October 09, 2007

How Baboons Think - "Reading a baboon's mind affords an excellent grasp of the dynamics of baboon society. But more than that, it bears on the evolution of the human mind and the nature of human existence. As Darwin jotted down in a notebook of 1838, 'He who understands baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke.'"

"Baboons provide you with an example of what sort of social and cognitive complexity is possible in the absence of language and a theory of mind," [Dr.Dorothy L. Cheney] said. "The selective forces that gave rise to our large brains and our full-blown theory of mind remain mysterious, at least to us." Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M. Seyfarth's Amazon.com: Baboon Metaphysics reviewed by New Scientist. Their contribution to Infinite Monkey Theory.

  • And, of course, let's not forget the classic Red Assed Baboon:
  • That's a very cheeky monkey.
  • Well, it's back to posting about chocolate fucking BBC aliens, if this is the reaction a serious post with all the fucking trimmings gets. /sulk
  • Chocolate daleks are more immediately accessible than baboon thought processes. Particularly if, like me, you don't very much like baboons. The "playback experiments" are very interesting and quite clever. I guess it helps that baboons rely so much on speech (screech?) for communication. There is an obvious danger here of superimposing human thought process on baboon behavior.
  • We don't really do 'serious'much these days. The thing that strikes me most is actually how unlike human society the baboon version is, and how similar by contrast, it is to the society of, say lions: matrilineal groups with males wandering and fighting and forming temporary attachments to the female families, where they may kill the ofspring of the males they have displaced in order to bring the females into season again. Even chimps are closer to this model than to human society. Personally, give me the orang-utan lifestyle any day: hanging out alone in solitary nests, composing sonnets* and alphabetising your leaf collection. But even that is hardly typical of human society at large. Whatever the genes may say, it looks to me as if there is a big gap between human and non-human apes. I couldn't see any baboons in that Infinite Monkey link - was this a test? *I have no actual evidence that orang-utans compose sonnets. But they look as if they would to me.
  • I do have actual evidence that Orangutans compose sonnets. I am not going to show it.
  • Interesting article. Confirms other information I've have encountered on higher order animal minds. Grey parrots, which are considered highly intelligent, are apparently believed to have evolved their intelligence in order to read the signals and social interactions of the large parrot flock they live with. And a documentary on monkey intelligence I watched not too long ago focused much on a troop of smaller monkeys in the wild. The docu- showed that there was an impressive amount going on in their little walnut brains, much of it related to emotions and social interaction. However, then the researchers deliberately showed the flip side of the coin, revealing how one of the brightest members of the monkey troop couldn't figure out why her baby was crying, when it was clearly being bitten by several large ants. Very interesting stuff. (Love the orangutan photo!)