Social Bonobos

Oh TED talks, will you ever stop being interesting. This talk is something I’ve posted on my gchat before, but it’s really, really cool so I hope you watch it.

One question that has been rumbling around in the back of my head concerns the uniqueness of the human mind. Science throughout history has continually displaced humanity from the center of the universe and told us that we are not special. Modern science (and neuroscience) continues to do that. Tool use? Pah! You can teach rodents to use a rake! Social coordination? Ants! Language? Maybe there we have something – although who knows? Birds sometimes seem like they might be able to do that. And the conceit that language is always auditory is almost certainly false – it is quite likely that other creatures use other methods of communication in ways equivalent to our languages. Maybe they are using chemicals?

Probably the largest difference is in our ability to socially communicate culture. Modern humans aren’t significantly more intelligent than man from hundreds of thousands of years ago – we just have culture. All those things that you would ask, “How could someone not know how to do that?” is the result of deep acculturation. I think this video of Bonobos should make that clear.

But I think that humanity is really exacerbating that advantage. Note pads allow us to extend our memory. Books enhance cultural transmission. The Internet can increase socialization (through Facebook, Twitter, etc.). And so on and so forth. I think may be something of a contentious issue in philosophy, though I haven’t actually read the article yet.

Also, apparently people film Bonobos having sex and make other humans watch it. Strange.