Chimpanzees develop cultures in the wild like humans

Oct 7, 2014

By Sarah Knapton

Chimpanzees develop cultures in the wild which distinguish them from other groups, scientists have found.

A community of Sonso chimpanzees living in Uganda’s Budongo Forest was filmed using crushed leaves and moss to collect water.

During six days of continuous observation, zoologists discovered that the group left their leaf-sponges at their watering hole and picked them up the following day – in the same way a human leaves a cup near a sink.

The Alpha Male ‘Nick’ was also seen to use moss to collect water, and the new technique was quickly adopted by many of the chimpanzees.


 

Read the full article and watch the video by clicking the name of the source located below.

44 comments on “Chimpanzees develop cultures in the wild like humans

  • Careful, Pastor Ham may kidnap these chimps for his new ark and claim that they must have had a direction from god on how to collect holy water!



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  • 3
    maria melo says:

    Just wondering

    If Nature allowed uniqueness to happen just like that, there wouldn’t be an escalation of “Mount Improbable”? it would rather be a kind of “irreducible complexity”(a ravine)?



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  • Chimps also use sticks to collect ants, what makes using another tool so different?
    It is also known that they learn from each other through imitation.. nothing new here other than the use of some kind of sponge



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  • One of the most evocative photographs I have seen on the subject of primate intelligence is the picture published some years ago of a female chimpanzee feeling her way across a creek using a stick to gauge the depth of water in front of her.



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  • 6
    maria melo says:

    I guess Prof. Dawkins reports in one of his books (I don´t recall which one) that journalists have reported Jane Goodall as the first observer of chimps as tool makers, when Darwin had reported it in first place (well my memory isn´t that good)???



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  • I was wondering the same thing. But I think what is new is that they aren’t just documenting that one chimp learns from another but how the… may as well call it a meme works it’s way through the chimp dominance hierarchy. And they are calling that “culture”. I don’t think it’s so much a new discovery as much as deeper analysis of something that was already known. …that and of course standard science reporting that has to make everything sound ten times more significant than it is. Still I think it’s interesting.



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  • That we learn, relearn and transmit knowledge about other species through our generations is no different than what chimps do with their knowledge except in degree. Their “culture”, too, varies by population just as our idiosyncratic behavior does. Actually, this definition of culture has been identified in many species like dolphins, orcas, whales, elephants, other primates and crows. See for instance: Clever Monkeys



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  • That we learn, relearn and transmit knowledge about other species through our generations is no different than what chimps do with their knowledge except in degree.

    How do you quantify what counts as a difference that isn’t “in degrees” and one that is? Because I find it rather unintuitive that say the way humans pass down an understanding about things like the origin of the universe and evolution is “no different than what chimps do” when they figure out how to share knowledge about using leaves to collect water.

    I think the whole notion that we can make some strong distinction between what is a “real difference” or just a difference “in degrees” is wrong anyway, an example of what Dawkins writes about when he talks about the fallacy of the discontinuous mind. But from the standpoint of a scientist studying animal behavior there absolutely is a major difference between how humans pass down knowledge and how the other animals do it. Humans use language. No other animal that we know of has true language. The grammar of human language makes for an infinitely (literally infinite, not just much bigger) more powerful and expressive medium for communication than any other animal.



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  • Good question, on what scale do we quantify our “uniqueness” among living things? We’re made of the same common elements in the universe in the same evolutionary process as other organisms on earth. If you believe that we are part of nature, to say that in its grand scheme, we are somehow so unique as to fall outside the same measuring scale is to argue anthropocentrism. How important are we to the ecosystems on earth? According to biologist Edward O. Wilson:

    “If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”

    Stanford University scholar Robert Sapolsky made some interesting presentations on the uniqueness of humans. While he posits that there are unique features in humans, he explains the origin of that difference and presents far more similarities we have with other species. See Are Humans Just Another Primate?

    As you pointed out, what we excel in is abstraction. We share up to 99% of our DNA with chimps and bonobos. That 1% difference, the multiple iterations of growth in our brains per Prof. Sapolsky, elicits from Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Disturbing Thought, imagining what a species 1% more intelligent than us would know.

    Our understanding of the existence of language in other organisms (not just animals) is still evolving and under debate, as we slowly discover the nuances of other forms of communication. While our species focuses on verbal communication (I agree it is quite elaborate), the most common form of communication on earth is probably bio-luminescence in the dark depth of oceans by sheer numbers. In the Clever Monkey video I linked, different species of monkeys reside in the same group and learn each other’s vocabulary of up to 80 “words”, including different connotations for some words. Parrots can learn to “speak” our language and chimps/bonobos our sign or symbolic language. Our ability to speak theirs is not yet that good.



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  • Hi Red Dog, I tried replying to your comment above. It didn’t take, maybe too long, so I split it and here is part 1.

    Good question, on what scale do we quantify our “uniqueness” among living things? We’re made of the same common elements in the universe in the same evolutionary process as other organisms on earth. If you believe that we are part of nature, to say that in its grand scheme, we are somehow so unique as to fall outside the same measuring scale is to argue anthropocentrism and claim our exception from nature. How important are we to the ecosystems on earth? According to biologist Edward O. Wilson:

    “If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”

    Stanford University scholar Robert Sapolsky made some interesting presentations on the uniqueness of humans. While he posits that there are unique features in humans, he explains the origin of that difference and presents far more similarities we have with other species. See Are Humans Just Another Primate?



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  • Part 2, continued…

    As you pointed out, what we excel in is abstraction. We share up to 99% of our DNA with chimps and bonobos. That 1% difference, the multiple iterations of growth in our brains per Prof. Sapolsky, elicits from Neil deGrasse Tyson, imagining what a species 1% more intelligent than us would know: A Disturbing Thought

    Our understanding of the existence of language in other organisms (not just animals) is still evolving and under debate, as we slowly discover the nuances of other forms of communication. While our species focuses on verbal communication (I agree it is quite elaborate), the most common form of communication on earth is probably bio-luminescence in the dark depth of oceans by sheer numbers. In the Clever Monkey video I linked, different species of monkeys reside in the same group and learn each other’s vocabulary of up to 80 “words”, including different connotations for some words. Parrots can learn to “speak” our language and chimps/bonobos our sign or symbolic language. Our ability to speak theirs has yet to reach that degree of competency.



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  • Dear Mods,

    Please delete my 2 posts immediately prior, as well as this one, if you have a chance. They are redundant. I had thought my reply to Red Dog was not posted successfully. Thank you and sorry for the trouble.



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  • Our understanding of the existence of language in other organisms (not just animals) is still evolving and under debate,

    Yes, that’s true but there is no debate among people who know what they are talking about over the fact that human language is clearly unique as far as we know it to the animal kingdom. There is a lot we don’t know about how animals in general communicate and how humans use language for communication and other uses. But we KNOW that human language is unique.

    Back in the 70’s it was still an open question. That’s the main reason people did experiments where they adopted chimps and other primates into human homes and taught them American Sign Language (ASL). If you believe some of the things that many people believed at the time, that language was just a function of culture, generic learning, and our ability to speak, then the primates should have picked up ASL.

    ASL is a real language, In the formal mathematical sense. But none of the primates learned grammar. They learned words and how to use them to get food and play but not grammar. That as far as we know is unique to humans. Period. I didn’t even bother to watch the video you linked to because it’s irrelevant. We know that chimps can learn words, what they can’t learn is grammar and grammar is what makes all the difference. Grammar is what gives humans the ability to construct infinitely complex sentences with a small finite set of words. And it’s unique to humans.



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  • Parrots can learn to “speak” our language

    No. They don’t. They can learn to speak individual words or even phrases that is not the same thing as language. If you are familiar with the earliest work Chomsky did it was to mathematically quantify various kinds of languages. Starting with simple languages that involve just call and response to more complex languages up to natural languages. All this stuff is math it’s not empirical. You can prove things about the languages at various levels in what is called the Chomsky hierarchy. If you ever get stuck taking a class in compiler design — complilers are the programs that parse and provide semantics to programming languages such as C and Java — you learn the mathematical reasons and proofs that show why computer languages aren’t as complex (as context dependent) as natural languages.

    All the other kinds of animal communication: parrots, chimps learning subsets of ASL, etc. are one level or more lower in the Chomsky hierarchy than natural languages such as English. English is so complex because not only are the semantics context dependent (they are for computer languages as well) but even the syntax (unlike computer languages) is context dependent.



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  • To me, the most interesting point of this is that two branches of evolution might be heading in the same direction, albeit in different time scales. Will we be seeing full consciousness and language develop in front of our eyes?



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  • I agree to the extent that human language is unique in complexity but language use is not unique to us. Language involves abstraction and our expanded use of it is exactly what we would expect from an animal with complex brains that excel in abstraction.

    Our debate depends on the definition of “language”. If we judge it by human standards as the manipulation of words, of course we are special. It is our forte. If we view it as information exchange, other organisms are not limited to the use of words but employ combinations of electricity, chemicals, light, as well as sounds, much of it beyond our senses and more efficient.

    It’s unfortunate that you refuse to even examine additional evidence. David Attenborough in The Clever Monkey nature program specifically referenced grammar and Dr. Sapolsky offers incisive data on what makes us “unique” in our use of abstraction. The Wikipedia article on Animal Language shows that different species of animals qualify under multiple properties of “human language”.

    Additional evidence:

    Prairie dog language by Con Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University – Chasing Dr. Doolittle

    Birds Use Grammar



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  • I don’t follow what you mean. What are the two branches and the different time scales? Any talk of evolution “heading in a direction” makes me nervous. Evolution doesn’t have a direction. It’s not making organisms better in any abstract or ethical sense. It just makes them “better” in the sense of better adapted to their environment.

    Also, the time scale for evolutionary change is so slow compared to what humans perceive and compared to the speed that humans can change the planet and ourselves in ways that have nothing to do with evolution. You could make a case that modern humans have surpassed evolution as the most significant force for change.



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  • Language involves abstraction and our expanded use of it is exactly what we would expect from an animal with complex brains that excel in abstraction.

    That’s just vacuous. The ability to do abstraction, what computational linguists call the Move operation is thought by most modern linguists to be an essential aspect of Natural Language. Saying “our expanded use of language is what we would expect from an animal with… brains that excel in abstraction” is equivalent to saying “our expanded use of language is what we would expect from an animal that excels in language”.

    Our debate depends on the definition of “language”.

    Well yes, kind of like if you debate with one of the people who are physicists on this site you can say “our debate depends on the definition of sub-atomic particle, I hold the view of the ancient greeks that an atomic particle must be indivisible therefor I don’t believe in quarks”

    You can reject the science and math if you want to but we can’t have a serious discussion about physics if you do and if you don’t understand things like the Chomsky language hierarchy we can’t have a serious discussion about language use in humans or any other animal.

    I looked at the “birds use grammar” article. It’s true that those bird languages have grammar. Just as computer languages have grammar or call and response languages have grammar. But the complexity of the grammar is the critical thing. No one has found an animal that can understand context dependent (i.e. natural human) languages except humans. So yes birds and other animals can use grammar in that sense, in the sense that programming languages have grammar or that call and response signalling has grammar. But they can’t understand the far more complex type of grammar that humans use for English, ASL, and all other human languages.



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  • I just chose two branches for a little clarity Red Dog and know they are many. The different time scales only to represent the human stage in evolution and our superiority in human terms. The direction to follow our route to being human and the comparisons with our nearest species. You have already said that just by changing the habitat of an ape does not make them human but in time, either in their own way or “forced” they might? What would it take to have these monkeys use grammar? Just wondering how many more levels they have to climb in order to reach human status?



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  • Could the Chomsky Hierarchy and the scales proposed by linguists such as Charles Hockett be possible examples of the fallacy of the discontinuous mind? At any rate…

    “Marc Hauser, Noam Chomsky, and W. Tecumseh Fitch assert an evolutionary continuum exists between the communication methods of animal and human language.” – Wikipedia (I added emphasis)

    Which is my point that it is a matter of evolutionary degrees. When evaluating “human” language abilities in animal, don’t forget we require them to first learn our language enough so that we understand them and we subsequently measure their success or failure in it according to our preferred method of communication.

    My career was in computer programming and I have used C. I agree programming languages are far simply than natural language, which evolved over hundreds of thousands if not millions of years, from a brain that took half a billion years to evolve. So called computer “languages” are actually instruction sets that operate within predefined, limited scopes. Like mathematics, they are more examples of abstraction created by us to adapt to nature. The recent success of IBM’s supercomputer Watson in Jeopardy game competitions takes computers one step closer to parsing natural language. Alan Turing would be proud.

    Finally,

    “Charles Darwin stressed that variations among species are differences in degree rather than kind. There are shades of gray, not black and white differences, so if we have something ‘they’ (other animals) have it too. This is called evolutionary continuity and shows that it is bad biology to rob animals of the traits they clearly possess.” – Excerpt from PsychologyToday.com.



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  • Some interesting thoughts about language from the New Scientist archives.

    . Three kinds of evolution
    Language develops through time at three different rates, all of which have sometimes been termed “language evolution”. The fastest process is ontogeny, in which an initially language-less baby becomes an adult native speaker. Then there’s glossogeny: the historical development of languages. This guide to language evolution, however, focuses on human phylogeny: the biological changes that occurred during the last 6 million years of our lineage through which our species Homo sapiens evolved from an initially language-less primate.

    Included in the article is the photo of a parrot, Alex , who was able to use words in a meaningful way.



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  • Atheos Oct 13, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    David Attenborough in The Clever Monkey nature program specifically referenced grammar and Dr. Sapolsky offers incisive data on what makes us “unique” in our use of abstraction. The Wikipedia article on Animal Language shows that different species of animals qualify under multiple properties of “human language”.

    There are interesting examples of body language and vocal communication in various primates.

    http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/gelada_baboon/behav
    COMMUNICATION

    Adult geladas have a diverse repertoire of over thirty discrete vocalizations, including contact, reassurance, appeasement, solicitation, ambivalence and aggressive-defensive vocalizations (Kawai 1979; Aich et al. 1990). Vocalizations are often combined together into sequences. Contact calling may be continuous and the common calling and replying between individuals may have important social functions. When vocalizations are directed at the members of a different reproductive unit, they are usually threatening (Kawai 1979). In captivity, vocalizations can be divided into four discrete groups, harmonic calls (friendly and positive situations), aspirated calls (agonistic and threatening situations), kecker calls (submissive situations) and scream calls (show submission to a superordinate). Calls are to an extent related to the social status of a gelada, with certain calls restricted to those of a particular social status. Particular calls are always uttered towards dominant individuals. In addition, if social status changes, the qualitative and quantitative aspects of vocalizations change (Aich et al. 1990). In captivity, higher-ranking individuals of both sexes exhibit higher calling rates (Aich et al. 1987).



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  • Saying “our expanded use of language is what we would expect from an animal with… brains that excel in abstraction” is equivalent to saying “our expanded use of language is what we would expect from an animal that excels in language”.

    Language is not the only abstraction we use, and other animals do not show the same capacity for abstraction as we do. Also, there are multiple definitions of the word language even in the dictionary.

    So it’s not whether animals use grammar, but the level or…”degree” of complexity?

    Thanks for the debate, Red Dog. I think I have stated my case. See you on another article soon. 🙂



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  • The grammar of human language makes for an infinitely [ ] more powerful and expressive medium for communication than any other animal.

    Would that apply to music / song, too? A city bird changing pitch to be heard better doesn’t seem to count.



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  • Language is not the only abstraction we use, and other animals do not show the same capacity for abstraction as we do

    Yes. Exactly. So abstraction must be a phenotype that is unique to humans. And since abstraction is an essential component of human language, that language that is at the top of the Chomsky hierarchy, a reasonable hypothesis is that there was an adaptation that enabled abstraction/language and was unique to humans.

    I think one of the problems here is that so many people come to these arguments trying to refute the idea that humans are somehow “better” or more worthy or whatever than other animals. You don’t have to convince me of that dude. I’m right there with you. Most humans are IMO not worth the abstraction capabilities that nature has granted them. But as a scientist I have to not let my contempt for the human race get in the way of my objectivity. Humans are unique in the way they use language the way bees are unique in the way they use dance and bats are unique in the way they use sonar. It doesn’t mean I like them or anything.



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  • 27
    maria melo says:

    Anyway, if one does not accept other species as subjected to the same evolutionary pressures that lead to tool making, language, abstraction,etc., the evolutionary pressures that gave origin to a brush of the genus Homo seems pretty significative, as far parallel humanities have coexisted, so should we still think our species as “unique”?
    I guess Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Jay Gould would rather think that these evolutionary pressures would be so significative that even catastrophic mass extinctions wouldn’t restraint them and we would exist anyway? (take your time to think about it). Prof Dawkins repeats countlessly that natural selection isn´t random (nevertheless it is gradual of course).



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  • Exactly. A bird changing pitch isn’t the same kind of complexity as natural language grammar. I mean it’s fascinating and cool and worth studying for it’s own sake. In fact I think bird song is especially interesting. There are white crowned sparrows that live by my home and the song they sing is quite possibly unique to the square mile or two of their local habitat. They sound similar to white crowns elsewhere but if you listen closely you can hear how the song they sing here is different from what others sing elsewhere. So that requires intelligence and an ability to distinguish patterns, etc. But computationally, e.g., if you were to analyze what it takes to develop a computer program to parse the songs as opposed to what it takes to parse a natural language there is no comparison.



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  • I’m familiar with Hauser’s work. He wrote a fascinating paper with Chomsky where they go into this in some detail:

    http://www4.nau.edu/shustercourses/bio%20666/documents/slobochikoff/hauserchomskyfitch2002facultyoflanguage.pdf

    But none of that contradicts what I’ve been saying. In fact it supports it. I agree that of course there will be parts of language that we can find in other animals. That doesn’t mean that the way humans use language isn’t unique. Chomsky would be the first to say that. It took me 10 seconds to find a quote from him that supports that point of view:

    ” these studies simply bring out even more clearly the extent to which human language appears to be a unique phenomenon, without significant analogue in the animal world”

    https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/chomsky.htm

    Getting back to the paper that I linked to above, it goes into things like “what computational modules do we need for language?” So abstraction is almost certainly a requirement. Basic math probably is as well. Now whether there was one adaptation which gave us all those things or several is an open question. I think one adaptation is unlikely, more likely is there were several and some of them (e.g. very basic math, maybe abstraction) are shared by other primates or other animals.

    Although even with math it’s interesting how little math any other animal can do but humans. There was a famous case of what turned out to be a fraud a horse called “clever Hans” who it was claimed could do basic addition and subtraction but it turned out he was picking up non-verbal cues from the trainer.



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  • Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Jay Gould would rather think

    There isn’t much that Dennett or Dawkins would agree with Gould about. Gould was IMO the worst kind of intellectual. He is the mirror image of Dawkins. Where as Dawkins prose is always clear and to the point Gould always takes forever to say something that could have been said in one sentence. Gould is one of those people where when you realize what he’s really saying (e.g. punctuated equilibrium) you realize there are two interpretations. Interpretation one is true but completely obvious and something everyone else in the field already knew. And interpretation two is clearly false. Gould’s behavior in regard to sociobiology and E.O. Wilson is a disgusting example of PC idiocy, of putting political goals ahead of scientific ones. When you do that both suffer. Sorry, went off on a tangent there…



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  • So called computer “languages” are actually instruction sets that operate within predefined, limited scopes.

    I’m not sure what that stuff about the instruction sets means but computer languages ARE languages. That is the whole point. Ever used things like YACC or Lex? That is what you do when you define a compiler (the program that runs other programs for a given computer language) the first thing you do is to define the grammar.

    That was the point I was making about the Chomsky hierarchy. Computer languages are one layer down in that hierarchy. They are provably less complex than natural languages. And it’s not really based on how long they took to evolve it’s something you can prove mathematically and is true of languages like Esperanto or American Sign Language that didn’t evolve naturally but were designed by people to fit a specific niche.

    You can use tools like YACC to define the grammar for computer languages precisely BECAUSE they are simpler. With a computer language the parsing is always unambiguous. X + Y = Z will have different semantics depending on the values of the variables but the syntax will always be the same. Where as “Time flies like an arrow” has several different possible syntax interpretations based on the meaning (context). E.g. is it about a kind of fly called a “time fly” or is it about the concept of “time” and how we perceive it?



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  • I read the Faculty of Language paper by Hauser, etc. and would refer you to the following:

    From the Summary: ” We suggest how current developments in linguistics can be profitably wedded to work in evolutionary biology, anthropology, psychology, and neuroscience.” – my suggestion to examine cross-discipline evidence.

    From Defining the Target section: “The world ‘language’ has highly divergent meanings in different contexts and disciplines.” – recall my statement “our debate depends on the definition of ‘language’.”

    The paper distinguished between Faculty of Language as Broad and Narrow, FLB and FLN. From the Summary: “We hypothesize that FLN only includes recursion and is the only uniquely human component of the faculty of language.” – would support my “degree” assertion.

    From the Testing Hypotheses About the Evolution of the Faculty of Language section: “we can distinguish several plausible hypotheses about the evolution of its various components.” The paper lists 3 hypotheses and concludes, “Each of these hypotheses is plausible to some degree. Ultimately, they can be distinguished only by empirical data, much of which is currently unavailable.” – as I said, it is still under debate.

    Again, I’ve said enough. Thanks for the discussion. And I’m glad you don’t subscribe to human exceptionalism. 🙂



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  • 34
    maria melo says:

    I couldn´t resist to post the link (that everyone probably knew already).
    The abstration of the dog and the logical thought is not less. How could one think that abstraction is “unique” among humans? (in this case, not even in degree since the logical operation is the same)? Glad that Darwin would think that there are universals, even across different species.



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  • Hi Maria, I’ve seen the Nova Science episode that includes Chaser. I agree with you. There is abundant evidence that abstract thinking occurs in multiple species. Other research suggest that dogs co-evolved in long term co-habitation with us and became better tuned to our communication than other animals. They’ve learned to understand our pointing gesture, for instance, whereas chimps have not.

    Chaser shows problem solving deduction as well as instant recall of vast memory, the latter ability greater than ours. However, our additional capacity in abstraction allowed for the creation of warehouse robots at Amazon order fulfillment centers that exceed Chaser’s abilities to deduce, memorize and recall, currently beyond Chaser’s abstraction capacity.

    I would not, as I posted earlier, “rob animals of the traits they clearly possess” or call them inferior, especially when we only know how to measure them by our standards. In calling the differences among species “degrees”, I am following Mr. Darwin’s advice. 🙂

    “Nevertheless the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.” – Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man.

    A brief excerpt from Dr. Sapolsky’s interesting presentation: What Separates Us from Chimps…Not Much!



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  • 36
    maria melo says:

    “They’ve learned to understand our pointing gesture, for instance, whereas chimps have not”.
    Because dogs are so tuned to us?
    I confess I found this link news, and perhaps a bit confusing ( and searched for this news after having attended to a conference and a presentation by researchers of St. Andrews Un. and Dr. Simone Pika herself). But I suppose, of course, they know it better than me.

    I have watched Dr. Sapolsky’s on youtube several times, and again I am going to watch.



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  • I should have clarified. By “pointing gesture” I meant human pointing gesture for direction or attention. I was referring to the experiments in which a treat was hidden under two identical looking cups and the dog and chimp subjects were asked to find the treat. The subjects were shown the treat placed under cup 1 (thus imprinted in their memory via sight), then kept from sight when the treat was moved to cup 2. When the subjects returned, dogs would override their own memory when the experimenter pointed at cup 2 and look there for the treat. Chimps trusted their own memory and ignored the experimenter’s pointing gesture, looked under cup 1 for the treat. The hypothesis was dogs understand human communication cues better through long term contact.

    I saw this in one of the many nature documentaries, will show link if I can find it.



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  • Interesting article, I agree chimps communicate through gestures. The article concludes, “The difference between us and the chimpanzees seems to be only quantitative…and not qualitative.” Another way of saying our difference is in degrees. 🙂



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  • 43
    maria melo says:

    Or… that traits don´t come out of the blue (that, as Prof Richard Dawkins would state, natural selection is not random but an accumulation of luck).



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  • I agree with Red Dog that Chimpanzees no more demonstrate human linguistic behavior than the interesting but unremarkable “drinking cup”behavior implies an animal proto culture.

    Far more sinister links lurk in our shared evolutionary history with chimps, our closest genetic cousins. The cute little guy that heads up the article by the sweet lady author, has occasionally ripped off human faces and scrotums in his irritable older age. A forty pound chimp which snaps under the wrong conditions has the strength of a 200 pound man with Swiss army knife equipment for maximizing mayhem. Researchers have observed chimp death squads, 90% male, attack and kill other chimps trying to muscle in on their territory.

    More interesting is the darker course pre-human and human evolution took once our line split off from a common ancestor 4 to 6 million years ago. Our earliest Australopithecus ancestors were chimp-like creatures who walked erect and may have had a tad more gray matter. Doubtlessly these creatures like modern chimps were largely vegetarian but also ate some meat by killing small animals or scavenging carrion. (Chimps have been observed using sharpened sticks to stab small tree monkeys in tree trunk niches then consume the extricated corpses).

    To abbreviate the story, Homo habilis, Homo erectus and Homo sapiens evolved into hunters of larger and larger game -deer, mammoths, etc.- as our taste for red meat grew apace. “Hunter” is used here as a euphemism for “predator.” We like to flatter ourselves that we have become civilized farmers who harvest crops for our nutrition. Biologically we remain tribal predators who eat the flesh of other animals, domesticated or wild, when we are hungry and kill other humans in assorted individual and collective killing games when our “vital interests and values” are threatened. To paraphrase Joseph Conrad from his novel, Heart of Darkness, we remain civilized as long as there is a policeman around one corner and a butcher around the other.



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