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Do Animals Have Culture?

 
nonverbal
 
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nonverbal
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05 August 2018 10:50
 
Brick Bungalow, to Jan_CAN - 04 August 2018 10:32 PM

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 agree with this position. Many nonhuman creatures do, however, have morality, as can be seen as a result of de Waal’s and others’ experiments and observations.

 
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Brick Bungalow
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05 August 2018 16:43
 
nonverbal - 05 August 2018 10:50 AM
Brick Bungalow, to Jan_CAN - 04 August 2018 10:32 PM

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 agree with this position. Many nonhuman creatures do, however, have morality, as can be seen as a result of de Waal’s and others’ experiments and observations.

Hmm. We may have competing definitions. Would you suggest that animal communities have morality in the sense that they represent and uphold codes of behavior not intrinsic to their biology and not dictated by immediate circumstance? Or codes that are transmitted culturally that must over ride natural instinct… as is the case with much of human ethics?

I agree that they have attributes similar to empathy, compassion, solidarity, self sacrifice and so on but I don’t know that they possess the kind of reflective preference that I associate with a moral system. I will definitely look into if further though.

[ Edited: 05 August 2018 16:47 by Brick Bungalow]
 
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05 August 2018 18:31
 

I’m no expert, Brick. I can only refer you to:
Good Natured, the origins of right and wrong in humans and other animals, Frans de Waal, 1996

 
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13 August 2018 15:28
 
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?

my intuition is that humans don’t have culture. They have behavioral characteristics that travel across individuals and collectives and happen to be conceived of as “culture”.

 
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23 August 2018 07:41
 
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?

A lot hangs on the definition of “culture”. If group dynamics can be seen as a type of culture then I’d say animals do have dynamic culture. Our tiny herd of horses have always demonstrated group dynamics. There is a pecking order, there are consistent “friendships” (e.g. certain pairs of horses will groom each other, other pairs will not), and there are certain horses who will rough-house with each other, and others who will not.

We recently moved to a much bigger farm, their pastures got about 10x bigger. These larger pastures have altered the previous dynamics. With more space there are more friendships and less pecking order behavior. Horses exhibit “resource hoarding” when food is scarce, but when food is abundant, they relax and play more. To me, play behavior in adults smacks of culture.

 
 
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24 August 2018 23:25
 
icehorse - 23 August 2018 07:41 AM
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?

A lot hangs on the definition of “culture”. If group dynamics can be seen as a type of culture then I’d say animals do have dynamic culture. Our tiny herd of horses have always demonstrated group dynamics. There is a pecking order, there are consistent “friendships” (e.g. certain pairs of horses will groom each other, other pairs will not), and there are certain horses who will rough-house with each other, and others who will not.

We recently moved to a much bigger farm, their pastures got about 10x bigger. These larger pastures have altered the previous dynamics. With more space there are more friendships and less pecking order behavior. Horses exhibit “resource hoarding” when food is scarce, but when food is abundant, they relax and play more. To me, play behavior in adults smacks of culture.

I am suggesting that sum of what makes human culture unique within the animal kingdom be considered as ‘culture’ for the purpose of this inquiry. I think the scope of the concept allows for this.

My general intuition is that our perception of ‘animal culture’ is, in part a commonality between behaviors across species but the other part is projection. We naturally see a reflection of our perceptions and intentions when we observe animals. This second part is, I think almost completely fallacious. Concepts like rape, murder, marriage, funerals, money and others have superficial counterparts in non human communities but I think we make a category error if we think animals are actually engaged in such things. I don’t think they are.

When I say culture I am pointing to a set of concepts that modify behavior above and beyond simple environmental pressures. Specifically concepts that have rapid, internal evolution. When I say animals probably don’t have culture what I’m saying is that I don’t think they dynamically alter their social behavior with deliberate experimentation. Not normally. Human beings, by contrast MOSTLY modify their behavior with deliberate experimentation. Human communities undergo dramatic changes merely because of a transmission of concepts. I don’t see animal communities doing this except under human coercion.

 
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25 August 2018 07:13
 
Brick Bungalow, to icehorse - 24 August 2018 11:25 PM

I am suggesting that sum of what makes human culture unique within the animal kingdom be considered as ‘culture’ for the purpose of this inquiry. I think the scope of the concept allows for this.

My general intuition is that our perception of ‘animal culture’ is, in part a commonality between behaviors across species but the other part is projection. We naturally see a reflection of our perceptions and intentions when we observe animals. This second part is, I think almost completely fallacious. Concepts like rape, murder, marriage, funerals, money and others have superficial counterparts in non human communities but I think we make a category error if we think animals are actually engaged in such things. I don’t think they are.

We do sometimes project an attitude that anthropomorphizes critters, perhaps as often as we project ideal moral sensibilities deifying members of Homo sapiens.

Brick Bungalow, to icehorse - 24 August 2018 11:25 PM

When I say culture I am pointing to a set of concepts that modify behavior above and beyond simple environmental pressures. Specifically concepts that have rapid, internal evolution. When I say animals probably don’t have culture what I’m saying is that I don’t think they dynamically alter their social behavior with deliberate experimentation. Not normally. Human beings, by contrast MOSTLY modify their behavior with deliberate experimentation. Human communities undergo dramatic changes merely because of a transmission of concepts. I don’t see animal communities doing this except under human coercion.

Excellent point.

 
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25 August 2018 15:02
 

brick:

When I say culture I am pointing to a set of concepts that modify behavior above and beyond simple environmental pressures. Specifically concepts that have rapid, internal evolution. When I say animals probably don’t have culture what I’m saying is that I don’t think they dynamically alter their social behavior with deliberate experimentation. Not normally. Human beings, by contrast MOSTLY modify their behavior with deliberate experimentation. Human communities undergo dramatic changes merely because of a transmission of concepts. I don’t see animal communities doing this except under human coercion.

Just spit-balling here, but I think one could make a pretty good argument that most (all?), of human culture ultimately arises out of environmental pressures as well?! So we might say that all cultural pursuits are tied directly, or only a hop or two away from WBCC concerns. Maybe this is just semantics, not sure?

 
 
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25 August 2018 20:21
 

There’s the case of the baboon troop whose culture (?) changed after a tuberculosis outbreak selectively killed off the dominant males.  On some podcast or video I heard Dr. R. Sapolsky talking about it.

Here’s what I could find recently
https://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/13/science/no-time-for-bullies-baboons-retool-their-culture.html

http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.0020106

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC387823/#__ffn_sectitle

[ Edited: 25 August 2018 20:26 by mapadofu]
 
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25 August 2018 23:22
 
icehorse - 25 August 2018 03:02 PM

brick:

When I say culture I am pointing to a set of concepts that modify behavior above and beyond simple environmental pressures. Specifically concepts that have rapid, internal evolution. When I say animals probably don’t have culture what I’m saying is that I don’t think they dynamically alter their social behavior with deliberate experimentation. Not normally. Human beings, by contrast MOSTLY modify their behavior with deliberate experimentation. Human communities undergo dramatic changes merely because of a transmission of concepts. I don’t see animal communities doing this except under human coercion.

Just spit-balling here, but I think one could make a pretty good argument that most (all?), of human culture ultimately arises out of environmental pressures as well?! So we might say that all cultural pursuits are tied directly, or only a hop or two away from WBCC concerns. Maybe this is just semantics, not sure?

Everything originates from the same soup… unless you subscribe to some mythology that takes humans out of the animal kingdom. I just happen to think that human communities have certain unique attributes.

 
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26 August 2018 07:46
 
Brick Bungalow - 25 August 2018 11:22 PM
icehorse - 25 August 2018 03:02 PM

brick:

When I say culture I am pointing to a set of concepts that modify behavior above and beyond simple environmental pressures. Specifically concepts that have rapid, internal evolution. When I say animals probably don’t have culture what I’m saying is that I don’t think they dynamically alter their social behavior with deliberate experimentation. Not normally. Human beings, by contrast MOSTLY modify their behavior with deliberate experimentation. Human communities undergo dramatic changes merely because of a transmission of concepts. I don’t see animal communities doing this except under human coercion.

Just spit-balling here, but I think one could make a pretty good argument that most (all?), of human culture ultimately arises out of environmental pressures as well?! So we might say that all cultural pursuits are tied directly, or only a hop or two away from WBCC concerns. Maybe this is just semantics, not sure?

Everything originates from the same soup… unless you subscribe to some mythology that takes humans out of the animal kingdom. I just happen to think that human communities have certain unique attributes.

No doubt in my mind that human communities have many unique characteristics. What I find interesting is how many similarities animal communities have with ours. The Boss said something like “We have intuitions about the range of emotional states that insects can experience. If we find out we’ve underestimated that, it would impact how we treat them.”

 
 
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26 August 2018 08:21
 
icehorse - 25 August 2018 03:02 PM

brick:

When I say culture I am pointing to a set of concepts that modify behavior above and beyond simple environmental pressures. Specifically concepts that have rapid, internal evolution. When I say animals probably don’t have culture what I’m saying is that I don’t think they dynamically alter their social behavior with deliberate experimentation. Not normally. Human beings, by contrast MOSTLY modify their behavior with deliberate experimentation. Human communities undergo dramatic changes merely because of a transmission of concepts. I don’t see animal communities doing this except under human coercion.

Just spit-balling here, but I think one could make a pretty good argument that most (all?), of human culture ultimately arises out of environmental pressures as well?! So we might say that all cultural pursuits are tied directly, or only a hop or two away from WBCC concerns. Maybe this is just semantics, not sure?

Here’s what Brick actually said (my boldface):  “When I say culture I am pointing to a set of concepts that modify behavior above and beyond simple environmental pressures.”

People experiment with culture all the time no matter what our environmental pressures might be. Some of those experiments emerge to become culture whether or not they actually respond to environmental pressures. “Internal” pressures?—sure!

 
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26 August 2018 08:34
 
nonverbal - 26 August 2018 08:21 AM
icehorse - 25 August 2018 03:02 PM

brick:

When I say culture I am pointing to a set of concepts that modify behavior above and beyond simple environmental pressures. Specifically concepts that have rapid, internal evolution. When I say animals probably don’t have culture what I’m saying is that I don’t think they dynamically alter their social behavior with deliberate experimentation. Not normally. Human beings, by contrast MOSTLY modify their behavior with deliberate experimentation. Human communities undergo dramatic changes merely because of a transmission of concepts. I don’t see animal communities doing this except under human coercion.

Just spit-balling here, but I think one could make a pretty good argument that most (all?), of human culture ultimately arises out of environmental pressures as well?! So we might say that all cultural pursuits are tied directly, or only a hop or two away from WBCC concerns. Maybe this is just semantics, not sure?

Here’s what Brick actually said (my boldface):  “When I say culture I am pointing to a set of concepts that modify behavior above and beyond simple environmental pressures.”

People experiment with culture all the time no matter what our environmental pressures might be. Some of those experiments emerge to become culture whether or not they actually respond to environmental pressures. “Internal” pressures?—sure!

I can see how my response was ambiguous - I was spit-balling that maybe there are very few if any cultural modifications that fall into the “above and beyond” category. That perhaps most or all cultural modifications can be linked fairly directly to environmental pressures. Again, this is just a hunch, but - for example - I would say that Freudians would probably take this stance.

 
 
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26 August 2018 09:31
 
icehorse - 26 August 2018 08:34 AM
nonverbal - 26 August 2018 08:21 AM
icehorse - 25 August 2018 03:02 PM

brick:

When I say culture I am pointing to a set of concepts that modify behavior above and beyond simple environmental pressures. Specifically concepts that have rapid, internal evolution. When I say animals probably don’t have culture what I’m saying is that I don’t think they dynamically alter their social behavior with deliberate experimentation. Not normally. Human beings, by contrast MOSTLY modify their behavior with deliberate experimentation. Human communities undergo dramatic changes merely because of a transmission of concepts. I don’t see animal communities doing this except under human coercion.

Just spit-balling here, but I think one could make a pretty good argument that most (all?), of human culture ultimately arises out of environmental pressures as well?! So we might say that all cultural pursuits are tied directly, or only a hop or two away from WBCC concerns. Maybe this is just semantics, not sure?

Here’s what Brick actually said (my boldface):  “When I say culture I am pointing to a set of concepts that modify behavior above and beyond simple environmental pressures.”

People experiment with culture all the time no matter what our environmental pressures might be. Some of those experiments emerge to become culture whether or not they actually respond to environmental pressures. “Internal” pressures?—sure!

I can see how my response was ambiguous - I was spit-balling that maybe there are very few if any cultural modifications that fall into the “above and beyond” category. That perhaps most or all cultural modifications can be linked fairly directly to environmental pressures. Again, this is just a hunch, but - for example - I would say that Freudians would probably take this stance.

Okay. I may have misread you, icehorse. But I still see human culture as being distinctly different from critter culture due to the non-survival aspect of arts and other creative ventures. Of course nature influences artists a great deal. But most of what they do seems indifferent to the vagaries of nature other than what’s in their heads, wouldn’t you say?

 
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26 August 2018 10:37
 

nv:

Okay. I may have misread you, icehorse. But I still see human culture as being distinctly different from critter culture due to the non-survival aspect of arts and other creative ventures. Of course nature influences artists a great deal. But most of what they do seems indifferent to the vagaries of nature other than what’s in their heads, wouldn’t you say?

Well the smart money is on your take. But again, just for the sake of spit-balling:

All mammals (virtually all?), and some birds, have a strong drive to play. Of course play is useful to teach young-ins how to use their bodies, but even adult mammals and birds play. And the play can be fairly sophisticated. For example the largest playmates learn that they have to throw a certain percentage of the matches or no one will play with them. Pretty impressive. Now I wonder if doing art could be considered play? I can certainly see how doing art could be used to attract potential mates, but even without that aspect, I think I could argue that “being artistic” is a form of play. We say that musicians “play” their instruments and play music.

Of course humans bring depth and nuance and complexity that no other animals bring, no argument there.

 
 
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