September 24, 2007

Nature or nurture?


(Via Metafilter.)


Comrade Ravenhawk said...

Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, eugenics!

jowan said...

Savage-Rumbaugh's work is very interesting. Christine Kenneally, a Brooklyn resident, puts it in context for lawyers and other non-scientists, in her new book, "The First Word", which you would probably enjoy.

Steve said...

This is all nonsense on stilts. Biologically speaking, there is very little which separates bonobos or other chimps from human beings. So why shouldn't I believe that they also have some of the rudimentary biological devices necessary for accomplishing what we regard as "human" tasks? How does this prove the importance of "culture"? If Savage-Rumbaugh, wants to impress upon me the centrality of socialization over genetics, let's see her train a starfish to whistle "zippity-do-da." Or train a developmentaly challanged kid calculus. Or train me how to become a professional quarterback.

Ann Althouse said...

The idea that human beings aren't not so special actually supports the view that human behavior is largely inborn.

Pogo said...

Quite literally, a circus act.

They are clearly expert mimics, but I see little to suspect meaning beyond that. The rudimentary tool use is interesting, but when she gets a colony of bonobos to transmit this acquired knowledge down two generations without the lengthy training by humans, then she can show me that movie.

Just like a chicken embryo resembles the human's, the building blocks for human behavior are there in bonobos, albeit in less refined forms. It's the fractal aspect of behavior, the more complex human can be broken down into the less robust but recognizeable bonobo actions. So it is with honeybees and even bacteria. Even down to the molecule can we see the pieces fit together, and construct the woman.

But ultimately, there is something unsatisfying about the bonobo findings. Certainly, you can teach a bear to ride a unicycle. And it's pretty cool to see. But only the trainer finds meaning in it.

Joe said...

Learning how to learn or even mimic tasks has nothing to do with the nature vs. nuture argument of behavior.

Beyond that, this video is scientific nonsense. It is human projection at its worse. These people are reading all sorts of things into the Bonobo behavior that few would see if not explicitly told (what cracked me up was when the narrator admitted that a particular symbol didn't resemble the one it was supposed to be and dismissed it entirely! It's new age writing--as long as we think the child's intentions were right, they get a 'A'.)

Trooper York said...

I thought we all agreed that no one would mention the monkey!

Salamandyr said...

Being at work, I haven't been able to do more than give a cursory look to the video, with no sound even.

I did fast forward and take a look at the Pac Man playing, because it seems to me that since video game playing is largely an abstract reward scenario, it would be the hardest to "fake".

And as far as I can tell, that bonobo was playing Pac Man. He was showing strategic thinking, pausing before eating the power pellet and then chasing down the ghosts while they were blue, then running away from them again once they had gone back to their normal colors. Believe it or not that's a pretty extraordinary use of judgement and strategy that I wouldn't have expected an animal, even an ape to do. And it seems to me it would be almost impossible to fake.

Trooper York said...

Cornelius: [reading from the sacred scrolls of the apes] Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.
(Planet of the Apes)

Pogo said...

If the video had shown the bonobo all by himself without human instruction sidle up to the machine, plunk in 2 quarters and play a game while eating Cheetos, I would have been interested.

The film we saw is an extended parlor trick. Not a fraud, though, because the trainers don't realize they're in on the trick. They're believers.

A similar effect afflicted the world of the severle autistic awhile back. It was called "Facilitated Communication" and involved the exact same methods, later wholly discredited. It's rather sad to see so much time and money wasted on this.

Meade said...

"The idea that human beings aren't not so special..."

Are too so!

Trooper York said...

Dr. Zaius: You are right, I have always known about man. From the evidence, I believe his wisdom must walk hand and hand with his idiocy. His emotions must rule his brain. He must be a warlike creature who gives battle to everything around him, even himself
(Planet of the Apes)

ricpic said...

Just be a scientist you Margaret Mead tell us all how to live wanna be.

Christy said...

So I guess homo habilis is a misnomer?

Was the 40% of Lucy recovered enough to tell us that clearly how she walked?

Ann Althouse said...

"aren't not"

I wrote "aren't not." I'd like to see a monkey do that.

Revenant said...

So I guess homo habilis is a misnomer?

I don't see why. They were named for being tool users, not for being the ONLY tool using primate. Several modern primates use tools of one kind or another.

Was the 40% of Lucy recovered enough to tell us that clearly how she walked?

The "Lucy" skeleton is an australopithecine, not a member of homo habilis. But yes, we have enough australopithicine fossils (Lucy among them) to be reasonably certain that they walked upright; the hip structure is that of a biped.

Trooper York said...

Shock the monkey to life
Shock the monkey to life

Cover me when I run
Cover me through the fire
Something knocked me out' the trees
Now I'm on my knees
Cover me, darling please
Monkey, monkey, monkey
Don't you know when you're going to shock the monkey
(Peter Gabriel)

Daryl said...

It's not biology, it's culture???

Then why can't Bonobos be taught just as well as humans?

Why can't they learn a complicated language like English?

Why can't they draw their "geometric" language symbols neatly?

Why does Bonobo sexual behavior differ so much from other species? Can Bonobos be taught patriarchal, repressive sexual mores like chimps? Can chimps be taught to screw their own family members like Bonobos do with reckless abandon?

All of this is biological, not cultural. Putting some sappy music in the background and showing some cute little motherfuckers* doing cute things doesn't change the fact that humans are more capable because of our biology.

* they're Bonobos. I can call them motherfuckers because it's TRUE. That's what Bonobos do. That's why liberals like studying them so much--it's edgy.

Bonus question: she says studying Bonobos will help us to make the world a more peaceful place. How is studying Bonobos going to help us in our foreign relations, unless Arabs are like monkeys?

blake said...

Or train a developmentaly challanged kid calculus.

Done and done.

A similar effect afflicted the world of the severle autistic awhile back. It was called "Facilitated Communication" and involved the exact same methods, later wholly discredited.

I have a lot of experience with this and none of the "discrediting" I've seen ever mentions the fact that the hand-on-hand approach is just the starting point of facilitated communication. As the child progresses, the person facilitating moves to the wrist, the elbow, and finally to a hand on the shoulder (and to complete independence).

Of course, we don't want to believe that there's sophisticated thought going on and, tragically, they usually don't want to be found out.

To combine your comment and Steve's, I have used FC to demonstrate that developmentally disabled kids have learned things that the person facilitating had no knowledge of. (Like Finnish or higher math.)

Meade said...

To are or not to are, aren't not those the questions?
Thus conscience does make monkeys of us all,
And the primate hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of too much intellectual thought,
And thus indiscriminate sexual activity with everybody and his bonobo brother beats suicide every day of the week.
And twice on Tuesday.