RE: Mimicking in animals

Gatherer, D. (
Mon, 26 Apr 1999 09:24:39 +0200

Date: Mon, 26 Apr 1999 09:24:39 +0200
From: "Gatherer, D. (Derek)" <>
Subject: RE: Mimicking in animals
To: "''" <>


>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>


Sue doesn't actually claim that. She does acknowledge that 'we can count
birdsong as a meme' (p.49) She does admit that apes raised by humans can
exhibit imitative behaviour (p.50), and that dolphins may do so too
(pp.3-4). What she argues against is the wholesale attribution of imitative
behaviour to animals who are probably only engaged in local enhancement

The song bird example you give is correct, but the macaque work has been
largely discredited. Sue references work by Galef on this and there was
also an article in the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology in 1990 by Barbara
King. The thing about the macaque work was that the monkey keeper
reinforced the potato washing bahviour by rewarding the monkeys who did it
well. The original scientists were misled (it wasn't their fault, they
weren't to know it was all a kind of circus trick)


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!"


Surely this must be wrong. The old lady must have previouly taught the bird
to say 'I am hopping'............ Pardon my skepticism, but a bird that can
correctly construe a sentence in English without prior training just seems
too much to swallow.

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