Re: Mimicking in animals

Aaron Lynch (
Sun, 25 Apr 1999 19:46:38 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Sun, 25 Apr 1999 19:46:38 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: Mimicking in animals
In-Reply-To: <>

At 09:04 PM 4/25/99 +0200, Mario Vaneechoutte wrote:
>Reading Jablonka's examples on rats and black birds, given the examples
>of song birds mimicking acoustic patterns (songs) I mentioned in
>JOM-EMIT (cultural speciation), given the example of the Japanese
>macaques washing the sand off the potatoes (origin of language), my
>impression is that Blackmore's claim for mimicking by humans only is
>invalid. It is just another attempt to find the one and only clue which
>makes us different from animals. <snip>

I agree with this point, Mario, and appreciate the work you, Jablonka, and
others have done regarding culture in animals. One of the most startling
things I have seen in regard to animal imitation was on a PBS "Nature"
program last year about parrots. Not only can these birds imitate human
words, but they show definite signs of comprehending sentences. For
example, in one scene, a woman was playing with her pet parrot and telling
it again and again to "hop." The bird was hopping around in circles, and as
the woman kept saying "hop! hop! hop!" in a rhythmic pattern, the parrot
suddenly shouted out "I am hopping!" Apparently the birds have
evolutionarily "discovered" a path toward such abilities that does not
require such a large brain as we see in humans. (It should be noted that,
somewhat as with computers, smaller size means shorter distances for
signals to travel, which can increase information processing speed. So our
intuitive tendency to expect more intelligence from larger brains may not
be fully justified across different orders of animals.)

I regard any brain-stored information whose instantiation depended
critically upon prior instantiation of the same information in a different
organism's brain to be a meme. This provides the minimum conditions for a
recursive algorithm without depending upon any specialized, restrictive, or
anthropocentric definition of "imitation." I believe that memetic phenomena
in non-human animals offers an important opportunity for experimentally
testing the theory, too--a point I made in my 1998 JoM-EMIT paper.

--Aaron Lynch

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