Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Monkey business

Powerline links to an AP story about the work of Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, an experimental psychologist.

She has developed some theories based on her studies of Bonobo pygmy chimpanzees, whose behavior has made them a favorite of anthropomorphizing Feminists for many years.

Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh is quoted:

"If the apes are able to learn language, music and art, once thought to be distinct to humans, then "it strongly suggests that those things are not innate in us," she said."
Actually, it suggests no such thing.

What is the scientific case that these qualities are not innate to us and also to Bonobos? Nothing in the premise suggests the conclusion that these are not innate human qualities. Perhaps she meant unique.

Maybe we could get Dr. Nancy Hopkins, of Larry Summers outrage fame (see my post of 26-Feb), to translate for us.

It’s clear Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh doesn’t understand syllogism, and that may be why she is in psychology instead of physics, but her comment stands as an excellent setup for the Feminist mantra that 99.9% of human behavior is determined by patriarchal socialization… err, nurture.

Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh:

"Those are things [language, etc.] that we have created, and create anew and build upon from one generation to the next ..." she said. "Then we have the power to change it and make it any other way. We could have an ideal world, if we but learn how to do it."
I don’t know about you, but I find the idea that we recreate language, art and music with each new human generation an exaggeration.

However, if we’re going to redesign our culture by forcing boys to play with baby-dolls and girls to play with chemistry sets, or raise a generation of children who speak Klingon, it’s an exaggeration we’ll need to accept.

I would like some demonstration, from non-Feminist researchers, that the Bonobo learning is passed on from generation to generation (aka “culture”) – minus any further human intervention. If it requires humans to teach them, then her proposal is incorrect even if we substitute "unique" for "innate".

Moreover, it seems as if evolution would have had Bonobos using language prior to human intervention if they were capable of passing on language; or art or music appreciation.

Isn’t “Look out for Leopard in grass! or, “Watch out for snake in tree!”, better than “EEKEEEKKEEEEEK!” as a survival characteristic? At least you know whether to look up or down.

And where are the Bonobo paintings and sculptures? Even if their facial anatomy does not lend itself to human-style language, they do have opposable thumbs.

Another evolutionary distortion seems to creep in: Bonobos share 98% of our DNA so they can provide a model for human culture if we would only return to our roots.

Unfortunately for this argument, DNA sharing does not mean we evolved from Bonobos. We would seem to share a common ancestor, but the fact that we took different evolutionary paths thereafter may only explain why they are Bonobos and we - are not.

The major point Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh seems to accept as given is that socialization is mainly about environment. This is, at best, an overoptimistic assumption of those Feminists who think the MIT Physics Department should be 51% composed of female professors.

A faint patina of science arises through association with the 17th and early 18th century ideas of John Locke and Jacques Rousseau. Locke’s tabula rasa and Rousseau’s noble savage are the archetypes for malleable man.

Steven Pinker did a pretty good job of presenting the case against these ideas in The Blank Slate.

But even if you don’t buy Pinker’s arguments, Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh wants you to accept Locke and Rousseau based on indefensible syllogisms that originate with the acceptance of a species of chimpanzee as human analogs.

I remain skeptical.

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