The Evolution of a Social Mind
The Evolution of a Social Mind
“The vivid narrative is like a bush detective story.”—Steven Poole, Guardian
“Baboon Metaphysics is a distillation of a big chunk of academic lives. . . . It is exactly what such a book should be—full of imaginative experiments, meticulous scholarship, limpid literary style, and above all, truly important questions.”—Alison Jolly, Science
“Cheney and Seyfarth found that for a baboon to get on in life involves a complicated blend of short-term relationships, friendships, and careful status calculations. . . . Needless to say, the ensuing political machinations and convenient romantic dalliances in the quest to become numero uno rival the bard himself.”—Science News
“Through ingenious playback experiments . . . Cheney and Seyfarth have worked out many aspects of what baboons used their minds for, along with their limitations. Reading a baboon’s mind affords an excellent grasp of the dynamics of baboon society. But more than that, it bears on the evolution of the human mind and the nature of human existence.”—Nicholas Wade, New York Times
Read an excerpt.
358 pages | 50 halftones, 1 line drawing | 6 x 9 | © 2007
Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology
Biological Sciences: Behavioral Biology
Cognitive Science: Human and Animal Cognition
Language and Linguistics: Anthropological/Sociological Aspects of Language
Philosophy: Philosophy of Mind
"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 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."
"As large, dog-snouted animals with ferocious teeth, baboons seem quite distant from us, yet they are genetically quite close to humans. There was even a time when these primates were seen as the best ancestral model for humans. Indeed, using a field technique perfected over the years with vervet monkeys and later with baboons, Cheney and Seyfarth reveal them to be accomplished social schemers. . . . As this lively book illustrates, these monkeys may show limitations in what they understand or care about, but they are absolutely unsurpassed at knowing every little detail of the relationship network of which they are a part.”--Frans de Waal, New Scientist
Frans de Waal | New Scientist
"The vivid narrative is like a bush detective story. . . and the authors’ conclusions have intriguing implications for the evolution of language in humans."
Steven Poole | Guardian
"Cheney and Seyfarth found that for a baboon to get on in life involves a complicated blend of short-term relationships, friendships, and careful status calculations; all of which must be weighed up against each baboon’s personal needs and requirements. Needless to say, the ensuing political machinations and convenient romantic dalliances in the quest to become numero uno rival the bard himself. Baboon Metaphysics is a fascinating window on a world seemingly parallel to our own, while examining why science still considers the human brain unique."
“Baboon Metaphysics is a distillation of a big chunk of academic lives: the wife-and-husband team of Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth plus a flock of their students and friends. It is exactly what such a book should be—full of imaginative experiments, meticulous scholarship, limpid literary style, and above all, truly important questions.”
Alison Jolly | Science
“In one of his notebooks, Charles Darwin wrote, ‘Origin of man proved.—Metaphysic must flourish.—he who understands baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke.’ Robert M. Seyfarth and Dorothy L. Cheney—pioneers in the study of primate psychology—take up the challenge. . . . Any way you look at it, the authors say, most of the problems facing baboons can be expressed in two words: other baboons. The authors aim to understand the intelligence that underlies this social organization.”
Pursuing the understanding and existence of knowledge (metaphysics) in the best tradition of Darwinian naturalists with a philosophical interest, Cheney and Seyfarth probe the depth of baboon and other caterrhine primate social behavior that is the central context of the evolution of minds of social primates, including humans. In this engaging, thoughtful work, the authors range widely and plumb topics deeply. . . . Their dedication to field observations of baboons and other primates for decades, coupled with field experiments, renders this work unique. The book is a sagacious milestone that deserves the close attention not only of biologists and primatologists, but also of psychologists and social scientists.
"Accessible enough for most general readers, ’Baboon Metaphysics’ does not assume prior knowledge of baboons, biology, or philosophy. Anyone dedicated enough can pick it up and digest its fascinating contents . . . [and] anyone seeking appreciation of the complexities of both animal and human life will find it here."
T.B. Robbins | Reviewer's Bookwatch
"Cheney and Seyfarth have produced a book that should be on the reading list of every scientist, student, and lay reader who searches for a seasoned, documented, and highly interesting thesis of what they have learned during decades of well-planned and executed research about the mind, thought, and intelligence of baboons."
International Journal of Primatology
"This is an impressive story not just because of the care that went into the observations and experiments they record, but also in the philosophical implication of their thinking about the mental life of baboons. . . . Cheney and Seyfarth have set out to observe--and by a set of ingenious experiments, test--the mental processes of baboons as exhibited by their grasp of social complexity. . . . One thing is clear: whereas human self-importance once placed human beings outside nature, everything that has followed from research of the kind done by Jane Goodall and Cheney and Seyfarth makes it impossible to think in such terms any longer."
A. C. Grayling | New York Review of Books
Table of Contents
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
8. Theory of Mind
9. Self-Awareness and Consciousness
11. Precursors to Language
12. Baboon Metaphysics