A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘bonobos

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • In an extended meditation, Antipope’s Charlie Stross considers what the domestic architecture of the future will look like. What different technologies, with different uses of space, will come into play?
  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait looks at the new SPECULOOS exoplanet hunting telescope, specializing in the search for planets around the coolest stars.
  • The Crux looks at the evolutionary origins of hominins and chimpanzees in an upright walking ape several million years ago.
  • D-Brief notes the multiple detections of gravitational waves made by LIGO.
  • The Dragon’s Tales looks at the development of laser weapons by China.
  • Karen Sternheimer at the Everyday Sociology Blog looks at the gap between social theory and field research.
  • Gizmodo shares an interesting discussion with paleontologists and other dinosaur experts: What would the dinosaurs have become if not for the Chixculub impact?
  • Hornet Stories notes the ways in which the policies of the Satanic Temple would be good for queer students.
  • io9 notes how the Deep Space 9 documentary What We Leave Behind imagines what a Season 8 would have looked like.
  • Joe. My. God. reports that activist Jacob Wohl is apparently behind allegations of a sexual assault by Pete Buttigieg against a subordinate.
  • JSTOR Daily takes a look at the uses of the yellow ribbon in American popular culture.
  • Language Hat shares an account of the life experiences of an Israeli taxi driver, spread across languages and borders.
  • Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money makes deserved fun of Bret Easton Ellis for his claims to having been marginalized.
  • Marginal Revolution considers, briefly, the idea that artificial intelligence might not be harmful to humans. (Why would it necessarily have to be?)
  • The NYR Daily considers a British exhibition of artworks by artists from the former Czechoslovakia.
  • Peter Rukavina looks at gender representation in party caucuses in PEI from the early 1990s on, noting the huge surge in female representation in the Greens now.
  • The Signal looks at how the Library of Congress is preserving Latin American monographs.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel explains how Einstein knew that gravity must bend light.
  • Window on Eurasia explains the sharp drop in the ethnic Russian population of Tuva in the 1990s.

[LINK] “Endangered Bonobos Reveal Evolution of Human Kindness”

At National Geographic, James Owen observes that studies of the critically endangered bonobo reveal much about human evolutionary origins, particularly human societies and empathy.

The bonobos, orphaned by illegal hunters in central Africa, are the study subjects of evolutionary anthropologists Brian Hare and Jingzhi Tan, both of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Working with the rescued apes at the Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Hare and Tan have revealed a social side to bonobos that was previously thought to be uniquely human.

Unlike other nonhuman primate—including our other closest living relatives, chimpanzees—peace-loving bonobos seem to tolerate strangers, share resources with random bonobos, and exhibit a form of empathy called contagious yawning. (Related: “‘Contagious’ Yawning Occurs More Among Loved Ones.”)

These findings may help to solve the long-standing evolutionary puzzle of why humans show kind or helpful behavior to other humans beyond their immediate family or group: It could have a biological basis.

“Certainly culture and education play an important role in the development of human altruism, but the bonobo finding tells us that even the most extreme form of human tolerance and altruism is in part driven by our genes,” Tan said.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 11, 2014 at 7:10 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • Bag News Notes features multiple interesting brief photo essays: one about the downloadable gun; one about the woman miraculously rescued from the wreckage of the factory in Bangladesh; one about how modernism, done right, can be quite beautiful.
  • At Beyond the Beyond, Bruce Sterling links to a critique of the English words and terms used by European Union officials and to a description of the post-democratic “info-state”.
  • Crooked Timber commemorates the conviction of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Mott by noting that Ronald Reagan spoke highly of him.
  • At A Fistful of Euros, Edward Hugh introduces the work of a blogger who suggests that, between emigration and the consequences of a low birth rate, Portugal’s economy is set to crater.
  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Robert Farley considers Edward Hugh’s suggestion that some countries might face state failure as depopulation proceeds.
  • Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen seems to like Feedly as an alternative to Google Reader.
  • Naked Anthropologist Laura Agustín blogs about the way in people transgressed identities–national, occupational, and so on–can be quite commonsensical while others who don’t get this can be stuck.
  • Savage Minds interviews journalist and anthropologist Sarah Kendzior about experience in her two professions.
  • Strange Maps links to a map of chimpanzee and bonobo populations in central Africa, divided not only by their behaviour (the first violent, the second sexual) but by the Congo River.
  • Une heure de peine’s Denis Colombi tackles the idea that French emigrants are refugees fleeing a hostile environment at home, as opposed to being mobile professionals in a global workplace.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy’s Ilya Somin argues that judicial rulings legalizing same-sex marriage have not harmed same-sex marriage at the ballot box.
  • Window on Eurasia touches on the ethnic divisions among Russian Buddhists–Kalmyks, Tuvans, Buryats–that is preventing the establishment of a Buddhist sanctuary in Moscow.

[LINK] “Tool-Making Bonobos Give Glimpse of Human Origins”

Wired Science’s Brandon Keim has more on tool-using bonobos.

Unlike their chimpanzee cousins, bonobos — formally known Pan paniscus to the chimps’ Pan troglodytes — have shown limited toolmaking ability, and are better known for their relatively gentle, highly amorous natures. Yet that doesn’t mean bonobos are intrinsically incapable of tool use, which anthropologists consider to be a crucial cognitive benchmark. Their potential may simply have gone untapped.

Roffman and colleagues worked with Kanzi and Pan-Banisha, a pair of bonobos living at the Great Ape Trust, who in the 1990s had been taught to shape tools from flint. In the new study, published Aug. 21 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the two bonobos are described using those techniques decades later to crack open food-filled logs used as research substitutes for marrow-rich bones.

Holding a flint core in their right hands and hammer stones in their left, both bonobos made small, sharp-edged scrapers. Kanzi, the handier of the pair, also made choppers, wedges and drills. Altogether, his toolset resembled the famous implements made 2.6 million years ago by ancestral dwellers of what is now the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. Indeed, the marks left by Kanzi’s tools on his logs were strikingly similar to wear patterns seen in ancient butchered bones.

“Only early Homo was thought to produce such tool use markings,” wrote Roffman’s team. “Here we report that present-day Pan also has such competencies.”

“What is interesting here is that they use these tools for specific actions that could have been performed by our ancestors, like digging for food underground or extracting bone marrow,” said primatologist Thibaud Gruber of Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, who also studies bonobo tool use. He called the results “an important finding,” underscoring the likelihood that the last common ancestor of bonobos, chimps and humans possessed toolmaking abilities.

As Gruber and the study’s authors pointed out, Kanzi and Pan-Banisha are no ordinary bonobos. Aside from their tool-making training, they’ve lived around humans their entire lives, and use pictorial symbols to engage in complex dialog with their human handlers. Kanzi and Pan-Banisha’s level of toolmaking sophistication probably doesn’t exist in wild bonobos.

Yet rather than being a caveat, that may be a central lesson of the results, said primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, a study co-author and head scientist at the Great Ape Trust. Other bonobos can make stone tools, but it’s these two individuals, whose vocabulary includes 480 word symbols and who understand thousands of English words, who make tools best.

[. . .]

According to Savage-Rumbaugh, present-day Pan, both bonobos and chimpanzees, possess that cognitive advance. Whether it’s readily apparent is simply a function of circumstance. “The proper cultural and ecological conditions could serve to bootstrap a complex stone tool technology in Pan,” she said.

Findings like these drive home the importance of protecting chimpanzees and bonobos, which in the wild are going extinct, said Roffman. We’re literally preserving a living piece of our own heritage. “We have looked to the stars searching for contact with intelligent beings,” he said. “However, they have been with us all along, and are called Pan.”

Written by Randy McDonald

August 22, 2012 at 3:01 am

[LINK] “Bonobo genius makes stone tools like early humans did”

The two possible explanations for one bonobo’s tool creation and tool usage as presented by New Scientist‘s Hannah Krakauer–high levels of intelligence or cultural diffusion from human beings–are equally remarkable to me.

Eviatar Nevo of the University of Haifa in Israel and his colleagues sealed food inside a log to mimic marrow locked inside long bones, and watched Kanzi, a 30-year-old male bonobo chimp, try to extract it. While a companion bonobo attempted the problem a handful of times, and succeeded only by smashing the log on the ground, Kanzi took a longer and arguably more sophisticated approach.

Both had been taught to knap flint flakes in the 1990s, holding a stone core in one hand and using another as a hammer. Kanzi used the tools he created to come at the log in a variety of ways: inserting sticks into seams in the log, throwing projectiles at it, and employing stone flints as choppers, drills, and scrapers. In the end, he got food out of 24 logs, while his companion managed just two.

Perhaps most remarkable about the tools Kanzi created is their resemblance to early hominid tools. Both bonobos made and used tools to obtain food – either by extracting it from logs or by digging it out of the ground. But only Kanzi’s met the criteria for both tool groups made by early Homo: wedges and choppers, and scrapers and drills.

Do Kanzi’s skills translate to all bonobos? It’s hard to say. The abilities of animals like Alex the parrot, who could purportedly count to six, and Betty the crow, who crafted a hook out of wire, sometimes prompt claims about the intelligence of an entire species. But since these animals are raised in unusual environments where they frequently interact with humans, their cases may be too singular to extrapolate their talents to their brethren.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 21, 2012 at 11:03 pm