Re: Animal society/human culture

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Mon, 5 Aug 1996 15:43:30 -0400

In message <> Jesse S. Cook III writes:

> Third, any resemblence between animal social behavior and human culture is
> purely coincidental (as I think I've said before). And I wouldn't even call
> it "proto-culture" (as I know I've said before, on 28 July 1996, to be
> exact).

Jesse, thanks for the support, but I can't go all the way with you. Chimps and
humans can both do social (non-symbolic) learning. This resemblance is not
coincidental; it is a result of our shared history, which includes a common
ancestor not too far back.

Also, despite my separation of chimps and humans by the labels "proto-culture"
and "culture" I don't really think the split is that clean. There is some
evidence that chimps are, in fact, capable of some symbolic learning if they are
given phylogenetically appropriate symbols (signs, plastic symbols, etc.). What
they appear to be capable of resembles, to some extent, human children at the
"two word" stage of language acquisition before they begin to acquire syntax.
At this point, they have lexicon, but no grammar, and this appears to
characterize chimp linguistic skill as well.

Chomsky suggests that language has two components- a lexicon, and a
computational system (grammar). It MIGHT (and I stress the word "might") be the
case that chimps are capable of acquiring lexicon in the form of gestural or
other symbols, but they are not (apparently) capable of computing with their
lexicon, other than maybe very straightforward utterances like "drink + red"
meaning something like "the drink is red" or "it's a red drink".

This means that humans and chimps overlap in their linguistic capacities, as in
so much else; this cannot be coincidental. Frankly, I still don't see how Jesse
(or anyone) can argue that it is.

Ronald Kephart
University of North Florida