Your Inner Ape

Note: A video version of this article is available on YouTube.


In this blog I frequently refer to humans as animals. Well, we are, aren't we? We evolved from apes, and those apes evolved from so-called “lower” animals. Intellectually most of us know this, but it's not a close and personal reality to us. It's a mental play-thing, not an ongoing, obvious fact of existence.

If you do indeed accept our animal nature, then let's also recall that evolution created humans by a process of accretion. Single cells accreted other cells to become multi-cellular organisms. As complexity increased, certain cells became specialized.

Skipping ahead a few million years, we see that our mighty human brains are layered, in a manner akin to archaeological strata, showing the path we took to become the particular animals we now are. Thus, as many readers of this blog will know, we have an ancient “reptile brain” and we have a more recent neo-cortex in a higher layer. (That's the part that lets us think that we're so awesomely awesome.)

Somewhere in all those layers and modules are the bits that we share with the apes. These are the bases of what I call our primate nature. Inside every one of us are the vestiges of our ape forebears. To put it another way: if an ape can do it, we can do it. An ape can find a banana, recognize it as such, peel it, eat it, and later on crap some of it out. So can we. 

It's said that we share 98% of our DNA with certain “lower” primates. So there's quite a lot of ape in us! And that ape does not have our human tendency to define itself by the memes it has absorbed. 


The ape in you or me does not “know” (or think, or believe) that reality is but an illusion and that we could be living in The Matrix, or might be a brain in a vat, or high-falutin' notions like that. It's all quite real to the ape.

It's all illusion, eh? That's what mystics, sages and philosophers have reminded us, and I will not say they're wrong. However, you normally cannot stick your hand in scalding water without flinching or recoiling. Perhaps with training you could acquire an unnatural calm about it, but when we put all that philosophizing and training aside it appears that the inner ape's reaction is the “correct” one. 

The ape does not ask questions about how “real” it is, nor does it care, nor does it exert any energy in finding out, though of course the ape inside the average human is constantly being called upon to expend tremendous energy due to actions of the thinking part of its brain, which induces distress reactions with its cogitations. The ape never evolved an innate defense against this thought-induced stress — how could it have done so in the brief millenia since we became civilized? 

Nonetheless, when the inner ape stops reading articles like this one and gets some decent physical exercise it can obtain a measure of harmony. In such cases the brain returns a large portion of its attention back to the ancient ape, which can get adequate satisfaction with even simple activities, such as rhythmic walking for challenging lengths of time.

This is, to the ape part, quite a good time, and it finds therein a satisfaction that the thinking part never knows. That's because the thinking part is intensely interested in what it shall later be, or was, or might be, or could have been. Meanwhile the ape part merely connects to that which is (as far as it can tell) real. It can simply enjoy, or commune with, that which is, without the domesticated human's habitual grind of resistance. (To put it another way: that which makes us so awesome can also make us miserable.)

The thinking part cannot see what the ape part sees; the thinking part knows about things but is never fully  present to anything but its mental models. The ape part — our primate nature — is exactly when and where it is, to the extent that it has no when and where; it simply is when and where it is. There is no question about when, or where; there is just what is.

Thoughts might arise about what may be, but these are in the thinking part. Primate nature remains with what apparently is.  


You might find it interesting to find a correspondence between the views expressed above — which are phrased in terms of evolution — and the views expressed by ancient mystics who knew nothing about evolution. You may find that it's all part of the same message, in different guises.

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