20, 2009

Thanks for this. This is perfect viewing material for a lazy Sunday.
posted by ixohoxi at 9:40 AM on September 20, 2009

Our argument ended with him yelling at me, "human beings have no instincts! NONE!!"

He wasn't crazy, he was parroting mainstream "science" (to the extent sociology and such are sciences).

Par for the course in 80s era university sociology circles. Human beings do not have "instincts," they have "drives." Much time was spent justifying this claim.
posted by rr at 9:43 AM on September 20, 2009

I'd say emotions are simply the implementation of instincts, or equivalently drives. So, a priori, animals are much more emotional than humans. Dogs might not complicate sex by an exclusive attachment, but dogs don't need training for making spears, impress one another by possessions, etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:46 AM on September 20, 2009

I know it's crude, but I generally order human impulses along the triune brain model, and it's always worked for me.

R-Complex:limbic system:neocortex :: Responses:emotions:thoughts.

That we use our Thoughts to essentially retcon our evolutionarily older impulses into a vast web of meaning does not lessen the fact that many of these emotions and instincts are shared in the animal kingdom.

So, a dog's love or a bear's insanity is at its core likely very similar to ours, but there's just less going on in general to interpret those circumstances and feelings.
posted by grillcover at 11:17 AM on September 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Thank you, wonderful.
posted by dollyknot at 11:50 AM on September 20, 2009

This is amazing. I wish I could have shown this to the schoolkids I taught in Japan.
posted by mjg123 at 12:25 PM on September 20, 2009

isn't sociobiology somewhat disreputable nowadays?

Sociobiologists/evolutionary psychologists often take a strictly adaptionist view and get a lot of criticism for that. That is, they try to find a strictly adaptive reason for every trait found in humans to have evolved, when many traits likely came about through neutral mechanisms.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 12:39 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

What is the current thinking on the "aquatic ape" theory?

Recent TED talk by Elaine Morgan. A brief, reasoned critique with some good comments.
posted by nev at 1:23 PM on September 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

Another critique.
posted by tellurian at 9:46 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Interesting how he claims that western courtship and marriage is more "natural", and he somehow managed to leave homosexual behaviour completely out of the discussion of human sexuality, in spite of its presence in both the great apes and us. (This is all in part 4.)
posted by Hildegarde at 8:06 AM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I don't think serious biologists or psychologists object to identifying evolutionary influences upon human behavior, i.e. sane sociobiology. But even sexual selection often isn't truly adaptive. And culture has an incredible impact upon humans behavior. A good example is the astronomical murder rate among males in primitive societies, which civilized societies have drastically reduced. I mean, sociobiology does predict real influences that actually exists, but such influences are hard to very trace after they filter through the human culture & minds. Are sports instrumental in reducing violence between males? Well, clearly not now. But were they ever? How the fuck ya gonna answer that?

I think one extremely valuable lesson of sociobiology is that humans are simply not logical, decisions are made via vague processes. In practical terms, if a person acts consistently with an obviously memetically or genetically beneficial drive, then you may assume they'll continue taking that drive into consideration. It doesn't matter if they've convinced themselves they despise that drive, you can still determine underlying influential drives and aspects of their individual interpretation from people's actions.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:34 PM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

That was gorgeous and brilliant.

Did anyone notice that one of the "photographers" was John Waters? Could it be?
posted by cmoj at 8:36 PM on September 25, 2009

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