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Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind
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Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  83 ratings  ·  15 reviews
In 1838 Charles Darwin jotted in a notebook, “He who understands baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke.” Baboon Metaphysics is DorothyL.Cheney and Robert M.Seyfarth’s fascinating response to Darwin’s challenge.

Cheney and Seyfarth set up camp in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, where they could intimately observe baboons and their social world. Baboons live in group
Hardcover, 358 pages
Published May 15th 2007 by University Of Chicago Press
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Bob Nichols
The authors believe their scientific work substantiates Darwin's often quoted statement that "He who understands [the?:]baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke." "Baboon Metaphysics" anchors human language in pre-human primate cognitive structures that were formed by natural selection. Survival in complex baboon societies is dependent on negotiating successfully relationships that are driven by rank. Baboons needed to "clump" sounds into multi-modal meaning. Thus a grunt from another ...more
Steven Peterson
The team of Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth has collaborated on numerous publications, including a fine book, "How Monkeys See the World." This represents an ambitious addition to their body of work. A takeoff point is a quotation from Charles Darwin's notebooks, from 1838 (Page 1): "Origin of man now proved--Metaphysic must flourish--He who understands baboon would do more toward metaphysics than Locke." The authors use the Cambridge English Dictionary to define metaphysics (Page 2): "the pa ...more
The authors pose intriguing questions about baboons, their mind, the origins of language, mental states, etc. However, the methodology they use is quite limited--this is not a criticism towards their work, there is not much more one can do under their circumstances. Most experiments are about playing a few baboon grunts from the bushes and observing the immediate reaction or measuring certain hormones in the feces on the following days. No matter how clever the experiment design is, I doubt that ...more
This is a really fascinating book, well worth reading. As I wrote previously, it's by two primate researchers who have done some very extensive studies of baboons and are assessing the results of those studies to get at the question of whether baboons possess intelligence, self awareness, awareness of others, and any kind of ethical system. Their conclusion is that baboons are highly intelligent, in that they're able to comprehend and respond to a very complex set of symbols in their world. Thou ...more
Stephen Redwood
It's amazing how complex baboon social structures are and the capabilities they have to navigate the frequent changes in relationships that occur. The detailed descriptions of experimental methods employed to determine what is going on in the heads of the baboons are impressive, but a bit heavy going unless you are interested in this for academic reasons. The stories about how humans have used baboons to work with them are fascinating and the insights into their capabilities narrows the gap betw ...more
Scientific tome which cites extensive literature search. Couple lived in isolation beside the Votswana's Okavango swamp. They followed baboon troops daily, amid the predator rich environment of snakes, big cats, elephants and Hippos. Their emphasis was to do experiments (playback audio) to determine similarities and differences between this species of monkey and ourselves in social consciousness, language and empathy. One big difference was the lack of apparent understanding in the baboon that o ...more
More readable than their previous book, Baboon Metaphysics is a brilliant analysis of the cognitive abilities (and worldview) of monkeys as contrasted with that of people. I found it quite enjoyable, and specific chapters (Social Knowledge, Theory of Mind, Communication) are excellent (if monkey-centric) reviews of the comparative literature in these fields circa 2006.
Mar 27, 2009 Emily marked it as to-read
Recommended to Emily by: oddest title contest
This book came to my attention having been chosen as runner up in the oddest title contest in the UK but then when I started reading about it, I decided to add it to my "to read" shelf. I did a lot of reading about primates when putting together a nonfiction collection on primates for children for an assignment and the interest hasn't left me!
Jan Underwood
This delightful book examines in minute and hilarious detail the complex social lives of Okavango Delta baboons and catalogs the authors' carefully devised tests to tease out the inner workings of the baboon mind. Their arguments are fascinating and compelling, and their lively writing often made me laugh aloud.
A look at baboon society with an eye toward a theory of mind. A decent book, but a bit repetitive. The last couple of chapters on language theory seemed a departure from the approach of the rest of the book. Overall, worth the read, but be prepared to skim some parts.
John Wylie
A simply wonderful book that clearly demonstrates that primates fully understand every detail of their complex social ecology, and all that information is packed inside each of a mere fourteen verbal expressions.
Feb 08, 2008 Kim rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who talk to their cats
Hate baboons? Think they're just plain ugly and mean? This book can change your mind! See p. 33 for a really cool story.
I wrote a paper on this book for school. Very interesting material
"...a library of clearly recorded screams from different females."
This is the most interesting book I've ever read ever.
Supriti marked it as to-read
Jan 21, 2015
Richard Eldridge
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