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Do Animals Have Culture?

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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31 July 2018 11:13
 

Animal communities exhibit a wider and wider array of behaviors formerly thought to be exclusively human as we are able to study them more closely. There are facsimiles of weddings, funerals and baby showers. There are turf wars and occupations and pseudo economies and possibly even something like religious devotion. (I realize the inherent fallacy of projecting an anthropocentric meaning here) Lots of things seem like facets of culture.

My intuition is that they don’t have culture. They have behavioral characteristics that travel across species and happen to be shared by humans. Human culture assimilates animal behavior but animals do not have culture because their behavioral changes are not dynamic in the way that human behavior is… as far as I can tell.

Does anyone have evidence to the contrary?

 
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EN
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31 July 2018 11:58
 
Brick Bungalow - 31 July 2018 11:13 AM

Animal communities exhibit a wider and wider array of behaviors formerly thought to be exclusively human as we are able to study them more closely. There are facsimiles of weddings, funerals and baby showers. There are turf wars and occupations and pseudo economies and possibly even something like religious devotion. (I realize the inherent fallacy of projecting an anthropocentric meaning here) Lots of things seem like facets of culture.

My intuition is that they don’t have culture. They have behavioral characteristics that travel across species and happen to be shared by humans. Human culture assimilates animal behavior but animals do not have culture because their behavioral changes are not dynamic in the way that human behavior is… as far as I can tell.

Does anyone have evidence to the contrary?

I agree with you. It’s pretty much a matter of instinct.  Perhaps the higher mammals have some inklings of it, but for the most part, no.  I’ll believe they have it when I see chimps starting a rudimentary religion or a mother dolphin teaching her offspring a simple song that she learned from her mother. If they do have culture, it’s pretty primitive.

 
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31 July 2018 12:32
 

Allow me to introduce you to Imo the Monkey Genius and the Hot Tub Monkeys:

https://tinyurl.com/y9db9npp

Human culture is transmitted through language and the written word; individuals are taught in detail how to do something through teaching and imitation. With nonhuman primates like macaques, the learning process occurs through observation.

Monkey culture is definitely not the same as human culture, said Hirata. But by studying the monkeys “we see an evolutionary basis for our culture,” he said. “These monkeys are similar to humans because they take an interest in the behavior of other individuals—which is vital for the development of a culture.”

 
 
nonverbal
 
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nonverbal
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31 July 2018 12:47
 

Do animals have culture? Of course we do.

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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31 July 2018 13:00
 

One way to pose your question is to ask if non-human animals have culture that affects genetic selection in the way human culture has—perhaps what you are driving at by “dynamic,” as in dynamically adaptive.  Put this way, I would say no, they don’t have culture, for I can think of no example where the process of cultural adaptation has resulted in genetic selection within the non-human animal world in the way that “cultural selection” has led to resistance to altitude sickness (Tibetans), lactose tolerance (Northern Europeans), or tolerance for an exclusively protein-fat diet (the Inuit).  Considered broadly this cultural and genetic co-evolution can be considered self-domestication, a process which may also have affected the genetic markers for religiosity, cooperation, and artistic achievement (though these latter are highly controversial).  In any case, I know of no analogous gene-cultural co-evolution in the non-human animal world, including among chimps and bonobos, our closest primate cousins.  In this dynamic sense, “culture” seems exclusively human.

[ Edited: 31 July 2018 13:26 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
Jan_CAN
 
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31 July 2018 14:41
 

Seems like the answer would depend on how strictly one defines ‘culture’.  On checking (by google, of course) the various definitions, culture seems to be a human thing.  Of course, anthropologists probably define the term more specifically than lay people.  Maybe what some of these non-human animals are displaying is a rudimentary culture, or pre-culture?

 
 
ubique13
 
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01 August 2018 07:17
 
Brick Bungalow - 31 July 2018 11:13 AM

Does anyone have evidence to the contrary?

Indeed. Orca whales have a few clearly differentiated cultures which exist among geographically isolated subsets of the species as a whole.

 
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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01 August 2018 23:22
 

Thank you.

I figured there was a lot more information out there that I hadn’t digested.

I also realize that the question was poorly phrased. I concur that humans are animals. Culture is also too ambiguous a term.

What I mean is that humans, it seems to me, have a uniquely dynamic system of behavioral adaptation that I don’t see in other species. We can alter our daily routines very abruptly both at the individual scale and in huge numbers.

Now, any notion of human exceptionalism needs to be filtered for cognitive and emotional bias. We are most likely predisposed to favor ourselves in any broad comparison to the detriment of objective analysis. We are also likely quite blind to the exceptional traits that exist in other communities just as other species will likely not comprehend a great deal of what we do.

Still, human culture strikes me as unique mainly for the speed at which it changes. We are (probably) unified by biological adaptation. Subject to the same kinds of gradual selection across species. But in terms of behavioral adaptation most other species seem mainly driven by environmental factors. Changes in their biome. Humans adapt to this as well but its less significant. We seem to mainly react to one another. Our changes in behavior are organized around our internal interactions. We are our own only significant predator.

Anywho… I’m not studied in any of these fields. Just curious. Thank you for any and all reflections.

 
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02 August 2018 02:48
 

Humans have symbolically transmitted culture. Other animals have culture that is transmitted by observation and imitation, as do humans, as others have said. The common sense of culture found in dictionaries does not include animal culture, because the relevant definition requires not only symbolic transmission but symbol usage in artifacts or practices. The notion of animal culture arose when it became evident that animal behavior was not entirely dependent upon heredity and differences in the immediate environment, but sometimes involved differences in behavior among different groups of the same species in the same environments, and adoption of group-specific behavior by immigrants to a group.

 
 
nonverbal
 
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02 August 2018 05:55
 

Significant differences between human and nonhuman “culture” may translate to different words being needed. But Frans de Waal uses the word to describe some aspects of primate behavior.

The question of whether animals have morality is a bit like the question of whether they have culture, politics, or language. If we take the full-blown human phenomenon as a yardstick, they most definitely do not. On the other hand, if we break the relevant human abilities into their component parts, some are recognizable in other animals.

Culture: Field primatologists have noticed differences in tool use and communication among populations of the same species. Thus, in one chimpanzee community all adults may crack nuts with stones, whereas another community totally lacks this technology. Group-specific signals and habits have been documented in bonobos as well as chimpanzees. Increasingly, primatologists explain these differences as learned traditions handed down from one generation to the next.

Good Natured, the origins of right and wrong in humans and other animals, page 210, Frans de Waal, 1996

Also in the above mentioned book, de Waal describes an experiment he and his colleagues set up in an attempt to understand something about ways that new conflict-resolution techniques might originate in primate groups.

In the course of the experiment the rhesus learned this lesson a thousand times over. Whereas mild aggression was common, physical violence and injuries were virtually absent; friendly contact and play soon became the dominant activities. . . .

Good Natured, the origins of right and wrong in humans and other animals, page 178, Frans de Waal, 1996

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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03 August 2018 22:29
 

In addition to your individual opinions on this issue I’m also curious what significance you would attach to your answer. What questions are begged? What ethical demands are implied?

Many people, myself included believe that ethics are culturally derived ultimately relative to preferences drawn from culture. How would the presence or absence or marginal presence of something resembling human culture relate to the status of animals as moral patients or even moral agents? It occurs to me that we treat domesticated animals as if they had these attributes to some degree. We reward and punish them. We deliberately modify their behavior for our benefit. We even execute them for certain offenses (Again, beware of anthropocentric projection here)

How would our consideration of animals as members of our communities be affected by the knowledge that they had communities that didn’t include us? Or, how should it be affected?

 

 
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04 August 2018 06:12
 
Brick Bungalow - 03 August 2018 10:29 PM

In addition to your individual opinions on this issue I’m also curious what significance you would attach to your answer. What questions are begged? What ethical demands are implied?

Many people, myself included believe that ethics are culturally derived ultimately relative to preferences drawn from culture. How would the presence or absence or marginal presence of something resembling human culture relate to the status of animals as moral patients or even moral agents? It occurs to me that we treat domesticated animals as if they had these attributes to some degree. We reward and punish them. We deliberately modify their behavior for our benefit. We even execute them for certain offenses (Again, beware of anthropocentric projection here)

How would our consideration of animals as members of our communities be affected by the knowledge that they had communities that didn’t include us? Or, how should it be affected?

A good first step might be educational, in the sense that experts in animal behavior seem to have only fairly recently begun to realize how complex and subtle nonhuman communities can be, and apparently these experts have yet to significantly disseminate the information beyond themselves. For instance, at the S.F. Zoo a couple of years ago, docents were presenting themselves as bird experts, taking questions from anyone who might be curious about the various owls and other birds being displayed. My question was something like, “Can you explain anything about the sounds the birds make? Do different sounds communicate different things?” The docent looked at me as though I’d just escaped a psych ward, and told me that she had no idea what the birds were saying. Granted, she was a docent; not necessarily a formally educated biologist. But still, the experience left me wondering just a bit.

 
Jan_CAN
 
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04 August 2018 11:12
 
Brick Bungalow - 03 August 2018 10:29 PM

In addition to your individual opinions on this issue I’m also curious what significance you would attach to your answer. What questions are begged? What ethical demands are implied?

Many people, myself included believe that ethics are culturally derived ultimately relative to preferences drawn from culture. How would the presence or absence or marginal presence of something resembling human culture relate to the status of animals as moral patients or even moral agents? It occurs to me that we treat domesticated animals as if they had these attributes to some degree. We reward and punish them. We deliberately modify their behavior for our benefit. We even execute them for certain offenses (Again, beware of anthropocentric projection here)

How would our consideration of animals as members of our communities be affected by the knowledge that they had communities that didn’t include us? Or, how should it be affected?

Although culture is generally regarded as a human ‘accomplishment’, discovering that some animals display rudimentary behaviour resembling culture is fun and interesting.  It leads to a greater understanding and respect for our fellow creatures, and we often seem to like best the ones that are most like us.

Are ethics culturally derived?  Are not certain behaviours (e.g. care of young, non-violent cooperation, protection of others) derived from instinctual behaviours for self-preservation?  Later, as our cultures evolved, we fine-tuned these behaviours and called them morality.  We developed a sense of ourselves separate from other animals, so gave different names to similar or related behaviours.  When a chimp cares for her baby, it’s called maternal behaviour; when a human does the same thing, it’s mother’s love.  Of course, our large brains have led to complex societies and ethics, but I don’t think we’re as different from other animals as we’d like to think.

 

 
 
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04 August 2018 22:32
 
Jan_CAN - 04 August 2018 11:12 AM
Brick Bungalow - 03 August 2018 10:29 PM

In addition to your individual opinions on this issue I’m also curious what significance you would attach to your answer. What questions are begged? What ethical demands are implied?

Many people, myself included believe that ethics are culturally derived ultimately relative to preferences drawn from culture. How would the presence or absence or marginal presence of something resembling human culture relate to the status of animals as moral patients or even moral agents? It occurs to me that we treat domesticated animals as if they had these attributes to some degree. We reward and punish them. We deliberately modify their behavior for our benefit. We even execute them for certain offenses (Again, beware of anthropocentric projection here)

How would our consideration of animals as members of our communities be affected by the knowledge that they had communities that didn’t include us? Or, how should it be affected?

Although culture is generally regarded as a human ‘accomplishment’, discovering that some animals display rudimentary behaviour resembling culture is fun and interesting.  It leads to a greater understanding and respect for our fellow creatures, and we often seem to like best the ones that are most like us.

Are ethics culturally derived?  Are not certain behaviours (e.g. care of young, non-violent cooperation, protection of others) derived from instinctual behaviours for self-preservation?  Later, as our cultures evolved, we fine-tuned these behaviours and called them morality.  We developed a sense of ourselves separate from other animals, so gave different names to similar or related behaviours.  When a chimp cares for her baby, it’s called maternal behaviour; when a human does the same thing, it’s mother’s love.  Of course, our large brains have led to complex societies and ethics, but I don’t think we’re as different from other animals as we’d like to think.

I think ethics most certainly references the behaviors you describe but it is not defined by them. I think to have ethics it’s necessary to place normative behaviors in the context of creative imagination. It requires a social structure that weighs second order desires and secondary outcomes. It requires principles that mediate between competitive goods. A mother chimpanzee seems to have compassion and maternal instinct and even altruism but I don’t think she has ethics. I don’t she weighs consequences or references any kind of formal value structure. Her choices are driven by instinct and circumstance alone. Not without egregiously stretching the definition.

 

 
Jan_CAN
 
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05 August 2018 00:59
 
Brick Bungalow - 04 August 2018 10:32 PM
Jan_CAN - 04 August 2018 11:12 AM

Although culture is generally regarded as a human ‘accomplishment’, discovering that some animals display rudimentary behaviour resembling culture is fun and interesting.  It leads to a greater understanding and respect for our fellow creatures, and we often seem to like best the ones that are most like us.

Are ethics culturally derived?  Are not certain behaviours (e.g. care of young, non-violent cooperation, protection of others) derived from instinctual behaviours for self-preservation?  Later, as our cultures evolved, we fine-tuned these behaviours and called them morality.  We developed a sense of ourselves separate from other animals, so gave different names to similar or related behaviours.  When a chimp cares for her baby, it’s called maternal behaviour; when a human does the same thing, it’s mother’s love.  Of course, our large brains have led to complex societies and ethics, but I don’t think we’re as different from other animals as we’d like to think.

I think ethics most certainly references the behaviors you describe but it is not defined by them. I think to have ethics it’s necessary to place normative behaviors in the context of creative imagination. It requires a social structure that weighs second order desires and secondary outcomes. It requires principles that mediate between competitive goods. A mother chimpanzee seems to have compassion and maternal instinct and even altruism but I don’t think she has ethics. I don’t she weighs consequences or references any kind of formal value structure. Her choices are driven by instinct and circumstance alone. Not without egregiously stretching the definition.

I see your point and don’t disagree. 

No, the mother chimpanzee doesn’t have ‘ethics’, but the irony is that she is incapable of behaving as unethically as a human.  (These large brains of ours that weigh ethical issues so adeptly, have led to ‘evil’ for which other animals cannot even comprehend.  I sometimes think our species and the planet would have been better off if our brain development had stymied at some earlier point – but then that’s a moral judgement.)

 

 
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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05 August 2018 10:41
 
Jan_CAN - 05 August 2018 12:59 AM
Brick Bungalow - 04 August 2018 10:32 PM
Jan_CAN - 04 August 2018 11:12 AM

Although culture is generally regarded as a human ‘accomplishment’, discovering that some animals display rudimentary behaviour resembling culture is fun and interesting.  It leads to a greater understanding and respect for our fellow creatures, and we often seem to like best the ones that are most like us.

Are ethics culturally derived?  Are not certain behaviours (e.g. care of young, non-violent cooperation, protection of others) derived from instinctual behaviours for self-preservation?  Later, as our cultures evolved, we fine-tuned these behaviours and called them morality.  We developed a sense of ourselves separate from other animals, so gave different names to similar or related behaviours.  When a chimp cares for her baby, it’s called maternal behaviour; when a human does the same thing, it’s mother’s love.  Of course, our large brains have led to complex societies and ethics, but I don’t think we’re as different from other animals as we’d like to think.

I think ethics most certainly references the behaviors you describe but it is not defined by them. I think to have ethics it’s necessary to place normative behaviors in the context of creative imagination. It requires a social structure that weighs second order desires and secondary outcomes. It requires principles that mediate between competitive goods. A mother chimpanzee seems to have compassion and maternal instinct and even altruism but I don’t think she has ethics. I don’t she weighs consequences or references any kind of formal value structure. Her choices are driven by instinct and circumstance alone. Not without egregiously stretching the definition.

I see your point and don’t disagree. 

No, the mother chimpanzee doesn’t have ‘ethics’, but the irony is that she is incapable of behaving as unethically as a human.  (These large brains of ours that weigh ethical issues so adeptly, have led to ‘evil’ for which other animals cannot even comprehend.  I sometimes think our species and the planet would have been better off if our brain development had stymied at some earlier point – but then that’s a moral judgement.)

Oh absolutely. Ethics are not ‘good’ by any stretch of the imagination. They Inspire all kinds of evil. The worst human failures are inspired by the need to uphold ethical codes.

 

 
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