Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Books Media Book Reviews Science

Animal Social Complexity - Intelligence and Culture 245

Posted by timothy
from the don't-look-around-too-hard dept.
danny writes "How are brain size and intelligence related to social complexity? What are the evolutionary underpinnings of cooperation? How sophisticated are animal communication and social cognition? And do animals have culture? Read on for my review of Animal Social Complexity: Intelligence, Culture, and Individualized Societies."
Animal Social Complexity: Intelligence and Culture
author Frans de Waal and Peter Tyack
pages 616 pages
publisher Harvard University Press
rating 9
reviewer Danny Yee
ISBN 0674009290
summary 18 papers on primates, cetaceans, other mammals and birds

How are brain size and intelligence related to social complexity? What are the evolutionary underpinnings of cooperation? How sophisticated are animal communication and social cognition? And do animals have culture? These are some of the broad questions addressed by the eighteen papers in Animal Social Complexity, which look not only at primates and cetaceans, but also at hyenas, elephants, bats, and birds. The common focus is on societies that are individualized, with members recognising each other as individuals, and stable, with long-lived members and on-going relationships, and in which there are learned survival skills and social behaviours. Some of the papers are overviews of particular species or taxa, some address specific questions in the context of a particular species, and some present cross-species comparisons.

Consisting of the papers from a conference held in 2000, Animal Social Complexity is a professional volume, complete with a hundred pages of references. But the topics covered are of widespread interest, and the multi- and inter-disciplinary nature of the papers makes them mostly accessible to the lay reader.

Carel Van Schaik and Robert Deaner present a life history perspective on cognitive evolution: demonstrating a link between social complexity and intelligence/brain size is complicated because both are correlated with long life spans. Randall Wells presents an outline of dolphin social complexity based on long-term studies on the communities in Sarasota Bay, Florida. And Katy Payne gives an overview of social complexity in the three elephant species.

Christophe Boesch describes examples of complex cooperation among Tai chimpanzees, in group hunts for monkeys and in territorial conflict with other chimpanzee groups. Christine Drea and Laurence Frank describe the social system of spotted hyenas and argue that more attention should be paid to social complexity in carnivores. It has commonly been argued that social stress is a consequence of subordination; Scott Creel and Jennifer Sands present evidence suggesting that it may in fact be a cost of domination, at least in some species.

Three of the papers debate the underlying mechanisms of social cognition. Ronald Schusterman et al. argue for equivalence classifications as a basic structure. In contrast, Robert Seyfarth and Dorothy Cheney argue that "nonhuman primates are innately predisposed to group other individuals into hierarchical classes". And for Frans de Waal the conditionality of behaviour suggests a role for if-then structures in primate "social syntax".

Taking a comparative approach to laughter and smiling in primates, Jan Van Hoof and Signe Preuschoft find that "laughter has evolved in the context of joyful play, and that the broad smile has evolved as an expression of nonhostility and friendliness, taking its origin in the expression of fearful submission". Looking at vocal learning in four parrot species from Costa Rica, Jack Bradbury suggests that in "ecology, social organization, and vocal communication, parrots appear to be more convergent with dolphins than they are with other birds".

Gerald Wilkinson looks to bats for an independent test of the Machiavellian Intelligence hypothesis, probing the relationships between brain size, vocal complexity, and colony size. And Peter Tyack explores bottlenose dolphins' use of signature whistles in communicating social relationships.

Following in the footsteps of Imanishi, pioneer of Japanese primatology, Tetsuro Matsuzawa considers, as examples of "culture", sweet potato washing among Koshima monkeys and nut cracking using stone tools by Bossou chimpanzees. Toshisada Nishida describes the "flexibility and individuality of cultural behavior patterns" among chimpanzees at Mahale. And in "Ten Dispatches from the Chimpanzee Culture Wars" William McGrew gives an overview of the arguments between cultural anthropologists, psychologists, and primatologists (among others) over chimpanzee culture -- and over the definition of culture.

Hal Whitehead looks at sperm whales, the cetacean culture debate more generally, and the possible effects of "cultural hitchhiking" on genetic diversity. And Meredith West et al. find a critical role for social interaction in learning and development in cowbirds and starlings.

In addition to the eighteen papers, there are a dozen shorter "case studies" which tackle narrower questions. Animal Social Complexity is an important contribution to the scientific literature. And it has a wealth of material for anyone fascinated by social animals and not intimidated by scientific methodology, a little bit of statistics, references and scholarly language.


Danny Yee has written over 700 book reviews. You can purchase Animal Social Complexity: Intelligence and Culture from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Animal Social Complexity - Intelligence and Culture

Comments Filter:
  • Interesting idea (Score:1, Insightful)

    by cubicledrone (681598) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @02:57PM (#8251423)
    But no, animals do not have culture. When a dog writes "Marraige of Figaro" then it might be possible. Most dogs would rather just drink out of the toilet.
  • Re:Brain Size?!? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by st1nky187 (641264) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:02PM (#8251485)
    The common focus is on societies that are individualized, with members recognising each other as individuals, and stable, with long-lived members and on-going relationships, and in which there are learned survival skills and social behaviours.
    You might be able to say that but insects do not view each other as individuals and thus are not the subject of the book.
  • by southpolesammy (150094) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:08PM (#8251558) Journal
    First off -- geez, there are some bad moderators out there today. Parent post offtopic? Hardly. Dead on topic, if you ask me.

    That being said, culture doesn't necessarily have to mean an appreciation of the arts or some human social charateristics. It could simply be the existence of order within a group. In that case, culture can be as simple as the patterns of a flock of birds or a school of fish, or as complex as the interactions of humans in determining socio-political norms. It pertains to the possibility of non-randomness in behavior, and this denotes intelligence and possibly culture.
  • Pet peeve. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:12PM (#8251604)
    "And do animals have culture?"

    Of course. One example species would be ourselves.

    Sorry, but humans talking of animals as if they don't belong to the group themselves is just a pet peeve of mine.
  • some days (Score:1, Insightful)

    by WormholeFiend (674934) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:20PM (#8251685)
    I feel like an ant, going daily from the anthill I call my appartment building, to the anthill I call my workplace.

    And I wonder, what do the real ants think about me?
  • Hyenas... (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:32PM (#8251819)
    Laurence Frank describe the social system of spotted hyenas and argue that more attention should be paid to social complexity in carnivores. It has commonly been argued that social stress is a consequence of subordination;

    Of course it causes social stress and other negative emotions when every female of your species has clitoris of your penis size. [dhushara.com]
  • Re:Brain Size?!? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Karhgath (312043) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:59PM (#8252154)
    But on the other hand, there isn't a km square of land that doesn't have ants, they existed thousands of years before us(we are but infant compared to them in term of age) and they are the only animal that can resist nuclear and biological weapons. We use science because we have weak bodies. Maybe their science isn't as advance as our because they are physically strong and work as a collective, so science is less important for them?

    Oh, and you know that they do use chemical weapons, and some species are known to make and use weapons similar to catapults? They seem to use military tactics and adapts pretty fast, probably because of their collectivness due to their mode of communication.

    So lets not dismiss them right away.
  • by soren100 (63191) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @05:06PM (#8252920)

    When it comes to animal thought, feeling, and culture many scientists seem turn into strict Creationists.

    How? Because they seem to believe that thought, feeling and culture somehow spontaneously arose in humans instead of evolving slowly over aeons in many different species of animals.

    If we have it, why would scientists be surprised that other animals have it too unless the scientists believed in some type of creationism?

    Thankfully science is beginning to evolve past that point but if you talk to any scientist that doesn't acdept higher mental acitivity in animals just call him a creationist.

  • Re:Brain Size?!? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by AliasF97 (749177) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @05:49PM (#8253450)
    Or, they could view themselves as, well, as absolutely nothing because their lives may be based on simple programmed responses to certain chemicals, and they really may have no concept of "self" whatsoever. I'm not saying that is necessarily the case, but you are criticizing the previous poster for over-simplifying insects' behavior by applying human classifications to them, when you may, in fact, be over-complicating their behavior by applying human feelings and thought processes to them.
  • Re:Pet peeve. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by starm_ (573321) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @06:09PM (#8253663)
    Numerous scientific studies have shown that animals can learn thing and act as teachers to other animals passing knowledge from generation to generation. Crows can count, Chimps can learn sign language and even teach it to their kids. Dolphins mimic humans around them, birds learn songs that become parts of their society. Beavers find elaborate solutions to patch their dams. Squids can learn to open jars.

    In 1920 a bird learned to open milk bottles in England. A few weeks later all of that bird specie knew how to open these bottles. Human had to redesign the bottle so that the birds wouldn't drink their milk.

    It makes you think of how when you separate a young animal from its natural society he doesn't get to learn the culture he's suppose to learn and cannot necessarily survive well later. Or when you change animals habitats they have to relearn how to live in this new habitat. In the old habitat they had all the knowledge about it that was passed from generation to generation.

    Often people assume that if you take a few animals relocate them because you want to build over their home everything will be fine. They will reproduce and live in their new place. But these animals are forced to leave their home their social network, friends and teachers. They may not have the resources to survive.
  • by mrogers (85392) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @06:22PM (#8253795)
    Though expected to be around 100,000 genes, the human genome turns out to be 30-40,000 genes instead -- right around the level of bacteria, for one comparison.

    I don't understand why this figure generated so much fuss. We're looking at a combinatorial system - you don't need many inputs to get an enormous number of outputs. It's like being amazed that telephone numbers in a large city "only" have eight digits.

    Picture the human genome as a binary string 30,000 bits long. Each bit represents a gene: 1 means active, 0 means inactive (genes with more than 2 possible states can be represented by multiple bits). This gives us an upper limit of 2^30,000 possible phenotypes without even considering developmental influences. That number dwarfs the number of atoms in the universe, let alone the number of people that have ever lived. Even if only one in a trillion of those phenotypes is viable, we still have 2^29,960 to choose from. For me, the question is not "how can this be complex enough to create a human being?" but "how can we find the tiny subset of this information that actually corresponds to human beings?".

"Only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core." -- Hannah Arendt.

Working...