Anthropology, Biology, Reviews

Review: Cheney and Seyfarth, Baboon Metaphysics

The August 2 edition of Nature features a review of Dorothy L. Cheney and Richard Seyfarth’s recent book Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind. The review focuses on the author’s detailed examination of Baboon’s complex social behavior—the results of years of research in Botswana’s Okavango Delta—and their trenchant exploration of the perennial question of nature vs. nurture. Asif A. Ghazanfar writes for Nature:

In Baboon Metaphysics, Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth explain that our social reflexes evolved from our group-living primate ancestors. They explore what sort of intelligence is required to navigate the intricate social landscape that baboons live in. Is it based on a complex calculation, a system of innate rules that are applied to specific contexts? Or is it based on simple, implicit rules governed solely by learned associations?… This tension pervades this wonderful book on the social intelligence of non-human primates and what they might tell us about the evolution of the human mind.…
[The author’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.

Read an excerpt.