Planet of the Apes

The evolution of human intelligence

The first topic for discussion is the potential of current classifications to reflect existing relationships among primate lineages, especially between human and non-human apes. In the book, apes were almost identical to humans in terms of their mental abilities and capable of rising to power (Boulle 2001). The events on Soror that led to the demise of the human race and let the apes prevail seem to underline the equality of the latter to humans in terms of intellect.

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This topic raised by the author in his book seems to be supported by the current research. As such, Hopkins et al. (2014) argue that biological and social factors influence the intellect in chimpanzees and intellectual skills can be inherited by further generations. Earlier classifications of apes were ignorant of the variety of cognitive abilities demonstrated by apes and researchers were standing firmly behind the notion of the uniqueness of human intellectual prowess.

However, latest the quantitative data from the principal-component analysis that measured different aspects of cognitive tests performed on chimpanzees showed that apes are capable of inheriting social cognition abilities (Hopkins et al. 2014). Judging from these results, the events described by Boulle have an actual research basis. It appears that apes being slaves to humans for an extended period of time have learned their social skills and became capable of using them against their enslavers. If, as Hopkins et al. claim, intellectual abilities can be learned and inherited then it was, possibly, the case in the science fiction world invented by Boulle.

Gabora and Russon (2011) state that the theory previously accepted in the research that the human brain unlike apes’ is capable of creativity and cognitive fluidity is now being challenged as new data emerges. In light of the evolution theory, the previous stages of human intellectual development were able to adapt and evolve their cognitive skills, knowledge, and thought complexity by passing it to other generations through repeated iterations of actions and the means of social communication (Gabora and Russon 2011).

The increasing social complexity led to the development of more elaborate forms of communication which further increased the intellectual capabilities of humans. Conversely, the accumulation of experience within intellectual modules led to the development of the modern human brain with its ability to conceptualize and produce complex abstract constructions.

In regard to apes, modern research shows that their intellectual basis is far more sophisticated than it was believed earlier and the start of human evolution can be sensed in the modern apes studied today (Gabora and Russon 2011).

The apes of Soror demonstrate the ability to understand and follow the hierarchical structure of society with adequately perceiving their place within it. As such, Zira and gorilla guards amused by the writer’s behavior were called to order and adequately responded to the claims of higher command (Boulle 2001). This appears to relate to Gabora and Russon’s research and demonstrate that apes recognize the social concepts of power and authority that are as complex as human ones.

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Primate Behavior: Communication

The second discussion topic is the relevance of language skills among non-human apes to the mechanisms of language development in humans. In the novel, this topic was demonstrated through Nova’s inability to speak and her mental capabilities (Boulle 2001). The social hierarchy of apes also seems to have distinguished gorillas as less intelligent and simple laborers not blessed with the gift of speech.

The current research substantiates the claim that language is an essential characteristic of intelligence. As such, Hedeager (n.d.) describes chimpanzees taught to communicate using a specific sign language and express their thoughts and desires. Yet, this does not seem to stand as proof of the theory that language can make apes smarter. It only demonstrates their current level of intelligence. However, further tests showed that by learning the basics of sign language, apes were able to develop new concepts and ways to describe them thus enlarging their vocabulary (Hedeager, n.d.).

This can stand as substantial evidence of evolutionary capabilities demonstrated by apes in the book. If taught the specific manner of communication the apes are able to improve which was the case in the novel by Boulle. Hedeager (n.d.) concludes that the present language in all its complexity has been developing for centuries and apes, constrained by experimental design could not have developed anything of the sort while not lacking the ability to learn. In the book, the time period for evolution was apparently sufficient which has led to the acquisition of human-level language proficiency among certain species.

Another research that provides scientific evidence for the events described in the book is produced by Gillespie-Lynch and Lyn. The authors of the study suggest that prolonged presence within the language-enriched environments increases the progress of apes in learning many aspects of our communication method (Gillespie-Lynch and Lyn 2014). Chimpanzees demonstrated substantial progress in comprehending vocabulary, distinguishing between symbols and their references, and certain aspects of syntax. Earlier research indicated that apes were also capable of uttering certain meaningful sounds (Gillespie-Lynch and Lyn 2014).

Although Hedeager notes that primates’ physical development of vocal cords does not allow them to fully utilize the spoken word, the simian language described in the book was adapted to the apes’ physique (Boulle 2001).

Not only chimpanzees are able to comprehend language, but also bonobos, but with less success as compared to the former (Gillespie-Lynch and Lyn 2014). This also serves as proof of that hierarchy based on intellectual ability, and, apparently the use of language described in the novel. The researchers note that the perspectives on language definition and the use of the human way of communication as the measure of other species’ ability is an impeding factor. Indeed, their cognitive skills and experience, as well as physique, should also be considered.

O’Neil also offers some insight into the relations between language and intelligence in primates and humans. He argues that there is no evidence that apes are capable of referring to abstract, past, or future notions as humans (O’Neil 2012).

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Yet, he notes that vocalizations, gestures, and mimics are used in both species to express their attitudes towards events or to communication partners. While he agrees that apes may in some limited form perceive and reproduce concepts from human language, they cannot use it innovatively, which contradicts the research cited in Hedeager, Gillespie-Lynch, and Lyn. (O’Neil 2012). Thus, in accordance with this viewpoint, the depiction of primates in the book is improper.


The scientific evidence occasionally offers conflicting evidence, yet in general, researchers seem to agree that apes are capable of understanding and reproducing language and developing intellectually. Thus, the events described in the book correlate with the current scientific theories. Although earlier research did not recognize apes as highly intelligent species, current data and experiments suggest that Boulle’s description of the mental abilities of apes might in certain aspects be true.

Works Cited

Boulle, Pierre. Planet of the Apes. Translated by Xan Fielding, Del Rey, 2001.

Gabora, Liane and Anne Russon. “The evolution of human intelligence.” The Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence, edited by Robert Sternberg and Scott Kaufman. Cambridge University Press, 2011, pp. 328-350.

Gillespie-Lynch, Kristen and Heidi Lyn. “Language Learning in Nonhuman Primates.” Encyclopedia of Language Development, edited by Patricia J. Brooks and Vera Kempe, 2014, pp. 334-37.

Hedeager, Ulla. Is Language Unique To The Human Species? n.d. Web.

Hopkins, William D., et al. “Chimpanzee Intelligence Is Heritable.” Current Biology, vol. 24, no. 14, 2014, pp. 1649–52. Web.

O’Neil, Dennis. Primate Behavior: Communication, 2012, Palomar Education. Web.

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