Who Would Be the Dominant Species if We Weren’t?

posted in: Blog, Science | 0
Bottlenose dolphins at Cromarty

Dolphins have social networks very close to humans, according to this article. Which made me wonder–if humans had not evolved to where we are today, would another animal have taken our place?

We know that having hands with opposable thumbs is key to tool building, and without tools to build things it isn’t possible to create scientific advancements. Yes, there’s a lot more to this and I’m vastly oversimplifying–the brain power to understand how to create tools and subsequent advancements and the freedom of walking on two legs instead of all fours to free up those hands are also critical.

So that leaves us with two possible outcomes. First, another species with adequate hand structure and other abilities steps forward as humans did and achieve enlightenment. Second, no species advances with tool building capabilities but progresses in other ways. (And the third outcome is everything remains the same where apex predators continue to prey upon the weaker species for all eternity or until a catastrophic event wipes everyone out.)

Option one clearly points toward those species who are already close to human physiologically, most likely an ape, chimpanzee, gorilla, or orangutan. We’ve seen indications of this today and fantasized about it in books and movies such as “Planet of the Apes.” If humans weren’t already running the show and left things to nature, would one or more of these species have made it to our place instead?

What surprised me to learn is there are others with the necessary hands (or feet) such as the opossum, koala, and even your friendly neighborhood racoon. There was also a dinosaur called the troodon believed to have had partially opposable thumbs and above average intelligence (for a dino). Surely any one of these or more might have evolved in our stead. If the troodon had we might have a reptile-ruled world instead of mammalian!

All of which leads to the question: what impact has human influence had on restraining evolution of other species?

Option two really makes me think. How do you portray a world where intelligent beings are physically unable to create tools to build the wonders that their minds are capable of devising? Under normal circumstances apex predators prevail simply by their genetic advantages. What if their prey evolved enough to avoid being eaten, though I’d really need to crack open the imagination to come up with how. Man used clubs and spears to hunt and overwhelm other men, and fire to defend themselves from beasts they could not otherwise tame. If you took the tools away from humans, could we have possibly thrived, or would we have become extinct?

If dolphins can socialize, then perhaps we should look to them for examples. Dolphins are not likely to destroy the world around them as humans have done, but live in peace with their friends and families.

Maybe they are smarter than humans, opposable thumbs and all.

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