What makes Homo sapiens human?

Is this a human?

The debate continues in the Bigfoot community over the as yet revealed unrevealed results of Dr. Melba Ketchum’s DNA study. Most of the participants in the debate have no idea what Dr. K’s paper will reveal, yet through various fruitful and fruitless sleuthing techniques they believe they have uncovered what the study will conclude, Bigfoot is almost human. They, of course, have come up with more precise scientific jargon to express what that means in the world of lab coats and test tubes, but for those of us that don’t have letters after our names that is essentially what they are saying; Bigfoot differs from Homo sapiens in only the slightest way, genetically speaking.

Whether or not Dr. K’s study will stand up to scientific scrutiny remains to be seen. In fact, whether or not Dr. K’s study concludes the above even remains to be seen. The quality and conclusion of the paper can’t be debated with any degree of intelligence because no one outside of a handful of people has seen it. But that doesn’t mean this discussion has been all for naught. On the contrary, I think something very important has come out of the guessing and wishing surrounding Dr. K’s unpublished paper. What does being human really mean?

Not everyone is buying into the “almost human” moniker. Old schoolers insist we are dealing with a bipedal ape. They argue that we are simply looking at a highly intelligent animal that walks like us. Nothing more. That is where we find ourselves today on the issue of Bigfoot. There are three fairly reasonable sides to consider.

    • Bigfoot does not exist
    • Bigfoot is human
    • Bigfoot is an ape

Discounting the “Bigfoot does not exist” crowd for a moment, the divide between the two latter sides is so slim it’s hard to see. Let’s forget the DNA study for this discussion. From a moral perspective, we have to decide amongst ourselves what being human means before we can decide whether something is human or not.

As a society, we have decided that medical testing on Chimpanzees is morally acceptable because they are so genetically similar to us we can save our species  by sacrificing members of theirs. Think about it. We are knowingly killing and causing harm to something we’ve deemed an animal because its genetic structure is dissimilar to ours in the smallest degrees. Why aren’t Chimps, Gorillas and Orangutans considered human? Because they aren’t Homo sapiens? What if Neanderthals had survived and lived in our mountainous regions today? Would they be humans? Their scientific identification is Homo sapiens neanderthalensis or Homo neanderthalensis depending on who you ask. They are almost like us. More similar to us than our great ape brethren. Would it be morally acceptable to conduct medical testing on Neanderthals if they lived today?

What is it that strips something of its rights? Is it lack of language? It can’t be stated with any kind of scientific certainty that Neanderthals had language. Some of the genetic markers for speech have been discovered, so the scientific community is leaning towards the use of language by Neanderthals. So let’s pretend that language is where we draw the line in the sand. Whales and dolphins demonstrate a highly sophisticated form of sounds that some have interpreted as language. Yet, we allow countries like Japan to hunt whales for food. Koko the gorilla has demonstrated the capacity to learn and use American Sign Language, but she is not considered human. Legally, the argument could be made that we could conduct medical experiments on her despite her ability to communicate outside of her species. In fact, some would even say that teaching research apes sign language could be beneficial because they could actually describe how they are feeling. The mental state of the animal could be more accurately monitored and as a result we Homo sapiens could avoid the same kind of mental anguish.

Clearly language is not enough to consider something human. Is it culture? Is it intelligence? Is it tool us? Is it belief in a higher being? I submit that none of these are factors in determining if something is human or not. There are animals that demonstrate a cultural structure. There are highly intelligent animals. There are animals that use tools on a regular basis. And, there are Homo sapiens who do not believe in a higher being. I would even go further and say that we do not use genetics to determine if something is human or not. We decided Homo sapiens were human long before the field of genetic study even existed.

As far as I can tell, as a society we decide if something is human or not purely based on physical attributes alone. If something isn’t bipedal, it’s not human. If something is covered in hair or fur or feathers or scales, it’s not human. There are anomalies within our species that are exceptions to those rules, but overall that’s the way we’ve come to the moral determination that something is human or not. Based on those two criteria, Bigfoot puts us in a tough spot being a hairy biped.

I’ve said all that to say this. I believe debating whether Bigfoot is ape or human is putting the cart before the horse. We have to first determine what makes something human and leave genetics out of the discussion. Does something that doesn’t quite look like us deserve the same rights as we do? We may find that Bigfoot is governed by their own set of laws. They may have a language. They may even have little inside jokes about the hairless creatures that roam their forests with guns and cameras. It’s not even outside of the realm of possibility that they believe in a higher being and have communal rituals they perform in observance of their higher being. We don’t know enough to know what we don’t know.

Now you may be one of those on the third side of this issue and can’t believe for a second that Bigfoot exists. In which case, you are probably having a good chuckle right about now. Consider this. Something left behind DNA samples to be included in that study. The study revealed something that merits publication in a scientific journal. There is something out there. What it is may bring Homo sapiens to a cross roads. We may have to decide if something outside our species or something that is defined as a Homo sapiens subspecies can be considered human.

Adrian Erickson & the Larry Surface Video

UPDATE 12/03/2011: Dr. Ketchum just made a statement about Erickson on FB.  You can read it here: Ketchum on Erickson

This week saw two separate developments that caught the attention of cryptophiles everywhere. First, The Erickson Project website went offline very quietly. No official word has been released by Adrian Erickson nor has any member of his team spoken off the record about the sudden vanishing. We are left with nothing but rumors. When you think about it, it’s a fitting end to the mysterious project because nothing but a constant stream of rumors swirled around Erickson and his team since word of the project first hit the crypto-world.

A story appeared in the Osoyoos Times that hints as to a major reason Erickson pulled the rug out from under the project. We of crypto inclinations have been so involved in the steady drip of stories surrounding Erickson’s documentary and project, we forgot that the man actually owns an honest to goodness development company. By all accounts, it was a very successful business. Unfortunately, ‘was’ is the key word here. Erickson, like most land developers, has taken a hit during these unfavorable economic times. Here is a quote from the Osoyoos Times’ story REGAL RIDGE UNDER SIEGE:

The letter acknowledged that Regal Ridge (Adrian Erickson’s development company) was undergoing restructuring and downsizing. Certain costs for infrastructure development, said Erickson, would have to be shifted. Causes for the shortage of funds was attributed to the decline in the economic climate, competition from crushed housing prices in the U.S. Sunbelt and “uncontrollable power infrastructure costs.”

The letter stated that three quarters of lots had services in place and the company was working to find a solution for the others, with support from its creditors.

This is not a fun thing for anyone to have to deal with. Jobs and livelihoods are at stake here, so I can’t really blame him from walking away from something that amounts to a hobby. The footage he has isn’t definitive enough to stand on its own. He made the decision to tie his documentary to Dr. Ketchum’s DNA study to give the film more validity. You have to admire him for sticking to his guns and not damaging the integrity of the work his team has done in favor of getting a quick buck. My feeling is that he pulled the website down simply because he’s trying to keep his development company solvent and there’s no reason to compound an already difficult task by being known as the Bigfoot guy. Closing down the Erickson Project was a business decision and nothing more.

On to Larry Surface. Larry is a retired gentleman who lives in Southern Ohio. I knew nothing about him until this week. He had a blog chronicling his research in his area surrounding what he calls the “Wild People.” You might know these wild people as Bigfoot. Larry announced this week that he captured one of the wild people on a camera he set up in a location he would like to keep undisclosed. The video made a brief appearance on his blog, and it clearly showed a humanoid subject from mid-back up walking on and off camera, and then on and off camera again. What he actually caught on camera is up for debate. Like most videos in this field, it’s blurry and grainy. Larry is convinced it is an undocumented bipedal hominid. This is normally where I would provide a link to the video, but Larry took the video down because he says he was asked to by none other than Dr. Melba Ketchum. It seems she has been looking for supporting evidence in the form of video or still images to accompany her study. Evidently Larry has provided samples to Dr. K’s study, and he says she has an interest in including the video in her study. Larry not only pulled the video. He shut down his blog because he was tired of the negative comments.

I will close this story with this. I was able to capture a frame from that video that I post here now without comment. It’s the same frame repeated a number of times from its original incarnation through various other incarnations with filters and tweaks applied to bring out details. You be the judge. If you do want to comment, be as supportive or as critical as you want, but please be constructive, as well.

UPDATE 11/21/2011: Larry respectfully requested that I remove the image from my blog. 

Dr. Melba Ketchum scheduled to speak about Sasquatch DNA on October 1, 2011

Read into this what you will - Click on image to go to Honobia Bigfoot Festival and Conference for details

I have no idea if the Ketchum Report will be out by then, but it seems odd to me that she would schedule to speak publicly about Sasquatch DNA if the paper is still in the peer review process, particularly since she’s been so careful not to violate protocal to this point.

Honobia Bigfoot Festival and Conference

UPDATE – It looks like Dr. Kethum’s addition to the schedule bumped a wedding, so either she’s got something really important to say or someone in the wedding party got cold feet.

Schedule before Dr. Ketchum signed on to speak.