July 29, 2011

Chimps ask: So, what's in it for me?

From a Nova documentary Ape Genius on why chimpanzees don't seem to learn much as a species:
MICHAEL TOMASELLO: What you'll see with the human mother and baby is that the mother is constantly trying to show the baby what to do, and the baby is trying to tune into what the mother wants. And so you have a full triangle of mother and baby and the thing in the environment that they are trying to work on. 
REBECCA SAXE: It's a special cognitive achievement. For some reason kids do this naturally, almost immediately. And curiously, apes can't get into that. 
MICHAEL TOMASELLO: At the moment we have no evidence that apes have shared goals based on shared commitments. They do things together, they coordinate their actions together, but they don't have a shared commitment to a shared goal. 
NARRATOR: The triangle is the core skill that makes teaching possible. Humans have it; apes seem to lack it. But apes are also missing one more thing. It's a key emotional driver: the passion to cheer each other on. 
TETSURO MATSUZAWA: "Good," "good job," "well done." This kind of facilitation, giving a hand, encouragement, is the base of teaching. 
REBECCA SAXE: It seems like it's not just a cognitive capacity that's necessary for teaching. There's this other thing, which is wanting to teach, that seems to be really pervasive in humans and maybe mysteriously missing in apes. 
NARRATOR: The pieces are now coming together. Apes have culture, a rare achievement in the animal world. They can learn from each other by imitation. But this process is passive, often slow and can easily backslide. 
BRIAN HARE: Probably there's a lot of slippage. There's a lot of loss of cultural innovations between generations when you're talking about a chimpanzee. 
MICHAEL TOMASELLO: If an ape invents something new and important and interesting, maybe some others will learn it, maybe they won't. 
NARRATOR: Unique among animals, humans have both the passion and mental skill to teach each other. When you're a student rather than a spectator, learning jumps to warp speed. That's because teaching locks in progress.

Chimpanzees: more Randian than Ayn Rand, who couldn't stop lecturing.

(Also, this show has the usual chimpanzee guru Sue Savage-Rumbaugh in it, which always sounds like a name made up for an ape expert by Hunter S. Thompson.)

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

Its every Chimp for himself. A is A and no chimp likes a "Looter" or a "second hander".

OTOH, its hard to convince a chimp to die for an abstract idea or because the "Government says so". They're not into self-sacrifice.

Anonymous said...

"Unique among animals, humans have both the passion and mental skill to teach each other."

But teach what? In Atlanta schools, teachers seem eager to teach one another how to cheat but not how to better serve the students.
In Zimbabwe, the most popular skill seems to be stealing and cheating, not creating and constructing.
And some human societies have remained culturally and intellectually stagnant for 1000s of yrs. And some, especially in Africa, seem to be backsliding from modernity to primitivism.

PS. I think chimps do cheer each other on. When one chimp throws an object at a leopard or attacks a chimp of a hostile tribe, his fellow chimps start howling and screaming as if to say, 'yeah, yeah, kick the motha's ass!!!'
It all depends on what is being cheered.
In some inner city schools, kids cheer fighting in the hallway or beating up the teacher but not academic success.

Anonymous said...

TETSURO MATSUZAWA: "Good," "good job," "well done." This kind of facilitation, giving a hand, encouragement, is the base of teaching.

------------

This is funny coming from a Japanese guy. In a lot of Asian movies, the master doesn't seem to heap much praise on his students but drives them harder and harder and harder.
And Murry Wilson didn't praise his kids much either, but they did become the Beach Boys.

Anonymous said...

This sounds kinda like a liberal argument racial achievement gaps.
The best argument is the simplest: chimps are a lot dumber than us.

__ said...

Seems like they're all missing the main point, defining (non-human-ness) by non-essentials.

The common denominator to all their examples: lack of concept formation/word use/abstract language.

Anonymous said...

This you can teach a chimp:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lq3gesAbbV8&feature=related

This you better not:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhxqIITtTtU

Anonymous said...

Male chimps live the ultimate 'big man' polygamous rule set.

So there is a positive bias AGAINST teaching the up and coming generation.

Because of turn over at the top, no ranking male can figure to turn the keys over to his sons. No chimp can stay atop the harem that long.

And the females cheat on the top chimp, too.

So the entire environment is low trust.

THAT'S the core driver.

-----

BTW, Susan is famously supportive of her pet bonobos.

She also establishes a high trust environment -- with plenty of license for her bonobos.

They end up learning human tricks at an astounding pace.

Chimps are said to be our closest DNA relatives, but bonobos act and walk much more like homo sapiens sapiens than any chimp.

One could argue that bonobos are the other walking hominid.

As for their sex lives: bonobos are the only hominid other than ourselves that does not go in to 'heat.'

Instead, the females are receptive at all times. That's a landmark adaptation in my mind.

It's the critical break that shifts the social dynamic away from the 'big chimp.' Now the gals are able to game the males all the time -- and reduce social tension at the same time.

Dahinda said...

" "Good," "good job," "well done." This kind of facilitation, giving a hand, encouragement, is the base of teaching."

Another thing that drives humans on is the fame, glory or adulation it brings when a new achievement or invention is created. Humans are showoffs where chimps couldn't give a crap!

Chicago said...

Human triumphalism on display here. What'd a simian ever do to those folks for them to speak so disparagingly of them? An ape has feelings too, you know.

Marlowe said...

The passion to teach and learn does not seem evenly distributed across the population.

stari_momak said...

"Chimpanzees: they're far more Randian than Ayn Rand"

Hella LOL -- Steve's gotta get going on Zazzle or Cafe Press with Steveism shirts.

Anonymous said...

It's all uninteresting.

In other news.......

Anonymous said...

"Chimpanzees: they're far more Randian than Ayn Rand"

The chimp water fountain was a kind of fountainhead.

Maybe the new Planet/Apes movie will be like Apelas Shrugged.

europeasant said...

Sounds like these people are from outer space. Maybe a rereading of "The Bell Curve" might help them?

Anonymous said...

"This is funny coming from a Japanese guy. In a lot of Asian movies, the master doesn't seem to heap much praise on his students but drives them harder and harder and harder.'

I guess if you've seen a few Asian movies, that makes you an immediate expert on all aspects of the Asian education experience. The level of insight and common-sense on this blog at times...no wonder you all fell for that "Tiger Mother" rubbish.

Dennis Dale said...

Apes have nothing to teach us.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating topic Steve. A good break from the usual. Chimps seem cute and likable at a distance, but on a closer view seem selfish, dangerous, and stupid.

Somewhat like Liberals.

Anonymous said...

OT: check out the joel kotkin article in the WSJ "How Los Angeles Lost Its Mojo"

Commenters cut right to the cause that Kotkin glosses over: illegal and legal flood. Reconquista means Mexican standards of civilization. Duh.

The many acid comments would've been deleted just a few years ago at WSJ but now they publish un-pc thoughts.

Anonymous said...

You know the old Hollywood story. A man or woman isn't doing all that well in their field and so sell their soul to the devil for a few years of fame.

For the sake of fun, say it can happen

Who currently has done so?

I submit - Katie Perry. Wasn't doing so well then bam...seems everpresent over past couple of years.

I bet Katie Perry signed the blood signature!

Marco Lalo said...

anyone notice TeNahisi-Coates auditioning for the Black-Op-Ed quota-spot left open by the departure of Bob Herbert?
his latest column in the Times.
The NYT employs racial and gender quotas, unofficial of course, we must have X number of women here and there, and blacks here and there.

Kaz said...

Haha Steve you knew exactly where the comments were going to go with this one eh...

Anonymous said...

"As for their sex lives: bonobos are the only hominid other than ourselves that does not go in to 'heat.'

Instead, the females are receptive at all times. "



"It has been said that the extended estrous period of the bonobo (reproductive-age females are in heat for 75% of their menstrual cycle) has a similar effect to the lack of a "heat" in human females. "

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concealed_ovulation#Social-Bonding_Hypothesis

stari_momak said...

Okay, I'll edit Steve's phrase (admit it, Steve needs editing at times)

Chimps: Far more Randian than Ayn Rand

[axing the 'they're]

And where to we get the image. HT to another isteve commenter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVE60zwXx1k

Anonymous said...

"Haha Steve you knew exactly where the comments were going to go with this one eh..."

Actually, I think the commentors have been quite restrained. So many crass lines have been left unsaid. Not even one 'no chimp left behind' gag. Oh crap...
Gilbert P.

Marlowe said...

Some wild humans in England appear to have reverted to chimpdom and stopped teaching children their names:

"In the worst cases, many children are unaware they even have a name at the age of four. Toddlers should be familiar with their own name by the age of two, teachers say.

Jean Gross, the government's communication champion for children, said she discovered the problem while speaking to head teachers in Hull and London.

“They told me that they had seen a number of cases of children arriving for their first day at school who did not know their name or that they even had a name.

“It was very upsetting to realise that children had reached the age of four without that difficulty being picked up.

“We do have a problem. Anecdotally, it’s getting worse from what head teachers say.”

She added that in around 10 per cent of cases, parents were not to blame because their children had language and communication difficulties caused by disabilities.

However, the remainder could be avoided if families spent more time teaching their children to speak from an early age."

- Daily Telegraph

Kylie said...

"Some wild humans in England appear to have reverted to chimpdom and stopped teaching children their names."

You didn't post the really good part from the article you went on to quote: "Parents are failing to teach their children how to speak because they spend too much time on the internet and watching television, experts claim.

The problem is most acute in deprived areas, where researchers found half of youngsters have communication difficulties when starting school"


Education Experts Are Ineducable

If you have internet access and a television, you are not deprived (at least, not materially) in any rational sense of that word.

Why would the underclass bother taking time from its idle pursuits to teach its offspring anything useful or constructive when it knows they will provided for from cradle to grave?

These clueless experts are pointing out the logical result of their own social policies as though it is some sort of anomaly. They have actually created a nanny state so pervasive that a child in it need not learn its own name to survive. I'm surprised they don't consider this a triumph of modern liberalism.

Marlowe said...

Do the anonymous commentators on Mr Sailer's blog suffer from this modern form of deprivation? On the Internet, some possess many names and others not one at all.

England now resembles a land drawn from the imagination of H G Wells in one of his pessimistic moments or Jonathan Swift in one of his more malicious.

Anonymous said...

I submit - Katie Perry. Wasn't doing so well then bam...seems everpresent over past couple of years.

She sold her soul to the music studios, which is a lot worse than selling it to the devil.

Maybe some day Steve will do a thread on how totally artificial the "female pop music scene" is. They're all a bunch of no-talent bimbos who have songs written for them and are pushed onto the airwaves.

G Joubert said...

One trained chimp.

Anonymous said...

They don't know their names? Oh, man. That's pretty funny actually.

ricpic said...

Apes have culture?!

Anonymous said...

"Apes have nothing to teach us."

They can teach guys how to use a self-generated water fountain in the middle of a desert.

epobirs said...

Anon at 9:28

I think you've lost the difference between you being unfamiliar with a performer and the performer's target market knowing who she is.

Katy Perry had an extremely rapid rise once she adopted her currently persona. Yes, she was in the business for many years but in a completely different genre. For all meaningful purposes she didn't exist as a performer before her 2008 'One of the Boys' album. Once she decided to go mainstream pop and apply her fabulous rack, her success was quite rapid. All it took, besides a few catchy songs, was making herself into someone boys wanted and girls wanted to be.

But it wasn't as if she was slogging along in mainstream pop without being noticed. Before late 2007 she was Katy Hudson and sang Christian pop, a near guarantee of mainstream obscurity. Another reason she has become so well known so fast, in addition to taking a good picture, is she works her ass off. Before working in support of the YouTube Live event a couple of years ago, I'd never heard of her but I knew I was completely out of touch with pop music trends. The reason everybody knows her name now is she has been working seemingly non-stop.

That is often what separates the successes from the also-rans. You not only have to have talent, you have to work it day in and day out while you're young and can stand the pace.