CIN Dialogue 2017: Primate Science Fiction – Der Mensch im Spiegel der Primatenforschung. Perspektiven aus Natur- und Kulturwissenschaft
Ein interdisziplinäres Gespräch moderiert von Jessica Staschen
November 20 2017, 19h c.t.
Lecture Hall Audimax, Neue Aula, Geschwister-Scholl-Platz, Uni Tübingen
Primates are our closest relatives, and as such serve as ‘sparring partners’ in our struggle for insight. We treat them as ambassadors of the animal kingdom, and we debate the fundamental question of the relation between Animal and Man in primate research: primates are most similar and closest to us. In its dealings with the animal, laboratory science takes its cues from human children and their psychological development. Science confronts animals with problems created by humans, hoping to gain insight into the specific abilities necessary to solve them. To interpret behavioural decisions, we seem to have no choice but to presuppose a form of rationality in primates that is at least somewhat similar to that found in humans. But do we seek to understand ourselves through the monkey – or the monkey through ourselves? Do we even learn anything about primates this way? Or do we just interpret these creatures’ characteristics from the perspective our nature and culture force upon us? How can we escape the anthropocentrism inherent in our view of primates?
Researchers who study the animals’ behaviour in the field, in their natural habitat, often feel that lab experiments are constructed based on this anthropocentrism. Instead of positing generalised problem-solving capabilities, they engage in ethological observation of the animals solving problems they are confronted with naturally: searching for food and mates, avoiding predators, enduring the elements. Only then will these researchers attempt to explain the observed behaviour from evolutionary factors. This approach, however, invites the inverse critical question of the one outlined above: What do we actually learn about ourselves from all this?
This year’s CIN Dialogue will debate the question how we can arrive at a fruitful exchange between the two ways of learning from primates, the experimental and the ethological-ecological approach. Among other issues, we will discuss the history of behavioural studies and primatology, including shifts of paradigm and the important role of scientists and scholars themselves. Cultural studies as well as behavioural ecology will provide valuable perspectives to the discussion.
Earlier in the day, there will be an extended workshop (in German) under the title 'The Evolution of a Social Brain: Was können wir von nicht-menschlichen Primaten über den Menschen lernen?'. Find more information here.
Learn more about CIN Dialogues here.
- Werner Reichardt Centre for Integrative Neuroscience
- University of Tübingen