Thursday, July 21, 2016

Primate Proclivity for Peace?

I recently read with great interest about Frans de Waal's work studying primate behavior in The New York Times Book Review of Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are? Empathy, cooperation and fairness seem like distinctly human traits, but biologist Frans de Waal explains why animals might share those same qualities. He maintains that for centuries, our understanding of animal intelligence was obscured in a cloud of false assumptions and human egotism. A primatologist examining boundary lines between our species and others for thirty years, he is said to painstakingly untangle the confusion through research, revealing a wide range of animal capabilities. He studied prosocial choices in apes, showing yawn contagion, synchronization, consolation behavior, and altrusim. Even after fighting viciously, Chimpanzees reportedly reconcile due to saving a valuable relationship damaged by conflict. In a Ted Talk, he shows video of Capuchin monkeys which demonstrated empathy when there was clear inequity in being rewarded. Evolved morality exists in his opinion, rather than believing our bodies may have evolved from monkeys, but that our brains are their own miraculous and discrete inventions. He argues cognition must be understood as an evolutionary product with what he calls “cognitive ripples.” We tend to notice intelligence in primates because it’s most conspicuous. It looks the most like our intelligence. However, “after the apes break down the dam between the humans and the rest of the animal kingdom, the floodgates often open to include species after species.” See book review here-- and Ted Talk here--