Humans and chimpanzeees (our closest genetic relatives) are both social animals that have the ability to form groups and communicate between themselves.
Why is it then that humans have populated the globe (7 billion and counting) while chimp numbers continue to fall (currently standing at around 250 thousand or less)?
A key difference between us and our close genetic cousins is our ability to use, control and reflect upon language.
Research has shown that chimps can learn, use and teach other chimps how to use sign language (an insight I picked up from Emeritus Professor Glenn Bassett‘s book “Word Play“). However, chimps don’t have the ability to use spoken language and, more crucially, codify that language in written form.
Spoken and written language are easy to take for granted because everyone who is currently alive was born after the invention of both technologies, however the implications of these technologies appear to be an important factor in explaining our ability to survive and thrive as a species.
Isaac Newton famously stated in the late 17th century that “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
In other words, Newton was acknowledging the important truth that his discoveries were dependent on the work of people who had come before him. People whose insights he was able to benefit from because they were communicated to him through written language.
It’s one thing to have this amazing technology available to you, and it’s another thing to appreciate and make use of it.
Here are three questions to get you thinking:
- What was the name of the most recent book you read?
- Do you keep a journal to record your thoughts and ideas? If not, why not?
- What was the topic of the most recent article you wrote or co-authored? Did you publish the article so that other people could read, share and benefit from your ideas?
Let me know your answers via email by hitting reply, or sending an email to tom [at] spencertom [dot] com.