Re: Mimicking in animals

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Mon, 26 Apr 1999 08:08:24 +0200

From: <>
Date: Mon, 26 Apr 1999 08:08:24 +0200
Subject: Re: Mimicking in animals

Aaron Lynch wrote:

> 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.

Aaron,Small correction: Jablonka and I haven't done this work, we are just
citing others who have done it (although I noticed that I couldn't find a good
reference for the mimicking of Japanese macaques).

> 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 had the "luck" to have a magpie at our house for two years (some ten years
ago). Truly the most intelligent animal I've met thus far (except for a few

> 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.

I should re-read that.

Best regards
Mario Vaneechoutte
Department Clinical Chemistry, Microbiology & Immunology
University Hospital
De Pintelaan 185
9000 GENT
Phone: +32 9 240 36 92
Fax: +32 9 240 36 59


Symposium 'Water and Human Evolution'. April 30th , Ghent, Belgium
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