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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.

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Animal Social Complexity - Intelligence and Culture

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  • by monstroyer (748389) * <devnull@slashdot.org> on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @02:52PM (#8251366) Homepage Journal
    As long as these theories about animals don't interfere with my eating them, it's all good to me.
  • this sounds like a fantastic set of papers. at any point is there a discussion on the mechanism by which culture is transmitted? how is cognition meansured.

    many thanks for taking the time to review this and to bring it to my attention.

    • Carruthers, Mary. The book of memory : a study of memory in medieval culture / Mary J. Carruthers. Cambridge [England] ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1990

      A multi-disciplinary approach to how medieval memory was constituted. Carruthers goes into how modern memory is "documentary" rather than "rote." Really dense and good book that avoids the pitfalls of behaviorism that animal psychologists can fall into. Since I haven't read the above papers, I would assume these folks are enlightened by
  • by Mrs. Grundy (680212) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @02:57PM (#8251430) Homepage
    How are brain size and intelligence related to social complexity?

    Well, if we look at ants, bees and termites, we can safely draw the conclusion that brain size and social complexity are inversely proportional.

    • by theMerovingian (722983) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:00PM (#8251461) Journal

      Seconded! I have a huge brain, and am above average in intelligence, but my social life is negligible.

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

      by st1nky187 (641264)
      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 SatanicPuppy (611928) <Satanicpuppy&gmail,com> on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:03PM (#8251502) Journal
      Untrue. Human beings have much larger brains than ants/bees/termites, and our society is proportionally MORE complex, not less.

      Communal insects have workers, drones, and queens.

      We have all those, plus lawyers, porn stars, and programmers. Yee ha. It's good to be human.
      • Re:Brain Size?!? (Score:2, Interesting)

        We refer to the communal insects as workers, drones, and queens, and you're assuming that they view eachother in the same fashion. For all we know, they refer to themselves as "worker who's good at finding x part of y leaf", "worker who's good at regurgitating food", "worker who's exceptionally good at cleaning off the young"...etc etc. The biology terms are just convenient classifications for us stupid, time-strapped humans and do not refect reality.
        • Re:Brain Size?!? (Score:2, Insightful)

          by AliasF97 (749177)
          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:Brain Size?!? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by catbutt (469582) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:09PM (#8251574)
      Ants bees and termites have an advantage when it comes to social complexity though: because they have a queen (rather than the workers reproducing directly) a fundamentally different Darwinian dynamic happens, that encourages cooperation. It's not intelligence as much as it is their evolutionary "motivators" that cause them to work together as they do rather than compete with each other as other animals often do.

      (Note that a worker bee is designed to die when it stings, since its only motivation is what is good for the colony, rather than what is good for itself. That would *never* happen in a species where all the individuals could reproduce directly.)
      • Weird bee trivia (Score:5, Informative)

        by drox (18559) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @05:30PM (#8253213)
        Ants bees and termites have an advantage when it comes to social complexity though: because they have a queen (rather than the workers reproducing directly) a fundamentally different Darwinian dynamic happens, that encourages cooperation.

        It's not just the Darwinian dynamic that encourages cooperation; it's helped along by pheromones from the queen bee. These pheromones inhibit the sexual development of the worker bees (who are all sexually immature females as a result).

        Deprived of a queen (and her pheromones) for a sufficient time, some worker bees will stop cooperating and will begin to lay eggs. They also begin to secrete the same pheromone that queen bees secrete, inducing other worker bees to feed and groom them as though they were the queen.

        However... these egg-laying worker bees have never mated. Indeed they can't mate; they never developed the required anatomy. So they lay only unfertilized eggs, which, due to a strange quirk of bee biology, develop into male bees (male bees all come from unfertilized eggs - they have no fathers and no sons!). A hive with laying workers is soon teeming with males, who do no work and cannot even feed themselves, but who CAN mate with queen bees (from another hive - remember this hive's queenless) and thus carry on the bee's genetic legacy.

        Worker bees aren't truly sterile; they're just *mostly* sterile.
      • Re:Brain Size?!? (Score:2, Interesting)

        by InstantCrisis (178129)
        A previous post in this discussion remarked that culture is *transmitted* and not hardwired. Though the apis class structure is involunarily genetic/chemical, they do have language. A bee can do a dance that tells other bees where there is food. What is language except the ability to express the idea of something that isn't present/currently observable?

        I don't know if bee language is learned or hardwired, though. My instinct is to say learned because a lot of things can go wrong with hardwiring "five s
  • Yeasts have culture (Score:5, Interesting)

    by djeaux (620938) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:00PM (#8251462) Homepage Journal
    But I wish the "blurb" had left brain size out of the mix. If brain size has anything to do with intelligence (within a group), then humans would be in the zoo & elephants would be running the show.

    Once I read "brain size," all I could do was think of the efforts -- well discussed in Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man -- of 19th and 20th century physical anthropologists to use "brain size is correlated with intelligence" to justify racism & sexism.

    The only thing that brain size is really correlated with is body size. Cattle have larger brains than most monkeys. Men have larger brains than women. Blacks have larger brains than whites.

    Sounds to me like the anthropologists are out looking for grant money...

    • by BWJones (18351) * on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:08PM (#8251567) Homepage Journal
      Brain size (in terms of mass) does not have everything to do with intelligence, rather I would more likely believe that brain size (in terms of computational circuits) would be more appropriate. For instance, while human brains are not as big as elephants, we have evolved a convoluted surface topology of the brain to maximize total cortical area devoted to processing. To an impressive degree, so have elephants, but check [brainmuseum.org] out their overall topology. elephants have HUGE temporal lobes that may have significance in terms of auditory processing.

      You also have to consider that elephant brains while larger actually are a smaller percentage of total body weight than human brains.

      • dolphins (Score:5, Interesting)

        by snarkh (118018) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:16PM (#8251646)
        Here is an interesting table:

        Species Brain Weight as % of Body Weight
        human 2.10
        bottlenose dolphin 0.94
        African elephant 0.15
        killer whale 0.09
        cow 0.08
        sperm whale (male) 0.02
        fin whale 0.01

        http://dubinserver.colorado.edu/prj/jbes03/brain .h tml
        • Re:dolphins (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Gunark (227527) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:58PM (#8252146)
          You made some pretty glaring omissions:

          lesser short-tailed shrew 2.80%
          little brown bat 2.50%
          mouse 1.30%

          The brain weight as percentage of body weight thing just doesn't work. What you're looking for is the "encephalization factor".

          The formula for that is:

          brain weight
          -------------
          (body weight) ^ .69

          Done this way, brain vs. body weight works in our favor (the human encephalization factor is .71, higher than anything else).
      • So an elephant's brain is to ENIAC as a human brain is to a modern PC? Hmmm...

        (Waits for the inevitable BSOD posts....)
      • I would more likely believe that brain size (in terms of computational circuits) would be more appropriate...

        A similar argument could be made -- would be made, intuitively, I'd think -- that the more "complex" a critter is, the more complex its DNA would be. More combinations means more potential "circuits" would be the idea. Actually looking at the human genome, though, makes you scratch your head over that one. Though expected to be around 100,000 genes, the human genome turns out to be 30-40,000 genes

        • 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 mean

    • by jd (1658)
      Brain size is usually taken in relation to something else, and not as an absolute value.

      Popular measures include relating brain size to body mass or body complexity. The premise of these measures is that you've got to factor out the overheads. In computer terms, it's similar to the concept of looking at RAM in terms of the OS requirements, and the overheads for each thread.

      Another popular measure looks at the number of folds in the neocortex, but this only works on animals with a neocortex, so it's real

      • Brain size is usually taken in relation to something else, and not as an absolute value

        Of course.

        I will reiterate my recommendation of Gould's The Mismeasure of Man. In it, he traces the history of many of our most cherished statistical methods (Spearman, Pearson, etc), which were developed to relate brain size to "something else." In those cases, the purpose was to adjust the brain size of white males so it consistently came out on top.

        Another main theme of Gould's book is "reification" of intellige

        • I will reiterate my recommendation of Gould's The Mismeasure of Man.

          As long as you also warn those you recommend that Gould wrote Mismeasure, in large part, to aid in the campaign -- largely grounded in Marxist ideology rather than science -- of denigration of E.O. Wilson and Sociobiology.

          To put Gould (and Rose and Lewontin) in context, recommend also Ullica Segerstrale 's Defenders of the Truth: The Battle for Science in the Sociobiology Debate and Beyond, a dense but thoroughly entertaining look at Soci
          • Actually, I believe Gould wrote Mismeasure to denigrate intelligence testing. It was largely stimulated by the discovery that one of his sons had a learning disability.

            Gould's best shots at E.O. Wilson are in other works.

            Trust me, there are plenty of biologists who think that Wilson shoulda stuck with fire ants.

    • by savagedome (742194) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:12PM (#8251610)
      Men have larger brains than women

      Yes. But if you are talking about putting it to use too, remember what Robin Williams said. "God gives men a brain and a penis, and only enough blood to run one at a time.".

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Its not a matter of the size of the brain. Its a matter of the brain's peaks and valleys (sulci and gyri). The more sulci and gyri, the higher the brain mass and greater complexity. Humans, by far, have the most sulci and gyri in our smaller brains. This allows for more brain in a smaller container!
  • by BWJones (18351) * on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:02PM (#8251484) Homepage Journal
    "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".

    Ah, this must explain why I never felt like smiling during my punk rock days. I was younger, angry and much less secure and could have "evolved" a behavioral approach that prevented my appearing submissive to anybody. (that and I simply thought of myself as one baaaad dude. :-)

  • by MarkWatson (189759) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:02PM (#8251487) Homepage
    ..which is something that a lot of people seem difficulties doing.

    Don't get me wrong: nothing wrong with planning for the future, or in a quiet moment remembering cool stuff that we did with our grandparents when they were still alive, but almost all of our thoughts are best focused on what we are doing now.

    BTW, I too often rant to my friends and family about what I consider to be an indication of the fall of western civilization: too many people are caught up in a lust for material possessions - I think that is just another aspect of not living in the moment.

    -Mark

    • I too often rant to my friends and family about what I consider to be an indication of the fall of western civilization: too many people are caught up in a lust for material possessions - I think that is just another aspect of not living in the moment.

      Me too! Recently I did my tax returns, I run my own business from home and after all my write-offs I made a whopping $5000/year or so! Obviously I am not out to win any monopoly game here.

      I hate jewelry, my wife loves the stuff, but I maintain it is worthle
    • I guess impulse purchasing with a Credit Card is AOK then... no delayed gratification there!
    • My dog will eat stuff she doesn't get fed very often (raw meat, wet dog food) until she gets sick, and some breeds can kill themselves doing that.
    • And here I thought I had an advantage of living in the past, present and future on a whim. I was hoping those living in the present only and needing to go into debt to buy a new pair of shoes (or whatnot) they'll wear once were the unevolved animals.
  • Dolphins. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bad enema (745446) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:04PM (#8251514)
    I distinctively remember hearing on a radio talk show (Coast to Coast, late night) that there has been research and soft "evidence" that dolphins form very complex societies, and that they even understand and practice self-sacrifice for the benefit of the population.

    But whether or not we as humans regard such a practice as "cultural" or "savage" is another issue altogether.
    • dolphins form very complex societies, and that they even understand and practice self-sacrifice for the benefit of the population.

      Hey, as long as they don't take to human sacrifice, I'm fine with 'em...
  • by antdude (79039) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:04PM (#8251519) Homepage Journal
    They are social insects and they work together (in the same family) in growing, foraging for food, etc. Ants do not have big brains, they are complex as a group. Ants socialize by chemical odors to attack, defend, forage for food, etc.
    • Consider Ant intelligence in a different way that most mamals.

      The chemically processes that drive ant society basically make the colony a large, slow, brain. Different nodes/ants perform different tasks and use chemical and electrical intructions to do so. The more ants, the more successfull the colony. The more ants to faster the colony adapts and grows.

      you can see evidence of this by the fact that the number of offspring produced by the queen cannot grow exponentially like it does in other animals t
    • by goon (2774)

      this post is spot on. In David Suzuki's [davidsuzuki.org] latest series, The Sacred Balence [sacredbalance.com] , he talked to a scientist Brian Goodman [sacredbalance.com] about Ants. Goodman gathered data on the communication between ants that are working and ants not working.

      • "... Some kind of collective emergent behaviour will be observed as the result of local coupling. In neural organizations, retrieval of associative memory (and maybe consciousness) can be thought of as emergent properties. ..." (www.sacredbalance.com/web/antsociety.html [sacredbalance.com])

      Plotting the r

  • by SharpFang (651121) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:09PM (#8251572) Homepage Journal
    Called Natural Horsemanship [parelli.com]. A technique that is based on deep understanding of horses social structures.
    Your first step is to teach the horse you mean no danger. Become a -safe- element of the environment. No matter what goes on, the horse feels fine with you.
    Second step: Get the horse to recognise you as another horse. Of course no hooves, no eating grass. But typical horse behaviours. Horses yield from pressure from other horses but push against predators. Horses rarely approach each other directly, usually go along some rather obscure curves. And so on...
    Third step: Gain leadership of the herd. Challenging the horse, duelling it, in a special kind of fight that doesn't involve violence, but charisma. Strong, hard looks, stepping forward, making the oponent lose ground...
    And then polishing the communication. Getting the horse used to unusual situation, generally utilising newly gained power.
    Horses that were proclaimed "lost" by the best classical trainers, were "recovered" and wildest ones became nice and gentle thanks to "horse whisperers" as those who practice natural horsemanship are sometimes called.
  • zerg (Score:2, Funny)

    by Lord Omlette (124579)
    So how big are penguin [taipeitimes.com] brains?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    How are trust fund size and physical attractiveness related to the complexity of one's social structure?
  • 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.
    • A lot of folks talk this way because the concept of evolution offends them. To which I typically respond "ok, ok... we all didn't evolve... some of you are still monkeys"

      (yeah, I know we came from apes, not monkeys... but the insult works better)

    • 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 sc
    • Re:Pet peeve. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by starm_ (573321)
      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
  • by weeboo0104 (644849) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:25PM (#8251741) Journal
    As the owner of an African Grey parrot, I see everyday how brain size affects communication and social cognition. My Grey tells me "Wanna go to bed" when she is tired, says "Want food", "Want water", "Want a toy", and want scratch whenever she wants one of these other things. She also identifies people by name. My grey (her name is Elmo. I thought she was male until she was DNA tested) also knows how to say "I love you". Earlier in the year, she started learning that women aren't all named the name of my ex-girlfriend. I have a female roomate and a girlfriend now and Elmo started listening for whoever was in the house at the time and saying "I love $PROPERNAME" Whenever she wanted to interact with that person and would also just call them by name.

    I have a lot of other stories too. My slashdot name is based on the name "Weeboo" which is what Elmo named me for some reason.

    If you want to read more about avian (specifically African Grey) cognitive ability, try going to www.alexfoundation.org [alexfoundation.org] to read more about an African Grey named Alex and Dr. Irene Pepperbergs [wikipedia.org] research with interspecies communication and animal cognitive ability.
    • My slashdot name is based on the name "Weeboo" which is what Elmo named me for some reason.

      And she's probably wondering why you called her "Elmo".
    • What you're describing is just conditioning. You likely gave Elmo food while saying "Want Food" a lot. Thus, the brain connected "Want Food" with you giving food. Then, whenever Elmo is hungry, she just triggers your response by saying "Want Food"

      This has been done for centuries. It neither demonstrates knowledge nor understanding - just primitive cause-and-effect association.

      • by Llywelyn (531070)
        Ever study Alex? Read up, its an interesting case study that if you apply the older "animals lack cognition" model raises serious question about whether *we* have actual cognition.

        Considering that crows can both make and use tools and octopus can learn to open containers by watching other octopus, limiting these things to "primitive cause-and-effect association" seems a bit chauvinistic on our part.
      • It neither demonstrates knowledge nor understanding - just primitive cause-and-effect association

        Possibly. Of course if that were the case, then if she asked for juice and I gave her water, she wouldn't push away the water and ask for juice again. Food is just a generic term. Dr. Pepperbergs Grey identifies specific food items and even assigns names to new fruit. For example, he knew the words for bananna and cherry. When presented with an apple, he called it a banerry. Insides colored like a banann
    • You're lucky.

      Our Grey's psychotic - he hates men, and will only interact with women.

      He recognises the names of different foods, and you can list them - banana, carrot, beans, peas, nuts, etc - and he will say 'Want Some!' when you get to what he wants, and he will ask for particular items if he sees you eating them.

      Trouble is, only my girlfriend and daughter can feed him - I have to lob whatever it is in his dish, or he'll try to take my finger off.

      Pepperberg was on BBC Radio the other week - it was a great

  • by bad enema (745446) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:27PM (#8251764)
    One of the staples of culture as we define it is musical achievement. It has been demonstrated that certain animals can "play" the piano with more complexity than simply banging their beaks/paws on the keys. That is, they can both recognize musical tunes and harmony and demonstrate the capacity to mimic the sounds.

    Now considered separately, meither of the abilities to mimic nor to differentiate between pleasant and unplesant sounds is truly "cultural", or more cultural than instinctive. However, this is where we certainly run into a question of the definition of culture -and what exactly makes us as humans gifted with it and not any other animal.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:37PM (#8251869)
    First, define intelligence. :) The problem with this kind of research is that intelligence isn't (as yet) quantifiable, only qualifiable and only in very abstract terms.


    We have two known examples of demonstrable lateral thinking on the part of avians. Grey Parrots have shown an ability to actually understand sentances containing verbs, adverbs, adjectives and the indefinite article. They also exhibit the ability to handle basic arithmetic.


    Crows, on the other hand, have been shown to be able to study problems, manufacture tools from raw materials, and use those tools to solve those problems.


    It's easy to argue that these cases are only over a very limited range of conditions, and under very controlled conditions. And that's all true.


    The point I'm making is that if we use a simple definition of intelligence - say the ability to handle abstract concepts, logical and lateral thinking, and the ability to handle conceptual modelling (which is basically what a language is), then intelligence is amazingly common on Earth.


    Hey, that's not too bad a definition, but it includes too wide a range of life. It becomes useless as a definition, because so little is excluded.


    Now we move onto society. If we do a basic study of human society, we see that reptilian traits (eg: the ability to act/react without thought) are far more highly prized than mammalian traits (eg: the ability to have emotional associations, the ability to form bonds that have nothing to do with personal gain, etc).


    From a strict study of current social patterns, humans are probably one of the most primitive of all the mammals. The preference of using the older, reflexive parts of the brain, over and above the emotional and intellectual parts, is definitely regressive.


    Modern society is the way it is because it actually works. Many things, from riding a bicycle to karate, would be impossible if there was a heavy dependence on the "thinking" parts of the brain.


    My point? Societies are going to evolve towards whatever works well, though not necessarily for the same reasons, and are not necessarily constrained to the social norms.


    In consequence, any such study is going to be extremely difficult to do. There are a lot of unknowns, and many of them are unknowable. Further, social studies often fall into the "soft" sciences, which are badly-funded and often badly-run.


    The papers are worth reading, but I'm not confident that those doing the research know enough to do the research well. I'm not even sure anyone does. That makes the results suspect, even if the actual studies themselves are of value.

  • One Way Relationship (Score:3, Interesting)

    by $lingBlade (249591) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @03:44PM (#8251966)
    It seems to me that humans are involved in a one-way relationship with every other animal on the planet. If there were a mass extinction of humans, through anything other than a species-hopping virus and/or global thermonuclear war, if we simply *weren't* here anymore, animals (in my opinion) would continue to live and thrive. If our extinction was not based on any environmental factors other than social issues.

    I would say that it's their *lack of society* that makes other animals so strong... the way they seemingly operate on instinct and loosely defined (by our conventions) social structures. Oscillating (beyond our understanding) between these two polar opposites. If however all the animals on the planet were suddenly gone, including insects, I think we'd probably last a few years or less. Point is, we need them, they *don't* need us. What's more, I believe we could learn a lot from them in terms of living socially. And I mean that in a sincere way not a dig against us as humans but as suggestion that just because we appear to be the most intellectually motivated species on the planet, doesn't mean we're automatically right and just in our endeavours.

    I'm reminded of the line from Aliens when they're discussing the impending break-in of the aliens and someone says something to the effect of "you don't see them fucking one another over for a share".

    • If however all the animals on the planet were suddenly gone, including insects, I think we'd probably last a few years or less. Point is, we need them, they *don't* need us.

      Isn't this simply because we have no natural predator? No animal bases its life on hunting, killing and eating humans (except the Predator :). Being at the top of the food chain means we wouldn't be missed if we vanished. Some domesticated species of animals and plants would probably struggle to survive, but everything else would contin

      • by itzdandy (183397)
        idiot..

        we don't need them. The planet needs animal life to support animal life. If all other animal life died out, only science and technology could save the remaining single species as it would overpopulate and ravage its food source.

        also, if all dog species died out, humans would not perish, not would many other species.

        if all humans die, just one species has been eliminated and most others would survive as they do now. Now if all ants died, that would be an ecological disaster and a number species
    • Two ant colonies will destroy each other, because they are not born of the same line of queens.

      Male lions who have usurped others as the head of a pride will, given the chance, kill the offspring of the former male.

      Those are two examples of animals of the same species fucking each other over in the name of family: a hardwired war and family feud.

      Human intelligence has complexified the situation. We are able to find other reasons to cooperate (indeed, in the two situations above for us, our animal instinc
    • ... the way they seemingly operate on instinct and loosely defined (by our conventions) social structures.

      I'm not quite sure I understand what you mean by 'loosely defined [...] social structures'. A lot of species live in groups with very clearly defined structures and roles: who's the alpha male/female and who isn't, for example, which decides who gets to eat first, who gets to drink first, who gets to mate etc etc. The individual fulfilling each role may of course vary -- for instance, alpha male gets

  • Smart (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SparafucileMan (544171) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @04:07PM (#8252246)
    There's a species of tropical birds (sorry I forget the name) where the male is responsible for building the house. So it gathers all the sticks and builds itself a multi-story house. Then is clears out the ground floor so its nice and clean. Then it goes out and gathers the finest flowers it can find and groups them into a pile on the ground floor. It does the same thing with the finest fruits. Then it lines the entrance-way to the house with some more fruit. Then, very proud of itself, it calls for the females to come check out his crib. Whoever builds the nicest house gets the hottest chicks. If that's not "smart and intelligent", then I don't know what is. And no, I'm not making this up.
  • While I wouldn't say they have 'culture' they do exhibit a high amount of social complexity. But are they more or less complex than the Naked Mole Rat, [cornell.edu] the only mammal that lives in a colony like hive insects?
    • Well, socially I'd have to say the ants are more complex -- they have more social casts, and thus are better adapted to living as hive animals than the mole rats. I know that's hard for us mammals to accept, but mammals aren't the pinnacle of social animals -- heck, most species of mammals don't even live in packs/herds.
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Wednesday February 11, 2004 @04:48PM (#8252727)
    A peculiarity in the genetics (haplodiploidy) of insects in the order Hymenoptera is the likely underlying cause of the evolution of sociality in ants, bees, and wasps. While females (all worker bees, ants, wasps, etc. are female) have two sets of chromosomes, males only have one. This affects the relatedness of individuals. In particular, haplodiploidy makes an ant, for example, more related to its sisters than to its own daughters and sons. For ants, bees, and wasps, the most selfish way to pass on your genes is to raise more sisters. As a result, social behavior appears to independently evolved as many as 11 times in Hymenopterans -- appearing several times in the ancestors of what we now know as ants, bees, and wasps.

    Sometime being social is the most selfish strategy possible.
  • Rattlesnakes (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BigBadBri (595126)
    On the BBC today - rattlesnakes have social lives [bbc.co.uk].

    I'd never thought of snakes as social before, but this looks like interesting research.

  • If you are serious in studying this and other sociology/nature/behaviour styled stuff. Check out "Mutual Aid" by Kropotkin. It gives the anti-social darwinism view of nature and relationships in nature, supported by the ideas of Darwin himself.
  • The question here is are we talking straight weight, the ratio of brain weight to body weight...or brain surface area (which depends on convolutions)?

    mark
  • Animal Cultures (Score:2, Interesting)

    by GrumpySimon (707671)
    Over the past five years there's been a major research effort looking at primate cultures mainly under the guidance of Cristophe Boesch (Chimps - Pan troglodytes spp) and Carole van Schaik (Orang-utans - Pongo pygmaeus), and even Monkeys (the village idiots of the primate family) have been shown to have culture traits.

    Anyway, a great webpage on this from Boesch's team Chimpanzee Culture [st-and.ac.uk]

    See also -
    Whiten et al. Nature, 399:682-685
    van Schaik et al. (2003). Orangutan cultures and the evolution of material

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