Re: Are we "special"?

Thomas Clarke (
19 Dec 1996 13:38:44 GMT

In article <> Phillip Bigelow <> writes:
>Thomas Clarke wrote:

>> With regard to the special issue, if our neat tools and such are
>> just culture, just a software shift, then why has no other species
>> gone through this non-biological change?

>Some other species have this social plasticity too. The example that
>immediately comes to mind are the Japanese macaques that wash
>some types of food in the surf. Such behavior started with
>a singular animal, and quickly spread to others in the group.
>This plasticity is probably homologous to what is termed
>"social adapation" in humans; the only difference (minor, actually)
>being in the degree to which this plasticity has evolved from the
>LCA. It isn't really that special....

I suppose that we are really debating the meaning of words such as
"special", "unusual", "unique" etc. as someone pointed out.

Yes, not only macaques, but chimps as well. I dimly remember there
being two groups of bonobos, one which did some behavior (the straw in
the termite mound thing? something with water and leaves?)
and the other which didn't. The behavior in
question would meet the definition of culture.

Wouldn't suprise me if bouwer birds had regional, or cultural variations,
in the bouwers they build.

However, there is a saying "Quantity has a quality all its own."
Man has lots of culture, so much culture that you can't tell what is
not culture without a lot of study. This is different.

Language is key. Some like Pinker think that language is an instinct,
and it certainly seems to be. However, as you so ably point out there
is not a lot of difference between chimps and humans (Diamond says
we should be Pan sapiens) so it is not clear to me that there is room
in the genetic differences to fit a language instinct. There are
differences and they do enable language, but they are small. The
interesting question to me is how such small genetic (and anatomical)
differences lead to such large cultural phenotypics differences.

Maybe it's an accident. You push the brain past a threshold and it
explodes into culture. [Then what pushed it becomes the question
I guess. Ballistic hunting? Ice ages?]

Tom Clarke