Re: Animal culture?

Danny Yee (danny@STAFF.CS.USYD.EDU.AU)
Wed, 7 Aug 1996 15:16:27 +1000

> Excuse me, Danny, but I think, on the contrary, that it is needful, and how
> could it possibly be dangerous? Furthermore, until we "find a completely new
> species somewhere in the universe", my definition will do nicely, I think.

> BTW, what's wrong with creating new terms to cover new concepts? We do it all
> the time.

You misunderstand the point of a thought experiment. The point here is
that if we did discover such a species, we would NOT use culture to
refer to things humans invent, a new term <X> to refer to things the
Klingons invent, and a new term <Y> to refer to things that are
generalised from <X> and "culture". We would use the term culture to
refer to things such as shared traditions, social structures, rituals,
memetic inheritance, etc. which may be possessed by both species, and
we would use "human culture" and "Klingon culture" where necessary to
distinguish them. This suggests to me that your definition is

I also think your definition gives *far* too much importance to
biology. I believe that there are important aspects of culture (as the
term is used) which are genuinely "substrate neutral" -- not dependent
on _particular_ biological underpinnings. Building explicit reference
to a biological species into the definition of culture obscures this.