NOVA: Ape Genius
Experts zero in on what separates humans from our closest living relatives
I just watched this documentary this weekend. As always, it was a well-done and interesting video from NOVA. (Do they ever cease to amaze?) The program covered various behaviors in chimpanzees (mostly) and apes, such as using tools for stabbing and spearing, imitation, and cooperation.
Researchers showed that chimps can learn by imitation. I’m not sure if their form of imitation would qualify as memetics or not. Blackmore said that learning to ride a bike or how to play golf is not a meme, but the idea of riding a bike or playing golf is. How this would translate to primate societies, I just don’t know.
Although they did not use these exact words, it appears (to me anyway) that chimps do have some rudimentary form of Theory of Mind (since they can act in order to deceive – unless as Adriana once commented, is simply more behavioral), but in no way is this nearly as developed as it is in humans.
Also, what prevents primates from evolving more quickly seems to be that while they can imitate one another, they are not inclined to teach one another. So unlike human cultures where we build on the knowledge of the past, much of the tool innovation and new-found skills of one generation can be lost in subsequent generations.
Primates also have a much more difficult time in controlling their emotions, too, which may also inhibit social cohesion and progress.
By the way, the way they have this worded on the NOVA site is a little misleading, I think. While cognitive comparisons are drawn between humans and primates, this documentary is really more about them than it is us. The site does not give that impression it seems.
There are lots of good supporting links on the homepage, too. Be sure to check them out.
Video preview here.