Desmond Morris

English zoologist, ethologist and surrealist painter

Desmond John Morris, FZS (born 24 January 1928) is an English zoologist, ethologist and surrealist painter, as well as a popular author in human sociobiology.

Desmond Morris (1969)


  • No matter how old we become, we can still call them 'Holy Mother' or 'Father' and put a child-like trust in them (or their agents, who often adopt similar titles for themselves).
    • Cited in: Daniel Rancour-Laferriere (1985), Signs of the flesh: an essay on the evolution of hominid sexuality, p. 112
  • The idea that it is funny to see wild animals coerced into acting like clumsy humans, or thrilling to see powerful beasts reduced to cringing cowards by a whip-cracking trainer, is primitive and medieval. It stems from the old idea that we are superior to other species and have the right to hold dominion over them.
    • In: William Johnson (1990), Rose-Tinted Menagerie, p. 10
  • I discovered long ago that, if you write a book about cats or dogs, everybody loves you, but if you dare to write a book about human beings, all hell breaks loose. It is impossible to write an uncensored, honest book about human behaviour without offending at least part of your audience. If you feel you have a basic truth to tell, then you must tell it and be prepared to suffer the inevitable criticisms.
    • Desmond Morris in: "The Dan Schneider Interview 8: Desmond Morris" at, first posted 2/16/08.
  • Artists like cats; soldiers like dogs.
    • Desmond Morris (2009), Catwatching. p. 2
  • The zoo animal in a cage exhibits all these abnormalities that we know so well from our human companions. Clearly, then, the city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo.
    • Desmond Morris (2009), The Human Zoo, p. vii

The Naked Ape (1967)Edit

Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal (1967)

  • There are one hundred and ninety-three living species of monkeys and apes. One hundred and ninety-two of them are covered with hair. The exception is a naked ape self-named Homo sapiens. This unusual and highly successful species spends a great deal of time examining his higher motives and an equal amount of time studiously ignoring his fundamental ones.
  • I am a zoologist and the naked ape is an animal. He is therefore fair game for my pen and I refuse to avoid him any longer simply because some of his behaviour patterns are rather complex and impressive. My excuse is that, in becoming so erudite, Homo sapiens has remained a naked ape nevertheless; in acquiring lofty new motives, he has lost none of the early old ones. This is frequently a cause of some embarrassment to him, but his old impulses have been with him for millions of years, his new ones only a few thousand at the most - and there is no hope of quickly shrugging off the accumulated genetic legacy of his whole evolutionary past. He would be a far less worried and more fulfilled animal if only he would face up to this fact. Perhaps this is where the zoologist can help.
    • Introduction
  • Much of what we do as adults is based on this imitative absorption during our childhood years. Frequently we imagine that we are behaving in a particular way because such behaviour accords with some abstract, lofty code of moral principles, when in reality all we are doing is obeying a deeply ingrained and long 'forgotten' set of purely imitative impressions (along with out carefully concealed instinctive urges) that makes it so hard for societies to change their customs and their 'beliefs'. Even when faced with exciting, brilliantly rational new ideas, based on the application of pure, objective intelligence, the community will still cling to its old home-based habits and prejudices. This is the cross we have to bear if we are going to sail through our vital juvenile 'blotting-paper' phase of rapidly mopping up the accumulated experiences of previous generations. We are forced to take the biased opinions along with the valuable facts.
    • (2010), p. 86
  • In discussing all these aggressive and submissive behaviour patterns, it has been assumed that the individuals concerned have been 'telling the truth' and have not been consciously and deliberately modifying their actions to achieve special ends. We 'lie' more with our words than our other communicative signals, but even so the pheneomenon cannot be overlooked entirely. It is extremely difficult to 'utter' untruths with the kind of behaviour patterns we have been discussing, but not impossible. As I have already mentioned, when parents adopt this procedure towards their young children, it usually fails much more drastically than they realize. Between adults, however, who are much preoccupied with the verbalized information content of the social interactions, it can be more successful. Unfortunately for the behaviour-liar, he typically lies only with certain selected elements of his total signalling system. Others, which he is not aware of, give the game away.
    • (2010), p. 115-116
  • The most successful behaviour-liars are those who, instead of consciously concentrating on modifying specific signals, think themselves into the basic mood they wish to convey and then let the small details take care of themselves. This method is frequently used with great success by professional liars, such as actors and actresses. Their entire working lives are spent performing behavioural lies, a process which can sometimes be extremely damaging to their private lives. Politicians and diplomats are also required to perform an undue amount of behavioural lying, but unlike the actors they are not socially 'licensed to lie', and the resultant guilt feelings tend to interfere with their performances. Also, unlike the actors, they do not undergo prolonged training courses.
    • (2000), p. 116
  • A belief in the validity of the acquisition of knowledge and a scientific understanding of the world we live in, the creation and appreciation of aesthetic phenomena in all their many forms, and the broadening and deepening of our range of experiences in day-to-day living, is rapidly becoming the ‘religion’ of our time.
    • p. 148

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