We tend to think of ourselves as unique on this earth. Monkeys, however, allow us the at times uncomfortable awareness of ourselves by seeing our own behaviour mirrored in theirs. The photo above, taken by Monica Szczupider, shows a group of chimps reacting to the death of their older matriarch, Dorothy. Some of them showed aggression, others confusion. The majority of them, however, watched the burial in silence. Notice the solicitousness touching between them, the hand on the shoulder or on the back. There’s also an absence of overt expression on their faces, in that they are staring, rapt, at what is taking place in front of them. Dorothy is gone, and they are made reverent in the face of it.
Emotion, consciousness and self-identity are things that we assume are only human attributes; that we have them and other animals don’t. It seems to me, however, that a sliding scale of consciousness is much more likely, with primates in our genius showing similar behaviour and logic to ourselves. Take Koko, seen here, as an excellent example of unexpected cognitive understanding. It would be tempting to believe that monkeys are usually nicer than people, when in fact that they are as petty and cruel as us, normally. Still, we are granted a mirror on our behaviour from our nearest relatives, and can only thank Nature for letting us see clearly our absurdities, failings and strengths.