NEWSLETTER Nr. 48
Editor and ESS Secretariate: Johan M.G. van der
Dennen, Center for
Conflict Studies, University of Groningen, Oude Kijk in 't Jatstraat 5/9, 9712
Groningen, The Netherlands, Fax: +31 50 3635635, E-mail:
Book Review Editor: Marcel Roele, Meeuwenlaan 111a, 1021
The Netherlands, E-mail: email@example.com
ISSN: 0929-0206. Published by Origin Press, Groningen, The
Calendar of Forthcoming Meetings
* August 31-3 September: 11th Congress of the European Anthropological
Association in Jena, Germany. Main theme of the conference will be "Humans and
Environment". For more information please contact Prof. U. Jaeger at the e-mail addres:
firstname.lastname@example.org. Congress website:
* September 1-5, 1998: 9th Conference of the International Society for
Comparative Psychology, Cape Town, South Africa. For more information please contact
Dr. L.C. Simbayi, fax: 0404-31643, e-mail: LSIMBAYI@chs.uwc.ac.za
* September 2-4, 1998: Summer Conference of the Association for the Study of
Animal Behaviour, University of Urbino, Italy. For more information please contact
Giorgio Malacarne, e-mail: email@example.com. Website:
* September 3-6, 1998: The Association for Politics and the Life Sciences
(APLS) will hold its first independent meeting in Boston, U.S.A.; the same dates and
location as the American Political Science Association (APSA). The coincidence of the
meetings will allow political scientists to attend sessions of both. E-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org; URL: http://www.lssu.edu/apls
* September 6-11, 1998: 16th Convention of the Ethologische
Gesellschaft, Halle (Saale), Germany. For more information please contact Rolf
Gattermann, e-mail: email@example.com. Website:
* October 25-29, 1998: The Life Sciences Department of the Centre National
de la Recherche Scientifique (C.N.R.S.) in France organizes its Jacques Monod
Conference on "The Evolutionary Theory at the Dawn of the Millennium" at Roscoff,
France. For more information please contact Mme Dominique Lidoreau, C.N.R.S.,
Conferences Jacques Monod, Institut de Biotechnologie des Plantes. Université
Paris XI, Bâtiment 630, F-91405 Orsay Cedex, France. Fax: +33 169419614, e-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: http://www.cnrs.fr
* December 3-4, 1998: Winter Conference of the Association for the Study of
Animal Behaviour, Zoological Society of London, UK. Major theme: genetic analysis of
behavior. For more information please contact Dr. M.G. Ritchie, Fax: +44-1334-463600,
e-mail: email@example.com, Website: http://www.hbuk.co.uk/ap/asab/conferen.htm
* 1999: SSHB Conference on "History and Biology" in Durham, UK. For more
information please contact Dr. Malcolm Smith, University of Durham, Dept. of
Anthropology, Old Elvet 43, DH1 3HN Durham, UK. E-mail:
* February 10-13, 1999: Conference on "Welfare, ethnicity and altruism:
Bringing in evolutionary theory", Bad Homburg (near Frankfurt a.M.), Germany. For
more information please contact the organizer Dr. Frank Salter at the e-mail address:
* August 24-28, 1999: The VIIth Congress of the European Society for
Evolutionary Biology will be held in Barcelona, Spain. The location is the Universitat
Autonoma de Barcelona. Contact person for submission of symposium proposals is: Dr.
Lluis Serra, Departament de Genetica, Facultat de Biologia, Universitat de Barcelona,
Av. Diagonal 645, 08071 Barcelona, Spain. Fax: +34-3-4110969, E-mail:
* September 1-4, 1999: 20th Congress of the Czech Anthropological Society
& 4th International Congress of Dr. Ales Hrdlicka at Prague & Humpolec,
Czech Republic). For more information please contact: Dr. M. Dobisikova, Department of
Anthropology, The National Museum, Vaclavske namesti 68, 115 79 Praha 1, Czech
Republic. Fax: +420 2 24226488; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
* September 20-24, 1999:): XI Congress of the Spanish Society of Biological
Anthropology at Santiago de Compostela, Spain. For more information please contact:
Dr. T.A. Varela, Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, Laboratorio de Antropologia
Biologica, 15706 Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Fax: +34 98 159.69.04; e-mail:
* 2000: ESS Conference in Utrecht, the Netherlands. To celebrate the 25th
anniversary of sociobiology, the main theme of the meeting will be: The reception of
sociobiology in various countries and by various disciplines.
* 2000: SSHB Conference on Hominid evolution in Cambridge, UK.
For more information please contact: Dr. Robert Foley, University of Cambridge,
Department of Biological Anthropology, Downing street, Cambridge CB2 3DZ, UK.
* 2000: 12th Congress of the European Anthropological Association (EAA).
For more information please contact: Prof. N. Mascie-Taylor. E-mail:
The ESS Moscow Conference
An impression by STEPHEN K. SANDERSON, Indiana University of
Pennsylvania, Indiana, PA 15705, USA
The annual meeting of the European Sociobiological Society was held between May 31
and June 4, 1998, at the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow, Russia.
The special theme of the meeting was "The Sociobiology of Ritual and Group Identity."
The meeting was actually part of a joint conference, being organized in conjunction with
an anthropological conference entitled "Concepts of Humans and Behavior Patterns in the
Cultures of the East and the West." Each conference had its own sessions, but some
sessions were joint sessions drawing speakers and participants from both
The conference organizers, Dr. Marina Butovskaya, Dr. Andrey Korotayev, and Dr.
Olga Khristoforova showed us great hospitality. On Sunday, May 31, a bus tour of
Moscow was organized, taking us in particular to the Kremlin and Red Square area of
central Moscow. The Russians were extremely generous in accompanying small groups of
us to various locations in central Moscow and translating and interpreting for us. On our
last evening, several Russians took us on a long walking tour that ended with dinner at an
The conference itself started on Monday morning, June 1, with welcoming remarks by
our hosts. ESS Chairman Peter Meyer of the University of Augsburg gave a brief talk that
introduced the subject of human rituals, the special theme of the conference. The first
session of paper presentations began after lunch. This session featured talks by M.G.
Sadovsky and A.A. Gliskov of Krasnoyarsk State University on the biology of law, by
Johan M.G. van der Dennen of the University of Groningen on rituals in animal and
human behavior, with emphasis on human 'primitive' warfare, by Bergljot Borresen of the
Norwegian College of Veterinary Medicine on the role of the hypothalamus in rituals,
and by Robin Allott of the UK on group identity and nation identity.
After a break there was a late afternoon session that was a joint session for both
conferences. Stephen Sanderson of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, who was actually
a participant in both conferences, began this session by discussing theories of social
evolution from the mid-nineteenth century to the present and outlining his own general
theory of social evolution. This was followed by a talk on social evolution by Andrey
Korotayev of The Russian State University for the Humanities. Korotayev's talk was a
critical analysis of Marshall Sahlins's well-known concepts of specific and general
evolution. Tatu Vanhanen of Helsinki University talked about his continuing work on the
biological roots of ethnicity. He showed that there is an extremely close relationship
between the degree of ethnic heterogeneity of societies and their degree of ethnic conflict.
Next, Akop Nazaretyan, Deputy Editor of the journal Social Sciences Today, gave a talk
on anthropogenic crises as consequences of uneven cultural development. The last
speaker was Frank Salter of the University of Munich. His talk, which was accompanied
by slides, outlined work he is doing on the ethology of begging.
The first session on Tuesday, June 2, was led off by Stephen Sanderson. He presented
a paper on the new theoretical approach that he has developed, synthetic materialism.
This is a synthesis of sociobiology with several sociological perspectives, and his talk was
an extension of the theoretical approach he discussed in his previous talk, evolutionary
materialism. Sanderson's paper was followed by one by A.V. Oleskin of Moscow State
University. Oleskin's paper looked at primitive and modern societies from an ethological
perspective. Marina Butovskaya discussed gender identity and same-sex group opposition
in children. Alexander Kazankov of the Russian State University for the Humanities
presented a paper on intercommunity conflicts among hunter-gatherer societies in arid
regions. O.Y. Artemova of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Moscow, gave a
paper on the biological roots of social inequality and its development. The final paper, by
J. David McKnight of the London School of Economics, focused on the politics of death
in northern Queensland, Australia.
The first afternoon session on Tuesday featured papers by A.A. Glisov and M.G.
Sadovsky, Krasnoyarsk State University, on the existence and duration of social norms;
by Alexander Kozintsev, Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, St. Petersburg, on
the adaptive value of laughter; by William Kitchin, Loyola College of Baltimore, on law
as anti-ritual; and by Zhanna Reznikova, Novosibirsk State University, on how ants
identify symbionts and competitors. The late afternoon session contained papers by
Natalia Haldeeva, Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Moscow, on the concept of
anthropological autoidentification; by Sabine Hoier, Kassel University, on alternative
explanations of accelerated menarche among women from nonregular family
environments; by Harald Euler, Kassel University, on kin investment of aunts and uncles;
by V.N. Shinkaryov, Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Moscow, on procreation
ideas among the Khasi; and by Oleg Yegorunin, Moscow, on ethnonyms of Tai-speaking
On Wednesday, June 3 there were only two sessions. The morning session was given
over to papers by Vladimir Friedmann, Moscow State University, on territorial defense in
great spotted woodpeckers; by Osamu Sakura, Yokohama National University, on the
reception of sociobiology in Japan; by K. Bannikov, Institute of Ethnology and
Anthropology, Moscow, on ritual and social structure in "extreme groups"; by Y.M.
Plyusnin, Russian Academy of Sciences, on the sociobiology of friendship, and by
Zhanna Reznikova, Novosibirsk State University on analogies of ant and human
The afternoon session was reserved for a number of Russian and Czech primatologists:
Margarita Dediagina on social behavior of neotropical monkeys; Natela Meishvili on
parental behavior in macaques; Valery Chalyan on intergroup behavior in hamadryas
baboons; and Marina Vanchatova, Leonid Firsov and Nina Savina on changes in behavior
in a group of hamadryas baboons. For reasons unknown to us, none of these scholars
showed up, so we unfortunately missed some fascinating presentations.
All in all, it was a very interesting meeting. Participants from outside Russia, most of
whom had not been in Moscow before, were very pleased to be able to see it. Some
participants had fun trying to learn some of the Cyrillic alphabet. And, again, our Russian
hosts were most gracious and helpful.
During our last evening in Moscow we were treated to a generous banquet, and after that
some of us drank vodka (what else!) and chatted in Marina Butovskaya's office until the
early morning hours.
by BEN HOFFSCHULTE, Leuven, Belgium.
So far sociobiology has only been applied in a very general and rough way to some
aspects of biblical notions. An exoteric view merely reveals the struggle for life of a
people which has somehow managed to spread its 'memes' far beyond its own kin. A
rather more esoteric reading is relegated to the simple minds of outdated believers who
have not yet arrived at the higher notions of modern darwinism. This is, I think, a pity,
since the bible can teach sociobiologists some lessons about history.
I am not going to comment here on the controversies between fundamentalist
creationists and iconoclastic evolutionists, though I think that the bible gives a much
more adequate account of the emergence of virginity (and the sabbath) than darwinists
could ever achieve without the idea of a God who works miracles. My focus will be on
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as well as on Rebecca, the mother of Israel. It seems to me that
there is much sociobiology in the vicissitudes of these at least half-historical
Man and woman both want to profit from their reproductive investments. That is, I
think, a safe sociobiological assumption. But in its practical application it is a source of
serious conflicts. If a father wants to get hold of a son he must kill the latter's wish to stay
with his mother. It is the drama of sacrificial initiation, explicit in the sacrifice which
Abraham was induced to bring by the same force which later on prevented its execution.
It was, I think, the mystical hand of Sarah which forced Abraham to share the fruit of his
investments with the woman who had invested in its birth and early upbringing. In other
words, he had to partially give up his male selfishness which was henceforth circumcised
in his flesh if not primarily in his heart. This is, obviously, a very crucial step in the
evolution from dominant ape to Homo sapiens. It is also, praise be to Darwin, a
manifestation of the power of female choice: Sarah is very explicitly called a free, and
Isaac, thus rescued from the strategies of male dominance, had two sons with Rebecca:
Jacob and Esau. In harmony with reasonable sociobiological predictions Isaac preferred
the most masculine of the twin-brothers and gave him his paternal blessing, thus leaving
Rebecca with the more effeminate Jacob. A paternal blessing is an asset in the struggle
for life, but father's will is law and Rebecca had to suffer a disadvantage for her beloved
son. What was to be done?
As long as Isaac was strong and quick to defend his interests there was no chance of
forcing hem to a change of mind in favour of Jacob. But female choice is full of cunning
and has the patience of a cat. Once Isaac was old, blind and dependent, Rebecca finally
saw her momentum and pushed her beloved son to the famous trick for which only strict
puritans could blame her. The selfish calculations of Isaac were at a loss. He could not
afford to estrange his wife on whom he had become dependent. He may be supposed to
have remembered his own rescue as a youth and he was forced to bow his head for the
incomprehensible power of female choice. He gave his blessing to Jacob: so let it be done,
so let it be written. And Jacob became Israel, thanks to the cunning of female
Isaac was clearly forced to give in to the preference of Rebecca, but by way of comfort
he daid to Esau that he would some day shake off this yoke and be free again. In the
Talmud and other exegetical texts the conflict between Jacob and Esau is raised to the
level of world history and made emblematic of such things as the struggle between Rome
and Israel up to this day.
It is true that this great and fundamental victory of female choice has often been
obscured in the later history of Israel, but then it always aroused the protest of prophets
who tried to restore the laws of the land to their proper meaning. Regression to the old
ways of male dominance was blocked by the obligation to always observe the sabbath in
remembrance of the beginning and the exodus. Female choice is the very core of judaism
which was brought to an apocalyctic climax in the christian belief that the virgin Mary
conceived without the seed of a man.
This belief is, obviously, repugnant to the laws of stern sociobiological dogmatists and
I am not going to defend it here. But the biblical shift from male to female choice is,
albeit not quite recognisable in the external facts of Abrahamitic history, central to the
message, and sociobiologists would clip the wings of their esoteric discipline by stopping
short of allowing for the possibility that female choice could really transcend male
Here we arrive at the reproach that sociobiology is mere macho-sexism or a kind of
spermatozoic totalitarianism which leaves no room for the cunning of cute females. I am
afraid is partly to the point as far as the words of many sociobiologists are concerned. But
it is a great comfort to know that most adult sociobiologists honestly try to be good
husbands while caring for children, reading books and tending the plants as well as the
cat in their house. They may bark at their rivals, but generally they do not bite!
Richard Wrangham & Dale Peterson (1996) Demonic Males: Apes and the
Origins of Human Violence (New York: Houghton Mifflin & London:
Bloomsbury. ISBN 0-395-69001-3 (Hdbk) US$24.95 ISBN 0-7475-3301-6 (Pbk)
UKœ7.99, Pp. 350).
by ALYN R. BRERETON, 913 Carrigan Ave., Modesto, CA 95350,
"The patterns of rape in the five ape species suggest this strong idea: Safety is found in
numbers. This could be a clue with wider significance. If vulnerability breeds sexual
coercion, grouping and alliance may help explain other patterns of aggression" (p. 143).
This worthy and insightful paragraph begins the section on chimpanzee battering in a
chapter on relationship violence included in a timely and significant book written by
Richard Wrangham (a noted Harvard primatologist) and Dale Peterson (a writer) entitled
Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence. The idea that human
violence and aggression, particularly that of males, has deep evolutionary roots is a
concept that is long overdue. Violence and aggression are multicultural in expression and
cross-species in appearance, especially among chimpanzees, our closest living relatives.
In the realm and context of the arms race between the sexes, the thought that safety is
found in numbers (notably for females) is a notion equally in need of theoretical and
scientific attention. Wrangham and Peterson address both (and much more) with
eloquence and style in their book that reads like a gripping murder mystery, but one
packed with hard-earned data and well-established facts.
In seeking the origins of human violence, which is all too prevalent amongst males and
expressed to some extent in all cultures, Wrangham and Peterson draw parallels between
humans and common chimpanzees. Raiding behavior has been observed at Gombe and
elsewhere where chimpanzee males from one community systematically attack and kill
adjacent community members focusing on rival males. Based on these observations, the
authors reasonably and convincingly conclude that similar behavior in humans may be
linked by common ancestry. Male chimpanzees are also notorious for the brutality to
which they subject females. This behavior pattern appears to be expressed purely for
dominance and control.
But chimpanzees are not our only primate relatives that exhibit dominance and control
over females, as the authors note. Male gorillas, for instance, are well known for
penetrating the confines of a rival male's enclave of females and committing infanticide,
grabbing and fatally wounding an infant right before the eyes of the victim's mother and
all other onlookers, including the defending silverback resident. The purpose seems to be
to entice and persuade the victim's mother to rendezvous and consort with the aggressor,
the best defender of the female's future offspring.
Another example of male apes that commonly use brute force to win the 'favor' of
females is found in orangutans. In this slightly more distant relative, the adult males seem
to come in two quite distinct forms: the large, slow-moving, primarily ground-dwelling
kind and the (as the authors state) "...freak of the ape world: an adult male frozen in an
adolescent's body" (p. 132). It is the latter variety that performs what has come to be
known amongst behavioral biologists as 'rape', unfortunately involving many of the signs
of force and manipulation expressed in its human counterpart. The function of this
extreme behavior by small males appears to be either a tactic for fertilization or sexual
coercion. Rape by small males may impregnate females outright, or it may serve to control
and intimidate females into being more sexually cooperative in the future.
Still, what about pygmy chimpanzees, or bonobos, as they are better known? Are they
just as aggressive, brutal, and forceful as the human species and their fellow apes?
Bonobos, like common chimpanzees, form non-female-bonded groups where females are
genetically unrelated and emigrate from their natal groups upon reaching maturity.
Unlike humans and other apes, there are no reports among bonobos of males forcing
copulations, battering adult females, or killing infants. Rather, bonobos have, according
to Wrangham and Peterson, "...reduced the level of violence in relations between the
sexes, in relations among males, and in relations between communities" (p. 205). In
relations between the sexes, for example, "...the sexes are codominant" (p. 205). Female
bonobos seem to have turned the tables on males by befriending each other and allying
together against males, even though they are genetically unrelated.
What could have possibly made bonobo society so different from human and other ape
societies? The authors suggest that the rainforest environment in which bonobos find
themselves may provide the answer. They reside just south of the Zaire River in Central
Africa. Unlike the jungle north of the Zaire River where common chimpanzees reside, the
forest south of the river is uninhabited by gorillas which eat fibrous foods consisting of
"...young leaves and stems of herbs on the forest floor" (p. 223). This, as the theory
proposes, makes these food items readily available for bonobo consumption, thereby
releasing females to remain together while foraging to form alliances against potentially
aggressive males. The hypothesis may prove to be correct, or it may not. I suggest an
alternative premise as follows: Within the arms race between the sexes, females may have
gained the upper hand by sexual selection favoring alliances among themselves because
of the reproductive benefits gained from female choice. They refused to accept male
sexual coercion and manipulation without a challenge, therefore gained the upper hand
over males. This may have occurred regardless of the availability of gorilla-like foods.
Despite its cause, though, when it comes to male violence and aggression, bonobo society
reflects a genuine aberration in comparison with the societies of humans and other apes.
Bonobo society appears to be much kinder and gentler. We would do well to take
Wrangham and Peterson cover far more ground than what I have just outlined. But
does all this data presentation and theorizing support the notion that human violence and
aggression has its roots in our ape ancestry? I believe it does. I also believe that you will
be hard pressed to deny this ancestral connection once you have read the book for
yourself. You will not view human behavior, particularly violent and aggressive behavior,
without thinking long and hard about its likely primate origins. And as safety is found in
numbers, as mentioned earlier, you may further wish to ponder the ultimate reasons for
humans and other primates being social in the first place. Could sociality have evolved
(in part, at least) to protect females from suffering at the hands of demonic males? Once
again, I suspect it did.1
I commend the authors for an insightful and tantalizing book. It should be read by all
who wish to find another way.
Acknowledgments: I thank Kris Ketcham Chappell for her insightful comments on
1. Brereton, A.R. (1995) "Coercion-defence hypothesis: The evolution of primate sociality."
Folia Primatol. 64: 207-214.
Duane Quiatt & Junichiro Itani (Eds.) (1994) Hominid Culture in Primate
Perspective. Niwot, CO: University Press of Colorado. ISBN 0-87081-313-7 (Hdbk)
US$32.50 Pp. xvii + 391.
by RICHARD W. BYRNE, Scottish Primate Research Group, University of St.
Andrews, School of Psychology, St. Andrews KY16 9JU, Scotland.
There can be few terms so far from agreed definition as "culture". Commendably, the
editors of this volume are determined to avoid prejudging the question of whether we can
learn about culture from comparison with non-humans, and their remedy is to define
culture as "socially processed information", which could apply widely to mammals and
birds. (Nevertheless, this volume is restricted to primates, chiefly great apes, and some
chapters only deal with extinct hominids and modern humans.) The ten chapters are
grouped into four sections, but since two are single-chapter sections, the main split is
between the problems of comparison and the cognition itself; I did not find this division
particularly sharp, or helpful. The chapters vary from under 20 to nearly 60 pages, and
the general impression is that the invited authors were allowed a rather free rein. The
results are interesting, but do not cohere into any clear 'story'. This is probably a fair
reflection of the field.
The whole first section, Hominid Origins, is a chapter by Savage-Rumbaugh which -
rather than reviewing hominid origins - uses the abilities of living apes to argue for an
interesting idea. This is that the human ability to monitor several channels of information
simultaneously may have arisen from the need to keep track of a non-clinging but
dependent infant, in addition to oneself, and the fact that this need increased in human
ancestry with the amount of bipedal locomotion. She suggests that this new requirement
led to the development of joint attention ability - and to the ability to carry and monitor
other items, such as tools, as a side-benefit. Her review of what modern apes can and
cannot do in these spheres is used to support her hypothesis, which is perhaps going to be
hard to differentiate from the more traditional one, that bipedalism led to increased
mental and manual skills because of the greater benefits that accrue to efficient tool-makers
who can carry their products.
One of the most fascinating chapters for me was that of Hewes, who makes a highly
detailed comparison of the Mrabi, Tasaday (a group which he strongly considers
genuine), extinct Tasmanians, and modern chimpanzees, not just in tool manufacture but
over a wide range of aspects. His conclusions, that the Mrabi and Tasaday are better
"baseline" cultures with which to compare animal achievements than the relatively
advanced Tasmanians, and that the most significant differences are closely related to
language, may seem unsurprising, but the value of the study is in showing how
close human culture can be to modern great apes when viewed objectively, and in
the wealth of detail in his massive comparative table. Myers-Thompson takes the unusual
approach of examining an element of behaviour shown only in captivity, clapping in
bonobos, and argues that this meets some definitions of culture - it survives over
generations and from group to group, for instance. Morbeck shows how variation in
manipulation and locomotion of individually known Gombe chimpanzees can be related
to their skeletal modifications, a useful technique for interpreting fossil material.
Reynolds completes the section devoted to "problems of comparison", with a discussion
of great ape mate choice and human marriage systems, arguing that one is merely the
logical extension of the other; interestingly, he does not do this by reducing human
behaviour to mate choice, but interprets ape behaviour more as it would be described by a
In recent years, numerous authors have tried to make sense of a puzzling array of
clever-seeming traits of primates, vaguely belonging together since they might benefit
from mental representation: deception, pretence, mirror self-recognition, imitation, and
communication. Mitchell has been prominent in these debates, and his chapter here is an
ambitious attempt to classify all of these things in a single scheme, under the rubric of
"simulation" - where something is designed to resemble something else. He develops four
levels of increasing cognitive sophistication. At the bottom is simply the use of an action
in a novel context to achieve a result, which he suggests all mammals and birds should be
able to do - as in tactical deception, developing scepticism to deception, or the use of a
mirror to locate objects. (In fact, almost all evidence of them comes from simian
primates.) Next comes simulation based on kinaesthetic-visual matching, which allows
imitation of actions, simple planning, and mirror self-recognition, abilities attributed to
all simians and cetaceans. (Again, this is generous, when there is little convincing
evidence from monkeys.) The third level he restricts to great apes, including
conventionalization of novel signs, use of eye-gaze and pointing, teaching and requesting
with objects; and finally comes the creation and use of external props, such as art, body
decoration and disguise, which he considers only found in humans. Whether this
classification will turn out to aid future research is too early to say, but it is well worth a
second read, in conjunction with Miles & Harper's useful review of the achievements
of "ape language" projects, since some of the most interesting evidence comes from these
individuals. This chapter argues that the achievements of enculturated apes are a good
model for the abilities of early hominids, and Liska suggests that ritualization laid the
foundation for the evolution of symbols and syntax, both ideas I found hard to evaluate.
As usual, Ingold's contribution is a thoughtful one - he examines six possible
ways in which language and technology might be related in evolution - and his
conclusion is somewhat bleak: that progress is impeded as much by our inability to agree
proper definitions of either term, as by inability to see into the past.
In the final section, a single chapter by Milo & Quiatt, the archaeological
evidence for language origins is reviewed. The authors conclude that, while fully vocal
language is a recent development, there is good reason to think that a relatively efficient
gestural language existed much longer in human evolution. This is a fitting ending to a
book dedicated to Gordon Hewes, who died in November last year. All those fascinated
by the evolutionary origins of language and human culture should read this book,
although they will not find any easy answers. Nevertheless, it would be hard for anyone
doing so to continue to deny the power of viewing human culture against a proper
background of comparison, the social and cognitive lives of the great apes.
Albert Somit & Joseph Losco (Eds.) (1995) Research in Biopolitics. Vol. 3.
Human Nature and Politics. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press. ISBN 1-55938-866-8. Pp. vii
+ 305. UKœ47.00.
Reviewed by JOHAN M.G. van der DENNEN, Center for Peace and Conflict
Studies, University of Groningen, the Netherlands.
In some social and political science circles, sociobiology is still associated with "innate
killer instincts" and such like (if this sounds incredible, see page 12 of Wolpin, 1992.
Wolpin was/is Prof. of Political Science at SUNY). It needs some (moral) courage to
profess to adhere to a bio-discipline such as biopolitics. Biopolitics - to my mind - was
associated with rather inoffensive (and rather dull), very proximate-level theory and
research, a kind of traditional `floating voter' investigation, but now with some genetics,
endocrinology (hormones), and biochemistry (serotonin and other neurotransmitters)
thrown in as extras. The present volume, however, endeavors to address ultimate-level
questions, in particular (the nature of) human nature.
After an introduction by the editors Joseph Losco and Albert Somit (who give a very
accurate description of how this elusive human nature might look like: "[T]he human
organism may be predisposed to confront environmental exigencies with a predictable
and patterned array of behavioral strategies"), the volume is opened by Albert Somit and
Steven Peterson ("Darwinism, Dominance, and Democracy"). They explore the extent of
compatibility between democracy and human nature. Throughout human history, the
overwhelming majority of political societies has been authoritarian. Democracies remain
very much a minority in the contemporary family of nations. Why have authoritarian
societies been so pervasive and enduring, and democracies so infrequent and fragile?
Somit & Peterson give the `politically incorrect' answer that evolution has produced
a highly social species, Homo sapiens, with an inherent preference for
hierarchical social and political systems, with a strong tendency toward obedience,
dominance and subordination, rather than equality of status and power. Supporting their
viewpoint with evidence from a variety of life sciences (primatology, child ethology,
small group psychology) and from the human historical record, in which democracies
seem to enjoy relatively brief life spans, Somit & Peterson conclude that, although
the manifestation of democracy is not impossible, it is a rare and endangered
This conclusion contrasts with other studies (e.g., Vanhanen, 1992) which show that
democracy is a feasible, viable, and rather successful form of political society in the
contemporary world. The authors do not, however, seize the opportunity to discuss this
controversial evidence, nor the growing body of evidence that democracies are relatively
peaceful, at least among one another (In their recent book Darwinism, Dominance and
Democracy  this omission is, however, somewhat rectified).
The next chapter ("Human Nature and Aggression: And Where Do We Go from
Here?") addresses human aggression. James Davies contends that aggression is not
spontaneous but is created by conditions of need ("a response to the frustration of innate
desires"). He holds that: "Regarding violence as a response makes it possible not only to
explain why it occurs - when innate desires are frustrated - but also to explain why it ends
- when innate desires are satisfied". While we may understand how many of these
conditions contribute to the arousal of aggressive acts, political scientists have spent far
too little time studying ways to correct these conditions. This chapter has a high
déja-vu-content (Davies has been communicating the same message for
some 25 years now) and seems strangely out-of-place, and sometimes even contradicting
the general tenor of the book.
The next two chapters address more specialized and venerable themes within political
philosophy and illustrate the ways in which the life sciences may provide fresh insights.
In this posthumously published paper ("Natural Law, Nature, and Biology: A Modern
Synthesis"), Richard Hartigan - to whom the volume is dedicated - proposes that the life
sciences could breathe new life into the traditions held in the philosophy of natural law,
of which he gives a broad overview from its Platonic and Aristotelian inception to
Edward O. Wilson and Richard Alexander. Biology can provide a blueprint for a
naturalistic ethic, one which is both universal and flexible. He asserts, for example, that
the Judeo-Christian Decalogue makes sound sense from an evolutionary perspective. The
Ten Commandments provide directives that helped insure survival and procreation during
our evolutionary history as a species. Particularly noteworthy is Hartigan's distinction
between `absolute' and `universal' moral code:
Though often used interchangeably, they should not be so understood. If the term
`absolute' conveys anything, it is the characteristic of immutability; `universal' on the
other hand simply conveys the condition of generality, but allows for the possibility of
exception. Thus, from a scientific vantage, the core of human morality can be
described as universal, as flowing from human nature, without implying some sort of
absolute determinism of either a metaphysical or material kind.
With this distinction in mind the seeming contradiction between principles of a
universal nature and enormously varied cultural/ customary applications of these
principles disappears. The core principles of life, property and lineage protection and
enhancement are universal; the secondary tier, the concrete application of specification
of these principles, in various human societies at different times will admit of
variation. This is a verity as old as the Greeks, accepted by the Medievals and apparent
to us today. It is really nothing more than the distinction between primary and
secondary principles of the natural law, if one still chooses to use these terms. The
only modern innovation that is required is to maintain the perspective of human
evolution as the generating source of human morality (p.
Joseph Losco ("Liberalism and the Bifurcated Self: A Life Sciences Critique of Liberal
Political Psychology") addresses a fundamental principle concerning liberal political
psychology and considers it incomplete in the light of contemporary life science findings.
The distinction between (or the antinomy of) passion and reason in human behavior has
been noted by all major Western thinkers ever since Plato recognized the tripartite
division of the human soul. Losco finds such a distinction untenable. Rather, biological
findings are mustered to show that reason and passion are interactive and inseparably
linked. He presents theories of the emotions by Scott, Gibbard, and Plutchik, and
concludes that emotional arousal and display rarely occur in a `cognitive vacuum'.
Cognitions indeed play a major role in the triggering and expression of emotions. For
example, in the emotional experience of fear, a stimulus must be `interpreted' as
threatening before the sequence of physiological and motor responses that we associate
with the subjective feeling of fear can be executed. He goes on to explore the
consequences of these findings for the creation of a more accurate political psychology
and for the study of politics in general. The consequent typos, `thalmus' instead of
`thalamus' and `amagdala' instead of `amygdala', are a little bit annoying in this
Darwin offered, in the Descent of Man (1871), an evolutionary theory of the
natural differences between men and women, here he concluded that as far as `mental
power' is concerned "man has ultimately become superior to woman". A few years later,
in 1875, Antoinette Brown Blackwell responded with the first feminist criticism of
Darwin in her book The Sexes Throughout Nature. She argued that Darwin's
evidence did not support his conclusion. Although males and females tend to differ in
their natural propensities, these differences do not justify any male claim to moral or
intellectual superiority. Blackwell's feminist argument rested on a modern biological
version of ethical naturalism. Larry Arnhart ("Human Nature - One, Two, or None?:
Feminism and Primatology") argues that feminist primatology supports ethical naturalism
that is rooted in evolutionary biology. Patriarchal exploitation can be condemned as being
contrary to women's natural needs and capacities, although prudence is required in
recognizing how ecological circumstances limit the range of practicable reform. Some
feminists, however, reject naturalistic realism in favor of nihilistic relativism. Arnhart
attempts to illustrate how such relativism is disastrous for the feminist position because it
deprives the feminist of any ground in nature for criticizing patriarchal claims: "if there
are no human universals that define `man' and `woman', but only radically diverse cultural
constructions of gender, then `man' and `woman' as categories have no general meaning
and feminist theory is impossible". Arnhart illustrates the power of feminist naturalism by
examining the practice of female circumcision.
A mini-roundtable discussion follows on a recently proposed and influential biological
model for the study of human political behavior. The roundtable is initiated by Roger
Masters' book The Nature of Politics which sketches a blueprint for biopolitical
study stressing the interaction of genes and learning according to a hierarchical pattern.
Masters' model demonstrates how individual behavior is nested within the context of
physical and social systems involving interaction among all levels and is not to be
reduced to explanations at any one level alone: "Human behavior is the product of an
integration, within the brain and central nervous system of each individual, of
phylogenetically selected information transmitted by the genes, historically selected
information systems transmitted by language and cultural symbols, and individually
learned information acquired during the life cycle". The model, briefly reconstructed here
by Losco, suggests that, as Aristotle posited, Homo sapiens are political animals
(`zoon politikon') `par excellence' and that politics can be defined as a biological
phenomenon that consists of elements which we share with our primate ancestors and
certain unique elements, like law and customary regulation, that are found in human
groups alone. Masters suggests that this model can go a long way in helping us
understand political phenomena like bureaucracy and nepotism. Heinz Eulau and Susan
Zlomke ("Biological Phenomena, Levels of Analysis, and Reductionism: Masters' Model
of Human Behavior as a Case Study") criticize Masters' model and find it insufficient for
the coherent study of politics. They claim that Masters confounds units and properties
and conflates levels of analysis employed in his model by slipping between terminology
and concepts employed at different levels. They further assert that, in Masters' attempt to
avoid what he appears to take as the negative consequences of reductionism, he fails to
demonstrate the utility of a biological model over and against alternative approaches
which concentrate on more traditional definitions of politics. This critique is followed by
a rejoinder by Masters ("The Paradigm Shift in the Social Science: A Reply to Eulau and
Zlomke"), in which he supports his arguments using all his hobbyhorses up to quantum
mechanics and chaos theory. Apart from the question whether such acrimonious (under
the skin) verbal feuds should be fought out in a book of this caliber, this debate between
Eulau & Zlomke, on the one hand, and Masters, on the other, is a fine example of
communication at cross-purposes. If the formers' chapter is a masterpiece of
misunderstanding, the latter's chapter is a masterpiece of evasion.
Robert Blank ("The Changing Nature of Human Nature") shows that advances in
biological knowledge, especially genetic technology, may make any understanding of
human nature short-lived. Biological knowledge has given us not only the means to
understand the biological foundations of human action, but also the means to alter it: "If
there is a genetic basis to human nature, and through genetic engineering we are able to
break the code, there is nothing to stop us from controlling or changing the nature of
what it means to be human". With the anticipated conclusion of the human genome
program early in the next century and the development of gene splicing technology,
humans may be able to alter human nature in ways that were considered fantastic only a
generation ago. Blank analyzes the implications of these technologies for the whole
enterprise of human nature and for the study of politics as it has been traditionally
undertaken. He sketches some frightening scenarios if technologies for prenatal
diagnosis, genetic screening and genetic engineering would become generally available,
of which the anticipation of substantial parental demand to maximize their progeny's
chances is the least scary.
Finally, Garry Johnson's chapter ("The Evolutionary Origins of Government and
Politics") attacks the question: `How does a life science approach to human nature help
us understand the phenomenon of government and politics?' Johnson's response is based
on an unconventional definition of government: the hierarchical, organizing principle
inherent in all life forms from the eukaryotic cell to the human nation state. Though this
open-ended and functionalist definition is likely to draw fire, Johnson nevertheless makes
the plausible argument that human governments arose as a means of inducing cooperation
and inhibit conflict among aggregations of nonrelated individuals for whom kinship once
served to insure a modicum of social harmony. Politics is defined as "competitive efforts
to influence a government", a complex game involving rampant manipulation,
rationalisation, and (self)deception. "Regardless of how the benefits are distributed... it is
clear that associations of individual units, from genes to nation-states, are often more
effective competitors than solitary individual units". All instances of such collaboration
appear to be built on one or more of the three foundations: nepotism, reciprocity (perhaps
a better name would be what Peter Corning called `selfish cooperation'), and exploitation.
Politics thus defined also exists among primates, bee colonies, and, indeed, in all
sexually-reproducing social species, and even multicellular organisms and cells
themselves. Johnson concludes that (a) government and politics are probably a universal
human phenomena; and (b) government and politics are not confined to humans, but
originated early in the history of life on earth and may be found at every level of life's
hierarchy. His biocentric approach serves to instruct political scientists in the potential
utility of paying attention to the organization of the physical universe and to nonhuman
animal societies when making conclusions about human political arrangements.
This last chapter is a fine and thought-provoking finale to a symphonic work
which has a few disharmonies and discords. The strangest discordant sound is produced,
as noted above, by Davies. His chapter seems out-of-place and included for the wrong
reasons. It has little to do with biopolitics in general and human nature in particular; it
has a very narrow proximate focus; as most American behaviorists he conflates the
existence of the agonistic behavioral system (in organisms of at least the phyla
Arthropoda and Chordata) with (manifestations of) aggression and (acts of) violence; and
his concept of aggression (a variant of the outdated frustration-aggression theory applied
here to groups) is untenable in an ultimate and comparative context.
The editors have done an excellent job to encourage and stimulate the necessary study
of (the nature of) human nature in the light of evolutionary theory (to paraphrase the
famous Dobzhansky adage: "Nothing makes sense in politics, except in the light of
evolution"), and the book should be obligatory reading for students of biopolitics as well
as other bio-disciplines.
Corning, P. (1983) The Synergism Hypothesis: A Theory of Progressive Evolution.
New York: McGraw-
Fox, R. (1991) "Aggression: Then and Now". In: M.H. Robinson & L. Tiger (Eds.)
Man and Beast
Revisited. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Somit, A.O. & S.A. Peterson (1998) Darwinism, Dominance and Democracty: The
of Authoritarianism. New York: Praeger.
Vanhanen, T. (1992) On the Evolutionary Roots of Politics. New Delhi: Sterling
Wolpin, M.D. (1992) "State Terrorism and Death Squads in the New World Order". Peace
Reviews, 12, 3, whole issue.
This is an abridged and revised version of a review which also appeared in Journal of
Evolutionary Systems, 19, 3, 1996, pp. 287-92.
Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Roger Lewin (1994) Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the
Human Mind. London & New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-40332-1 (Hdbk)
UKœ 16.99 US$ 24.95 DŸl 55.05 (Dutch importer: Van Ditmar). Pp. xvii + 299.
by JAMES H. FETZER, Department of Philosophy, University of Minnesota,
10 University Drive, DULUTH, MN 55812, U.S.A.
This lucid and fascinating book reports the results of years of research at the Yerkes
Regional Primate Center located near Atlanta, GA, where Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and
others have conducted painstaking and systematic studies of higher primates, especially
chimpanzees and bonobos, in an attempt to uncover what are properly envisioned as the
mental abilities of other species. Her work not only provides insights about the modes of
operation of the minds of other animals but also explores reasons why scientific research
in this area has been plagued and inhibited by mistaken paradigms and inadequate
These mistaken paradigms have revolved about various doctrines that have been widely
accepted in the past, especially theses about the nature of language as a distinctive
attribute of Homo sapiens, a view that derives principally from the work of Noam
Chomsky, who has dominated theoretical linguistics for most of the second-half of the
20th C. Chomsky's emphasis on syntactical structures has encouraged the conceit that the
study of these structure has the ability to lay bare the nature of the human mind and its
corollary that all languages can be unified by properly understanding some innate
universal grammar (p. 156).
From this point of view, the phrase, 'human mind', assumes a certain kind of
redundancy, insofar as Chomsky has cultivated the notion that languages are unique
properties of humans, which implies that minds, as language-dependent
mechanisms, are likewise uniquely human - where any 'mind' must be human.
As Savage-Rumbaugh observes, however, this attitude appears to be incompatible with
evolution, where the emergence of adaptations crucially depends upon multiple sources
of genetic variation and mechanisms of selection, where higher-level properties typically
have lower-level antecedents.
Chomsky's approach would be plausible, therefore, only if it were reasonable to
suppose that Homo sapiens should be expected to have abilities and capacities of
fundamental importance to its successful adaption that differ from those of its
evolutionary ancestors not merely in degree but in kind. This conception calls to mind the
image of Athena, full-grown and armed, springing from the head of Zeus without the
benefit of gestation. Strictly speaking, outcomes of both kinds might not be logically
impossible (inconsistent with the laws of logic) but they appear to be highly improbable if
not physically impossible (inconsistent with natural laws).
Indeed, Savage-Rumbaugh's studies provide extensive evidence for capacities and
abilities that, superficially, at least, look like modes of mentality exercised by bonobos
and chimps. Sherman and Austin, for example, young male chimpanzees, proved quite
adept at the use of lexigrams as arbitrary combinations of geometric forms arranged in a
sequence on a keyboard, each of which stands for one word, including verbs, nouns, and
adjectives (p. 182). The chimps were then exposed to samples or examples of things of
the kind for which specific lexigrams stood in an effort to teach them the names of objects
through a process of association (p. 63).
Savage-Rumbaugh soon discovered that Sherman and Austin were not learning the
meaning of the banana-lexigram, for example, when she showed them bananas. On the
contrary, they were preoccupied with the reward they would received when they pressed
the symbol key. Instead of the physical banana serving as 'stimulus' for a banana-lexigram
press response', the chimps were pressing the lexigram as a 'stimulus' for their
investigators to give them food. Once the researchers began to reward them after
they displayed appropriate responses, however, the process of mastering lexigrams
proceeded smoothly and led to rapid learning (pp. 63-66).
The difference involved here appears to be that between classical conditioning and
operant conditioning, which makes a great deal of sense, especially since the process of
association was not followed by reinforcing rewards. When examples were no longer
displayed, the chimps experienced frustration, until they grasped (what Savage-Rumbaugh
calls) the referential use of lexigrams, namely: their use to refer to objects and
events even when they are not physically present (p. 243). This ability was manifest, for
example, in the form of requests, where one chimp might request a banana, another juice,
even when they were inaccessible to view.
Savage-Rumbaugh was thus motivated to distinguish at least four aspects of lexigram
learning: (1) that 'words' are more than simple associations between symbols and objects;
(2) that even complex utterances can be produced without implying comprehension; (3)
that developing comprehension entails violations of stimulus-response chains; and (4)
that comprehensions are manifest, in part, by requests and other indications of future
behavior (p. 127). Subsequent studies with Kanzi, a male bonobo, who proved quite
adept at learning English words as well as lexigrams, often without explicit instruction,
were even more impressive.
One of the most remarkable of these studies involved comparisons between Kanzi and
Alia, the daughter of a colleague, when Kanzi was 7 1/2 and Alia was 2:
Over a nine-month test period, both Kanzi and Alia had demonstrated a well-developed
ability to comprehend all types (and subtypes) of sentences [including
conditionals], with Kanzi scoring just a little ahead. Overall, Kanzi correctly answered
74 percent of the sentences, while Alia's figure was 65. (p. 171)
Other results were extremely interesting in different ways. Sherman and Austin, for
example, were able to use food labels (package wrappers) for Doritos,
M&Ms, and Velveeta cheese when lexigrams were unavailable, even
though this was not something they had been taught (pp. 87-90). And bonobos turned out
be highly skilled in using hand gestures to indicate the motions desired of others,
including telling sex partners the positions that they wanted them to assume (pp.
Ultimately, Savage-Rumbaugh concludes that comprehension is more essential or
fundamental to language than is production, while offering the hypothesis that
comprehension drives language learning as an alternative to Chomsky's innatist account
(pp. 167-168). She observes that Chomsky's position has been widely regarded as the
'default' option in the absence of reasonable alternatives, even though no anatomic
evidence for innate language modules has been discovered. Envisioning languages as
forms of symbolic communication appears to provide a more adequate conception (pp.
187-188). A broader framework is required.
The theory of signs (or 'semiotic') advanced by the philosopher Charles S. Peirce
(1839-1914), for example, distinguishes between three different ways in which
something can stand for something else (in some respect or other) for somebody, namely:
when that something resembles that something else; when that something is a cause-or-effect
of that something else; and when that something is habitually associated with that
something else. Signs as things that can stand for other things thus fall into three types as
icons (including photographs and statues), indices (smoke, fire and
ashes), and symbols (words and sentences).
Peirce's theory of signs affords an avenue to the nature of mentality, where minds are
semiotic (or 'sign-using') systems (Fetzer 1988, 1989, 1990, 1996a). There thus appear to
be at least three kinds of minds, specifically: iconic, which have the ability to use icons;
indexical, which have the ability to use indices; and symbolic, which have the ability to
use symbols, which are successively stronger kinds of mentality (since symbolic entails
indexical and indexical entails iconic). Ordinary languages involve the use of symbols,
which are only one among three kinds of signs, and thus involves the highest but not the
only kind of mentality.
All symbols are signs, but not all signs are symbols. All symbol users have minds, but
not all minds are symbol users. Anything that has the ability to use signs by taking
something to stand for something else in some respect or other qualifies as having a mind,
whether iconic, indexical, or symbolic in kind. It is therefore essential in the study of the
mind not to presuppose whether human beings, other animals, or inanimate
machines can or cannot possess minds. That explains why, in defining 'minds' as sign-using
systems, it is indispensable to say "for something", and not "for somebody", to
avoid precluding possibilities.
It is fascinating to observe that the chimpanzees and bonobos that Savage-Rumbaugh
studies exemplify the use of signs of all three kinds: lexigrams, for example, are arbitrary
signs that are merely habitually associated with that for which they stand (and therefore
qualify as symbols); package wrappers may be viewed as (admittedly artificial)
causes of the contents for which they stand (and therefore qualify as indices); and
hand gestures to indicate the motions desired of others (in specific ways) resemble them
(and therefore qualify as icons). Savage-Rumbaugh thus adduces evidence that
these are sign-using (or semiotic) systems.
Indeed, some of her descriptions are exactly what ought to be expected from the
perspective of the conception of minds as semiotic systems. If the use of symbols
presupposes the use of indices, then we should expect outcomes such as this:
When apes produce symbols, they are attempting to affect the behavior of others - for
example, to ask for a banana. When apes comprehend symbols directed toward them,
they are expected to bring about the effect intended by the user of the symbols. (p.
This passage, after all, illustrates that symbolic mentality presupposes indexical, where
the use of symbols can function as causes-or-effects in social interaction. This
relationship is more subtle than that indexical mentality presupposes iconic, because the
use of signs as causes-or-effects presupposes the ability to recognize different instances of
uses of signs as instances of uses of signs of the same kind.
An even stronger indication that the theory of minds as semiotic systems fits the
empirical data that Savage-Rumbaugh has obtained with chimps and bonobos emerges
from her finding that the language of apes was unlike human language:
It wasn't a complex language, not a language with syntax. It was more a culture
language, a complex set of behaviors that was the way the chimps' lives were lived in
the laboratory. It made one think of Homo sapiens without sophisticated
spoken language - intelligent, sensitive creatures, able to communicate and coordinate
their behavior in a collective subsistence effort. (p. 85)
And this is exactly what ought to be expected, because understanding the meaning of a
sign is a process of acquiring habits of action and habits of mind relating signs to
behavior, where the meaning of a sign should be viewed dispositionally.
Consider a simple case, such as a red light at an intersection. What this sign means for
those who have mastered the rules of the road and understand road signs is to apply the
breaks and come to a complete halt. When a driver comes up to a stop sign, of course, his
behavior may not conform to those expectations, precisely because he is affected by other
internal states, such as other beliefs, motives, and ethics. Felons with the police in hot
pursuit would be expected to run the light and risk a collision, even though they
understand its meaning, just as a husband whose wife has gone into labor might
cautiously continue without stopping, because he is eager to get her to a nearby hospital
for a safe delivery.
Thus, these internal states constitute a context in relation to which the meaning
of signs must be understood, where the same sign means the same thing to other sign-users
in case they would have dispositions of the same or similar strength to display
all and only the same behavior under the same conditions if they were in the same
context, which includes their abilities and capabilities as well (Fetzer 1989, 1991, 1994).
Savage-Rumbaugh is therefore entirely correct to maintain, as she does, that "Unlike
chemicals, [animal] behaviors cannot be reasonably separated from the entire context in
which they occur" (p. 254).
Savage-Rumbaugh concludes that comprehending and producing language turn out to
be very different things, which is precisely what we should expect from the semiotic point
of view, because comprehension is roughly analogous to the totality of uses to
which signs might be put, while production is the use of specific signs on specific
occasions for specific purposes. Thus, focusing on production rather than on
comprehension (understanding or meaning) appears to be a misconception as serious as
taking the use of signs of one kind - namely, the use of human language - as essential to
mentality. Mentality is far broader.
During the course of her closing chapter, Savage-Rumbaugh also makes several astute
observations about inadequacies of methodology. She rightly rejects the Cartesian
conception of other animals as mindless automata and challenges the applicability of
experimental methods employed by the physical sciences. Descartes' influence on the
study of behavior has been uniformly detrimental; it is therefore refreshing to find that
she, like other students of animal mind, is not bound by a tradition of misconceptions
(Fetzer 1993a, 1993b, 1996b). But it does not follow from her work that similar methods
do not apply when regarded as species of inference to the best explanation (Fetzer 1981,
Indeed, when considerations of context receive appropriate consideration within the
framework of a dispositional account of meaning, it becomes clear that there are laws of
behavior for semiotic systems, which parallel those for less complex inanimate systems
(Fetzer 1988, 1990, 1996a). Her own work, properly understood, convincingly displays
that the same methods of inquiry that apply within the physical sciences also apply within
the behavioral ones. In the final analysis, Savage-Rumbaugh has provided a brilliant
tour de force supporting her conception of Kanzi as an ape at the brink of the
Fetzer, J. H. (1981), Scientific Knowledge. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: D.
Fetzer, J. H. (1988), "Signs and Minds: An Introduction to the Theory of Semiotic Systems",
in J. H. Fetzer, ed.,
Aspects of Artificial Intelligence. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic
Publishers, pp. 133-161.
Fetzer, J. H. (1989), "Language and Mentality: Computational, Representational, and
Conceptions", Behaviorism 17, pp. 21-39.
Fetzer, J. H. (1990), Artificial Intelligence: Its Scope and Limits. Dordrecht, The
Fetzer, J. H. (1991), "Primitive Concepts: Habits, Conventions, and Laws", in J. H. Fetzer et
Definitions and Definability. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic
Publishers, pp. 51-68.
Fetzer, J. H. (1993a), "Review of Merlin Donald's Origins of the Modern Mind",
Psychology 6, pp. 339-341.
Fetzer, J. H. (1993b), "Evolution Needs a Modern Theory of the Mind", Behavioral and
16, pp. 759-760.
Fetzer, J. H. (1993c), Philosophy of Science. Minneapolis, MN: Paragon.
Fetzer, J. H. (1994), "Review of Maxine Sheets-Johnstone's The Roots of Thinking",
Psychology 7, pp. 397-399.
Fetzer, J. H. (1996a), Philosophy and Cognitive Science, 2nd ed. Minneapolis, MN:
Fetzer, J. H. (1996b), "Do Animals Have Minds? Discussion Review of Marian Stamp
Dawkins, Through Our
Eyes Only? The Search for Animal Consciousness", Journal of Social and Evolutionary
Systems 19, pp.
Colin Tudge (1995) The Day Before Yesterday: Five Million Years of Human
History. London: Jonathan Cape (Pimlico edition 1996) ISBN 0 7126 6173 5 (Pbk)
UK œ9.99. Pp. 390.
by GUY RICHARDS, 327 666 Leg in Boot Square, VANCOUVER, B.C. V5Z
Tudge is a philosophical zoologist. His title reminds us how brief has been human
existence compared with the 5 000 000 000 years of Earth's existence. Hominids,
starting with Australopithecus, essentially an upright ape, have been here for 5
000 000 years, but Homo sapiens for only about 120 000 years. These ideas will
be familiar to readers of this review, but what attracts us to a scientific book? We like
some new knowledge and ideas, and it is reassuring to find some old knowledge
elegantly confirmed. For instance Tudge presents much geology and zoology I was glad
to learn about.
In the beginning
He could have started with the agglutination of star dust to form our planet, but that
would make a very long book. Nevertheless knowing the Earth's age helps to understand
the evolution of present forms.
Mark Twain complained of a young teacher: "It was not so much all the things he
didn't know, as all the things he did know that weren't so." Likewise science is not only
the finding of new knowledge where there was none, often it must replace firm old
beliefs. The Bible stories of creation and Noah's flood influenced geology into the 19th
Scottish geologist James Hutton in his A Theory of the Earth in 1795
proclaimed that it is many thousand times older than Genesis implies. But not
until the mid 19th century did three Swiss scientists - Charpentier, Schimper and Agassiz
- show that mountains of ice, rather than a flood, had carved much of the world's
Indeed so much water has been locked up in ice during ice ages, that ocean level must
have fallen by as much as 150 metres at times, exposing 40% more dry land than there is
today. The great thaw following the last age 8 000 years ago, could well have been the
origin of flood legends in many cultures.
Drifting continents and carbon dioxide
In the 19th century the Austrian Geologist Edward Suess suggested that Africa,
Madagascar and India must once have been part of a single continent 'Gondwana' (means
land') in order to explain their containing similar fossils. Improbable theories of
connecting land corridors followed, until a German geophysicist, Alfred Wegener, in
1912 produced his theory of continental drift at a lecture (in 1915 as a book). He was
vigorously opposed until long after his death in 1930. But in 1960 a Canadian
geophysicist, Tuzo Wilson and others, proposed drifting continental plates floating on the
underlying mantle, rehabilitating Wegener's theory.
40 million years ago India drifted into the southern edge of Asia; their colliding plates
created the greatest of all 'buckling', the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau. This vast
mass of uplifted rock is an important part of Earth's homeostatic system. Rain 'scrubs'
carbon dioxide from the air. Winds blowing northwards precipitate rain as they flow up
over the Himalayas. The carbonic acid in the rain water reacts with calcium and other
rock metals to produce bicarbonates and carbonates which are born by 8 mighty rivers to
the ocean and the ocean floor. The Rockies and the Andes must to some degree augment
this effect. Eventually some of the carbonates are subduced under the advancing
American and Australian continental plates, thus removing carbon from circulation for a
long time. The whole constitutes a vast chemical buffering system, since it prevents the
atmosphere and ocean from becoming acidified by carbon dioxide.
The discovery of different fossils in strata of different depths has meant that advances
in geology and evolutionary biology have gone hand-in-hand. The credible explanation of
mass extinctions by asteroid impact reinforces this relationship. Even within recorded
history violent Earth events have changed life, cultures and climate. In 1470 BC the
volcanic eruption on Santorini Island north of Crete destroyed Minoan civilization, and
the even greater eruption on Sumbawa Island off Java in 1815 spread ash over the whole
world, causing crop failures and bad weather world-wide for 2 years. Tudge might have
added that had the Tunguska Bolide of 1908 hit western Europe instead of Siberia,
history of the 20th century would have been very different.
An asteroid impact on the Yucatan peninsular 65 million years ago must have
produced a long lasting climate change and probably the down-fall of dinosaurs.
Mammal-like reptiles, mammals and even primates co-existed with dinosaurs, but without
that change in climate we would still be cowering in the trees.
An ecomorph is a shape imposed on an animal by its ecological niche, so that animals of
diverse lineage may come to share traits because of their shared way of life. It is the end
result of convergent evolution. For instance animals that swim a lot tend to be roughly
fish-shaped, even if they are mammals.
Being big confers advantage in making one less likely to be preyed upon, or a more
successful predator. But it carries costs: longer dependence and vulnerability during
growth, a need for more food, a way to dissipate more heat - elephants' ears for instance.
Being big also enables one to browse, that is to eat the better quality leaves of
bushes and trees. Giraffes are an extreme example. Grazing of grass is rough on
the gut - grass blades are well named - and takes up a lot of time.
Most of the energy in leaves and plants is in the form of cellulose, so that herbivores
face a problem, since no animal has enzymes able to digest it - not even beavers, nor
termites. They are therefore dependent on bacteria or fungi to digest cellulose for them.
To a small extent this occurs in the human gut, but efficient digestion of cellulose
requires some slowing of the passage of food to give bacteria time to do their work.
Mammals have evolved two principle ways of modifying the gut to facilitate this. Hindgut
digesters have slowed their food passage in a large caecum and colon. Elephants, rabbits,
koalas, rhinos, horses are hindgut digesters. But it is more efficient, although
phylogenetically more difficult, to modify the foregut, whose acidity does not favour
cellulose digesting microbes. It carries the advantage of running the digested food
through the efficiently absorbing small intestines. Ruminants have achieved this by a
modification of the stomach. Thus bovids, camels, kangaroos are foregut digesters.
Cooling and drying of the Earth has thinned the edges of the forest and there has
favoured parkland and grass, and therefore sociable herds of grazers, rather than the more
solitary browsers. This change has also favoured those primates who can come down
from the trees and live on the ground.
Humans have invented for themselves a new ecology and thus have become a new
ecomorph. Phylogenetically we are primates, in fact an ape, but we are a new ecomorph.
Chimp and human protein and DNA are so similar that we must have had a common
ancestor less than 6 million years ago. Our arboreal past has been useful in preserving an
unspecialized body form and separate digits on our fore limbs; adaptive for holding
branches, broken off branches, sticks, ant-and-termite-catching probes, and more recently,
spears, swords and pens. But our hind limbs have become specialized for walking. And
the complex physical and social environment we have made for ourselves, has selected
and shaped a complex brain to cope with it.
Shaping the world to suit ourselves has created a world less and less favourable to
other animals - except for the few who can adapt to cities. While much damage has been
done with industrialization, urbanization and the fast growth of human population in the
last 200 years, this destructive process has been going on for a long time, when and
wherever humans have spread. Large marsupials - a giant kangaroo, a marsupial 'lion',
and a marsupial 'rhino' - previously successful, disappeared from Australia with the
arrival of humans and their dogs about 40 000 years ago. Elephants use to roam North
America until humans arrived. The Maori's ancestors arrival in New Zealand about AD
900 was soon followed by the extinction of many large bird species, the giant Moas and a
giant eagle. Homo sapiens has been too good a hunter.
Existing mammal species are but a small fraction of those there have been. It is in our
interest to carry as many of them as we can with us into the future. The survival of our
own species is involved. But the project calls for a radical change in our use of land,
allowing, for instance, north-south migrations of animals and people. And our own
population growth must be slowed, and eventually run down some to a more easily
Mendelism and genetics
In a good summary of genetics Tudge does not mention his Cambridge forerunner,
William Bateson, first Cambridge Professor of Genetics (1908) who coined the word. His
Danish friend, W L Johannsen, coined gene, phenotype and
genotype. Bateson was a vigorous proponent of Mendelism or genetics as he
called it. He read Mendel's paper in 1900 while on a train from Cambridge to London to
present a paper to the Royal Society, and realized that it was more important than what he
had planned to say. Straightaway he changed his presentation. He named his third son
Gregory, after Gregor Mendel.
Gregory Bateson became a well-known anthropologist, but despite that he retained his
father's respect for biology and he was an early friend of biology for the social sciences.
His last two books attest to this, Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1973) and
Mind and Nature (1978). In 1960s and 1970s he studied the social life of
Apes who stood up
The common ancestor of chimps and humans must have lived in dense African forest.
Cooling and drying of the Earth thinned the forest edges to produce woodland, less dense
forest, suiting 5 million years ago an ape which stood and walked erect on the ground.
Australopithecus (southern ape), as it is called, had a brain of 400-600 ml only
slightly larger than a chimp's. Standing upright frees the hands for throwing and carrying.
It also exposes less area to the sun and cools the head and brain.
Homo habilis (the handy man) with a somewhat bigger brain of 600-750 ml,
was able to make chipped flint tools. They date about 2.5 million years ago.
Homo erectus with a brain of about 900 ml arose about 1.8 million years ago.
Hearths found in China and France, dated as 480 000 years old, indicate that Homo
erectus used fire.
Homo neanderthalensis with a fully modern sized brain (1400-1500 ml) dates
from 400 000 years ago. They reached their climatic form 75 000 years BC and died out
about 35 000 years ago.
Fully modern Homo sapiens with a brain of 1400-1500 ml dates from 120 000
years ago, so they coexisted with Neanderthals for 85 000 years. Neanderthals averaged a
slightly bigger brain than Homo sapiens, so why did they die out? Were they
more intelligent but less aggressive? Were their larger heads just a shade to much for
their mothers' pelves as compared with Homo sapiens, leading to a slightly higher
maternal mortality? Tudge thinks Neanderthals and sapiens were probably interfertile.
Were this so, some would say, they should have seen as variants of the same species. But
if we use this criterion we might have to say the same of all hominids; a few would even
What's so special about us?
Humans are designed for speech, anatomically and neurally, and therefore genetically.
Tudge could have said "We are made for one another". We are designed to voice the
sound frequencies our listening ears are best equipped to receive. We are good at
communicating with symbols most of which are words. Iconic symbols are partial pictures
of their referent.
Words help thought, but they are not essential for it. Children playing with
construction toys will assemble complex models long before they have names for the
parts. But I remember that if I played with another child we had to struggle hard to name
the parts. These toys were well suited to the lone children and small families of 1920s
and 1930s. Computers are the new substitute for siblings.
Speech and writing bring many brains to bear on each problem, even if they be
separated in space and time, and on the design of new tools and weapons, increasingly so
as time goes by. Sadly they have also made humans the most destructive predators,
extinguishing species after species of large animals.
The life of hunting and gathering must have been in many ways more interesting and
suited to human aspirations, than the hard work of herding and farming which followed.
This transition surely is that which is represented by the expulsion of Adam and Eve from
the Garden of Eden.
Tudge could have added that agriculture spread rapidly because communities using it
could grow a bigger 'crop' of young warriors, for whom hunter-gatherers were no match.
Group competition and population pressure locked humans into an arduous way of life.
Mechanization of weaponry, industry and agriculture have enabled developed nations to
till and defend large areas with comparatively few workers and warriors, but our swollen
urban populations have locked us into an even more unnatural way of life.
Hunting-and-gathering in the era of evolutionary adaptation (EEA) lasted 100 000
years. No doubt it had its down side and cruelties, hunger in bad years, and being
powerless to help one's mate in obstructed labour and some other perils of birthing come
to mind. But it probably shaped us more than a mere 10 000 years of civilization.
The first and last quarters of this book are the most interesting. The middle two
quarters, in which Tudge describes the many species of large mammal which have
become extinct, often almost certainly, with the help of human hunters, make sad and
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