Re: Culture & symbols

Robert Snower (rs222@WORLDNET.ATT.NET)
Sun, 28 Jul 1996 22:22:21 +0000

At 07:42 PM 7/28/96 +0000, Ronald Kephart wrote:
>In message <19960728180425.AAA22703@LOCALNAME> Robert Snower writes:
>> I think a case can be made for a general theme to be exhibited in evolution
>> of behavior moving in the direct of, from instinct to learned behavior.
>> >From automatic to the requirement of imitation. So what the lower form does
>> automatically, the higher form needs to learn.
>OK, but I have problems with "higher" and "lower", as well as with the
notion of
>evolution having directionality. Evolution is directionless, except in

Our agreements overall are making it difficult to find bones to pick. But I
find a few.
E.g., I don't know what the problem with "higher" and "lower" is, except
that you are oversensitized to nonsense about "hierarchy." If A is higher
than B it means A is based on B instead of vice-versa. If I throw a ball
and it unintentionally breaks the window wich lies due south by southeast,
is the ball directionless, except in retrospect? Of course not. It had one
definite direction, all the time.

>> Is this culture? I think not. As long as the learning process is purely
>> one of imitation, I would not call that pattern of behavior a cultural
>> construct. It takes another step to make it culture.
>Right. It takes language, which allows for transmission of knowledge about the
>behavior in the absence of the performance of that behavior. A useful term for
>behaviors acquired socially in the absence of language (such as chimp termite
>fishing) "proto-culture."
>> Can animals other than Homo sapiens create hypotheses? I don't think there
>> is any doubt about it. The can do ritual, which is a hypothesis. As I
>> previously mentioned, ritual combat for mating is a pretend fight--nobody
>> gets really hurt. This is a cultural construct. And, as with Homo sapiens,
>> this facility to culturally construct is put to the unique use of rejecting
>> natural selection at the individual level in favor of altruism.
> . . . Perhaps
>this type of fighting is a social animal's way of balancing the individual's
>drive to reproduce with the need for there to be other adults around to
>the social group (I know I'm stretching here- but you didn't mention which
>animals you had in mind.)

You are not stretching at all. That is exactly the "purpose." (As I said
above: this facility to culturally construct is put to the unique use of
rejecting natural selection at the individual level in favor oa altruism.)
The ritual, instead of real, fighting is a biological adaptation in the
literal sense. But it has a component of altruism in it. Which means,
biologically, it is based not on straight individual fitness. but some kind
of inclusive fitmess; though it does seem Hamilton's kin selection does not
quite fill the bill here. Maybe it does, come to think of it. The survival
of two unrelated individuals does not take precedence over the survival of
one of them, true enough, but if the alternative is not one of them, but
zero of them, then it would take precedence--in terms of classical inclusive

>> On the other hand, with lower animals the "cultural construct" is itself an
>> instinct. While in man it is a learning (mimetic) process, and prior to the
>> learning, a creative one, higher than learning itself. Higher than learning
>> as strict imitation. It is a higher and subsequent form of intellectual
>> activity, as compared to imitation.
>I still have problems with "higher" and "lower". Of course, again, it is
>language which gives humans (not just "man") the possibility for our
>exquisite creativity. With language, we can both displace (think/talk about
>things which are absent in space and/or time) and lie (talk about things which
>are inventions of our creativity, like Klingons).

I don't like putting it all on language. I like calling it hypothesis
making, symbol making, pretending, imagining, magic. It takes a lot of
different forms. Language symbols constitute one of these forms. I
wouldn't object if you insisted this form of hypothesis making is the most
fundamental one, because it is present before the others can occur. But is
this true? Primitive totem feasts, or circumcision ceremony, is hypothesis
making. Pretended kinship and pretended limitation on reproductive
competition. But I'll bet they didn't sit around and talk about it.

Best wishes.