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Pan homo culture
September 23, 2007 4:07 PM   Subscribe

I laughed, I cried, and I welcomed our new Pan-Homo Culture

From the always edumataining TED talks. Now Dawkins free.
posted by svenvog (58 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
She's talking about apes, but the tag says "Monkeys".

She's talking about apes, but the tag says "Monkeys".

SHE'S TALKING ABOUT APES, BUT THE TAG SAYS "MONKEYS"
posted by Greg Nog at 4:20 PM on September 23, 2007 [16 favorites]


Amazing video.
posted by desjardins at 4:36 PM on September 23, 2007


Warmed the cockles of my heart.

Loved it when the ape blew the toasting marshmallow. So enjoyed the audience's surprised delight, their amazement, oohs, ahs and appreciative laughs.

svenvog, like you I laughed, cried and welcomed our new Pan-Homo culture. What a wonderful post, thank you. It's deeply moving communicating lovingly, tenderly, open-heartedly with others, whatever the species.

Wikipedia on bonobo apes.

About that likable woman, who narrated, Psychologist and primatologist, Dr. Susan Savage-Rumbaugh.
posted by nickyskye at 4:37 PM on September 23, 2007


"They're learning to become like us."

Damned dirty apes.
posted by stbalbach at 4:43 PM on September 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


That was cool.

But it doesn't prove our brains are not hardwired for certain behaviors at all.
posted by tkchrist at 4:47 PM on September 23, 2007


I think she might be overstating what they're capable of. Selective editing can 'prove' alot.

But I am impressed by the fire and stone tool making. The really interesting thing will be to see if they take it back to the wild and teach others.
posted by empath at 4:59 PM on September 23, 2007


tkchrist writes "But it doesn't prove our brains are not hardwired for certain behaviors at all."

I guess it suggest the opposite, that we have some "hardwired" behaviors such as observation and imitation. Look at how human babies observe and imitate and how the baby bonobo tried to imitate the mother by getting the scissors, they both are not sure of their movement or of the purpose of their action, yet they get the object close to self and try to "parrot" what they saw.

Yet they are not as "hardwired" as breathing , which is interesting because it happens regardless of our will, but we can interrupt this behavior temporarily, whereas we can't command peristalsis nor our hearth , which I would define as "hardwired"

That's fantastic and a positive, suggestive evidence that we indeed may have a lot more in common with apes then with our delusions of grandeur.
posted by elpapacito at 5:04 PM on September 23, 2007


The really interesting thing will be to see if they take it back to the wild and teach others.

Uh-oh...
posted by papakwanz at 5:04 PM on September 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


But I am impressed by the fire and stone tool making. The really interesting thing will be to see if they take it back to the wild and teach others.

...eventually building a time machine going back 2 million years and teaching our ancestors "culture"... and it starts all over again.
posted by tkchrist at 5:06 PM on September 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


I hear ya, Greg Nog. I think chimpanzee = monkey is a regional thing.
posted by gubo at 5:11 PM on September 23, 2007


George Taylor: A planet where apes evolved from men? There's got to be an answer.

Dr. Zaius: Don't look for it, Taylor. You may not like what you find.
posted by growabrain at 5:33 PM on September 23, 2007


The impressive thing was, as others said, the tool making. The stuff about putting out the fire with water when the word "water" is used is practically meaningless. My dog could sit when you told her to sit but that didn't mean she had a clue about English.

If the bonobos can teach other bonobos to make tools... well, that would be meaningful.
posted by Justinian at 5:51 PM on September 23, 2007


I hope you don't think you can come on MeFi and pan homo culture. Without it, the world would be a lot less fabulous.
posted by Abiezer at 5:52 PM on September 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


This post is not what I thought it was about.
posted by hermitosis at 5:55 PM on September 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


Those are some cool monkeys.
posted by chunking express at 6:00 PM on September 23, 2007


Here, hermitosis.
posted by stavrogin at 6:11 PM on September 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


"The really interesting thing will be to see if they take it back to the wild and teach others."

I hope they're not giving them all lighters.
posted by gallois at 6:11 PM on September 23, 2007


Wonderful video. I'm now going to think about the bush meat industry and cry.
posted by nowonmai at 6:17 PM on September 23, 2007


Toolmaking isn't limited to primates.
posted by Stove at 6:45 PM on September 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think chimpanzee = monkey is a regional thing

No, it's just plain wrong. These are not monkeys. You know, like cats are not dogs and bats are not beavers. I try not to be snarky, but I think a better set of tags for this post might include, oh, I don't know, the name of the speaker or the animals she's talking about. If I try to search for this post in the future, I will use terms like 'bonobo' or 'chimpanzee', but probably not 'monkey' or 'laughs'.
posted by nowonmai at 6:47 PM on September 23, 2007


way to be there with the crows, stove.
posted by CitizenD at 7:00 PM on September 23, 2007


The grandiose self-promotional TED intro is annoying. The popular notion it seems to promote, that bonobos are "happy hippie chimps", is questionable. The intermittent segments with a robotically cheerful female narrator over guitar music are grating.

Still, interesting footage. I'm not sure if it proves anything in particular. But apes are interesting and entertaining to watch.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 7:00 PM on September 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


I love Bonobo's and the idea that culture is a huge influence, but there is a lot to question here. He did make a stone tool. That doesn't make him a flintknapper. A chip off the block looks like a chip off the block. That doesn't make it a clovis point. Using a lighter isn't really making fire unless he choses to do it and for a reason beyond curiosity. It's not the same as using fire.

Still, as always, I am astonished by bonobo culture. I wondered about the sex thing and if in her research this was an issue. But do we really want to go there? Has she? In the wild, they aren't the groovy, free-loving, peaceniks they're mythologized as.

This was a pretty interesting video, but I'm a bit skeptical of her work by its very nature. Wouldn't you behave differently in captivity? Our primate cousins are clearly more interesting than we understand, but let's not draw too many parallels or lessons too quickly.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:19 PM on September 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


D'oh! I should have checked Arti's link. Sorry. But read it if you haven't taken either opportunity.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:22 PM on September 23, 2007


The grandiose self-promotional TED intro is annoying.

"Savage-Rumbaugh asks whether uniquely human traits, and other animals' behaviors, are hardwired by species. Then she rolls a video that makes you think: maybe not. The bonobo apes she works with understand spoken English. One follows her instructions to take a cigarette lighter from her pocket and use it to start a fire. Bonobos are shown making tools, drawing symbols to communicate, and playing Pac-Man -- all tasks learned just by watching. Maybe it's not always biology that causes a species to act as it does, she suggests. Maybe it's cultural exposure to how things are done."

That's annoying?

Artifice_Eternity, Who is promoting happy hippie anybody, except the cynic writing the New Yorker article, attempting to ridicule people studying bonobo apes? Having read that article I didn't see anything to refute the exceptional intelligence and basically likeable qualities of the bonobo apes, who once in a while behave like any other mammal on the planet.

You see "a robotically cheerful female narrator" and I see unpretentious, patient and gently playful.

Could have done without the music though. :)

Agreeing with nowonmai that the tags need improving.
posted by nickyskye at 7:28 PM on September 23, 2007


Personally, I'm partial to Macavity, the cat who commutes. Plus, it's even a deadbeat!*
*Proving that those of us who buy monthly transit passes are the real tools.
posted by rob511 at 7:32 PM on September 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


She's talking about apes, but the tag says "Monkeys".

At least she wasn't talking about librarians, or she might have upset the orangutan...
posted by five fresh fish at 7:35 PM on September 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


Ms. (I believe) Pac Man at 16:04 in video, FYI.
posted by humannaire at 7:46 PM on September 23, 2007


A bonobo this good you don't eat all at once.
posted by hal9k at 7:46 PM on September 23, 2007


rob511, that's an awesome story about the traveling cat. What a hoot.
posted by nickyskye at 7:52 PM on September 23, 2007


That New Yorker article linked by Artifice Eternity is interesting, and really highlights the differences between the adorable behaviour of Bonobo in the context of "Pan-Homo culture" with the nasty brutish lifestyle they are more likely to display in the wild. Everybody go read that. Long but worth it.
posted by nowonmai at 8:18 PM on September 23, 2007


I thought this was going to be about gay people who ask for spare change.
posted by gottabefunky at 8:29 PM on September 23, 2007


monkey see, monkey do .... for 17 minutes
posted by rainman84 at 8:39 PM on September 23, 2007


Wonderful!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:31 PM on September 23, 2007


nickyskye: You've almost totally misunderstood what I was talking about.

The grandiose self-promotional TED intro is at the start of the video (as intros generally are). Did you miss the first 20 seconds, with the deafening orchestral theme, about how "1,000 people gather in California to share something of incalculable value... THEIR IDEAS"?

I don't "see" the robotically cheerful female narrator at all. She is the unseen female voice during the segments with guitar music (which appear to be snippets of a longer film), not the scientist who we do see on screen.

The achievements credited to the bonobos in the video are dubious because, for the most part, we have no idea whether they figured these things out (how to make stone tools, play Pac-Man, etc.) themselves, or whether they were trained to do so.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:36 PM on September 23, 2007


i read jared diamond's "the third chimpanzee" which was a pretty good little tome on anthropology and evolution.. his conclusion was that the only significant, biological difference between us and the higher primates (of which we share +90% of our genetic material) was the physiological capability for language - many animals have been trained to understand human language, but they do not have the capabilitity (voice box) to produce the sounds that we do, or their own versions in the wild. While many animals posses language in a limited sense, without the ability to produce a wide range of syllables that can be easily differentiated (with practice) I doubt they would progress any further in terms of complexity. It seems plausable to me that almost all the differences between us and primates are cultural, and have stemmed from a catalytic twist - language.

thanks for the link ;)
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 10:39 PM on September 23, 2007


I just hope he doesn't get confused someday and try using scissors on the wood and setting fire to the baby bonobo.

Or start grabbing Susan Savage-Rumbaugh's boobs.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:00 AM on September 24, 2007


Artifice_Eternity, Who is promoting happy hippie anybody, except the cynic writing the New Yorker article, attempting to ridicule people studying bonobo apes? Having read that article I didn't see anything to refute the exceptional intelligence and basically likable qualities of the bonobo apes, who once in a while behave like any other mammal on the planet.

What was cynical about that article, I thought it was written with well deserved skepticism. Even though we know very little about real Bonobo behavior in the wild, there is this cultural impression that they are these hippie free love peace loving animals which is very possibly quite mistaken. This article provides a reality check on the notion that we can look to apes to see how we were in the past. In the Pan family alone you have the Chimpanzees, Bonobos and those "lion eating chimps" they just found. With such diverse behaviors in such closely related species, I am very skeptical that we can learn anything about what early humans were like by studying present day apes.

That being said chimp's and bonobo's definitly have culture and it is quite an interesting subject.

many animals have been trained to understand human language, but they do not have the capabilitity (voice box) to produce the sounds that we do, or their own versions in the wild. While many animals posses language in a limited sense, without the ability to produce a wide range of syllables that can be easily differentiated (with practice) I doubt they would progress any further in terms of complexity.

But humans with defective voice boxes can easily learn sign language. It is a lot more than mere physiological capacity for expression that is prevents animals from being able to use language, our big old brains probably have a lot to do with it.
posted by afu at 3:00 AM on September 24, 2007


there is this cultural impression that they are these hippie free love peace loving animals

That certainly wasn't the tone, the content or the focus of this video. Nor did I see any idealizing going on in this thread.

humans with defective voice boxes can easily learn sign language

In the video the bonobo apes were writing signs, responding to signs, which were symbols of things, listening to and responding to verbal instructions quite accurately, including learning to play Pac Man, which seems to me a pretty abstract and sophisticated communication.
posted by nickyskye at 5:29 AM on September 24, 2007


Artifice_Eternity: watch more TED videos, you'll soon learn to appreciate them (despite the intro). They're all available as podcasts on iTunes or on the TED Website itself.

There are some very interesting and profound TED sessions.

I especially recommend this one, about Education.

I would give my right arm to go to TED one year, but the chances of that are almost zero. I'm very glad the videos are online.
posted by schwa at 6:26 AM on September 24, 2007


For those interested in a primatologist's take on the bonobos instead of a journalist's, see Frans de Waal's response to the New Yorker piece.
posted by confusionball at 6:48 AM on September 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's pretty clear that de Waal and Hohmann are in agreement on one thing: we know practically nothing about how these apes behave in the wild. In the New Yorker piece, the point is made that primatology studies in the wild take a long time, and we have very little time to study the great apes before they become extinct.

Also, I forgot to make a quip based on this:

Now don't try to kid me, mancub
I made a deal with you
What I desire is man's red fire
To make my dream come true
Give me the secret, mancub
Clue me what to do
Give me the power of man's red flower
So I can be like you

posted by nowonmai at 7:19 AM on September 24, 2007


Enjoyed that article confusionball. Before this post I knew nothing about bonobos. Dang, they certainly are sexual creatures.
posted by nickyskye at 7:31 AM on September 24, 2007


That damn monkey beat my high score. You know how long and how many quarters it took for me to get ASS to show up on the high score list?!?
posted by Pollomacho at 7:39 AM on September 24, 2007


I'm a big fan of the pan-homo continuum, but she radically overstates the case. Apes don't talk. We've tried to make them talk for years, and they can't. Apes don't use symbols in the wild. We've tried to make them use symbols in experimental settings (with lots of heavy-handed operant conditioning) for years with very little success. They've never made a symbol-sentence with stable syntax. They will on occasion use a tool, but they don't really make them (with a couple of interesting exceptions). They don't cooperate like we do. For example, outside the mother-child bond, they don't really share food systematically. They find it particularly difficult to cooperate with non-kin, which is our specialty. They seem to be incapable of what we would call "teaching" each other, so that pretty much rules out "culture."

Or so I've read.
posted by MarshallPoe at 7:43 AM on September 24, 2007


They've never made a symbol-sentence with stable syntax.

Koko the gorilla, uses sign language.

"As a subject in a longitudinal language acquisition project, Koko communicates using sign language, which she learned through the simultaneous communication of spoken English and American Sign Language (ASL)."

Koko with one of the kittens she likes. With All Ball ( a name she gave), her favorite kitten.
posted by nickyskye at 9:08 AM on September 24, 2007


I think Marshallpoe is wrong on some details. Of course the main argument "they are not 'just like us'" is right, but I think that in highlighting some areas of similarity, Savage Rumbaugh is not really trying to make that case. If you rewatch the beginning of her talk, before the cute movies start, note that she highlights how primitive some pre-colonial human cultures are/were. Homo is a little closer to Pan if you think about tribal societies.
They find it particularly difficult to cooperate with non-kin, which is our specialty. - people from tribal societies have huge difficulties when pushed into a situation where they have to cooperate with non-kin. This is most famously visible in Australia and parts of India, but there are so many examples of how difficult it is to take hunter-gatherers and place them into larger societies along with non-kin. Nicholas Wade's Before the Dawn discusses this issue well.
Food-sharing by Bonobos in the wild is one of the things we don't really know much about.
To say they've 'never made a tool' and then point out 'oh yes they have' in the same sentence is a bit odd. But I think if you go back and look at Savage-Rumbaugh's talk, she is most definitely not trying to claim that apes do all this stuff in the wild, but that they can learn to do a surprising amount of it if exposed to human culture.
posted by nowonmai at 9:54 AM on September 24, 2007


Those monkeys are totally shopped. I can tell from some of the pixels, and from seeing quite a few shops in my time.
posted by rusty at 11:00 AM on September 24, 2007


A fascinating video and Frans De Waal's piece makes for very interesting reading.
posted by ob at 11:34 AM on September 24, 2007


nowonmai: *i* want the power of man's red flower.
posted by CitizenD at 1:03 PM on September 24, 2007


Damnit, needs bonobo fencing! I desperately need a video of wiener fencing for the roughly infinite number of times on forums (and in real life) that it's appropriate.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 2:21 PM on September 24, 2007


Wow - I skipped that post at first because of the description; glad this got posted here.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:23 PM on September 24, 2007


I used to go "aww" about Koko & her kitten, but when I hear about Koko now, I just can't help remembering the that boob lawsuit. It was so weird.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:02 PM on September 24, 2007


Koko the gorilla, uses sign language.

And my dog understands several English words. Just because an animal can use symbols doesn't mean they have language. As others have said they at least need a consistent syntax.

I actually think it is pretty clear that Apes do have a kind of culture that is passed from one generation to the next. Lots of Chimp foraging techniques use simple tools, and an older chimp must teach a younger chimp how to use them. Also the emotional interactions between members of a group are very complex and subtle emotional signaling using facial gestures and sounds need to be learned in order to understand these interactions. However it does not mean that apes are equal to humans in terms of intellect or emotional depth, and that is largely because humans have language.
posted by afu at 1:29 AM on September 25, 2007


doesn't mean they have language

It would seem the scientists training Koko would disagree with you.

"As a subject in a longitudinal language acquisition project, Koko communicates using sign language, which she learned through the simultaneous communication of spoken English and American Sign Language (ASL)."
posted by nickyskye at 6:00 AM on September 25, 2007


ps, miss lynnster, you're right that Koko nipple fetish thing is nuts. Somebody's going bananas over there.
posted by nickyskye at 6:06 AM on September 25, 2007


Keep us abreast of the situation, nickyskye. Also, of course the geeks training Koko are going to say that. What's of more interest is whether others without such a stake in the project say the same.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:48 AM on September 25, 2007


I do so wish I could have posted this near the top:

"Let's get ready to Rumbaughhhhh!"
posted by oats at 10:55 AM on September 25, 2007


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