I often look into the eyes of animals and think, “This animal is conscious and alive, just like I am. It feels emotions, it has an awareness of its surroundings and where it is, and it knows hunger and pain.” This is definitely true of higher order primates, like chimpanzees. The question is, how different are we? Well, let’s take chimpanzees. Our genetic makeup is 98.9% the same. What makes up the 1.1% difference?
Half of that difference has to do with our sense of smell. Chimpanzees can smell far better than we can. What about the rest? Well, there’s some genes which account for our difference in pelvic arch, allowing us to walk upright. There are genes for growing hair (their fur), and we find some minor differences in our immune systems. All in all, that pretty much makes up the entire difference between us.
But wait. If that’s the case, why are we so much more intelligent? In short, we’re not, but the little intelligence difference we do have is based on a few genes which cause our brain cells to divide several times more during fetal development, leading us to have three times the number of neurons. That’s it.
It’s probably not quite this simple, but if you flipped those few genes in a chimp, we’d have a chimp with a human brain. I’m guessing it’d be able to do calculus, compose music, and write novels. It’s something to think about.