Re: Paper on chimp culture

Aaron Lynch (
Fri, 18 Jun 1999 12:13:31 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Fri, 18 Jun 1999 12:13:31 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: Paper on chimp culture
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At 12:09 PM 6/18/99 -0400, Mark M. Mills wrote:
>>By demonstrating
>>cultural diversity, the authors work supports the theory that complex
>>learned traits cannot be attributed simply to genetic factors alone. That
>>point might be important in an era when some hard-core sociobiologists and
>>evolutionary psychologists attempt to attribute as much behavior as
>>possible to genetically based instinct.
>Precisely. It weakens arguments supporting a unique human cultural
>revolution (divine intervention or alien visitation). Instead, one can
>paint a picture of evolutionary change accounting for both biological and
>cultural diversity.
>Further, it suggests the pre-human existence of a genetically based
>capacity to seek out and memorize particular experiences prior to
>adulthood. These memorized experiences produce actions. As a sum, they
>produce a culture milieu. Culture, as we humans define it, exists in other
>primate species.
>This produces the strange case of primate 'childhood.' Primate babies are
>born 'unfinished' when compared to other animals. Most behavior patterns
>required to achieve adult reproductive success depend on successful
>acquisition of cultural norms.
>Thus, there is a complex evolutionary path to explore with regards to
>primate culture. First, there is the genetic evolution of the memory
>locations and instinctive drive to fill the memory spots. Second, there is
>a co-evolution of cultural milieu available to the developing individual.
>Third, there is the evolution of body form to advance cultural success.
>This includes the enhanced vocal ability, rotator shoulder joint, expanding
>brain size, etc. Culture and genetics become inextricably mixed. Our
>human bodies reflect our ancient cultural heritage.

Good points.

One thing I might add is that culture is a matter of degree and is found
both in primates and non-primates. Still another PBS program (either
"Nature" or "NOVA") concerned wild bears. It documented (though not as
systematically as the Whiten, Goodall, et al. 1999 study) the learning by
imitation of diverse methods of fishing salmon from a stream. The bears
learn a method from their mothers, and then retain that method well into

Two of the many works relevant to the evolution of animal culture are:

Avital, Eytan, and Jablonka, Eva 1994. "Social Learning and the Evolution
of Behavior," Animal Behavior, v. 48 pp. 1195-1199.

Bonner, John Tyler 1980. The Evolution of Culture in Animals.
Princeton: Princeton University Press

>In my model, I call the hypothesized memory locations 'memes.' These
>memory locations are 'genotypes.' The cultural behaviors we observe are

I don't get into the matter of locations (other than the nervous system as
a whole), but I certainly agree that memes are instantiated in memory and
that the behaviors, artifacts, etc. are phenotypes.

--Aaron Lynch

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