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Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind 1st Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226102443
ISBN-10: 0226102440
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lovers' quarrels and murder, greed and social climbing: baboon society has all the features that make a mainstream novel a page-turner. The question Cheney and Seyfarth (How Monkeys See the World) ask, however, is more demanding: how much of baboon behavior is instinctive, and how much comes from actual thought? Are baboons self-aware? To find answers, the authors spent years observing a clan of baboons in Botswana's Moremi Game Reserve. Like most primates, baboons are social creatures, living in large groups of 100, where individual rank—and the ability to claim food or a mate—is based on a complex web of birth and consort relationships. Cheney and Seyfarth pepper their descriptions with surprisingly apt literary comparisons, such as the example of a baboon who runs afoul of a higher-ranking member and receives much the same treatment as an unwitting character in an Edith Wharton novel. Along the way we get a good look at the state of current primate research on intelligence and learn why scientists think the human brain is still unique. While describing important research about baboon cognition and social relations, this book charms as much as it informs. 50 b&w photos, 1 line drawing. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Charles Darwin once observed, "He who understands baboons would do more towards metaphysics than Locke." In other words, to understand the evolution of the human mind we must study the minds of our closest relatives. Primatologists^B Cheney and Seyfarth (How Monkeys See the World, 1990) have studied the same troop of chacma baboons since 1992, and here they demonstrate the importance of their social behavior. Living in a world of predators, baboons must rely on each other for safety, and the resulting large groups they live in are perfect hotbeds of complicated relationships. Matrilineal groups of females retain status by helping their own kin, whereas males act individually and for themselves. Females form short-term bonds with males for mating and long-term friendships with the same or other males for protection. But how do baboons view the world? How do they decide who to associate with, who to defer to, and who to dominate? Cheney and Seyfarth discuss these and other related questions in a style that both explains complex concepts and challenges the reader. Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 358 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (September 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226102440
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226102443
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #648,707 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. N. Anderson VINE VOICE on July 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The intrepid team of Cheney and Seyfarth has done it again. Their work has a long-standing and deserved reputation for being both pioneering and sensible, a rather rare combination. This book traces implications for human evolution of their research on baboons in the Okavango Delta of Botswana. I have had my camps in the Delta raided by baboons who must be close relatives of Cheney and Seyfarth's friends. I formed a healthy respect for their intelligence. They can bring off a raid with military precision and scientific thoroughness, taking advantage of the least opportunity to steal everything usable and wreck everything else.
The title comes from Darwin: "he who understands baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke." Of course, we don't really learn about the baboons' metaphysics here; we learn how their behavior can change our metaphysics, as Darwin intended. (I don't know if baboons have metaphysics or not, but if they do, they surely believe that God is a huge dominant male baboon who mercifully sends endless parties of humans with crackers and bacon and peanuts.)
This book describes baboon social behavior and communication, and then goes on to show how it is and is not similar to human equivalents. They argue, convincingly, that human communication, complex thought, and high intelligence could and did evolve from primate social interaction. We need our smarts for our social life more than for toolmaking or feeding or avoiding predators. Their discussion of language is particularly good--a really thoughtful, excellent, up-to-date discussion of how human language differs from animal communication, and how this might have come about.
The authors also compare baboons with dogs, jays, and other highly social creatures.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ok, that's a little hype. But the earlier chapters especially were practically as charming. Several thousand undergraduates will be assigned this book and for many of them it will be one of the most memorable things they read in college. Who's Simon and who's Garfunkle in this team of authors I don't know, but their style is very engaging. This is one aspect of the work, the pure ethology, and it's very good. How many of us have been chased up a tree with a bunch of monkeys by a lion? Me, only once or twice.

Another aspect is a running series of experiments done by the authors interspersed with others carried on by other researchers on monkey (and a little ape) behavior designed to "get inside their minds" in order to obtain a sense of how they view the world. No doubt many readers will have encountered many of these results here and there in their other reading. It's nice to have so many collected in one book and I can't help feeling up to speed on the subject now.

The BIG IDEA is that "social intelligence" is a precursor to language as it appears in humans, and I'll let the reader make her own judgments on that. It at least gives one a lot to think about and despite the remarks of one professional reviewer, it's not a particularly "challenging" book if that means hard-to-read. It is challenging for sure in that it-makes-you-think.Anyone interested in origin of language theory will need to read this book.

((I would only negatively remark as a onetime philosophy teacher that the authors have an inordinate amount of respect for the (current) folk philosophy of D. Dennet and the philosophy speak of intention and recursiveness. That's probably why the book is called "challenging".
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Format: Hardcover
Charles Darwin once wrote of his belief that if we would learn something very important if we could but understand the behavior of baboon.

The authors of this enthralling book are widely known for their studies of primate behavior in the Okavango in Botswana, and set out to do just that: understand how behavior baboons live and organize their lives.

Baboons live in groups of up to 150 individuals, which include a few males and eight or nine matrilineal families of females. The account of the daily life of the group reads like the script of Survivor!

There is a complicated mix of personal relationships ranging from short-term bonds for mating to long-term friendships that lead to cooperative rearing of the young. There are intrigues that may involve alliances of two or three individuals all the way up to battles that involve three or four extended families.

What this tells us is that the survival of an individual baboon and his or her family depends on an ability to predict the behavior of others and arrange to form the most advantageous relationships. So are these just reflexive behaviors, or do baboons form models of the world and their place in it? In such a fluid social environment, to what extent can they deduce the motives of other baboons?

This book sets out to discover the intelligence that underlies this social organization. In the process we learn a lot about ourselves.

The book is divided into twelve chapters:
1. The Evolution of Mind
2. The Primate Mind in Myth and Legend
3. Habitat, Infanticide, and Predation
4. Males: Competition, Infanticide, and Friendship
5. Females: Kinship, Rank, Competition, and Cooperation
6. Social Knowledge
7. The Social Intelligence Hypothesis
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