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 K’s unpublished paper.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.

The tale of a Bigfoot fetus?

If Bigfoot have opposable thumbs, we're in trouble.

If you are not a fan of rumor and conjecture, you aren’t going to like today’s post because that’s all I have.  In addition, if you’re not one of my Bigfoot (BF) readers, you’re really not going to like today’s post because rumor and conjecture are swirling around the big guy, or should I say big gal.  The distinction will make sense as you read on.

Now, there are a number of sources for what you will see on this blog today, and I don’t have qualified verification for any of their claims. Granted, I’m of the position that the only verification that is worthwhile is actual physical proof, so even if I did have multiple sources that I trusted, I would advice that you view all of this with a skeptical eye.  On with the story.

Those of you with an interest in BF are probably well aware of Dr. Melba Ketchum (Dr. K) and her DNA study. I wrote about it initially in a post called The Ketchum Report.  Dr. K has become somewhat of a folk hero among a majority of the BF devotees.  She has done something that only a select few have done before her; apply science to the BF question.  Her report has been frustratingly dangled in front of the BF community as a carrot of hope for a few years now.   There has been plenty of buzz about the report and what it says, but there has been no actual report produced.  Proponents will tell you that it is because this is a paper that has been submitted for peer review to a scientific journal, and these things take time.  I’ve made this argument myself.  Opponents say the delays are simply due to the fact that Dr. K’s paper reveals nothing, so she and her cohorts are milking as much publicity out of this as possible.  The two sides have been waging a war of words virtually since the first hints of the DNA study.  For Dr. K’s part, she’s said remarkably little about the study.  Her reason for keeping quiet?  Scientific journals don’t like a lot of pre-publication chatter about the studies they publish.  They tend to prefer that the science take center stage and not over-hyped sensationalism.   A study about a living non-human 8’ tall bipedal hominid comes with a lot of tabloid baggage, and that a scientific journal of any merit would give it serious consideration is a miracle in and of itself, which leads us to our first rumor.

Blogger Robert Lindsay has been cranking out some fascinating posts about Dr. K and her study for some time now. Lindsay is an interesting character. The number of people who revile him is only matched by the number of people who admire him.  To put it kindly, he is a lightning rod of controversy.  I dare say if you ever read his blog, you will find something that will disgust and anger you.  And, that is exactly how Lindsay wants it.  In the interest of complete disclosure, I don’t like his views on race or politics, but I can’t help but like him.  He’s an open book and there’s something inherently likable about that.

Lindsay has much more faith in his sources than I do.  He’s started a number of his posts with “We can now report.”  Meaning, he’s confident enough in his sources to share their information as fact.  He started his latest blog post on BF, Bigfoot News October 10, 2011, in just such a way.  In this particular post, he is making the claim that the science journal Nature has accepted Dr. K’s (and her co-authors) paper for review.  Normally, I would pass this off as wishful thinking by Lindsay’s source, but I was contacted on this blog and via private messaging by an individual weeks ago insisting the paper was under peer review by Nature.  Is my source the same individual?  I don’t know, but I do find it interesting that Lindsay, and I both received the same information.  I didn’t report on it then, because there was just no way for me to confirm it.  I present it to you here as still unconfirmed information.

The second part of the Nature rumor is the second most sensational thing you will read here today.  Lindsay is reporting that the editors of the journal called Dr. K in for a meeting with them at their headquarters in London.  Separately, an AJ Ciani reported on the BF Forums that Dr. K met with members of a review panel in Europe.  Again, how reliable the sources are in this case is unknown.  If true, it is an unprecedented move by a scientific journal.  They don’t meet with the authors of a study as a rule, and this has skeptics dismissing the rumors out of hand.  I am of the belief if Dr. K’s study has met all criteria and is credible, they would almost have to meet with her and members of her team before publishing a paper about a topic that is usually relegated to the pages of tabloid magazines.  If the paper unquestionably proves the existence of such a creature, they must take every precaution before publication.  But that’s just my opinion.

Now for the most sensational thing you will read here today.  I wrote an article for Blogcritics titled The Mystery Over The Existence of Bigfoot Continues.  In that article, I talked about a man by the name of Justin Smeja and his claim that he shot and killed two BF creatures in the Sierra Mountains in California.  His story would have been tucked away as complete nonsense if not for the Olympic Project (OP). The OP is a group of BF researches that has a stellar reputation within the BF community. They verified Smeja’s story. Smeja, in fact, joined their group after contacting them about his story.  Without boring you with all the details, Smeja didn’t just have a story, he had a specimen.  What that specimen actually is, has come under some speculation.  Smeja claims publicly that it is a piece of flesh from the thigh of the adult that was killed (an adult and juvenile were supposedly killed).  He cut a piece from this specimen and sent it to Dr. K to include in her study, and “read between the lines” statements from Smeja and the OP suggest that the sample did match other samples in the study as being from a BF.

Things started to get weird (believe it or not, I haven’t even scratched the surface of weird yet) when the OP talked about the gender of the adult.  It was referred to as “she,” on a number of occasions, but at some point, an emphasis was made that the gender could not be disclosed because of a nondisclosure agreement (NDA).  Some of us wondered publicly why the gender would come under an NDA.  What possible difference could it make?  It just didn’t make sense, until this week.  It was revealed in a public chat group that the adult that was allegedly shot was indeed a pregnant female.  Now, Smeja originally claimed he saw the adult at a distance of 80 yards through his rifle scope, and by his own admission, he didn’t know what it was beyond describing it as a monster.  Once he shot the BF, it ran off, never to be seen whole again.  He found the flesh sometime later.  How then could he know that the BF was pregnant?  Asking that question led to the revelation that a fetus may have been recovered from the shooting.  While this sounds completely whacky, it does match up with previous claims that they have hair, flesh, blood and bones included in Dr. K’s study.  Before Smeja’s Sierra shooting story, the only things mentioned in the study were blood, saliva and hair.  After Smeja’s story, flesh and bone were included in the samples description.

I have to reiterate.  What you read here today is not presented as fact in any way.  These are all public conversations currently going on throughout the BF community.  Skeptics are having a good laugh and marveling at the gullibility of those who believe in BF.  But, I can tell you that very few of those involved in the conversation are accepting it for anything other than what it is, speculation. Dr. K is not talking, and I can tell you from personal experience people with connections to the study are giving  the standard, “I cannot confirm or deny” response to inquiries.  For now, this is just an interesting collection of stories.  Nothing can be verified beyond a shadow of a doubt until Dr. K’s paper is published.

Are they people? (An Erickson Project post)

What makes people people?

Welcome to a weird philosophical rant today.  It will meander.  It will test the boundaries of comprehension and logic.  And, it will make you roll your eyes.  But, I’m a writer who sits around thinking about imaginary crap all day, what do expect?

My recent post about a face in the woods (which is most likely just shadows and light) coupled with the recent spate of discussions about the Erickson Project in several cryptozoology groups has me wondering if we’re prepared for the discovery of a bipedal non-human species that demonstrates advanced cognitive thinking.  Far more advanced than known apes, and maybe even as advanced as Homo sapiens. 

For those of you who don’t know, the Erickson Project concerns Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, if you prefer.  The people involved claimed to have been studying several family groups of the creature in the wilds of North America.  They purport to have clear video evidence and DNA samples to back up their claims.  The project started in 2005 in Kentucky and has expanded to include areas throughout the US and Canada.   They say it has taken them some time to collect viable DNA samples for testing, and since there is no matching DNA in the current database, it has taken a lot of patience and effort to verify the results and officially identify Sasquatch as a new species.  They either have or are planning to submit their findings for peer review and a documentary is in the works.  

Everyone in the Bigfoot sphere of interest is highly skeptical.  Not so much because of the people involved with the Erickson Project, but because of past claims of clear video evidence and DNA samples made by others over the years that all proved to be bogus.  It’s because of these past experiences the Erickson Project folks are being so methodical and quiet about their research.  I sent an email to the contact address on their website inquiring about the release date of the documentary and got back a curt response saying nothing would be released until the DNA evidence is officially verified. 

So, for the time being we are left in the lurch.  The Erickson project could be the real deal, or it could be as real as the tiger blood coursing through Charlie Sheen’s veins.  But let’s pretend for a moment that the Erickson Project does reveal without question that there are non-human bipedal creatures roaming the forests of this continent.   They have been stealth and smart enough to remain hidden for hundreds of thousands of years from humans, or at the very least since recorded time.  They may even have a primitive language, a culture, a cooperative existence, etc.  They are not super natural beings.  They are wholly natural beings, and they’ve made a conscious decision that the key to their survival is to stay away from humans.   It is in their nature to distrust us. 

Unfortunately, it is in our nature to discover them, so we have to ask ourselves how we’re going to classify them when we do.  Are they people?  Do they have the same rights as us, or since they are a different species are we going to try to dictate the state of their existence from the time of their discovery on?  Remember, we’re not talking about an animal that lives by instinct alone.  They think things through.  They communicate to others within their species.  They consciously respect the borders of civilization and choose not to cross them.  In effect, they live as primitive humans. 

Admittedly, I’m extrapolating a lot for the sake of this discussion, but I feel most of what I have said is fairly reasonable based on eyewitness accounts and current theories.  They are not simply an animal.  They are an animal with an intelligence we’ve never encountered before outside of our own species.  The question remains what does that make them and how should we treat them when they are discovered?  I suggest we don’t make them adapt to us.  We should adapt to them.  We shouldn’t treat them like people because frankly, we don’t have a great history of treating people who are different from us very well in this country.  Just ask the Native Americans.  In fact, perhaps we should take this opportunity to adopt the strategy we should have adopted with the indigenous people of this country when we first landed on the shores of North America.  Let this new species be their own nation within our nation.  They’ve lived harmoniously with the wild since their beginning.   Let’s keep it that way.  Let’s not try to manage them or change them.  Unfortunately, we will have to protect them from us because our history has also shown that we don’t really respect the things we discover.  Our curiosity and fears tend to drive us to do stupid and selfish things.  But the laws we make should pertain to our species not theirs.  They’ve never threatened us or required anything from us.  Let’s keep it that way.

Okay, now you can stop pretending.  If the Erickson Project turns out to be nonsense like a lot of people fear, then it’s all a moot point.   Just keep it in mind in case they actually do come through with conclusive proof.

Stephen Colbert – Lost Days Celebrity of the Day (and Book 4 Update)

Colbert Declares His Love for Lost Days

Fellow Charlestonian Stephen Colbert publicly proclaimed that he loves my book Lost Days.  He even tried to make out with it.  To which I say, “dude, that is gross,” and I would like to proclaim my love for Photoshop.

*BTW – I’m working on Book 4 of the Oz Chronicles for those of you who have been asking and searching.  It is so close to completion.  Hang in there.  I’ve gotten some positive feedback on what I have so far, so I’m hoping you won’t be disappointed.

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Bigfoot & Memorial Day

Since it’s Memorial day, I naturally think of the Memorial Day Bigfoot footage shot in 1996 by camper, Lori Pate in the state of Washington near the Canadian border.  I ran across it many times in my research for the young adult science fiction novel (Lost Days) I just completed.  In my opinion, the creature in the video is unquestionably a fake.  Whether Lori Pate was involved in the fraudulent footage, is doubtful, and Dr. Jeff Meldrum, a respected anthropologist and a man whose opinion I really value, believes the creature in the video is the real thing.  Watch the two video clips below and decide for yourself.  I see a guy in a gorilla costume. 

BTW – Happy Memorial day!  A big thanks to all the men and women (past and present) serving our country.   

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Bigfoot – A Serious Look at the Legend

The Real Thing

The Real Thing?

 

 

 

Okay, it is well established now that there was no Bigfoot body discovered in the mountains of North Georgia, but sadly there are going to be a few…  slower adults that will still believe the hoax.   And somehow the three guys that cooked up this scheme will find a way to benefit financially.  They’ll write a book, make a film, sell t-shirts, bumper stickers, and signed posters of the now infamous Bigfoot costume in a freezer.   But that’s okay because the people who buy into this crap are the same people who will spend their last twenty bucks on a pack of cigarettes and lottery tickets.  In short, they get what they deserve.

But what about the rest of us?  Where do we go from here?  Look, I write science fiction and horror.  I tend toward the unbelievable.  It’s fun to think there’s a giant undiscovered bipedal ape running around in the forest somewhere in North America.  Is it probable?  No.  Is it possible?  Certainly.  Even Jane Goodall believes in Bigfoot, and she’s been hanging out with apes most of her life.  Who am I to argue?   I believe because it’s just too damn cool not to believe. 

Luckily there are scientist and researchers out there who are seriously considering the possibility of Bigfoot (Which is an awful name.  I like Sasquatch much better).  They are applying sound scientific methodology to the circumstantial evidence that is currently available.  If Bigfoot is ever discovered, a press conference won’t be called by a talk show host and two guys who need help tying their shoes.  It will be called by a panel of scientist with indisputable evidence. 

To that end, Professor Jeff Meldrum has penned the definitive book on Bigfoot.  It’s called Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science.  It’s devoid of hyperbole and sensationalism.  Meldrum is an expert in human locomotor adaptations.  He applies his expertise to the evidence that is available.  I recommend the book highly even if you’re a nonbeliever, but most especially if you want to find a reason to believe.   

 

Here is a link to an NPR interview Meldrum did in November of 2006. ‘Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science’.  I’m an author of science fiction and horror.  It’s almost expected of me to believe in something as outrageous as Bigfoot.  But think of everything that Meldrum is risking by saying he’s a believer.  Now think about the extra scrutiny he’s receiving right now because three tools put a Bigfoot costume in a freezer and called a press conference.  BTW – What is wrong with this nation’s media?   They actually sent reporters to the press conference.