[Taxacom] "Enculturalization" in apes, dogs, and birds

Kenneth Kinman kennethkinman at webtv.net
Wed Feb 9 22:57:44 CST 2011

Dear All,
      I was watching a rerun of a NovaNow show tonight, and it showed
dogs and young human children reacting to finger pointing by adult
humans to receive a food reward.  Both groups did well, but they showed
chimps (bonobo chimps as I recall) failing to following such
finger-pointing clues.             
      Interesting, but it seems to me that one should have easily
predicted such a result.  Human babies have been enculturized for
hundreds of thousand (if not millions) of years, and even domesticated
dogs for many thousand of years.  So is it really surprising that chimps
or bonobos (at best enculturized for just a mere generation or two or
three) do not perform well in such experiments?  The producers of this
show seemed to be overly dog-centric and therefore overly willing to
overly exaggerate dog intelligence over ape intelligence.            
       This also got me to thinking about John Grehan's claim that
orangutans have more mechanical ability than chimps and gorillas, one of
those characters supposedly making them more similar to humans than
African apes. Both orangutans and African apes presumably have only a
few generations of "enculturization" with human culture (compared to
domestic dogs), but even among such great apes, there seems to be a
major difference between intensively "encultualized" apes (no matter
which great ape species) and those simply raised in captivity without
more intensive human "training" and attention.    
      Therefore, Grehan's Character 41 of mechanical abilitiy also seems
worthy of more scutiny, depending on how intensively "enculturized" the
chimp or orangutan subjects are.  Of course, that is just one of the
supposed synapomorphies he and Schwartz propose for their
orangutan-hominid" clade (and I just reread Grehan's 2006 paper in The
Anatomical Record).  But as I have repeatedly pointed out, many of those
supposed synapomorphies (especially many of the tooth characters likely
to evolutionary connected and redundant) seem more likely to be
plesiomorphic (not synapomorphic).      
           -------------Ken Kinman         
P.S.  Grehan and Schwartz seem extremely critical of characters
supporting an African ape-hominid clade (morphological as well as
molecular), but far much less so in criticizing their own supposed
morphological synapomorphies for an orangutan-hominid clade.           
       I still believe that their time would be far BETTER spent on
disproving an exclusive chimp-hominid clade, and documenting an
exclusive chimp-gorilla clade (upon which we seem to agree).  OF COURSE,
such an exclusive chimp-gorilla clade certainly does NOT mean that
orangutans and hominids clade together exclusively (especially if their
similarities are plesiomorphic).  Our agreement is only that an
exclusive chimp-hominid clade is very problematic.            
       Sadly, the big debate in the press continues to be a
chimp-hominid clade vs. an  orangutan-hominid clade.  But relatively
little attention is given to the more likely separate hypothesis that
hominids clade with NEITHER orangutans nor chimps, but more likely that
hominids split off after orangutans, but before an exclusive
chimp-gorilla clade.  That actually better explains the various
similarities beween hominids and orangutans (mostly plesiomorphic) and
hominids with chimps and gorillas (mostly synapormorphic or even some
      And of course, the similarities to domesticated dogs are far more
a cultural  parallelism or convergence due to intense enculturalization
for many thousands of years.  It's therefore not surprising that dogs
more readily respond to human finger-pointing.  They have been bred and
trained to do that sort of thing for many thousands of years.       
       "Domestication" or enculturalizaion of organutans and chimps is
far more recent.  So  scientific conclusions are probably largely skewed
by whether individual  researchers are bonded intimately with raising
dogs, chimps, or orangutans.  The longer association between humans and
their domesticated dogs almost certainly explains the implication in the
NovaNow program that domesticated dogs have some kind of finger-pointing
intelligence lacking in chimps.  Seems more a matter of breeding and
training over thousands of years.  As for talking birds like parrots or
even corvids, their intelligence seems more of a parallelism due to
parallel brain development and endothermy (a parallelism compared to the
more distant convergence with intelligence in invertebrates like squid
and octopei).  Such convergence is more related to increased visual
acuity coupled with brain development in a broader evolutionary context.
I suppose in time we could train such cephalopods to do even more
sophicated tricks to their impress their trainers.  Not surprising that
intelligent animals in captivity readily adapt to their human trainers.
Even spoiled dogs and cats have trained their owners in western society
to devote whole aisles of supermarkets to dog and cat food.  But a
majority of them probably don't give a second thought to our great ape
relatives in Asia or Africa that are actually endangered.    


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