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Baboon Metaphysics


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About the Author

Dorothy L. Cheney is professor of biology and Robert M. Seyfarth is professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. They are the authors of How Monkeys See the World, also published by the University of Chicago Press.


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) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

"The vivid narrative is like a bush detective story." - Steven Poole, Guardian "Baboon Metaphysics is a distillation of a big chunk of academic lives.... It is exactly what such a book should be - full of imaginative experiments, meticulous scholarship, limpid literary style, and above all, truly important questions." - Alison Jolly, Science "Cheney and Seyfarth's enthusiasm is obvious, and their knowledge is vast and expressed with great clarity. All this makes Baboon Metaphysics a captivating read. It will get you thinking - and maybe spur you to travel to Africa to see it all for yourself." - Asif A. Ghazanfar, Nature "Through ingenious playback experiments... Cheney and Seyfarth have worked out many aspects of what baboons used their minds for, along with their limitations. Reading a baboon's mind affords an excellent grasp of the dynamics of baboon society. But more than that, it bears on the evolution of the human mind and the nature of human existence." - Nicholas Wade, New York Times"

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