Do Animals have Culture?

Do animals have culture?

Probably everyone would say instantly ‘Yes’. Google the above question, you’ll find loads of articles carrying this story.

Chimpanzees found inheriting certain abilities which were not biological. Whale invents a technique which is followed by other whales. Thus Animals do have culture.

Is it?

This is the modern inclination you consider. This style is believed to be scientific. It’s trend these days to believe in an article whatever it claims itself to be scientific. But the truth is most of the population doesn’t know what science is. Popular article writers utilize this ignorance of their readers and they tend to pour traffic onto their sites by writing something which they claim scientific.

Let us take for instance the chimp and whale story. What’s the objective behind these experiments? Were these experiments conducted with pure objective to unfold the truth of animal culture?

Definitely not. These are observations. How one shall conclude that animals have culture just with these observations whose objectives were different. Are they valid?

‘It seems to me that there are two types of primate studies, or two sets of writing about primate behavior; (1) those of field workers, in which the behavior is coldly measured, and (2) those of people trying to prove how much we have learned about the human behavior and evolution from the study of primates. The first kind is usually of excellent quality and cannot be seen as anything but a tremendous addition to our knowledge. The second type is often nonsense and simple bandwagoning.

–  Ralph L. Holloway

This is first-class clarification for those going behind such fake scientific articles. Well, here we shall pierce the question with bursting scientific phase.

Is it so, do animals have culture?

For now, Let animals be aside. Come to culture.

What’s culture?

Oxford dictionary of English says that the word ‘culture’ is derived from the Latin word ‘colere’ which means ‘tend’ or ‘cultivate’. In whole picture ‘culture’ means ‘complex process of Cultivation with an intention of benefit’.

Agriculture is a complex process of cultivation of crops with an intention of benefit. Horticulture is complex process of cultivation of flowers with an intention of benefit. Likewise, Tissue Culture is complex process of cultivation of tissues or cells in group with an intention of benefit. Viral Culture is complex process of cultivation of viruses with an intention of benefit.

If you remove these words ‘an intention of benefit’ from the above definition of culture, Agriculture and Horticulture will be named ‘Unwanted weed growth’. Whereas, Tissue Culture and Viral Culture will be termed ‘cancer’ or ‘disease’ without the objective of benefit.

Great then, what’s the point here comparing that culture with this culture. Coming. I’m trying to define

culture right from its origin and evolution so that it will not look like definition but a probe.

The word ‘culture’, in 17th century was first time used in completely different aspect. Philosopher’s started using the word ‘culture’ as cultivation of soul, ‘complex process of cultivation of good values with an intention of greater benefit for oneself and for the whole humankind’ they defined.

And in 19th century E.B.Taylor used the word ‘culture’ in his book. He defines culture as ‘the complex whole shared by Man as a member of society’. This is the first formal definition of ‘culture’ from an Anthropologist. And anthropologists developed the definition further.

Today, the definition stands saying ‘culture is universally human capacity to classify and encode human experiences symbolically and to communicate symbolically the encoded experiences socially’. If this definition is much heavier let us say precisely that ‘Culture is imposition of arbitrary form upon the environment.’ This is the definition of culture by Halloway.

Culture is the ability or capacity of human beings to classify and represent experiences with symbols, and to act imaginatively and creatively.

Ok. Ease up. Let’s leave everything here and shall encounter another question. ‘Are humans superior to animals?

Most of those who said ‘Animals do have culture’ first, will say ‘Yes’ to this question with affirmation or hesitation. But no one would say ‘No’. Human beings are superior beings to Animals’ because this is evident. Why do we say so? We do realize that human establishes himself superior to other beings by certain attributes. Even, our discussion of other animals, their culture and behavior shows that we attempt to establish our superiority over them. This is apparent, animals are lesser or not superior to Humans.

Animals do have culture but we are superior, this is the conclusion most people try to give. Let us investigate further ahead of wrapping up.

I’ll say we are not superior.

We’re not superior to a bee or a parrot or a cat in Vision.

We’re not superior to a bat in hearing.

We’re not superior to a Dog in differentiating smells.

We’re not superior physically to an Elephant.

We’re not superior to a Lion, in hunting.

We’re not superior to a sloth in sleeping.

We’re not superior to a bird in flying.

We’re not superior to a Whale in swimming.

We’re not superior to a Cheetah in running.

We’re not superior to anything except in one thing that is advanced intelligent and social behavior.

This superiority or complexity of Intelligence and Social Behavior which we are highly advanced at, than other beings is called culture. Culture is imposition of arbitrary form upon the environment.

Though we are highly inferior to other animals in every sort, we have a capability to impose some arbitrary things on the environment. With this imposition we attempt to view, hear, smell, strengthen, hunt, fly, run, and swim in advanced manner than those animals. We impose certain strokes to encode a picture of a tree or an action and later with those strokes we decode the picture or action. That is human tendency, the cultural tendency. Still stubborn?

‘We say ‘Animals have culture’ with only one support. Animals do inherit certain tendencies of Humans like teaching to younger generation, symbolizing unto certain extend etc. They, do inherit by non-biological process, why don’t we call these tendency to be cultural?

‘Man’s social behavior could be compared directly with that of other species, and interpreted by the same Darwinian concepts, Fruitful areas of research comparable to those developed in comparative ethology might be, for example: territoriality, optimum population maintenance, agnostic behavior, mating and consort behavior, ritualized display, play, intergroup relations, communication systems, etc. This expansion of orientation should lead to a better understanding of the non-cultural aspects of human social systems and in consequence to a sharper appreciation of the role of culture in human adaptation.’

–          – Tiger and R. Fox, The zoological perspective of social science.

This is a list for Social Behaviors from Tiger and Fox which still extends advancing.

The debate that ‘Animals have culture’ which emerges by the empirical evidence of animals to inherit by non-biological process falls completely under the above category. There is no superiority or complexity of Intelligence and Social Behavior in these observations which is necessary for a cultural aspect to arise.

Hallowell develops an idea of ‘Proto-Cultural stage’ to bridge this gap between Social Behavior and Culture. Further, Hockett and Ascher adds design features of productivity, traditional transmission and duality of patterning and attributes of self-objectification, symbolic reference, self identification, self-awareness and self-appraisal to the evolution of proto-cultural stage to cultural stage. With this they try to map the behavior of early hominids (not hominoids).

Likewise, Maruyama writes that ’the invention of symbolization or the capacity to structure the environment arbitrarily, is thus an initial kick which starts the process moving in the mutual-casual interplay between cultural and biological sectors of human evolution, e.g., expansion of brain, tool complexity, manual dexterity, social structure based on cohesion, communication’.

Terrance W.Deacon writes in his book ‘The Symbolic Species’ that ‘Biologically, we are just another ape. Mentally, we are a new phylum of organisms’, and further he argues that language of Humans can never be compared with Animal communications since they’re not analogic but vastly divergent.

He further writes, ‘Though we share the same earth with millions of kinds of living creatures, we also live in a world that no other species has access to. We inhabit a world full of abstractions, impossibilities, and paradoxes.  We  alone  brood  about what didn’t  happen,  and  spend  a  large  part  of  each  day  musing about  the way  things  could  have  been  if  events  had  transpired  differently.  And we alone ponder what it will be like not to be.  In what other  species could individuals ever be troubled by  the fact  that  they do not recall the way things were  before  they  were  born  and  will not  know  what will occur  after  they Die? We tell stories about our real experiences and invent stories about imagined ones, and we even make use of these stories to organize our lives.  In a real sense, we live our lives in this shared virtual world.  And slowly, over the millennia, we have come to realize that no other species on earth seems able to follow us into this miraculous place.’

Again, Culture is imposition of arbitrary form upon the environment.

Let me conclude with Holloway’s conclusion, Culture is ours alone, by the facts of arbitrariness and imposition. Logical frameworks which necessitate a priori decisions regarding the placement of an event in the past in a psychological framework will not determine the presence of “culture”; an analysis of stone tools will. A return to the essential problem, the “imposition of arbitrary form upon the environment”, might serve as a stimulus for discussion that will eventually return culture once again to our own domain.

That’s it. Human being alone possesses culture. Culture is the entity which separates human from animals. Read this essay again to be lucid.

Baba Pakurdheen A

Anthropologist, Writer, Traveler, Journalist and ultimately a Simplite.

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