Redefining Culture -- Chimpanzees and Research Paper

Excerpt from Research Paper :

When the driver looked in the hole, he found a dog sleeping inside -- and only when the dog was chased away would the elephant place the log into the hole (Holdrege, 2001).

Octopi -- Suprisingly, octopi have been shown to use tools. The will retrieve discarded coconut shells, manipulate them, and then reassemble them to use as a makeshift shelter (Coghlan, 2009). Other octopi will use Jellyfish and Portugese Man o War tenticles that they shear as their own weapon. They are the only invertebrates known to use tools and show surprising cognitive ability in mazes, food training, and even handler recognition (Jones, 1963).

Implications - Research into this new discovery is important because it redefines what it means to be "human," as well as implications about the evolution of violence and hominid predation. Finally, an understanding of non-human "culture" may help in answers questions about other intelligent species and human interaction with them.

That the Chimpanzee tribe would be sophisticated enough to carry out a hunt with tools implies several things. First, that the Chimpanzee was aware that they would have greater success in imagining a manipulative that would assist them in a preconceived notion. They would need to imagine the way the Bushbabies hide, and then extrapolate that into finding a tool they could easily manipulate into assisting them in a particular behavior. But it is not just any manipulative that the pick, the pick the best branches that have the best shapes, strip the leaves off them, and actually sharpen the points to make them far more effective weapons than simply using a stick. In fact, these Chimpanzees completed four or more steps to manufacture their tool. They were also able to decide which side branches should be stripped off in order to strengthen the manipulative and also make it less unweildly. They are also able to determine the relative size of the tool in relation to themselves, and adjust the tool accordingly -- in other words, unlike humans, one-size tool does not fit all (Pruetz, 112).

Indeed, studies of chimpanzees show that there is less socialization bias and a predisposition towards innate vs. environmental origins, as politically incorrect as this may seem. Male and female chimpanzees, like humans, considering there is less than a 2% differentiation on our genetic structure, differ. Genetics between the sexes are different, so is anatomy, neurology, and hormonally; yet in studies of chimpanzees these differences to do not necessarily indicate a strict dictum of solid behavior from each. For example, in the wild, female chimpanzees tend to be less competitive, more nurturing, conciliatory, and supportive of older, or weaker individuals. Males are certainly more competitive to pass on their genetic structure, but also depend upon cooperation in the wild, yet continually vie for a hierarchical challenge. Male chimpanzees have different social strategies than females, and yet, when combined, their society typically functions in balance. These behaviors, extrapolated, are likely to have remained similar in proto-humans, thus giving rise to the notion that many behaviors are "wired in" or at least genetically habitual (De Waal, 2007, 195-6).

Too, the actions of the tribe to have the foresight to actually seek out prey and hunt has additional implications. It could be that there is some missing nutrient from their normal diet, or it could be that they find they "enjoy" the hunt, the taste of fresh meat, and have now become habituated into the activity. Indeed, further observation of the tribe found that there seemed to be a group level of excitement when a hunt was planned, and an almost ritualistic fervor in making the tools, preparing for the hunt, and involving younger members of the tribe. These Chimpanzees, manipulated their environment, they trained, they prepared, and they taught hunting skills (Pruetz, 415-16).

Typically, when we speak of culture we mean a full range of learned "human" behavior patterns. We tend to think of culture as the whole of society, the art, music, technology, language, customs -- really the organizational template for the manner in which humans live and prosper. It does not exist in material, only the artifacts are evidence. It is inferred, subtle, and must be learned through a lengthy period of acculturation, which is why human children spend so long with their families. And, we as humans are so diverse that we have subcultures within our cultures, but still cultural universals that tie us together as a species. For humans, culture is part of the way we fit in, see ourselves, and actualize -- we share "human cultural traits." These traits, of course, are not all positive; we have an immense capacity for sublime beauty and good (art, music, humanitarianism), and just as vivid a capacity for ugliness and evil (genocide, mass-murder, torture, and war). Yet, this is how we have defined our special place in the world -- as being the only species with a true cultural heritage (Klein and Edgar, 2002).

These cultural notions, though, will need to be redefined as we explore and investigate the nature of non-human tool making, fore-planning, and considerable evidence of some of the cultural traits we thought were only in the realm of humanity. Instead, with cetacean studies showing more and more evidence of complex linguistic formats and primates planning for the hunt -- the idea of what makes a culture, and what separates humanity from the rest of the animal kingdom may be far greater than DNA.


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Sources Used in Document:


Coghlan, A. (2009, December 14). Octopuses Use Coconut Shells as Portable Shelters. Retrieved October 2010, from The New Scientist:

Cohen, J. (2010). Almost Chimpanzee: Searching for What Makes Us Human. Chicago: Times Books.

De Waal, F. (2007). Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

"Emerging Explorers," (2010). The National Geographic Society. Cited in:

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