Re: Animal culture?

Mon, 5 Aug 1996 14:31:48 -0500

On Monday, August 5 1996, Ronald Kephart wrote:

>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").

If our definition of "culture" means that it has to be transmitted
symbolically, by language as he puts it, then that would rule out many aspects
of human behavior that are not transmitted symbolically. For instance, dancing
is a common type of human behavior used to gain insight into a culture. When I
learned to dance, I did not do so by having someone or some book explain to me
how -- I learned by watching others. If we follow Ron Kephart's definition of
culture, requiring the transmission of culture through language, then my "disco
dancing" was not cultural. If disco dancing is not cultural, then what is it?

IMHO, culture is exactly the acquisition of new behaviors and the maintainence
of the new behaviors over generations via learning.

D.Lee Beard