Scientists such as de Waal argue the research suggests that, much as people believe in the originality of their thoughts, a lot of human cognition probably takes place at an automatic level, guided by inborn tendencies. About the woman with the possessive boss, for example, de Waal said: "I am sure her boss is not consciously doing that. It just bothers him if she has a chat with a rival."
Two recent studies from the world of birds give us a glimpse into how far back in evolutionary terms complex behaviors that we would normally associate with humans go. One of these behaviors has a nice altruistic aspect to it. The other, not so much. But more on the morality question later.
Emily DuVal, a biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany, found that male lance-tailed manakins display the behavior seen at nightclubs, where a person plays "wingman" or "wingwoman" to help a friend impress a potential mate ...
All of this raises interesting questions. If a human playing wingman or wingwoman for a roommate is doing what the lance-tailed manakin has done for thousands of years, how much conscious thought is actually necessary for such behavior? And could the Tony Sopranos of this world plead not guilty by virtue of evolution?
Frans de Waal argues that there is a difference between cowbirds and human gangsters. A Tony Soprano knows what he is doing and understands the consequences. "The birds may not even know what reproduction is," he said. "They are not thinking, 'If I trash the nest, next time they will be careful.' "
Or . . . are they?
(article by Shankar Vedantam)
Some admittedly sloppy writing in there, and often it's difficult to distinguish what's being observed versus what's being projected (cowbirds as HBO-style Mafia bosses?!). The piece does raise the question of how much human action is intentional, and how familiar many quotidian human behaviors are among birds and chimps. Also, I did not know that lance-tailed manakins go to nightclubs.