Animal culture?

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Mon, 5 Aug 1996 13:34:28 -0400

In message <> Ilay
Ors writes:
> On Sat, 20 Jul 1996, Ronald Kephart wrote:
> > In message <> Robert Snower
> > writes:
> >
> > > Do animals have societies? But not culture?
> >
> > Yes.
> >
> > Ron Kephart
> >
> I wouldn't be so sure. See the book Evolution of Culture in Animals by J.
> T. Bonner. For your info

I haven't seen the book, so I can't respond directly to it. I will say, in
general, that some social animals (especially nonhuman primates) are capable of
acquiring new behaviors and maintaining the new behavior over generations via
social learning.

A good (and well-known) example is the potato-washing behavior invented by a
female Japanese macaque. The behavior spread thru the group and became a part
of the group's repertoire. However, they cannot, as far as I know, teach each
other the new behavior via an arbitrary, displaced symbolic system (language).
They have to acquire the behavior by watching and doing. This is why I think it
makes more sense to call this "proto-culture." The behavior is not genetically
programmed, but neither is it symbolically transmitted.

Of course, some writers extend the word "culture" into all sorts of
inappropriate domains; the same for "language" (e.g. "language of bees").

Ronald Kephart
University of North Florida