Re: mutual intelligibility--non-human

Harriet Whitehead (whitehea@WSUAIX.CSC.WSU.EDU)
Wed, 30 Nov 1994 07:36:38 -31802

A thought or two on Mike's latest. First, is it the behavioral
geneticists who are the primary ones stuck in an artificial opposition
between creature and environment, or the cultural anthropologists? I'm
finding that the biological people I read, including a behavioral
geneticist or two (e.g. Bob Cairns and his colleagues) are often ahead of
us on this issue. A relationship by all means: the creature co-evolves
with its environment. But one cannot subsume all the zillion examples of
this under the term "social." The eye, for instance, has evolved in
relationship to certain environmental sources of information. Same for
ear, same for nose, hand, stomach, and everything on down to toenail. I
wouldn't favor extending the word "social" to all these relationships.
Second point: in this perspective, we right away have to begin busting the
"creature" up into "features", which are the things that co-evolve with
relevant environmental inputs. There would be certain points at which we
can reassembled the creature back into larger chunks, but there are
dangers in being too hasty about this. It's not clear whether a
creature's "social relationships" to other creatures (same or different)
isn't tied into certain cognitive domains, that in themselves might be
treated as evolutionary features. If this is so, the concept of "social
relationships" takes on a new specificity. Check out Alan Page Fiske's
*Structures of Social Life* for an anthropologists take on this.

Harriet Whitehead
Dept of Anthropology
Washington State U

On Tue, 29 Nov 1994, Mike Lieber wrote:

> J. P. Scott, best known for his research with dogs, gave an astounding
> presidential address to the Society for Behavioral Genetics in 1976, later
> published in the journal, _Behavioral Genetics_ in 1977. Entitled "Social
> Genetics," this little gem suggested that the whole idea of behavioral genetics
> was wrong-headed. Amost Batesonian in its thrust, Scott asserted that what
> researchers actually observed was not behavior (whatever that was supposed to
> mean) but an animal's response to something in its environment that functioned
> as a signal. That is, what people call behavior is not a property of the
> animal but a property of a relationship between the animal and something else.
> Thus, behavioral genetics is about relationships, most of what researchers
> observe being social relatioships. Why not just call it "social genetics"?
> [I can see Bob Graber going ballistic, but what the hell.] The suggestion was
> so empirically based as to be commonsensical, but so radical in his field that
> it has been ignored ever since. It changed forever the way I think about the
> term, behavior, however.
> Mike Lieber