Culture: In the beak of the beholder?

We disagree with two of Rendell and Whitehead’s assertions. Culture may be an ancestral characteristic of terrestrial cetacean ancestors; not derived via marine variability, modem cetacean mobility, or any living cetacean social structure. Furthermore, evidence for vocal behavior as culture, social stability, and cognitive ability, is richer in birds than Rendell and Whitehead portray and comparable to that of cetaceans and primates.

Lynn, S.K., and I.M. Pepperberg. 2001. Culture: In the beak of the beholder? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 24(2):341-342.

(Commentary item)

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Possible levels of animal consciousness with reference to Grey Parrots (Psittacus erithacus)

Researchers often study nonhuman abilities by assuming their subjects form representations about perceived stimuli and then process such information; why then would consciousness be required, and, if required, at what level? Arguments about nonhuman consciousness range from claims of levels comparable to humans to refutation of any need to study such phenomena. We suggest that (a) species exhibit different levels attuned to their ecological niches, and (b) animals, within their maximum possible level, exhibit different extents of awareness appropriate to particular situations, much like humans (presumable conscious) who often act without conscious awareness of factors controlling their behavior. We propose that, to engage in complex information processing, animals likely exhibit perceptual consciousness sensu Natsoulas (1978), i.e., are aware of what is being processed. We discuss these issues and provide examples suggesting perceptual consciousness.

Pepperberg, I.M., and S.K. Lynn. 2000. Possible levels of animal consciousness with reference to Grey Parrots (Psittacus erithacus). American Zoologist 40:893-901.

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