I discovered the Aquatic Hypothesis a long time ago, and have followed its status, and in some sense still surprised that a "scientific" area (anthropology) of academia is still closed minded, and has been for decades now. So I enjoyed the latest TED talk: Elaine Morgan's TED Talk.
In context, here is what I thought on July 30, 2005, when I wrote in on my Keirsey Complexity Forum on Yahoo groups.
Last week I visited my family in the yearly get together for two weeks. We hang out at Balboa Island and argue about things, or read. I didn't feel like reading my current book: Sheaves in Geometry and Logic by Sanders MacLane, but picked up one of my father's book in one of his book cases. It was The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis by Elaine Morgan.
Actually I was the one who read the original book Aquatic Ape, gee, maybe 10 years ago. I lost the book (someone borrowed and didn't return it) and I wanted to get another copy -- but I never got one. I had told my father about it and referred to the theory occasionally through the years, and he was intrigued as I was. Luckily he apparently recently got the sequel book. The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis is about human evolution.
To me, the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis is very interesting for several reasons. First, it makes sense. But the second reason is very intriguing -- a kind of mystery that I haven't completely figured out. Why do some scientific truths not get adopted?
Elaine Morgan is the author of Aquatic Ape Hypothesis -- she is a journalist, not a scientist. The original book, the Aquatic Ape, was controversial, and the famous (or other) anthropologists didn't pick it up and most were dismissive or actively hostile. (Hey it isn't their theory). The reigning Savannah hypothesis seemed solid to them. There were a couple of anthropologists in the forties and fifties that introduced the aquatic concept: the transition from the Last Common Ancestor of primates to hominids might involve an isolated offshoot of primates that had been (trapped?) in a watery environment -- hence the "aquatic" ape. Elaine Morgan picked up the idea, gathered the arguments, and presented it in the Aquatic Ape.
Ok, there are many stories of non-acceptance of theories: Margulis, Wegner, Boltzmann, etc. But these are scientists and they eventually overcame the resistance of the scientific community once the theory became substantive. In the case of the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis it is strange that a hypothesis that is so obviously right but has no visible support in any part of the scientific community.
There were some problems with the original hypothesis, but Morgan has essentially fixed those problems in her second book. Some of the
criticism directed at some of the original was justified, but she used the criticism like one should, she changed the part that was incorrect and built a stronger case. To me the evidence that she presents in the current (1997) Aquatic Ape Hypothesis is overwhelming: I have no doubts.
The reaction to this hypothesis reminds me of the academic reaction to my father's work in temperament. Primarily ignoring it plus some
basic hostility to it. It seems that science has difficulty when there is no academic base from which things start. Without graduate students, even the truth seems to have trouble catching on. I am not sure why there isn't one graduate student brave enough to buck the science community.