Christian Long

Elaine Morgan: We Evolved from Aquatic Apes

In TED Talks on April 17, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Reflection by Meighan A.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Elaine Morgan:  We Evolved from Aquatic Apes

Elaine Morgan’s adamant support of the aquatic ape theory drew my attention to the video first, and then as I watched it I realized that I also supported this theory. I never even knew it until I watched the video, but in the back of my mind I heard this little voice say, “Meighan, I told you, haven’t I been telling you this?”

Then I remembered the first time the idea occurred to me.

I had been watching TV when I was in first grade and it showed the beginning of people with them crawling out of mud and going on to land. I was so confused because it didn’t make sense to me that they could have survived in mud to be able to crawl out and even then their lungs would have to have been very different. To my first-grader mind my way of rationalizing it was that we had began as a funny type of fish, but then this idea was pushed to the very darkest most dusty corner of my mind because of the evolution theory taught in school. It wasn’t until Elaine shined the spotlight on it did I remember.

I can tell from many people’s comments on the video that they disagree with this theory and have their own evidence for why it couldn’t be possible.

Honestly, though, what theory is there that people don’t have some disagreement with?

It seems perfectly logical that we are bipedal mammals because we had to be good up-right walkers to survive in the water. I even recall my sister telling me that she had heard from somewhere that we might have come from whales. After that I couldn’t look at a whale again without trying to imagine how its fins would turn into hands, but again, schooling pushed it to the back of my mind. If we evolved from your average ape why then are we so much better at walking, why aren’t we more hairy, why can we talk? I know their are people researching reasons for our ability to talk, but no one has really come to an absolute conclusion, truly, there aren’t any absolute conclusions when it comes to how and why humans are as we are. I have to agree with Henry McKenzie’s comment, “The savanna still happened, it was caused by DRYNESS. If it was dry than aqua apes would be forced to go to the savanna, where their hairlessness and bipedal tendencies could be useful, which explains why we still have them.”

We could have been semi-aquatic like some apes now but then perfected some ability like diving. Thus it would benefit us more to be streamlined and hairless. And like McKenzie said, once it dried up, walking was still a good skill. Perhaps our environment was water based to begin with, but in order to thrive we began to evolve to where we could take advantage of either land of water surroundings, and our walking, talking, analysis abilities were an advantage we gained from being water based and able to transfer these abilities to help us thrive on land. Apparently all the other hairless mammals we know of were aquatic based to begin with.

Why would it be so terrible to consider we are as well?

I have to admit, the most curious argument she had was the one involving fat. It’s interesting how we are able to become so obese, on a level no other creature our size or with similar makeup can accomplish. I never considered the fact that we can build such thick fat walls under our skin to be so much like a whale. However, now I see the similarities. Of course, our fat is insulation and so is a whales, why wouldn’t it have occurred to me before? I believe this leads back to what Morgan said about people and scientists dismissing it as just another yeti or Bigfoot theory. If you don’t hear about it and you are taught otherwise, it’s difficult to hold on to a theory or even realize the possibility of another theory existing. “The only creatures that have got conscious control of their breath are the diving animals and the diving birds.” I never would have considered this, but if this is true, I see no way to argue that the aquatic-ape theory is wrong; it’s simply another possible truth.

She brings so much energy to the argument it’s difficult not to see things as she wants us to, however, I also believe we should be open to new ideas and hopefully not be like the people who dismiss this theory or any other as simply irrational. Therefore, we shouldn’t lock ourselves into one point of view, like she mentioned the merging of Mendel and Darwin, we should mesh together our own points of views with those pieces of others to create a wider scope that will have a better chance of having some ounce of truth in some part of it.

I have to admit, Morgan has persuaded me to readopt my earlier views I had accepted as a first-grader and not let them be pushed aside, however this time my view will be much more sophisticated and able to be backed up. I don’t think saying, “I saw it on TV” would be a good argument, but saying “I heard it on a TED talk” would.

  1. Hi Meighan,

    I found her argument very interesting and very plausible after I watched it and gave it a chance. Good observation about how we could have been aquatic BEFORE the savannah. I hadn’t thought of that. Its also possible that we traveled along coasts as our ancestors left Africa and they spent lots of time in coastal swamps.

    I enjoyed reading your observations.

    Luke Dickey

  2. Oh, I also just remembered reading that at one point really far back in prehistory (some thing like 36 million years I think), Northern Africa and Egypt were covered in an ocean (where the remains of the first whales have been discovered). This is where the fossils of the aquatic ansestor of the elephant that Elaine Morgan mentioned were found. They probably lived in coastal swamps and esturaies close to this ocean. An interesting fact is that the remains of a species of primate were also found there. I’m not sure if these primates were the ancestors of early humanoids in anyway but mabye they were in someway aquatic. I mean, the environment in which they lived was full of water right? Mabye this is where the animals that lead to mankinds origins picked up some of those aquatic traits. Just a thought 🙂

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