Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind

Dorothy L. Cheney, Author, Robert M. Seyfarth, Author . Univ. of Chicago $27.50 (348p) ISBN 978-0-226-10243-6

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 (How Monkeys See the World ) 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. 50 b&w photos, 1 line drawing. (May)

Reviewed on: 03/26/2007
Release date: 05/01/2007
Genre: Nonfiction
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