Re: Culture as learned behavior

Erik A Mueggler (mueggler@JHUNIX.HCF.JHU.EDU)
Mon, 31 Jan 1994 17:51:04 -0500

> On Mon, 31 Jan 1994, SS51000 wrote:
> > J. Wilson neatly proves that "learned behavior" is too narrow a
> > definition of "culture": it includes much of her pet's behavior. That
> > is why we need to define culture as the acquisition of a *social
> > group*--i.e., two or more members of the same species engaged in
> > patterned interaction. --Bob Graber
Still a bit narrow, wouldn't you say? Why shouldn't J. Wilson's dog be
considered as sharing in J. Wilson's culture?. Everything it learns
from J. Wilson is as conditioned by that culture as any of Ms. Wilson's own
behaviors. It communicates with J. Wilson, learns from her, and teaches
her. And contrary to another recent post, the dog *can* pass on its
behavior. It does so by, for instance, teaching Ms. Wilson how delightful
it is to have a dog come listen to her lousy oboe playing. Ms. Wilson then
teaches her next dog to respond the same way.

One problem with many definitions of culture recently advanced on this
list is that they are committed to an implicit definition of the "human" that
distinguishes humans absolutely from all other species. Such definitions,
when made explicit, are very difficult to defend. I for one believe that
domestic animals often participate in the culture of their owners. They
may do so at a simpler level than many other participants, but who's perfect?